Archive for December 9th, 2010
The promotion and protection of human rights has been a major preoccupation for the United Nations since 1945, when the Organization’s founding nations resolved that the horrors of The Second World War should never be allowed to recur.
Respect for human rights and human dignity “is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, the General Assembly declared three years later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, all States and interested organizations were invited by the General Assembly to observe 10 December as Human Rights Day (resolution 423(V)).
The Day marks the anniversary of the Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Over the years, a whole network of human rights instruments and mechanisms has been developed to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.
Human Rights Day 2010 on 10 December recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination.
Acting alone or in groups within their communities, every day human rights defenders work to end discrimination by campaigning for equitable and effective laws, reporting and investigating human rights violations and supporting victims.
While some human rights defenders are internationally renowned, many remain anonymous and undertake their work often at great personal risk to themselves and their families.
More links and details at http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/2010/
This Report Card presents a first overview of inequalities in child well-being for 24 of the world’s richest countries. Three dimensions of inequality are examined: material well-being, education, and health. In each case and for each country, the question asked is ‘how far behind are children being allowed to fall?’
The report argues that children deserve the best possible start, that early experience can cast a long shadow, and that children are not to be held responsible for the circumstances into which they are born. In this sense the metric used – the degree of bottom-end inequality in child well-being – is a measure of the progress being made towards a fairer society. Bringing in data from the majority of OECD countries, the report attempts to show which of them are allowing children to fall behind by more than is necessary in education, health and material well-being (using the best performing countries as a minimum standard for what can be achieved).
In drawing attention to the depth of disparities revealed, and in summarizing what is known about the consequences, it argues that ‘falling behind’ is a critical issue not only for millions of individual children today but for the economic and social future of their nations tomorrow.
Download report in PDF:
• (pdf) Full text – Kb 1512 http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc9_eng.pdf
• (zip) Compressed – Kb 752 http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc9_eng.zip
Ama Hemmah was allegedly tortured into confessing she was a witch, doused in kerosene and set alight. She suffered horrific burns and died the following day.
Belief in witchcraft is relatively common in Ghana but there was widespread revulsion at the killing.
Hemmah, from Tema, was allegedly attacked by a group of five people, one of whom is an evangelical pastor, Ghana’s Daily Graphic reported.
Three women and two men have been arrested. They are Nancy Nana Ama Akrofie, 46, photographer Samuel Ghunney, 50, Emelia Opoku, 37, Mary Sagoe, 52, and pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55.
The suspects say the death was an accident and deny committing any crime. They claim they were trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the woman by rubbing anointing oil on her but it accidentally caught fire.
Newspaper pictures showing the woman’s injuries have caused anger in Ghana. The incident has been condemned by human rights and women’s activists.
Comfort Akosua Edu, of the country’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, said: “The commission finds the action of the perpetrators of this atrocious crime as very barbaric and one that greatly dims the nation’s human rights record. That they came and met her in their room does not in any way warrant branding her as a notorious witch who deserved to be subjected to such an ordeal.”
She added: “It is very disheartening that some men of God, whose responsibility it is to help save lives, could orchestrate the killing of innocent souls, all in the name of God.”
Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/29/ghanaian-woman-burned-death-witch
See also: Who killed Amma Hemmah?
There’s a lot going around in bloglandia and on the interwebs about WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange’s sexual assault charge in Sweden; commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of “sex by surprise,” which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. Totally unfair, right?
Well, no, I’m not sure it’s that straightforward. The actual details of what happened are hard to come by, and are largely filtered through tabloid sources that are quick to offer crucial facts like the hair color of the women (blonde) and the clothes they wore (pink, tight), but it sounds like the sex was consensual on the condition that a condom was used. It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. This is of course speculation based on the bare-bones reported description of events, but it’s at least clear that “this is a case of a broken condom” isn’t close to the whole story. (It’s also worth pointing out that the charge is actually a quite minor one in Sweden, and the punishment is a $700 fine).
Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) — if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape. That may not sound entirely familiar to Americans, since the United States has relatively regressive rape laws; in most states, there’s a requirement of force in order to prove rape, rather than just demonstrating lack of consent. Consent is more often used as a defense to a rape charge, and it’s hard to convict someone of rape based solely on non-consent. Some states, like New York, have rape laws on the books which include “no means no” provisions for intercourse — basically, if a reasonable person would have understood that the sex was not consensual, then that’s rape. It seems obvious enough, but those laws are not used nearly as often as forcible-rape laws; they aren’t on the books in many states, and they’re difficult to enforce even where they are.
Withdrawal of consent gets even trickier. It’s an obvious enough concept for feminist thinkers who have spent more than 10 minutes considering the realities of sex and sexual assault: If you consent to sex but then at some point during sex withdraw that consent by telling your partner to stop, your partner should stop, and if your partner doesn’t stop then that’s assault. It’s not too hard, for those of us who have had sex, to imagine how this works — I have a difficult time imagining any decent human being hearing their partner say “Stop!” in the middle of sex and not, you know, stopping. I can’t imagine hearing my partner say “Stop” and not stopping. And if your partner is saying “Stop stop stop stop!” and you keep going, yes, you are raping them.
But the concept of withdrawing consent seems to be a little tougher for folks who think of sex as something women give to men (or men take from women); it’s definitely a tougher concept for folks who think that sex inherently sullies women. I suspect that the thought process goes, If the damage (penetrative sex) has already been done, then the situation can’t possibly turn into a rape, because the initial penetration itself occurred consensually, and it’s that penetration that’s the basis of the harm in any rape case. Consent, in that framework, isn’t the point. The U.S. is a bit of a patchwork when it comes to withdrawal of consent laws, with some states recognizing that withdrawal of consent is valid and that it is rape if you keep having sex with someone after they’ve said no, and other states either not touching the issue or not recognizing as rape situations where consent is withdrawn post-penetration. Making the Assange story juicier blog-bait in the U.S. is the fact that we’re deeply wedded to the notion of rape as forcible; despite many of our best efforts, a consent-based framework for evaluating sexual assault is not yet widely accepted. So we hear “she consented to sex but only with a condom and he didn’t use a condom and now she’s claiming he raped her” and we go, “say what?”, because that’s so far removed from the Law & Order: SVU sexual assault model. When, really, if you evaluate sexual assault through the lens of consent rather than force or violence, the picture starts to look a little bit different.
Whether withdrawal of consent is what actually happened here is impossible to tell, so I’m not suggesting that Assange is a rapist or that these charges are 100% definitely on-point; I have no idea. But neither do the commentators who are saying that Assange did nothing more than have sex without a condom. And it’s important to counter the “haha sex by surprise those crazy Swedes” media narrative with the fact that actually, non-consensual sex is assault and should be recognized as such by law. Consenting to one kind of sexual act doesn’t mean that you consent to anything else your partner wants to do; if it’s agreed that the only kind of sex we’re having is with a condom, then it does remove an element of consent to have sex without a condom with only one partner’s knowledge. To use another example, if you and your partner agree that you can penetrate her, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she has the green light to penetrate you whenever and however.
I’m not particularly interested in debating What Assange Did or Whether Assange Is A Rapist, and I’d appreciate it if we could steer clear of that in the comments section. Rather, I’m interested in pushing back on the primary media narrative about this case, which is that women lie and exaggerate about rape, and will call even the littlest thing — a broken condom! — rape if they’re permitted to under a too-liberal feminist legal system. In fact, there are lots of good reasons to support consent-based sexual assault laws, and to recognize that consent goes far beyond “yes you can put that in here now.” It’s a shame that the shoddy, sensationalist reporting on this case have muddied those waters.
UPDATE: As greater clarity is brought to these charges, it sounds like it was a lot more than “they agreed he would wear a condom and he didn’t.” According to the Press Association, “The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner … The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.” Emphasis mine. Kate Harding has more.
Comment published at http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/12/06/some-thoughts-on-sex-by-surprise/
Senegal: Reviewing implementation of UN WOMEN and Millennium Development Goals
“We are moving beyond simply asking for gender equality, that was then! we are now calling for technical and specialized skills to use effective tools in bringing the political will into reality across all sectors in terms of gender” A quote statement by HE Mrs Awa Ndiaye, Minister of State, for Gender and Relations with African Women Associations and Foreign. Dakar, Senegal, on Nov 30, 2010.
International: Structures of Violence: Defining Intersections of Militarism & VAW
On the occasion of the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders on November 29 and the 10th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) critically reflects on Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women, the theme of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence for 2010. The experience of discrimination, intimidation and attack of women human rights defenders lies at the intersection of their gender identity and their position as dissenters in their societies, particularly when working on women’s or sexual rights.
Israel/Palestine: Coalition of Women for Peace Report “All-Out War: Israel Against Democracy”
CWP published a new report today, titled “All-Out War: Israel Against Democracy.” This comprehensive report documents the increasing political persecution of peace and human rights organizations and activists, and describes the connections between the assaults led by Israeli government officials, security forces, courts, journalists, and extreme-right organizations in this well-orchestrated offensive on democracy. The report was published in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English. To download the full report (in English): http://coalitionofwomen.org/home/english/articles/Political_Persecution_Report/AllOutWar-internet-ENG.pdf
Iran: Unprecedented Death Sentence for Christian Pastor on Charge of Apostasy
The Supreme Court of Iran should immediately reverse the apostasy conviction and death sentence of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and release him from prison, theInternational Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today. The judiciary should also release another pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, who faces a similar prosecution.
Bahrain: Targeting and harassment of human rights defenders
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses deep concern about the Bahraini authorities persistence in targeting and harassing human rights defenders, which was shown recently in the ill treatment inflicted upon the president of BCHR, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, through selective security measures practiced against him. Mr. Rajab was detained for about one hour by national security agents upon his departure to Greece through Bahrain National airport, after being threatened, his personal laptop and mobile phone were forcibly confiscated (in addition to the rest of the electronic devices that were in his possession), all files and information on these devices were copied, even family pictures and files related to his human rights work.
Malaysia: Sisters in Islam statement on reports of child marriage
Sisters in Islam (SIS) expresses its utmost concern over news reports of a 14-year-old child married off to an adult man in July this year. This only came to light when the child and the man who married her participated in a mass wedding celebration at the Federal Territory Mosque on 4th December 2010, where couples were given RM1,000 and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom was in attendance as guest of honour.
UK: Hate crime against Ahmadi Muslims
It’s not known exactly how many Ahmadis have settled in Britain – because many are too fearful to even admit they belong to the religion. They are a small, peaceful community who came here after fleeing persecution in Pakistan. But many Ahmadis are now living in fear for their lives – because they claim a campaign of hatred against them by other, extremist Muslims, is being exported from Pakistan onto the streets of the UK.
Aceh: Local Sharia Laws Violate Rights
Two local Sharia laws in Indonesia’s Aceh province violate rights and are often enforced abusively by public officials and even private individuals, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The country’s central government and the Aceh provincial government should take steps to repeal the two laws, Human Rights Watch said.
Afghanistan: Female prisoners not released in absence of male relative
Zarghoona* has completed her three-month sentence at a prison in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, but she is not allowed home because no male relative has shown up to guarantee that she will not run away from home again. “All my family has abandoned me. I am dead for them but they [prison authorities] say they will only release me to a man from my family,” the woman told IRIN in a phone interview facilitated by an official who preferred anonymity.
Pakistan: Sherry Rehman submits bill seeking end to death penalty under existing blasphemy laws
Amid announcements by the religious forces in the country to resist any move to change the blasphemy laws, former information minister and Pakistan People’s Party MNA Sherry Rehman has submitted a bill to the National Assembly Secretariat seeking an end to the death penalty under the existing blasphemy laws.
Prostitution is so popular (and socially accepted) in Spain that a United Nations study reports that 39 per cent of all Spanish men have used a prostitute’s services at least once. A Spanish Health Ministry survey in 2009 put the percentage of one-time prostitute users at 32 per cent: lower than the UN figure, perhaps, but far higher than the 14 per cent in liberal-minded Holland, or in Britain, where the figure is reported to oscillate between 5 and 10 per cent. And that was just those men willing to admit it.
To meet this vast demand, an estimated 300,000 prostitutes are working in Spain – everywhere from clubs in town centres to industrial estates, to lonely country roads to roadside bars, the last often recognisable by gigantic neon signs of champagne bottles or shapely females, flashing away in the darkness. And recently, on the French border, Club Paradise opened with 180 sex workers, making it the biggest brothel in Europe.
As the clubs get larger, the clients get younger. According to studies carried out for the Spanish Association for the Social Reintegration of Female Prostitutes (Apramp), back in 1998 the typical client was a 40-year-old married male. By 2005, however, the average age had dropped to 30 – and it appears to be getting lower. “The kids are going because they see it as a quick way of getting what would take a lot longer to happen if they went to a disco,” Alvaro says. “You’ve got the money, you choose the woman you want and it’s all over and done with.” His own logic is even more brutal: “I go when I don’t have a girlfriend.”
There is no single reason, though, why prostitution should be so popular in Spain. Historically it has long been seen as an expression of individual freedom – first as a pressure valve for the strait-laced family-focused environment of the Franco years (when prostitution was quietly ignored), and then consolidating itself after the dictator died. Then, as now, brothels would be listed in the yellow pages, albeit under the coy title of “nightclubs”, and nobody batted an eyelid. Among the young men of the Spanish provinces, even in the late 1980s, sleeping with a prostitute was no longer something you did as way of losing your virginity: it could actually be seen as cool.
In the 1990s, magazines such as Interviú, which prides itself on its investigative journalism, would think nothing of publishing “erotic guides to Spain”. Even today, all-male business dinners can end up in the local “club”. “Every now and then I have to take clients,” says one accountant who did not want to be named, “but it’s OK. They take credit cards.”
If the roots of Spain’s acceptance of prostitution ultimately lie with the sexual and personal repression of the Franco years, the most curious hangover from the sexual revolution is that, even today, most “‘serious” newspapers carry adverts for prostitutes. In the Madrid issue of one major national daily, 75 or 80 per cent of small ads are for prostitutes, offering all manner of services with prices from ¤20 to ¤200. Plans to eliminate the so-called “contact ads” appear to be on a kind of permanent hold, partly justified by the precarious economic state of Spain’s print media.
However, the underbelly of a trade which is legal in Spain but not recognised as an actual job is far from pleasant, with human trafficking constantly rearing its ugly head. In 2009 alone, Spain’s Ministry of the Interior detected 17 international crime rings involved in sexual trafficking in Spain. Between January and April of this year, according to the newspaper El País, the authorities identified 493 cases of women sold into sexual slavery.
Yet that makes no difference, it seems, to the clients who pour through the doors of the brothels. “There is a clear lack of awareness as to what is going on,” says Marta Gonzalez, a spokeswomen for the Madrid-based NGO Proyecto Esperanza, which helps women who have been victims of trafficking. “Clients don’t realise that many of these women could be victims of trafficking. Lots of people would be more wary if the prostitutes were clearly under lock and key or had obviously been subject to physical abuse. They don’t realise that all it takes is a death threat to their families back in Nigeria or Brazil, and the woman is already being coerced into prostitution.”
The laws in Spain are of little help either, with prostitution currently a permitted activity – but with no labour rights. “They’re already frequently leading a double life or are considered social outcasts and often are in dire need of money,” said a Spanish Red Cross social worker running a healthcare programme for prostitutes. “Add the lack of legal rights, and they’re a clear target for exploitation.”
On top of that there’s Spain’s recession. “Economically the women I’m dealing with are at the end of their tether, and the lack of other employment possibilities makes everybody more nervous about keeping clients. In the process they put themselves at risk, too. They’ll be more willing to accept it when a client doesn’t want to use a condom, for example, to be sure they get him to sleep with them.”
When prostitution and trafficking overlap, the legal situation grows even more discouraging. “Glitches in the legislation mean that an identical crime is punished less severely here than, say, in Germany.” Ms Gonzalez says. “Forcing someone to prostitute themselves in Spain gets from two to four years in prison here, while human trafficking gets five to eight. But because the latter charge often can’t be proved effectively because of poor legislation, the criminal gets the lower sentence.”
Meanwhile, Spain’s sex trade continues to flourish. And, in one way, it is literally more visible than ever: recently, in an attempt to cut the number of road accidents, the police in Lerida, Catalunya, issued the prostitutes working in out-of-town lay-bys with fluorescent waistcoats.
Part of a longer article at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/spain-the-world-capital-of-prostitution-2151581.html
This, they argued, was necessary to give mothers confidence to seek safe abortion of unwanted pregnancies and thereby reduce maternal mortality.
The research, conducted by Guttmacher, a United States-based health research and education organization in year 2008, studied Ghana’s unsafe abortion situation with a view to identifying effective ways of dealing with this.
The seminar provided the opportunity to discuss the findings with stakeholders in Kumasi.
The participants were mostly from NGOs and civil society groups in the health and reproductive health sector, the Ghana Education Service, prisons service, media, faith-based organizations and the youth.
They said the lack of adequate information about the abortion law among majority of Ghanaians had been responsible for the adoption of unsafe abortion methods resulting in severe health complications and deaths.
It is estimated that, 20 per cent of maternal mortality in the country is caused by unsafe abortion.
Dr Joana Nerguaye-Tetteh, presenting the report, said if care was not taken, deaths from unsafe abortions could surpass that of HIV/AIDS.
She warned that given the situation where more women were not using contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies certainly would occur and the likelihood of unsafe abortions would be higher.
Dr Nerguaye-Tetteh appealed to NGOs and civil society groups in the health sector to intensify their education campaigns in communities to create awareness on the use of contraceptives to raise the acceptance rate.
Mrs Josephine Addy, Programme Associate of Ipas, an NGO, said more women resorted to unsafe abortions because of ignorance of the legal regime.
Ipas, which is operating in 17 districts in the Eastern, Ashanti and greater Accra regions, is supporting the Ghana Health Service to provide a Comprehensive Abortion Care (CAC).
Mrs Addy said unsafe abortion has now become a social problem and that her organization was engaging various stakeholders including queens, parliamentary select committee on health and population, women commissions in tertiary institutions, lawyers, journalists and the police service to enhance stakeholders’ support for safe abortion.
The Rev. Michael Kimindu, the Metropolitan Community Churches’ minister, said human beings were prone to worldly shortcomings and, therefore, need help from religious leaders to overcome temptations.
“It is common to hear a leader saying they are interested in the few who are righteous than many who are weak in faith. Religious leaders who look at abortion as immoral miss the point of seeking the other sheep,” Kimindu said at the regional conference on eliminating unsafe abortion in Africa held at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons in Accra last week.
Kimindu, who is also the coordinator of Other Sheep East Africa, a coalition fighting for Christians’ human rights, with offices in Uganda and Tanzania, suggested that human sexuality and rights be included in theological studies to help religious leaders understand human sexual and reproductive rights.
“If the so many religious groups on this continent embraced human rights and left judgement to God, Africa would be the happiest place to live in on earth.”
Participants expressed concern about the negative attitude that religious leaders have towards safe abortion. This, they argued, would increase maternal deaths in Africa since women will continue dying from complications resulting from unsafe abortions.
Kimindu noted that sometimes parents of a pregnant girl need help from religious leaders, but they choose to keep quiet for fear of being labelled supporters of sin.
“To say that all abortion is murder of a life that God has created when, for instance, a woman has been raped, is to say that God is responsible for the rape.”
The one-week conference under the theme, Keeping our promise: Addressing unsafe abortion in Africa, attracted over 250 participants across the continent.
Ipas, a global women’s rights advocacy NGO, in collaboration with African Network on Medical Abortion, African Women’s Development and Communication Network, Marie Stopes International, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Ghana’s health ministry and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa organised the conference.
Democrat MP for Rayong Sathit Pitutecha has proposed that a bill on “consensual and necessary abortion” be drafted to give women more options when dealing with unwanted pregnancies.
Mr Sathit said he would begin drafting the bill and campaign for support in the hope of submitting it to the House during the next parliamentary session starting in February.
The proposed bill would call for the setting up of a committee to consider an abortion request from a pregnant woman or her guardians. An applicant with “necessary qualifications” would be allowed to end her pregnancy, he said.
The law permits an abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if it endangers the mother’s life.
The Democrat MP said the law should be broadened to include other cases including pregnancy among minors or pregnancies among women who have insufficient mental capacity to rear the baby.
Only registered clinics would be allowed to perform the abortions, Mr Sathit said.
Democrat leader and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has insisted that there is no need for a change in the law to solve illegal abortions, as the law is based on Medical Council regulations which, in his view, are “good enough”.
Mr Sathit said he was trying to convince the prime minister that relaxing the law would reduce fatalities and accidents among pregnant women who undertake unsafe illegal abortions.
It would also put an end to the illegal abortion business and reduce family problems.
“Let me make it clear that legalising abortion is not liberising abortion,” Mr Sathit said. “The bill will not make it easier for a mother to end her pregnancy. Each case must be considered carefully by a committee of experts and social workers.”
Maytinee Bhongsvej, of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW), said social workers and women’s aid groups had been pushing for an abortion law for more than two decades. Ms Maytinee does not think the discovery of foetuses at Wat Phai Ngern Chotanaram will be a turning point.
“People’s attitudes are the major obstacle. For Thai society, abortion is a sin,” she said. “But as a person working in this area, I think the bill will give mothers more options to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancy.”
The sensitivity of abortion law has resulted in the exclusion of clauses that set criteria for legal abortions from a bill on reproductive health which has gone to public hearings, she said.
The APSW-run emergency home for women receives an average of 140 women with unwanted pregnancies every year, she said.
The APSW and 44 other state and non-governmental organisations working on women’s issues on Saturday issued a statement calling on the government to provide safe abortions for women to prevent them from using unsafe services at unhygienic, illegal premises.
“Abortion should be permitted if the woman has been raped, is younger than 15, and could be mentally and physically affected if the pregnancy is continued,” they said.
Kanrawee Daoruang, coordinator of the Choice Group which helps women with unwanted pregnancies, said a 2005 Medical Council regulation on ending pregnancies allows doctors to perform abortions under certain conditions.
However, no doctor dares perform them under this regulation because they fear criminal action.
She said the government should provide facilities to care for women with unwanted pregnancies. “If a woman knows that she still has somewhere to go and someone to help take care of her and the baby, she might choose options other than aborting the baby.”
Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said 14 was too young, and someone that age would not be able to live up to the expectations of such an institution.
“A marriage is not just about having a wedding. It is more than that. At 14, one is too young to understand what marriage is all about. There is responsibility and a lifetime of commitment, as a wife, and later on as a parent. The syariah court must be more cautious when granting approvals in such cases,” she said when contacted.
The New Sunday Times had front-paged the picture of 14-year-old Siti Marham Mahmod, and husband Abdul Manan Othman, who participated in a 1Malaysia wedding celebration at the Federal Territory Mosque on Satueday.
The couple had tied the knot in July after getting the consent of the Syariah Court.
The couple’s union has also sparked concern among women’s organisations who have called on the government to address irregularities in the Child Act 2001 and the civil and Islamic family laws if it was serious in preventing child marriages.
Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said the government should amend both the civil and Islamic family laws and set the minimum age for marriageability at 18 years for both genders. “There must be no exceptions,” said Josiah.
Under civil law, girls between 16 and 18 years old can marry, but it must be endorsed by the menteri besar or chief minister.
The minimum age under the Islamic Family Laws is 18 for men and 16 for women. However, the law also allows those younger to marry but with permission from the syariah judge under special circumstances.
“The Child Act 2001 defines that anyone under 18 years old is a child. We must stop using culture or religion as an excuse if the government is serious about protecting children from child marriages,” she said.
Empower Malaysia’s executive director Maria Chin Abdullah said permitting child marriages contravened the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the government had an obligation to uphold.
“Why be a part of the CRC or CEDAW if we are going to do things differently? Marriage is too big a commitment for a 14-year-old,” she said.
Maria said an early marriage would force the child to go straight into adulthood and enter a union, depriving him or her of a complete intellectual and emotional development.
Women in Action Malacca (WIM) president Rachel Samuel said it was unlikely a child understood what a marriage entailed when even adults needed time to adjust to being married.
“Those who are married and studying in universities, for example, see how different their lifestyles are compared to their single peers. It will be very tough for a child to juggle between being a wife and having to attend school, and later becoming a mother at an early age,” she said.
Samuel was all for raising the minimum age to 18, to enable a child to get the basic education and some experiences which will better prepare him or her for married life.
Justice Susan Himel issued a ruling on Sept. 28 that declared several laws surrounding prostitution to be unconstitutional.
While prostitution itself is legal in Canada, keeping a common bawdy house or communicating for the purposes of prostitution are illegal. Translation, no brothels in the suburbs and no chatting up hookers on street corners.
Himel ruled that those laws put prostitutes at risk and violated their rights under the charter.
The ruling was stayed to give governments time to respond. The Harper government launched an appeal but that appeal could not be heard before the stay lapsed. On Thursday the Ontario Court of Appeal stayed the ruling until the full appeal is heard.
Terry Bedford, the dominatrix who fought and won in Himel’s court was disappointed with this latest court decision.
Bedford accused the Harper government of hiding behind the courts and said Harper should “be a man” and bring in a new law that works for prostitutes.
Speaking in Mississauga, Ont., Prime Minister Stephen Minister Harper told reporters he’s never been called upon to respond to a dominatrix before but defended the appeal.
“We believe that the prostitution trade is bad for society. That’s a strong view held by our government and I think by most Canadians,” Harper said.
In Ottawa, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he’s confident the government’s view will prevail before the courts.
“It is the position of the Government of Canada that these provisions are constitutionally sound,” Nicholson said.
New Democrat MP Libby Davies said the government is hiding from the issue.
“The government has refused to recognize how harmful these laws are for sex workers,” Davies told QMI Agency.
Davies called for full debate on prostitution in Parliament.