Archive for July 30th, 2010

President says ban is part of a strategy to fight people trafficking and sexual exploitation rife in Spain

The Spanish government has put itself on collision course with the national press with the announcement that it wants to ban adverts offering sexual services from their classified sections.

The explicit adverts, which fill at least a page in most of Spain’s dailies, are worth €40m (£34m) a year to the struggling newspaper industry.

President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero made the announcement during this week’s state of the nation speech, saying it was part of a strategy to fight the people trafficking and sexual exploitation that was rife in the country.

“As long as these advertisements exist, they contribute to the idea of this activity as normal,” he said.

The Association of Spanish Newspaper Editors responded by saying that the logical policy would be for the government to make prostitution illegal. “If it was illegal, then newspapers wouldn’t carry the ads,” a spokesman said.

If the ads are banned, newspapers will want to be compensated and, worryingly for Zapatero, El País, a staunch supporter of his socialist party, is the paper that earns the most from this form of advertising. With its left-liberal sensibilities and readership profile, El País is the Spanish paper that most resembles the Guardian, and yet it earns €5m a year from advertising prostitution.

Yolanda Besteiro of the Progressive Women’s Federation was scathing about what she regards as the newspaper’s hypocrisy. “No media outlet can proclaim itself a defender of human rights when it publishes this kind of advertising, which makes them directly complicit in this type of slavery,” she said.

The most openly religious daily, ABC, also runs the ads. El Publíco is the only national that does not run them as a matter of policy.

Spain is the only European country where the “quality” press carries adverts for sex. With the migration of most classified advertising to the internet, prostitution now accounts for 60% of the Spanish classified ad market.

Prostitution is big business in Spain, worth an estimated €18bn a year. There are about 200,000 sex workers in the country, nearly all of them immigrants, many of them illegal. Prostitutes are a common sight in cities, and it is impossible to go far along any main road before finding an oddly named “alternate club”, rural brothels that can house as many as 100 women.

Most of the newspaper ads are not placed by individual women but by the mafias – largely from Romania, Nigeria and various Latin American countries – who exploit them. Proof of this emerged this month when police broke up a prostitution network in Madrid after following up ads in various papers. The women were being forced to give half their earnings to pimps, and much of the rest went on paying for their lodgings, leaving them, the police said, “in a state of near slavery”.

See also: Newspaper and magazine editors have called for prostitution to be made illegal if they are to be banned from featuring advertisements for sexual services.


Women’s groups have applauded the recent appointment of two female judges to Islamic courts in Malaysia, but its significance is not yet clear: The new judges will have to wait a month before finding out whether they will be prevented from hearing certain cases.

A committee of 20 senior judges is scheduled to begin considering whether Shariah guidelines would bar women from handling certain legal matters, like divorce. The judges are expected to conclude their deliberations in a month, said Mohammad Yusop Che Teh, a Shariah Court of Appeal judge.

“The Shariah principles will be the guiding principles in determining the jurisdictional issues,” he said Wednesday at a news conference.

Women’s rights advocates have expressed hope that the appointment of Rafidah Abdul Razak and Surayah Ramlee may help address concerns that women are treated unfairly by the Shariah courts.

Under Malaysia’s two-tier judicial system, secular courts handle most criminal and many civil cases, while Shariah courts deal with family and morality cases involving Muslims.

Women’s organizations say they receive many complaints from women about discrimination in the Shariah courts. Among the most common objections, said Norhayati Kaprawi, a Muslim women’s activist, are that it is more difficult for women to initiate divorce proceedings and to secure alimony from their former husbands.

The appointments came five years after the religious authorities in this Muslim-majority country issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, declaring that women could be appointed Shariah judges.

Although the women were appointed in May, Prime Minister Najib Razak made the announcement only this month. Ms. Rafidah, 39, will work in the Kuala Lumpur Shariah court, while Ms. Surayah, 31, has been appointed to the federal territory of Putrajaya.

“It is our hope that these appointments will enhance justice in all cases brought before the court, including those involving families and women’s rights,” Mr. Najib said in a statement issued last week.

Ms. Surayah and Ms. Rafidah will serve in the Subordinate Court, the lowest level of the Shariah court system, which also includes the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

Ms. Surayah was previously an assistant to the senior director in the department of Shariah training division, while Ms. Rafidah was a Shariah court research officer.

Speaking at the news conference Wednesday, the two new judges pledged to apply the law according to Shariah principles. Ms. Rafidah said she did not see any distinction between herself and her male counterparts.

When asked how she felt about the possibility that they may be prevented from hearing certain cases, Ms. Rafidah said she would leave it to “the wisdom” of the committee deciding the matter.

Women have long served as judges in secular Malaysian courts, and women represent about half of the 400 lawyers who have registered with the Shariah Lawyers Association, a voluntary membership group.

But before the 2005 fatwa, religious scholars in the country had debated whether women could serve as Shariah judges under Islam.

Ms. Norhayati, the women’s rights advocate, said some scholars had expressed doubt as to whether women had the mental and emotional capacity to serve as judges, and some wondered whether they would side with female complainants.

She said it would be “an insult” to Muslim women if they were prevented from hearing certain cases, because Muslim women had already proved themselves to be capable judges in the secular courts.

Sa’adiah Din, a Shariah lawyer who specializes in family law, said that since the fatwa was issued, female lawyers had repeatedly asked the judicial authorities when a female judge would be appointed. “We’ve been waiting for this,” she said.

Zaleha Kamaruddin, deputy director general of the Institute of Islamic Understanding, a research institution in Kuala Lumpur, said that the women’s appointments had been widely welcomed and that other Malaysian states had shown interest in appointing women as Shariah judges. “These appointments are significant because it has paved the way for more women to be appointed at a higher level in future,” she said.

Ms. Zaleha, a professor of law who helped lobby for the appointment of female judges, said that the 2005 fatwa was made at the national level, that states had to issue their own fatwas, and that it took the support of the Shariah chief judge and a new government minister to help make the appointments a reality.

Meera Samanther, president of the Women’s Aid Organization, a nongovernmental organization, said it was disappointing that it had taken so long for women to be appointed Shariah judges.

“There’s always been this fallacy that women would not be able to articulate on religious issues,” she said. “Apart from them being appointed, we hope they will also apply feminist principles.”

Lax government enforcement of human anti-trafficking laws has led to an increase in the trafficking of young Nepalese women and girls, mainly for exploitation in Indian brothels, local activists say.

Nepal’s 2008 Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act stipulates punishment for traffickers of up to 20 years in prison and US$2,600 in fines, and provides for the compensation of victims. But it seems the new law has done nothing to reduce the phenomenon.

“The crucial problem is weak implementation of anti-trafficking laws allowing the traffickers to operate easily,” said Shyam Kumar Pokharel, managing director of Samrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE), an NGO supporting trafficked victims. “Although thousands of traffickers have been arrested, only a few hundred have been convicted.”

“These traffickers are all from local criminal gangs and have strong links with brothel owners in the Indian cities,” said Pokharel, who did research on imprisoned traffickers. He found that the traffickers sourced the girls and young women mostly from villages close to their own, before enticing them to Kathmandu with false promises of jobs and marriage.

In the early 1990s, the government estimated that at least 5,000-7,000 girls and women were trafficked annually to brothels in India, but NGOs say this number has gone up significantly. In the past year, Maiti Nepal, [] the first local NGO to attempt to combat human trafficking, has stopped over 17,000 young women crossing the border with traffickers. The NGO has a 36-member border surveillance team, all whom are victims of human trafficking and trained to identify vulnerable girls.

Local NGOs reckon that more than three quarters of the women and girls being trafficked end up in Indian brothels with most of the rest ending up in similar establishments in the Middle East.

“Unfortunately, there is a lack of official data because no studies have been done to get an accurate estimate, but the situation has worsened,” Januka Bhattarai, project coordinator of Shakti Samuha, [] an NGO that helps to rehabilitate trafficked victims rescued from Indian brothels, told IRIN.

Until the 1990s traffickers targeted a handful of districts, namely Sindupalchowk and Nuwakot (some 50km south of the capital). These districts, inhabited mostly by ethnic Tamang, were among the poorest in the country and yet readily accessible from Kathmandu.

These days, with a somewhat better road system, traffickers have been able to penetrate the whole country, according to Maiti Nepal.

Monitoring the traffickers is not easy given the 1,800km-long border with India and the fact that over 100,000 female migrant workers go to India every year. They do not need travel documents or work visas. The government has not been intervening in this migration process or attempting to identify traffickers or trafficked people.

“It is often the NGOs who are involved in checking the borders, investigating the crimes, protecting the witnesses and following up cases in court,” Biswo Khadga, director of Maiti Nepal, said.

Many cases go unreported: The legal system has registered only 123 cases so far in 2010 – a tiny fraction of the real number of trafficked women and girls, according to SASANE.

Government officials who preferred anonymity said they had been hobbled by political instability and weak governance.

The Trafficking Act requires the government to set up rehabilitation centres, but so far only three are operational – all run by NGOs.

“We’re getting tired of seeking financial aid from the government. It remains very negligent on this issue,” said Bhattarai from Shakti Samuha, which runs a rehabilitation centre in Sindupalchok District.

The government’s lack of progress on this issue has drawn criticism from the US State Department: Its annual trafficking report [] released in June called the “complicity” of the Nepalese government a “serious problem” and suggested strengthening the National Human-Trafficking Task Force, as well as establishing more effective ways to monitor trafficking cases.