Archive for June 22nd, 2008

We need a fully funded, national strategy before Vancouver’s Olympics

There are ghosts among us, slaves who are invisible to most of us, including police.

They are people who have been trafficked either into Canada or from some other part of Canada.

They are working in sweatshops or on farms out of the sight of workplace inspectors. But most work for pimps in the sex trade, whether on the streets or behind the closed doors of so-called escort services and massage parlours.

Worldwide each year, a million people are trafficked across national borders. Many millions more are trafficked internally.

The RCMP estimates that there are between 800 and 1,200 victims of human traffickers working in Canada in sexual servitude, forced or bonded labour. Non-governmental organizations suggest the number could be as high 15,000.

Worldwide, the International Labour Organization estimates there are 12.3 million victims, while NGOs say it’s likely closer to 27 million. Of the transnational victims, the U.S. state department says 80 per cent are women and children and most are sexually exploited for profit. It estimates two million girls and boys have been forced into the sex trade.

As Canada’s Asian gateway, Vancouver is both a destination and a transit point for trafficking. But Canada is also a source country with first nations women and girls and those living in polygamous sects at particular risk.

It’s not that Canada doesn’t have good laws. It does. Our laws include some of the toughest language and penalties regarding human trafficking and sexual tourism in the world. Enforcement is lacking.

At least that’s what the U.S. state department said earlier this month in its annual report on human trafficking.

The American report noted that there have only been 17 prosecutions and only eight convictions in Canada since 2005, when the Criminal Code sections were passed. It noted that even though legislation allows victims to remain in Canada on temporary resident’s permits, only four victims have ever received them.

Even so, Canada ranks among the top-tier countries because so many other countries are so much worse.

And sure, we could just dismiss the American annual report card. It’s easy enough to do since there’s a certain hypocrisy to its country-by-country ranking, commentary and recommendations. Notably absent is the United States itself.

There is no self-judgment, no ranking for its response to the global problem, no reference to the fact that prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada or that Las Vegas is a major destination point for domestic trafficked children.

It’s not that the information isn’t readily available.

A study done last year by Shared Hope International for the U.S. justice department says that between January 1994 and July 2007, Las Vegas police found nearly 1,500 children working as prostitutes. One in five was 15 or younger. Seven of those children were Canadians; the others came from 28 different states.

Again, the authors suggest the numbers are hugely under-reported.

One organization alone identified more than 400 child prostitutes on Las Vegas streets in May 2007. But the report also notes that most child prostitutes are not on the street. Rather, they are hidden inside.

Vancouver is not Las Vegas with its “what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas” tourism slogan. But Vancouver has long been known as a destination point for so-called sex tourists, pedophiles and exploiters.

One of the reasons for Vancouver’s widely known “kiddie stroll” and “boys’ town” is that until this year, the age of sexual consent was only 14. It was an anomaly in North America. Even Nevada’s age of consent is 16, which Parliamentarians finally determined was appropriate for Canadian children as well.

But the worst may be ahead.

Before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, human trafficking increased 95 per cent. It increased prior to the 2006 World Cup of soccer, although not at such a high rate.

At estimated 3,000 people are trafficked into Switzerland’s sex trade each year. As co-host of the 2008 World Cup, it is running ads aimed at reducing domestic demand for prostitutes.

Five years before its Olympics, London appointed an assistant deputy police commissioner to deal specifically with a mandate to prevent human trafficking.

Vancouver did not act as quickly. However, the federal and provincial governments are now working on ways to prevent trafficking in advance of the Games. The B.C. solicitor-general’s ministry, for example, now has an office to combat trafficking in persons.

Additionally, all three levels of government along with Vanoc are working to incorporate anti-trafficking measures into the over-all security plan for the Games.

But without a fully funded, national strategy to curb trafficking and stop the exploitation of vulnerable women and children every year, it may be too little, too late.

A string of lights spells out the name of the bar in the back of the basement in capital letters, PARADISE. A dozen Chinese women in skintight miniskirts and halter tops flit around clusters of beefy Western men and flirt in broken English.

Now and then, a man and woman climb the stairs to the upper reaches of the house, where Paradise does its real business.

Paradise is a brothel in an unmarked residential compound in an upscale Kabul neighborhood where prostitutes from China cater to Western men. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, thousands of Westerners working for security firms, companies and aid groups have poured into Afghanistan. Not long after came Chinese prostitutes, in some cases trafficked into the country.

The International Organization for Migration helped 96 Chinese women who were deported in 2006. They told IOM they were deceived by a travel agency in China and promised employment in a restaurant for $300 a month. But when they arrived, they said, the Chinese restaurant owner denied them salary and forced them to provide sexual services by night.

An IOM staffer said one Chinese woman thought she was going to work in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and had no idea she had instead landed in Kabul.

Afghan officials deny these claims.

“They come here of their own will. They want to do business here. Police caught them red-handed,” said Gen. Ali Shah Paktiawal, head of Kabul’s criminal investigations.

In recent years, Afghan authorities have carried out a campaign against moral corruption, raiding brothels fronting as restaurants and deporting the Chinese prostitutes in front of TV cameras. Last year in Kabul, 180 female prostitutes were arrested — 154 “foreigners” and 26 Afghans, Paktiawal said. He would not give the nationalities of the foreign prostitutes, but many raids in recent years have been at Chinese restaurants.

Many Afghans blame prostitution on immoral Chinese women and Western men and say it is un-Islamic. The highly publicized crackdown on Chinese prostitutes has led to rampant harassment of women of East Asian origin. Police often single out Asian women in spot checks on Kabul’s streets.

In Paradise, the women speak Chinese among themselves. One says she is from a town outside Beijing.

The brothel has two identical doors in the back of the building. One leads down to the well-stocked basement bar where the women mingle with potential clients. The other leads up to the main part of the house, where every nook and cranny that can be closed off has a spartan twin bed mattress with no sheets.

A Pussycat Dolls pop song pumps on the speakers, “Don’t Cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” One man rubs the belly of a girl in a gauzy pink miniskirt.

A frequent customer at the bar says it costs $70 to take a woman upstairs, and $150 to have her company for the night.

When under a fit of aggression, men in Pakistan do not think twice before behaving violently with their pregnant wives, and completely ignore the health scare their wives may suffer because of constant beating and abuse, says a new study.

The study, entitled Consequences of domestic violence during pregnancy, by some students of the University of Karachi, revealed that many women who are verbally and physically abused by their aggressive husbands during their pregnancies have a greater risk of having low birth weight babies, miscarriages, abortions, premature labour and several other gynaecological disorders.

Conducted by Shakila A. Rehman and Mohammad Shahid, students of geography and social work departments of the KU, the study draws its data from a cross-sectional survey carried out on a sample of around 50 women in the age group of 20-39 years, in Madina Colony, a squatter settlement located in Gulshan-i-Iqbal.

With 52 per cent of the respondents complaining of verbal abuse and 36 per cent being subjected to physical torture at the hands of their husbands during pregnancy, the research revealed that incidents of physical violence was frequent scene during pregnancy, reports

Over 50 percent of the respondents felt mentally tortured by the use of insulting and abusive language by their husbands. In fact, many women confessed that their husbands even pulled their hair or threw anything at them in a fit of anger. And in many instances, abusive husbands blackmailed their wives of marrying another women or leaving them if they give birth to a daughter.

Those who reported physical violence during pregnancy also admitted that their husbands were either drug addicts or unemployed and did not tolerate anything that they perceived offensive.

As far as sexual violence against such women is concerned, the study revealed that 30 per cent of the respondents admitted to being forced into having sex many times by their husbands during pregnancy.

In almost 20 percent of cases, where pregnant women were physically and verbally abused at the hands of their husbands, they maintained that their husbands also took care of them during the period, saying that the violent behaviour of their husbands didnt bother them as it was just a momentary trait.

Most of the women in the study complained of mental distress during pregnancy and even after childbirth. There were 20 per cent cases of premature birth and low birth weight babies. Four per cent reported miscarriage due to physical violence.

According to the report, verbal, physical and sexual violence against women increases the risks of many gynaecological disorders including chronic pelvic pain, irregular vaginal bleeding and discharge, painful menstruation and pelvic inflammatory diseases while it can also have a very harmful effect on womens mental health and also on a childs physiological and psychological development.

The study is published in the recently released Pakistan Journal of Gender Studies by the Centre of Excellence for Womens Studies, KU. (ANI)

Rick Houston grew up in a good family that taught him to respect women. Now the pastor and prevention specialist at Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc. in Wilmington is working to be a good role model for men who did not have that same upbringing. Or worse, those who witnessed domestic violence as children, and are more likely to become an abuser themselves.

Houston isn’t the only man who wants to take a stand against domestic violence, a societal problem that leaves no race, religion or background untouched. The shelter held its annual Fathers for Hope breakfast to celebrate area men who have donated time and money to stop domestic violence in Southeastern North Carolina. Their contributions will be honored Sunday in a full-page ad in the Star-News.

“We always talk about it; we always complain about it,” Houston said. “There’s not many people who roll up their sleeves and get involved.”

Getting involved doesn’t mean it will be an easy problem to solve, Chief District Court Judge Jay Corpening told the crowd of male community leaders Wednesday morning.

While statistics may paint a picture of declining crime, Corpening said the view looks very different from the bench.

“We are in a crisis in America about violence and domestic violence,” he said. “Violence is becoming part of daily life. Children grow up believing that violence is a reasonable alternative for solving problems.”

The numbers bear that out. On average, the Wilmington shelter helps 153 women, 21 children and three men each month with services, including victim assistance, counseling, safety planning and other programs, said Mary Ann Lama, the shelter’s executive director.

It’s so important to reach out to men because the vast majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by males, Houston said.

“The way I look at it is it’s not a woman’s problem; it’s a man’s problem,” he said.

And while many blame abusive behavior on drugs, alcohol or an uncontrollable temper, the bottom line is it’s a learned behavior that can be unlearned, Houston said.

As the prevention specialist at the shelter, Houston helps coordinate a community-wide prevention program called Evolve Wilmington. That group’s initiatives include outreach programs for young males, self-image programs for girls, training for religious leaders and working with businesses to create a workplace protocol against domestic violence.

“The only realistic solution for ending domestic violence is for the entire community to care about victims and the effects on families, and then take action to help prevent it,” Lama said.

In this Sunday’s star bulletin a full page ad will appear and in it more than 200 men in this community pledge to take an oath to put an end to domestic violence.

It has made headlines time and time again, women killed by their domestic partners. The issue of domestic violence has become personal for many men.

“Violence, aggression, those are choices that people make. And I think it is up to other men in the community of all ages that this is not acceptable behavior,” said Salvatore Lanzilotti, one of the men who signed the non-violence oath.

Lanzilotti and hundreds of other men in our community are saying enough. This is a man’s problem We need to fix.

“We have children. We have parents. We have aunties. It’s all of our issue,” said Lanzilotti.

Jason Paloma has signed on. He’s the proud papa of two beautiful girls, Tatum 3 and Noemi nearly 6 months. And like so many dads he worries about their futures.

“Coming along one day and my daughter comes to me with an abusive situation and me being reactive to it. Or driving along the street and seeing something happening out there, and me being reactive to it. This is my way to be proactive,” said Paloma.

But will a petition signed by hundreds really have an effect on such a prominent problem.

“The only thing that we can do is raise awareness and get the word out there that this isn’t okay,” said Paloma.

The non-violent message comes after a handful of domestic violence deaths this year.

“It’s a hopeful message in some ways it’s not a negative thing. It’s saying look if you stand up against something. If you stand up and say this isn’t okay. If enough people do that eventually it will stop,” said Lanzilotti.

It’s something many are willing to lend their names too.

Domestic violence victims would be entitled to as many as eight weeks of vacation – four for small businesses – under City Councilman Bill Greenlee’s bill that was recommended for approval by a Council committee recently.

The bill is opposed by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which says small businesses could be devastated by such requirements, and the Nutter administration, which wanted more time to study the economic impact of such a requirement. Deputy Commerce Director Duane Bumb said the mandatory leave could put Philadelphia at a competitive disadvantage with the suburbs if not implemented on a statewide basis.

But Greenlee, who chairs the Council’s Law and Government Committee, called that argument a “crutch,” and said he didnt’ want to “hang by my thumbs waiting for the state to do something.” Council members Darrell Clarke and Bill Green co-sponsored the bill.

Council will consider a sunset clause on the bill, enacting it for one year and looking at its effects on business during that time. The bill could come up for final passage as early as June 19.

San Francisco Supervisors will consider a proposal today to expand rent protection for victims of domestic violence.

The legislation introduced by Supervisor Carmen Chu would prohibit landlords from evicting domestic violence victims for reasons such as noise, fighting or frequent police visits.

“By turning those who have been abused back out on the streets, we are essentially re-victimizing them,” Chu said.

District Attorney Kamala Harris endorses the legislation, saying it provides support for victims to help them feel safe to come forward.

More than half of domestic violence cases dismissed last year in San Francisco involved victims who were unavailable to testify, Harris said. When a victim was able to testify, convictions resulted in 76 percent of cases, she said.

Justice Minister Annette King announced plans for on-the-spot domestic violence protection orders. Below is her full speech

Thank you very much for joining me for this special morning tea highlighting the issue of domestic violence in New Zealand.

The first thing I want to do today is to congratulate Preventing Violence in the Home for this initiative to encourage New Zealanders to come together for morning teas over the next fortnight to talk about domestic violence.

Congratulations also to Bank of New Zealand for helping to promote this campaign that aims to raise awareness and money for Preventing Violence in the Home’s national helpline.

The sad truth is that we simply cannot talk enough about domestic violence in New Zealand. In terms of violent crime, domestic violence continues to be the real tragedy for our society.

The more we talk about domestic violence, and the more we create an environment in which victims of domestic violence feel able to report what is happening to them, the more chance we have of coming to grips with this scourge on our society.

I am encouraged by the fact that women are reporting incidents of domestic violence in greater numbers, and that it is becoming clearer that women now have sufficient confidence in the police to report incidents.

So what we are now seeing is a truer reflection of the level of violence against women in our society. In last year’s crime statistics, the increased number of violent offences was almost entirely driven – 5810 out of 6252 extra offences – by recorded family violence.

The result of this initiative over the next fortnight, and continued campaigns like ‘it’s not OK’, may well be that more women come forward to report. That is a positive thing, because it is more difficult to work together to make our society safer if we don’t understand the scope of the problem we are facing.

Last week I visited a number of programmes in the United Kingdom dealing with domestic violence – including the Leeds Inter-Agency project, the Family Justice Centre in Croydon and the victim support team at West London Magistrate’s Court – to share our approaches to domestic violence. Some wonderful work is being done in the UK, as it is here, of course, and there is no doubt there are many things we can learn from each other.

The organisations I visited were particularly interested in hearing about New Zealand’s review of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and related legislation, and I am pleased to be able to tell you today about the main outcomes of that review. The cabinet papers detailing the outcomes are being posted on the Ministry of Justice website today.

Before I talk about those outcomes, I want to outline briefly the Government’s approach to family violence. We have a Family Violence Ministerial Team established to provide leadership across the state sector, promote public debate, and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to addressing this critical social issue.

A Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families provides advice to the Ministerial team, and is overseeing a comprehensive programme of action being undertaken by government and non-government agencies to improve the health, well-being and safety of victims of domestic violence.

The Ministry of Justice contributes to the Taskforce’s programme by undertaking work to assist victims of domestic violence in both the Family and District Courts. Key projects being undertaken include:

* developing the role of an independent Victim Advocate/Support Person to provide support and assistance to victims of domestic violence in the eight Family Violence Courts.

* developing operating guidelines for how Family Violence Courts are run;

* improving security in Courts for victims; and providing information pamphlets outlining available services for victims.

And, as I said, another significant initiative has been the Ministry’s review of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and related legislation.

I am pleased that the review has found that the legislation is widely supported, but three areas were identified where the Act could be strengthened to meet its objectives of reducing and preventing violence in domestic relationships. These three areas are:

* The role of Police and enforcement of protection orders

* The role of the Courts in domestic violence matters

* Further protection of children in Family Court matters.

A public discussion document was released in December 2007 outlining 19 preliminary proposals to amend the Domestic Violence Act and the Care of Children Act 2004. A total of 103 submissions were received from a broad range of submitters, including private individuals, academics, the legal profession, and non-government agencies representing domestic violence specialists, social assistance, and public interest groups.

Last month the Cabinet approved proposals for legislative amendments to the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and related legislation, and a Bill is currently being drafted. I hope to introduce the Bill as soon as it is ready.

Two key proposals concerning the role of Police and enforcement of protection orders relate to the ability of Police to issue safety orders when attending a domestic violence incident and amending the penalties for breach of a protection order.

As I said, it is clear women now believe police will take them seriously if they ask for help and protection. This is illustrated by the fact that police laid 5151 more domestic violence prosecutions last year than in 2006, but the more effective tools we can give police the better they will be able to play their part in addressing this blight on our society.

Under the new proposals, Police will be able to issue on the spot short term family violence safety orders. The purpose of these orders is to strengthen the immediate safety of complainants by removing the alleged perpetrator of violence from the home for up to 72 hours.

The safety orders will be issued by Police in situations where there is an insufficient basis to arrest, but where an assessment of safety reveals a likelihood of domestic violence and an order is necessary to protect the safety of the victims.

The proposals also strengthen the penalty system for breach of protection orders. The current two-tier structure has the effect of restricting sentencing to the lower penalty in many cases, even where the breach is serious. One maximum penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment will be introduced. This will allow for an appropriate sentencing range depending on the circumstances of the offending.

There are also four key proposals that improve the response of the Family Court and the criminal courts to domestic violence.

The Family Court will be required to give reasons promptly for declining both “without notice” and “on notice” applications for a protection order. This proposal enhances natural justice, assists applicants in appealing decisions, and educates lawyers about requirements for a successful protection order application.

Some protected persons seek to discharge their protection order because of pressure being exerted on them. Under the new legislation, the Family Court may only discharge a protection order if it is satisfied that the respondent has stopped using domestic violence against the protected person/s and that the order is no longer necessary for the protected person’s safety.

When the criminal courts are sentencing an offender for a “domestic violence related offence” the courts must consider making a protection order on behalf of the victim if one does not already exist. The criminal courts’ role, however, will be restricted to making the protection order, and any conditions, variations to the protection order and matters relating to children have to be referred to the Family Court.

The proposals seek to enhance access to programmes for both respondents and protected persons by widening the time allowed for attending a programme and increasing the number of programmes that can be attended. Programmes are important because one of the main motivations for persons applying for a protection order is often to get their abusive partners on a programme so they can be assisted in changing their violent behaviour.

Two key proposals, amongst a range of proposals, will improve the responsiveness of the current domestic violence regime to children who are affected by domestic violence. The key proposals relate to the current inconsistencies between the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and the Care of Children Act 2004.

The Domestic Violence Act only provides for a lawyer for the child to be appointed where a child makes an application for a protection order through an adult representative. Under the new legislation the Court will be provided with discretion to appoint a lawyer for children in protection order proceedings where children are likely to be affected by any order.

The current Care of Children Act contains specific provisions which prescribe how the court must deal with care and contact arrangements for children where physical and sexual abuse is alleged, but not psychological abuse.

This inconsistency needs to be addressed. The Act will be amended to ensure that when a protection order is in place these provisions are applied in cases where psychological abuse is alleged.

In addition, the Act will be amended to ensure that when making a parenting order the Court must take into account any allegation of psychological abuse directed at a child or witnessed by a child. This will ensure that this abuse is explicitly recognised by Judges when making parenting orders.

The Domestic Violence Act 1995 is central to providing protection to its victims. As I have discussed here today, the Government has made decisions that I believe will enhance the Act’s effectiveness.

Ending family violence cannot be achieved through legislation alone, however. What is needed is sustained, co-ordinated and multi-level action over a number of years and across all sectors of society – particularly health, justice, education and social services.

The initiative we are here today to support is one excellent example of what is needed. Thank you very much for inviting me to join you.

Campaigners claim Russia’s economic boom is fuelling a rise in human trafficking – with particular concern over the number of women being coerced into prostitution.

They are ‘recruited’ from former Soviet Union countries and end up working in Moscow or St Petersburg.

In the Russian capital there are a number of street markets where women can be bought for the night.

Human rights campaigners call it modern day sexual slavery.

The gang masters who control the rackets sell the ‘girls’ for anything between R90 and R300 a night and, of course, they keep most of the money.

The International Organisation for Migration – which is funded by the European Union – has rescued a number of women who have been press ganged into prostitution.

Project coordinator Alberto Andreani says the gangs’ methods are becoming more and more sophisticated.

“A person with a lack of education, a person with a lack of opportunities and who is in serious need of changing their life will fall victim to traffickers,” he says.

“They will end up in Moscow or another big city in the hands of these groups and these groups withhold documents so they just cut their freedom.”

Unofficial estimates suggest there are as many as 200,000 women trapped in a life of prostitution in Moscow alone.

The problem is also concerning health officials who say the rise in prostitution is fuelling an epidemic in sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV.

According to health worker Sergey Dubovsky: “We have a 100% growth in HIV infections in Moscow in just over a year.

“And the problem is that Moscow is a transit point that sees 20-25 million people on any given day.

“That means that clients contracting HIV from sex workers are spreading it across the country.”

It is estimated that 1 in 25 prostitutes in Moscow is infected with the HIV virus and women forced into becoming sex workers say it is extremely difficult to stay protected.

Sveta was recruited in Ukraine and is now working the streets of Moscow – she is candid about the dangers.

“It has not happened to me but other girls were taken to a construction site or army barracks. Sometimes they were kept there for two days and had to serve 60 clients,” she says.

“Others had cigarettes stubbed out on their bodies and sometimes clients are drunk and beat them.”

European Union (EU) is to finance a project designed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), toward ending human-trafficking in Nigeria.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) correspondent in Geneva, Switzerland, reports that a paper on the project is being fine-tuned by Nigeria and ILO.

At the meeting in Geneva, were Nigeria’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Alhaji Suleiman Kassim, Head, Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, in ILO, Roger Plant, as well as his colleague, Anne Pawletta.

The paper is expected to detail plans to fight trafficking for 24 months, expectedly with effect from January 2009, and could cost one million euros (N186 million).

Pawletta told NAN that the project was a follow-up to the one designed to end human trafficking, with focus on anti-trafficking legislation in Nigeria and Ghana, from 2004 to 2006.

“This time around, the ILO initiated the project for Nigeria to improve law enforcement response to prosecuting trafficking cases,” she said.

According to the concept paper, trafficking in human beings is a major problem in West Africa, rooted in poverty and the pervasive desire of poor people to look for work abroad.

“The International Labour Organisation estimates that 130,000 persons in sub-Saharan West Africa are victims of trafficking, while Nigerians are trafficked internally to neighbouring countries and to Europe and the Middle East,” she said.

New statistics revealing the alarming number of female children that are victims of abuse is seeing child welfare and anti-abuse groups turning to Swazi tradition in the hope of reviving a sense of community responsibility towards the wellbeing of Swaziland’s children.

The findings from a demographic survey on violence against women and children, conducted by the government’s Central Statistics Office, found that two-thirds of 13-24 year-old females reported feeling depressed, and 18 percent said they had contemplated taking their own lives, while four percent had attempted suicide.

More than half of teenage girls, aged 13-17-years-old, reported depression, and 10 percent of the age group had thought of suicide as an option to their problems. The high rates of depression were attributed to the extreme levels of domestic abuse and violence experienced by them.

“Why are our girls so troubled? The evidence shows they feel powerless, helpless in the face of abuse, faceless when it comes to being seen and voiceless when it comes to being heard,” Alexandra Simelane, a social worker at a health clinic on the outskirts of Manzini, Swaziland’s second city, told IRIN.

About 38 percent of girls and young women aged between 13 and 24-years-old reported difficulty sleeping and 29 percent had experienced unwanted pregnancies. The figures were even more dramatic for young female adults [aged 18-24 years-old]. About half had problems sleeping and had also gone through unwanted pregnancy.

The findings echo the results of a study released by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in April 2008. According to the UNICEF survey, every third woman in Swaziland had been sexually abused as a child and one in four had experienced physical violence.

“This portrait of troubled girls is at odds with the traditional supportive family and community environment Swazis are famous for,” Simelane said.

According to Nonhlanhla Dlamini, director of the Manzini-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) communities needed to restore their sense of responsibility towards the health and happiness of children.

“There still are caring people, but as a whole we seem to have lost that concern for one another. We need to bring back that time when every child had a parent in every adult Swazi. Then we may stop the abuse, HIV-infection and trauma inflicted on girls that we are finding so much of in our research,” Dlamini said.

With HIV/AIDS prevalence at 33.4 percent among people aged between 15 and 49, Swaziland has the world’s highest infection rate. As a result, life expectancy has halved from nearly 60 years-old in the 1990s to just over 30 years-old in 2008. And according to UNICEF, in two years time, 200,000 Swazi children would have been orphaned by the AIDS pandemic – about one-fifth of the current population.

“Particularly with so many child-headed households – our survey found that almost one out of 10 of all girls have lost both parents and are living as orphans. Neighbours can no longer just sit back and fold their arms and mind their own business,” Dlamini said.

One out of 10 households in Swaziland is run by children and anecdotal evidence collected by the survey suggested a fear of reprisal from abusers kept neighbours from helping a child thought to be in distress.

“Perpetrators of violence know they can get away with it now. We are creating a mechanism to give support to girls, to give them voices,” Dlamini said.

In an attempt to involve community members, SWAGAA, with UNICEF support, launched a community volunteer programme in 2004, which is informally known as the “shoulders to cry on” programme, and is now up and running in the country’s 350 chiefdoms.

Some 8,000 volunteers have been trained to provide support and council victims of abuse Dlamini said. “Girls can go to report their problems in confidence and safety, we are telling girls they have someone to seek out.”

But, according to the survey, Swaziland’s deepening poverty meant that families felt they were already overstretched and had little to offer. “People who used to share what little they have no longer have anything to share – this leads to alienation amongst once close neighbours,” Jabu Dlamini, Coordinator of Community Action for Child’s Rights Programme in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, told IRIN.

The survey also found that 60 percent of Swazi men felt it was acceptable to beat their wives. “Men have to learn that this is not only unacceptable but they cannot fall back on Swazi tradition, saying this is customary… it has never been Swazi custom to beat a woman,” Simelane said

At 6, Betty Makoni was raped. She was a child labourer, selling candles in her village. A neighbour invited her and nine other girls into his house, locked them in a room and sexually violated each one.

That was her introduction to life as a female in Zimbabwe.

At 7, she asked her mother why women never spoke out when men brutalized them. “Sh!” her mother warned. “These things are private.”

At 9, after one particularly vicious episode of domestic abuse, she lost her mother.

“I grew up with questions and anger,” she said. “But I was a clever girl. I started to fight.”

She fought her way through school. She fought to protect her siblings. She fought to become self-supporting.

At 24, with two university degrees, she got a job as a teacher. “I felt strongly that one day I would break the silence about rape.”

The chance came sooner than she expected. Barely had she settled into the classroom when the girls started dropping out. Over the school year, two-thirds stopped coming. They’d been raped, infected with AIDS, turned into outcasts.

So Makoni started a club where girls could talk about their lives and learn to defend themselves. Ten girls attended the first meeting. But word spread quickly. Before long, girls’ clubs were popping up in schools across Zimbabwe.

By 1999, there were so many clubs that Makoni gave up her teaching job to run the Girl Child Network. There are now 689 clubs and three “empowerment villages” where survivors of rape can seek refuge and rehabilitation.

The network has helped more than 60,000 girls and women in its nine-year history. The youngest was a 1-day-old baby. The oldest was 94.

“As I speak now, I know a woman is getting killed in Zimbabwe,” Makoni said this week at briefing hosted by the Stephen Lewis Foundation. “There’s a silent genocide going on.”

The Girl Child Network is one of more than 100 grassroots organizations supported by the foundation Lewis established five years ago. The former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa was so devastated by what he saw and so frustrated by the world’s lethargic response, that he decided to pour his passion and eloquence into raising money for groups on the front lines in Africa.

Lewis describes Makoni as “a powerful and leading figure in her country.” She describes herself as a victim who became a leader because no one else would help Zimbabwe’s girls.

She has been jailed. She receives death threats constantly. Her husband, an engineer, worries about her safety.

In an interview, Makoni shared a letter she had just received from one of her supporters. “Please don’t come back (to Zimbabwe),” it says. “Things are worse. People are being beaten to death.”

She will go back, after a conference organized by the Stephen Lewis Foundation to raise global awareness of “sexual terrorism” in Africa. It will bring together doctors and trauma counsellors and aid experts.

Makoni will speak as a victim, a survivor, a teacher and a mother.

But she is more than that. She has changed attitudes in Zimbabwe in a way that no one thought possible. Girls who attend her clubs know how to say no to boys who demand sex. They don’t retreat into the kitchen or lower their gaze in the presence of men. Their body language is confident and assertive. If necessary, they can fight aggressively.

They compete vigorously with boys in school. So many have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and community leaders that fathers now urge their daughters to join the network.

“We are challenging the whole patriarchal structure,” Makoni says.

She remembers the nine girls with whom she was raped 31 years ago. None lived to tell the story.

She visits her mother’s grave whenever she can. “I always tell her: `There was nothing you could have done. But I can.'”

And she thinks she hears her mother say: “Go girl.”

Twenty-five local organizations from around the world, including Positive Club (Hamyaran Mosbat) in Mashhad (Khorsan Razavi Province), have received the Red Ribbon Award 2008, a United Nations laurel given every two years to celebrate outstanding community leadership and action in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Joint UN Programme on HIV AIDS (UNAIDS) announced the winners, which were drawn from 550 nominations submitted from 147 countries, today to coincide with the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on the scourge.

Jeffrey Malley, the Director of UNDP’s HIV/AIDS Practice, said there were many “brilliant examples” around the world of community action and leadership on HIV prevention, care, treatment and support.

“However, most of them are unheard and unsung,” he said.

“The Red Ribbon Award is a way to recognize and honour them.” The laureates – which each receive $5,000 – were chosen by a technical review committee of experts in the field, and were selected for their innovation, impact, sustainability, strategic partnerships, gender sensitivity and social inclusion.

Five of the 25 winners will be chosen by a jury of eminent persons at an international AIDS conference in Mexico City in August to receive special recognition in the following categories:
* providing access to treatment, support and care;
* supporting children orphaned by AIDS;
* promoting human rights;
* empowering women and girls; and
* providing HIV prevention programmes and services.

Those winners will each receive an additional $15,000.

The 25 winners comprise nine from Africa, seven from the Asia -Pacific region, five from Latin America and the Caribbean, two from Eastern Europe and Central Asia , and two from the Middle East and North Africa, UN Information Center said.

The African winners are:
* Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights – Ghana;
* Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS – Malawi;
* Consol Homes – Malawi;
* FIMIZORE (Fikambanana Miaro ny Zony Rehetra) – Madagascar;
* Mama’s Club – Uganda;
* Ntankah Village Women Common Initiative Group – Cameroon;
* Power Positive Support Community Based Organization – Kenya;
* Sanerela + – South Africa;
* Voice of Roses – Kenya. A

The Asia-Pacific laureates are:
* Empower Foundation – Thailand;
* National Federation of Women Living with HIV/AIDS – Nepal;
* People Like Us (PLUS) – India;
* Sanghamitra – India;
* Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust – India;
* Social Action for Women – Thailand;
* Yayasan Kesehatan Bali (Yakeba) – Indonesia.

The Latin America and Caribbean winners are:
* ASONVIHSIDA – Nicaragua;
* Asociacion Civil Amavida – Venezuela;
* Fortaleciendo la Diversidad – Mexico ;
* Grupo De Amigos con VIH – Mexico;
* Promoteurs Objectif Zero Sida (POZ) – Haiti.

Europe and Central Asia , the winners are the
* Estonian Network People Living with HIV (Estonia) and
* Orlovskaya Regional Non-profit Organization against AIDS, Phoenix PLUS (Russia).

The Middle East and North Africa laureates are
* Morocco ‘s Association de Lutte Contre le Sida and
* Iran’s Mashhad Positive Club (Hamyaran Mosbat).

Dr Geeta Rao Gupta, president, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), who addressed a conference on AIDS in Delhi, tells Business Standard that work on AIDS does not limit work on women.

Since when has the ICRW been engaged in taking up issues relating to HIV/AIDS?

ICRW was founded in 1976 and first began working on gender and HIV in 1990. At that time people did not think the average woman was at risk of HIV infection.

However, based on our understanding of women’s economic and social vulnerabilities, we knew that women in fact were at high risk – and sadly that has become the reality today. That early thinking informed our ground-breaking work on women and AIDS.

Doesn’t this limit the scope of work that can be done for women’s empowerment?

In no way does our work on aids limit the scope of our work on women’s empowerment. In fact, women’s empowerment is key to ending the AIDS epidemic. Our work on gender and hiv has expanded the gender transfromation agenda in a significant way by challenging and helping to change fundamental social norms harmful to women’s lives and well-being.

What was the main area of work prior to HIV/AIDS taking centre stage?

ICRW has always worked on multiple issues simultaneously. The field of gender and development encompasses a broad scope of issues that often intersect each other. Currently, we work on economic empowerment of women, reproductive health, nutrition and food security, gender-based violence, adolescent health and well-being, as well as HIV/AIDS.

What is the annual funding for the NGO and what are the sources?

Our annual expenditure in 2007 was approximately $11 million, and our funding sources include private foundations, the US government, the World Bank, UN agencies, corporate entities, and individuals. It is important to note that ICRW is not a donor agency. We work with partners who share our vision and mission, and more often than not, we raise funds collaboratively to fulfill the vision.

How much is set aside for HIV/AIDS?

Funds for specific programme areas vary annually depending on available resources and donors’ priorities. In 2007, expenditures for HIV/AIDS-related projects were approximately $3.4 million.

How many NGOs do you partner with in India? Is industry also being partnered with in the present scenario of CSR?

There is no fixed number. We work in partnerships with various NGOs, academic institutions, government agencies, and corporate sectors.

Which are the companies working with you in India?

We are working with Gap Inc And the Nike foundation.

What are your future plans for India?

To continue to undertake action-oriented research and advocacy to empower women, advance gender equality and fight poverty.

What do you think is the key to empowering women in India?

The key to empowering women is to provide them with education, ensure that they have economic opportunities and that they control their income and resources, reduce violence against women, and enable them to participate in decision making at all levels of society.

Do you think the marriage system and the patriarchal system are to blame for the prevalence of dowry, female feticide, and high maternal mortality in India?

We need more research to generate rigorous evidence on the linkages between these issues.

What can make Indians care for their women folk?

Attitudes have to change across all strata of society, among both women and men.

Don’t you think organisations like yours are neglecting these issues by giving too much attention to stigma caused by a single disease which is not even as widespread as malaria or TB?

We are working on all opportunities presented to us that help challenge and change social norms that create and sustain gender inequality.

As you may be aware that UNAIDS had to admit that its data on HIV/AIDS in India was highly inflated and had to make its own campaign low key.

The fact that India’s HIV infection rates are lower than originally estimated is wonderful news, but it does not mean that women no longer are at risk of HIV or that women’s lives overall have improved. We have much more work to do toward understanding gender constraints and barriers for women in India.

Government officials and AIDS activists from around the world convened at the United Nations in New York from 10-12 June to review the global HIV/AIDS response. At the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) in 2001, governments committed to promote and protect women’s human rights and reduce women’s vulnerability to HIV&AIDS by eliminating all forms of discrimination including violence against women.

Seven years on, women are still waiting!

Research in 16 countries shows governments have failed to keep their commitments to promote gender equality and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and end violence against women. This failure also shows governments are not putting women’s risk at the center of their AIDS responses.

The research found that “while countries have regulatory instruments in place to counter gender-based violence in all its various forms, the implementation of actions is still highly deficient,” said Alessandra Nilo from GESTOS in Brazil, who coordinated the research. This research is part of a concerted effort by civil society to monitor and make visible the hidden gaps in policy implementation.

Despite continued calls by human rights and women’s rights groups, most countries do not have HIV prevention programmes designed specifically for women, much less commitment to promoting and protecting women’s human rights. In fact, in some countries there is evidence of HIV prevention related campaigns reinforcing gender stereotypes rather than challenging them.

In Argentina for example, “There remains much to be done especially in developing a protocol and creating specialized care services for women survivors of violence and coordinating the work of different services including health, the criminal justice system etc. Also governments must launch multi-pronged, sustained campaigns that promote women’s rights.” said Mabel Bianco, Director of Fundacion para Estudio e Investigacion de la Mujer (FEIM), Argentina who participated in the research.

Many countries have legal and policy frameworks to protect women and girls from violence; however, all countries report poor or no implementation of these policies.

Most worrying is that the research “points to the lack of political will and ability to prevent and redress violence,” said Cynthia Rothschild from the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership in the United States. This lack of will results in insufficient resources given to programmes to protect women from violence, a lack of specialised medical-legal services for survivors of violence, safe houses for women, etc. In addition, the governments do not even have systematic sex-disaggregated data gathering on the extent and impact of violence against women, said Rothschild.

“As we did in 2001, we need to continue putting pressure on government and donors to track and measure commitments to women’s rights and to demand accountability of those in charge of the global AIDS response,” said Neelanjana Mukhia, the International Policy and Campaign Coordinator at ActionAid, a member of the Women Won’t Wait campaign and its international secretariat.

While decision-makers make empty promises again, it is women like Rhodea from Namibia who continue to bear the brunt. “I was sterilized after giving my birth to my baby. I did not find out about this until I returned for contraceptive counseling after I had my baby. All I was told was that it was better this way. Because I am HIV positive.” This experience is confirmed by many of the women across the countries studied who report severe discrimination and rights violations in health systems. These range from forced sterilisation and abortions, to HIV positive women being denied access to information on safe sex practices and prevention products.

“There has to be greater urgency, to really turn the tide for women” says Nilo. “The most effective way is to significantly increase resources for gender-sensitive and human rights based prevention, treatment, care and support – for both epidemics – violence against women and HIV&AIDS.” In particular, there is a need to a shift in focus from targeted interventions to interventions with vulnerable populations. This means that funds and interventions are needed for persons vulnerable to the virus because of their race, class, ethnicity, language and geographic location. “Governments and donors have to act with urgency to fulfil their responsibilities to the world’s women” Bianco said.

Resources are not the only answer, though. We must ensure that all AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support interventions integrate community education on zero tolerance of violence. In addition, the promotion of laws and law enforcement that prevent and protect women from violence, training for health care personnel and legal infrastructures, and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis, emergency contraception, female condoms and other female-controlled prevention ALL need to form part of a comprehensive approach to HIV&AIDS.

As governments meet to monitor progress on the UN Declaration of Commitment, we urge them to keep their promises to women and girls.


Women Won’t Wait!

The Women Won’t Wait campaign is an international coalition of organizations and networks working to promote women’s health and human rights in the struggle to address HIV and AIDS and end all forms of violence against women and girls. For more information on the Women Won’t Wait campaign:

Women Won’t Wait is an international coalition of organizations and networks from the global South and North working to promote women’s health and human rights in the struggle to comprehensively address HIV and AIDS and end all forms of violence against women and girls. The coalition members are: Action Aid; African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET); Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID); Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL); Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE); Fundacion para Estudio e Investigacion de la Mujer (FEIM); GESTOS-Soropositividade, Comunicacao & Genero; International Community of Women Living with HIV&AIDS Southern Africa (ICW-Southern Africa); International Women’s AIDS Caucus; International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC); Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network; Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA); Program on International Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health; SANGRAM; VAMP; and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA). National coalitions of the campaign are also operational in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The UNICEF Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Mareledi Segotso, said at a media briefing that the remaining 42 percent of deaths among children are caused by preventable diseases such as respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malaria in endemic sub-districts.

The briefing was held at the United Nations Place in Gaborone.

Segotso said only 12 percent of children and 3.4 percent of pregnant women sleep under insecticide treated nets.

She said two percent (8 660) of households are headed by children. By 2001, about 15 percent of children had lost at least one parent and that one in three households with children was caring for at least one orphan. Female-headed households took in 68 percent of orphans.

Segotso said access to basic social services was impressive in Botswana. However, access to services by the poor is inadequate. Protection of children and women from violence, abuse and exploitation was still weak.

Segotso noted that UNICEF has a two-year country programme that contributes to the achievement of Botswana’s NDP 9 in areas affecting the survival, development, protection of children and women directly or indirectly.

UNICEF hopes to reduce morbidity and mortality, reduce disparities in access to and use of services and assure participation of all groups in decisions that affect their own well-being and enhance the protective environment for children and women.

At the same briefing, UNICEF Botswana’s representative Barbara Reynolds said children require special protection from adults. Reynolds said the media could prevent diseases before they became outbreaks.

The media could educate the public by emphasising the need to wash hands with water and soap to eliminate disease.

“If you say it often enough, people will start doing it often enough,” she said.