Archive for the ‘Children Parenting’ Category

An survey has shown there are more than 100 children under 18 working in Fiji’s sex trade.

The report, by the International Labour Organisation, says there are an increasing number of children involved in child labour.

It says more than 500 children are involved in the worst forms of child labour in Fiji, including drug trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and collecting and handling scrap metals and chemicals.

The ILO says although the majority of respondents started sex work between the ages of 15 and16 years, the survey also found that some started as early as 10 years old.

More than half of the child sex workers interviewed were living at home with their parents or guardians.

http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=57748

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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.

http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/619

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

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.

http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles//06mmb/Article/

A global campaign that aims to save the lives of 16 million mothers and children over the next five years was being launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday with as much as $40 billion in commitments from world governments and private aid groups.

The so-called Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health was being announced at the end of a three-day summit to review efforts to implement anti-poverty goals adopted at a summit in 2000. These include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, halting and reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and cutting child and maternal mortality.

“Women and children play a crucial role in development,” Ban said in a statement prepared for the event that was released by his office. “Investing in their health is not only the right thing to do — it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies. ”

Ban has made the reduction of maternal and child deaths a personal campaign, and it has been a key topic during the summit. Worldwide every year, an estimated 8 million children die before reaching their 5th birthday, and about 350,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth.

Even before the details were announced, the international aid organization Oxfam expressed skepticism about how much money was truly new, and how the program would be administered and held accountable.

“That kind of money would go a long way toward reaching the child and maternal health goals, but we have a big concern,” said Oxfam spokeswoman Emma Seery. “Where will that money come from?

“Half of the donors cut their aid last year” amid the global economic crisis, she said. “We’re just nervous that it will be governments bringing together a lot of previous commitments, and that won’t mean much for poor people.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected at the afternoon “Every Woman, Every Child” event, along with world leaders including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the prime ministers of Ethiopia, Norway, and Tanzania. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was also on the advance roster of speakers.

“When we first started talking about this five years ago, there didn’t seem to be any interest, very little commitment,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, a pediatrician who heads the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Geneva, Switzerland.

“But with the help of many, and the leadership of the Secretary General, this week is like a dream come true,” said Bustreo, whose organization has worked with Ban’s office on the strategy in recent months.

WHO will chair the global strategy, with a progress report delivered annually to the U.N. General Assembly, she said.

Bustreo said some money could be used to pay for simple, inexpensive tools and practices that could save millions of the world’s children each year.

She said the 1 million newborns who die each year through aspiration — literally drowning from fluid in the breathing passage — could have been saved with a tool that has a bulb like a turkey baster that uses suction to clear away liquids.

The lives of older children can be saved with re-hydration liquids to combat diarrhea, immunizations for childhood diseases like measles, and vitamin supplements to fight malnutrition, she said.

Improving maternal health is more difficult — and costly. Bustreo said half of all maternal deaths are caused by complications of delivery, such as obstructive labor, that require surgery.

In 2000, the U.N. set “Millennium Development Goals” that included reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jEjj_XD4L21sQLY3DEogHXxLXQHAD9ICPTGG0

Campaigners against prostitution and sex trafficking appeared to have won a victory over the weekend when Craigslist, the powerful online advertising website, capitulated to mounting pressure and removed its “adult services” content from US servers.

The move is an important concession in the fierce debate in America between free speech and first amendment advocates and those seeking to clean up the web and protect vulnerable girls and women from exploitation. It follows a sustained campaign by prosecutors across the US to have the sex advertisements removed.

In the absence of comment from Craigslist, it is not clear whether the shift will be permanent. It is also unclear what the concession means for other countries, including the UK, where “erotic” services remained available today. However, the fact that the site’s executives placed a “censored” block over its adult services link in the US suggests that, in word at least, they have not given up the fight.

The sex services portion of the website, previously called its “erotic” section, was criticised as a thinly veiled clearing house for prostitution. It exposed Craigslist to several damaging scandals, the most serious of which was the killing in April last year of Julissa Brisman, a 25-year-old masseuse from New York, in a Boston hotel. Philip Markoff, her alleged murderer, was dubbed the Craigslist killer because he had arranged to meet her through the site. He killed himself in jail last month.

Brandon Petty pleaded guilty last month to sexually attacking with a knife four women who had advertised for sex through Craigslist. He faces up to 45 years in prison.

Also last month, an advert was placed in the Washington Post and another paper under the headline “Dear Craig”, in which two women said they had been forced into prostitution with punters attracted through the website. One of the women said she had been sold by the hour at lorry rest stops while the other said she had been a victim of sex trafficking from the age of 11.

Chief prosecutors from 17 states across the US clubbed together on 24 August to write a joint letter to the website complaining that “ads trafficking children are rampant on it”. They accused the site of profiting from the “suffering of the women and children who continue to be victimised by Craigslist”.

Though Craigslist has faced an intensifying public relations crisis, it is shielded from prosecution by a federal law that protects internet providers from the actions of their users.

According to web advertising monitors AIM group, Craigslist made $45m from its sex ads last year, about a third of its total profits. The website insists it has responded to concerns by introducing in the past year a system of weeding out the most egregious adverts, claiming to have rejected 700,000 items since May 2009.

“Craigslist is committed to being socially responsible, and when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations,” the chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, recently said on his blog.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/05/craigslist-sex-ads-anti-prostitution

Dear Craig,

Although we have not met, we are certain you would not want what happened to us or to thousands of girls like us to ever happen again.

Craig, I am AK. In 2009, I met a man twice my age who pretended to be my boyfriend, and my life as an average girl— looking forward to college, doing my chores, and hanging out with my friends—ended. This “boyfriend” soon revealed he was a pimp. He put my picture on Craigslist, and I was sold for sex by the hour at truck stops and cheap motels, 10 hours with 10 different men every night. This became my life. Men answered the Craigslist advertisements and paid to rape me. The $30,000 he pocketed each month was facilitated by Craigslist 300 times. I personally know over 20 girls who were trafficked through Craigslist. Like me, they were taken from city to city, each time sold on a different Craigslist site —Philadelphia, Dallas, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. My phone would ring, and soon men would line up in the parking lot. One Craigslist caller viciously brutalized me, threatening to dump my body in a river. Miraculously, I survived.

Craig, I am MC. I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28 year-old man. I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold many girls my age, his house was called “Daddy Day Care.” All day, me and other girls sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist, he made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock —and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car.

I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren’t of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths. Craig, we write this letter so you will know from our personal experiences how Craigslist makes horrific acts like this so easy to carry out, and the men who carry out, and men who arrange them very rich. Craig, we know you oppose trafficking and exploitation. But right now, Craigslist is the choice of traffickers because it’s so well known and there are rarely consequences to using it for these illegal acts. We’ve heard that the Adult Services section of Craigslist brings in $36 million a year by charging for these ads. These profits are made at the expense of girls like us, who are lured, kidnapped, and forced to feed the increasing demand for child rape. New traffickers are putting up ads every day, because they know it’s less risky and more profitable to sell girls on Craigslist than to deal drugs.

Please, Craig, close down the Adult Services section. Saving even one child is worth it. It could have been us.

Sincerely,

AK & MC

Survivors of Craigslist Sex Trafficking

Want to Take Action to Help Girls—Visit: http://www.rebeccaproject.org/site and http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org; http://www.fairfund.org or http://www.thenationalcrittentonfoundation.org

Craigslist is hub for child prostitution, allege trafficked women

The online classified advertising site, Craigslist, is facing accusations that it has become a hub for underage prostitution after two young women placed an advertisement in the Washington Post saying they were repeatedly sold through the site to men who “paid to rape” them.

The allegations came as a federal judge threw out an attempt by Craigslist – named after its owner, Craig Newmark – to stop a criminal investigation over its “adult services” section which is alleged to carry thousands of prostitution ads daily.

In an open letter to Newmark placed in the Washington Post, the two women appealed for him to shut Craigslist’s adult services section.

The ad was partly paid for by Fair Fund, a group working with young women who have been sold for sex. It described Craigslist as “the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking”. Fair Fund said it had checked the women’s accounts and could vouch for them. It said AK had met the US attorney general, Eric Holder.

Craigslist’s chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, said it worked tirelessly with law enforcement agencies to identify ads that exploited children, manually reviewed every adult service ad before posting and required phone verification by the person placing it.

Two years ago, under the threat of legal action by about 40 US states, Craigslist began charging $10 (£6.25) per posting for adult services ads, whereas most of the site is free. Some of the revenue goes to charity. That did not reassure groups working with children forced into the sex trade.

Thousands of ads continue to be placed each day that list charges for encounters. Many include words that the Fair Fund says are flags for underage prostitution such as “fresh” and “inexperienced”.

Last month, dozens of anti-prostitution groups led protests outside Craigslist’s San Francisco HQ to demand an end to sex trade ads.

Last week, Newmark was confronted in the street by a CNN reporter with ads from Craigslist that appeared to offer girls for sex, and the case of a 12-year-old girl forced into prostitution and sold on the site until she was freed in a police raid north of Washington in June. A 42-year-old man was charged with human trafficking. Newmark declined to respond.

The website is under criminal investigation in South Carolina, where the attorney general, Henry McMaster, described Craigslist’s alleged promotion of prostitution as a “very serious matter”. On Friday, a federal judge threw out an attempt by Craigslist to block the investigation. The same day, the attorney general of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, called for Craigslist to scrap sex adverts.

Buckmaster has accused McMaster and other law enforcement officials of “grandstanding” and attempting to impose an outdated sexual moral code.

Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/08/craigslist-underage-prostitution-allegations

The move follows a decision by the state government of Malacca to allow under-age marriages as a way of preventing the abandonment of babies, and unwanted pregnancies.

Under Malaysian law, Muslim couples wanting to marry must first be tested for the HIV virus.

Ivy Josiah from Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organisation, says it is this examination that alerted women’s groups to the number of under-age girls getting married.

“There was, shockingly, 32 girls under 10 years of age (who) undertook the premarital HIV test in 2009,” she told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific program. “In the 15-19 year old group, 1,911 boys and 6,815 girls were tested.

“This is not right, even though it’s allowed for in the Islamic shariah law.”

The organisation recently established Malaysia’s first “baby hatch” to accept abandoned infants, following an increase in the number of reported cases of babies being abandoned.

Datuk Haji Harusanni Zakaria, Head of the Mufti Council in Perak state, says he understands why Malacca’s Islamic Religious Council decided to relax conditions for young Muslim girls to marry.

“This is according to our religion, this is to save her and the child.”

But Yasmin Masidi, of the Sisters of Islam, says the move is a kneejerk reaction to what is primarily a health and education issue.

She said: “I think it’s necessary to understand there is already a clause within shariah law in Malaysia that allows Muslim girls under the age of 16 and Muslim boys under the age of 18 to marry but with the permission of the Shariah Court.

“What the Malaccan Islamic Council did was to relax the conditions for these minors to marry.

“As far as Sisters of Islam is concerned, we feel the absolute minimum age to marry is 18 years . . . Our position really is that in the Koran, marriageable age is linked to sound judgement and maturity of mind. Puberty alone is really not sufficient.”

The Malaysian Government has issued a statement saying under-age marriage is morally and socially unacceptable.

While it says child marriages should not be encouraged as they are detrimental to the development and wellbeing of the child, the government has so far refused to change the law.

Women’s groups say the law contravenes UN human rights treaties ratified by Malaysia.

http://www.radioaustralianews.net.au/stories/201008/2976234.htm?desktop

Women’s groups, under the banner of Mumbai Working Group, have sought de-criminalisation of consensual sexual activity in the 16-18 age group, while recommending replacing the term ‘minor’ with ‘child’ for all persons under 18.

Writing to the Home Ministry on the proposed draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2010, they said that an under-16 did not have sufficient maturity to ascertain the consequences of a sexual act and may suffer adverse impact on health, body and mind due to ‘penetrative’ sexual activity. It would not be so for the 16 to 18-year-olds.

“It is very strongly felt that it would be counter-productive to penalise consensual sexual activity when any of the parties are between 16 and18 years of age. It would be a weapon in the hands of parents who oppose the relationship, and such parent would be in a position to penalise the other party for a consensual act.”

Suggesting that the age of consent should be retained at 16, they said that this had been arrived at keeping in mind the child attaining the maturity to understand the consequences of engaging in sexual activity.

Proposing a minimum seven-year prison sentence extendable to life term, the women’s groups said sexual offences against children should be made gender-neutral for the 16-18 age group. They said it would be more appropriate to enact a separate legislation to deal with sexual offences against children.

In another major recommendation, they said any sexual assault on children under the age of 16 and between 16-18 without consent by a uniformed personnel or while in custody of the staff or management of health, educational or residential institutions or even someone from the family should be punished with a minimum of 10 years of imprisonment which may be extended to a life term. This kind of assault has been described as aggravated sexual assault on a child.

For the aggravated assault on child by uniformed personnel, officials, guardians or known people by obtaining consent through seduction, or using a position of authority, the minimum punishment should be a five-year jail term.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article490611.ece

The Muskoka Initiative, formally announced Friday, has largely failed to inspire both at home and abroad. Despite the $2.85-billion, five-year commitment of Canadian taxpayer money, the initiative is high on rhetoric but short on detail.

Buzzwords — like voluntary family planning, country ownership, health workers, information systems, continuum of care, accountability and effectiveness — are abundant. But the details are missing. How will the initiative be co-ordinated with existing global health activities, particularly the Global Fund? Will the initiative promote universal access to health care for women and children, and if so, how will this be financed? While named in the communiqué, it is not clear how the initiative fits in with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the UN Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The G8 communiqué claims the initiative will prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children five years and under and 64,000 maternal deaths while enabling 12 million couples to access family planning. Yet no information is provided on how these goals will be achieved. Perhaps this lack of specificity is the reason that matching contributions from other G8 countries were disappointingly low. A request for billions of dollars is normally accompanied by a strategic plan.

The lack of enthusiasm abroad is met with skepticism at home. This government recently cut funds to organizations working for the rights of women in Canada and abroad. It also decimated Status of Women Canada, and shut down gender equality units at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants Canada to contribute to reducing maternal mortality, he must recognize that maternal health is not a one-off, stand-alone issue.

Improving maternal health depends on the protection, promotion and advancement of the rights and freedoms of women and girls. Canada needs to push countries to fully respect these rights and support programs at home and abroad that allow women and girls to realize them.

Such rights include the ability to access affordable, appropriate and effective health care, as well as the right to clean water and sanitation. Women have a right to be educated, deserve equal opportunities for employment and credit, as well as protection of their property and inheritance rights. The right of women to mobilize as members of civil society and to seek political office must be supported. Voluntary family planning is only voluntary if women’s rights are respected and if they have choice. To quote from the Beijing Platform, women must “have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

The Muskoka Initiative also needs to be closely linked to Canadian engagement in broader global health initiatives. In advance of the UN’s September MDG Summit, experts are debating how to generate more resources while ensuring that global health interventions are better co-ordinated and managed at the country level. Despite its G8 focus on maternal health, Canada has been largely silent on these debates, nor are they reflected in the G8 communiqué.

This silence is not new. Canada’s response to global health challenges has been largely reactive, driven by public policy issues such as the threat of H1N1, or by international processes at the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies. This policy vacuum is accompanied by institutional fragmentation. Global health responsibilities are dispersed among CIDA, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. CIDA does not even list health as one of its three priorities, while Health Canada has few resources for international programming.

Canada, with its expertise in public health and its experience delivering universal health care to a dispersed and diverse population, should be a natural leader in global health. To realize this leadership potential, the government should articulate a bold Global Health Strategy — like the U.S. and British strategies — that identifies how Canada’s global health engagement will protect and improve the health of Canadians and of people around the world. This vision would articulate how best to marshal Canadian government, civil society and academic resources, and clearly delineate institutional responsibilities to implement global health initiatives.

Harper can take this opportunity to frame the maternal health initiative as a key component of Canada’s larger engagement on global health, and accompany the initiative by championing the rights of women and girls. Doing so will not only allay the cynics, it will provide a more inspirational, successful and sustainable foundation for the Muskoka Maternal Health Initiative.

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/business/Women+health+initiative+fails+inspire/3210005/story.html

Kurdistan Regional Government Should Outlaw the Practice

A significant number of girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan suffer female genital mutilation (FGM) and its destructive after-effects, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The Kurdistan Regional Government should take immediate action to end FGM and develop a long term plan for its eradication, including passing a law to ban the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

The 73-page report, “‘They Took Me and Told Me Nothing’: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan” (download from http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/06/16/they-took-me-and-told-me-nothing-0 ) documents the experiences of young girls and women who undergo FGM against a backdrop of conflicting messages from some religious leaders and healthcare professionals about the practice’s legitimacy and safety. The report describes the pain and fear that girls and young women experience when they are cut, and the terrible toll that it takes on their physical and emotional health. It says the regional government has been unwilling to prohibit FGM, despite its readiness to address other forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and so-called honor killings.

“FGM violates women’s and children’s rights, including their rights to life, health, and bodily integrity,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time for the regional government to step up to the plate and take concrete actions to eliminate this harmful practice because it simply won’t go away on its own.”

Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews during May and June 2009, with 31 girls and women in four villages of northern Iraq and in the town of Halabja. Researchers also interviewed Muslim clerics, midwives, healthcare workers, and government officials. Local nongovernmental organizations say that FGM may also be practiced among other communities in the rest of Iraq, but there are no data on its prevalence outside the Kurdish region.

The prevalence of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan is not fully known as the government does not routinely collect information on the practice. However, research conducted by local organizations indicates that the practice is widespread and affects a significant number of girls and women.

The evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests that for many girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan, FGM is an unavoidable procedure that they undergo sometimes between the ages of 3 and 12. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, societal pressures also led adult women to undergo the procedure, sometimes as a precondition of marriage.

Human Rights Watch met Gola, a 17-year-old student from the village of Plangan. Gola told Human Rights Watch, “I remember my mother and her sister-in-law took us two girls, and there were four other girls. We went to Sarkapkan for the procedure. They put us in the bathroom, held our legs open, and cut something. They did it one by one with no anesthetics. I was afraid, but endured the pain. I have lots of pain in this specific area they cut when I menstruate.”

Young girls and women described how their mothers had taken them to the home of the village midwife, a non-licensed practitioner. They were almost never told in advance what was going to happen to them. When they arrived, the midwife, sometimes with the help of the mother, spread the girl’s legs and cut her clitoris with a razor blade. Often, the midwife used the same razor to cut several girls in succession.

Doctors in Iraqi Kurdistan told Human Rights Watch that the most common type of FGM believed to be practiced there is partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce, also known as clitoridectomy. Health care workers said that an even more invasive procedure was sometimes performed on adult women in hospitals. The practice serves no medical purpose and can lead to serious physical and emotional consequences.

The previous regional government took some steps to address FGM, including a 2007 Justice Ministry decree, supposedly binding on all police precincts, that perpetrators of FGM should be arrested and punished. However, the existence of the decree is not widely known, and Human Rights Watch found no evidence that it has ever been enforced.

In 2008, the majority of members of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) supported the introduction of a law banning FGM, but the bill was never enacted into law and its status is unknown. In early 2009, the Health Ministry developed a comprehensive anti-FGM strategy in collaboration with a nongovernmental organization. But the ministry later withdrew its support and halted efforts to combat FGM. A public awareness campaign about FGM and its consequences has also been inexplicably delayed.

The new government, elected in July 2009, has taken no steps to eradicate the practice.

The origins of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan are unclear. Some girls and women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were told that it is rooted in a belief that anything they touch is haram, or unclean, until they go through this painful procedure, while others said that FGM was a traditional custom. Most women referred to FGM as an Islamic sunnah, an action taken to strengthen one’s religion that is not obligatory.

The association of FGM with Islam has been rejected by many Muslim scholars and theologians, who say that FGM is not prescribed in the Quran and is contradictory to the teachings of Islam. Women and girls interviewed said they had received mixed messages from clerics about whether it was a religious obligation. Clerics interviewed said that when any practice interpreted as sunnah endangers people’s lives, it is the duty of the clerics to stop it.

Health care workers interviewed gave mixed responses both about their concerns about the harm FGM causes and about their obligation to raise awareness about the dangers of FGM.

Two studies have been conducted recently to try to determine the prevalence of the practice. In January 2009, the former Human Rights Ministry conducted a study in the Chamchamal district with a sample of 521 students ages 11 to 24. It found that 40.7 percent of the sample had undergone the procedure – 23 percent of girls under age13, and 45 percent of those ages 14 and older.

In 2010, the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation (WADI), a German-Iraqi human rights nongovernmental organization, published the results of a study conducted between September 2007 and May 2008 in the provinces of Arbil and Sulaimaniya, and the Germian/Kirkuk region. Interviews with 1,408 women and girls ages 14 and over found that 72.7 percent had undergone the procedure – 77.9 percent in Sulaimaniya, 81.2 percent in Germian, and 63 percent in Arbil.

The wider age range of girls and women interviewed may account in part for the higher overall percentages. The percentage was 57 percent for those ages 14 to 18 in this study.

Human Rights Watch called on the regional authorities to develop a long-term plan that involves government, health care workers, clerics, and communities in efforts to eradicate the practice. The strategy should include a law to ban FGM for children and non-consenting adult women; awareness raising programs on the health consequences of FGM; and the mainstreaming of FGM prevention into policies and programs for reproductive health, education, and literacy development.

The government also should work closely with communities and people of influence in those communities to encourage debate about the practice among men, women, and children, including awareness and understanding of the human rights of girls and women, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government not only needs to take action to end this practice, but to work for public affirmation of a new standard – not mutilating their girls,” Khalife said.

“FGM is a complex issue, but its harm to girls and women is clear,” Khalife said. “Eradicating it in Iraqi Kurdistan will require strong and dedicated leadership on the part of the regional government, including a clear message that FGM will no longer be tolerated.”

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/06/16/iraqi-kurdistan-girls-and-women-suffer-consequences-female-genital-mutilation

Despite the 2005 election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, and the introduction of free and compulsory primary education, many young girls in this post-conflict West African nation continue to drop out of school to cook and clean for their family, or earn a meagre living selling food or fresh water on the streets.

They face discrimination, sexual violence, family pressures, early pregnancy, forced marriage, and harmful traditional practices. Three out of five Liberian women can’t read.

When Johnson-Sirleaf came to power four years ago, the Harvard-trained economist inspired dreams of a better future for the country’s women. With much fanfare, she launched a National Policy on Girls’ Education in April 2006, and hailed girls’ education as the “cornerstone” of development in Liberia. The Girls’ Education Unit was opened shortly after to implement the policy.

Beyond universal primary education and rebuilding destroyed schools, the national policy promises to cut girls’ secondary school fees in half, train more female teachers, punish teachers who sexually exploit students, and provide counseling.

Other measures aimed directly at the retention of girls include providing health services to girls in school to boost self-esteem, paying out small scholarships for their tuition, uniform, and copybooks, and conducting a nationwide awareness campaign for parents.

It also stipulates that “a separate budget line should be established in the education budget specifically for this purpose…”

Four years later, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has still not earmarked a budget to implement the policy.

Liberian families continue to struggle with rising secondary school fees. Only one out of 10 grade school teachers are women. Counseling, life skills and health services are almost non-existent. Girls are forced to trade sex for grades with teachers, or barter sex on the streets for financial support.

Statistically, the gender gap in Liberia’s elementary schools has narrowed. The most recent school census revealed that girls accounted for 47 percent of students registered at Liberia’s public primary schools, but only 31 percent at public high schools in 2007-2008.

Mannah credits free tuition, feeding programs by the World Food Program, and piecemeal scholarships by international donors for uniforms and writing materials.

Those numbers are misleading though. The census only measures enrolment at the beginning of the school year and does not consider the high drop out among girls several months later due to family obligations, teenage pregnancy, or poverty.

UNICEF maintains that statistics reveal lower enrolment and retention of girls after Grade Three. UNICEF Education Specialist, John Sumo, blames the Liberian Government for abandoning its girls’ education policy.

This prompted UNICEF to stop financing girls’ education projects through the Liberian Government in January 2009, instead choosing to funnel money to international NGOs. UNICEF also decided to revoke its funding of the Girls’ Education Unit’s salaries and operational costs as of January 2010.

There has been little accountability for the past four years at the Education Ministry. The Minister during that time, Joseph Korto, was removed from his post in May 2010, shortly after he was named in an audit for alleged misappropriation of huge sums of money.

Audits to track development loans and aid, as part of the requirements for debt forgiveness, revealed dubious scholarship schemes and false claims for new schools that were abandoned or left incomplete.

At his swearing-in ceremony, the new education minister, Othello Gongar, stated, “I have not come to MOE to criticise the works of my predecessors, but to rather start from where they stopped in order to make the system viable.”

Gongar pledged to lobby the national legislature to increase Education’s overall budget from roughly 8 percent to 25 percent of the $347 million dollar national budget.

In the budgetary cash contest, Liberian girls and women are competing with war-destroyed roads, electricity grid, limited running water and sewage systems, a dysfunctional justice system, and other institutional and infrastructural problems.

Back at the Ministry of Education, Lorpu Mannah shows up each morning at the Girls’ Education Unit. Though she’s no longer paid, she still writes proposals to international NGOs requesting money to sponsor night schools for teenage mothers, counseling centres in high schools, or scholarships for women who want to become teachers.

“To be frank, I do it out of sympathy for the young girls.”

From a longer article at http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51596

An increasingly sexualized consumer society and inadequate funding for social services are major reasons why more young girls are being pressed into sexual slavery, a human-trafficking expert told a Fort Worth audience last week.

Fishnet-clad dolls, “porn star” T-shirts, Juicy brand jeans and the mainstreaming of the word “pimp” all are signs of “demonic forces” at work in American culture, said Alesia Adams, the Salvation Army’s Atlanta-based human trafficking coordinator. Adams spoke at a forum on the subject at the Salvation Army’s Fort Worth offices.

“I don’t want my granddaughter playing with a doll with hooker heels,” she said.

Adams also criticized what she called a shortage of social services to help desperate young people who might be lured into a life of sex.

“There are more services for animals than for child victims of abuse,” she said.

Texas is a hub for human sex trafficking, said Kathleen Murray, the Fort Worth Police Department’s trafficking coordinator. She estimated that 20 percent of all human trafficking in the United States comes through Texas at some point.

“These cases are within our reach,” she said. “That’s a huge responsibility for Texas.”

The State Department estimates that 300,000 children, mostly runaways, are exploited in the United States each year, Murray said.

Experts at the forum said that no reliable estimates for the amount of local sex trafficking exist.

But they said that The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than from any other state, and 15 percent of those are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

FBI Special Agent Don Freese said forced labor trafficking is harder to detect because it typically involves immigrants bringing in others from their home country to work in private homes.

“Sex trafficking is easier to find,” he said, because it requires interaction with customers, which can open the door for detection by law enforcement.

Deena Graves, executive director of Traffic911, a local nonprofit group that rescues child slavery victims, said human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, second only to drugs in global crime exploits.

Sex trafficking may eventually eclipse drugs, she said.

“You can sell a drug only one time,” she said. “You can sell a person over and over and over. Demand drives the machine.”

A child is sold in the world every two minutes, Graves said, and a third of children who run away from home are forced into prostitution within 48 hours.

“These perpetrators know how to spot a distressed child at malls, bus stations,” she said. “Once they are forced into it, their average life expectancy is seven years” because of disease and violence.

Pornography is the No. 1 driver of child sex exploitation, she said. Often, children are forced to act out scenes in hard-core movies for paying customers, Graves said.

She agreed with Adams that pop culture desensitizes kids and adults to exploitation. She highlighted the song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which won the best original song Oscar from the movie Hustle & Flow and the online game PimpWar.com as examples of glamorizing prostitution and sex slavery.

“You will become a master at the art of pimping your hoes, commanding your thugs and battling your enemies to protect what you have and to help your empire grow,” PimpWar’s online intro boasts.

Graves showed the audience a cropped image of the face of young girl from a pornographic movie.

“This could be your daughter,” she said.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/city/fortworth/stories/052010dnmetsexslaves.210da8b2.html

The United Nations has launched a major campaign for universal adoption of treaty protocols that outlaw the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, and protect youngsters in armed conflict, with UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon calling for full ratification by 2012.

“The sad truth is that too many children in today’s world suffer appalling abuse,” Ban told a ceremony at the headquarters of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in New York marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the two optional protocols strengthening the Convention on the Rights of the Child by providing a moral and legal shield for youngsters vulnerable to prostitution and pornography or caught up in armed conflict.

“Two-thirds of all Member States have endorsed these instruments. On this tenth anniversary of their adoption, I urge all countries to ratify them within the next two years,” he said.

Ban cited recent advances: the release three months ago by the Maoist army in Nepal, under UN supervision, of more than 2,000 soldiers who had been recruited as children; the UN-assisted freeing of children from the ranks of armed groups In Cote d’ Ivoire; the prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga for war crimes against children.

He noted, too, that fewer and fewer States now permit children to join the armed forces, and reiterated his previous calls to the Security Council to consider tough measures on those States and insurgent groups that still recruit children.

More countries are also reforming legislation and criminalizing the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children, with international cooperation helping to dismantle pedophile networks, remove child pornography from the Internet, and protect children from sexual exploitation by tourists.

“Nonetheless, much remains to be done,” he said. “In too many places, children are seen as commodities, in too many instances they are treated as criminals instead of being protected as victims, and there are too many conflicts where children are used as soldiers, spies or human shields.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said the Optional Protocols “represent a promise made to the world’s most vulnerable children — children born into extreme poverty and despair, children in countries torn apart by conflict and children forced into unimaginable servitude by adults who regard them as commodities.”

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict has been ratified by 132 States; 25 States have signed but not ratified it and 36 States have neither signed nor ratified it. “We know from the situation on the ground that much remains to be done. Violence against children in all its forms remains a challenge for societies in the world,” Ban’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said.

“There are a multitude of conflicts where children are used as soldiers, spies, human shields or for sexual purposes. Every additional ratification of the Optional Protocol would therefore bring us closer to a world in which no child is participating in hostilities and forced to serve the national military or irregular armies,” she said.

The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography has been ratified by 137 States; 27 have signed but not ratified and 29 have neither signed nor ratified it.

“The Optional Protocol is an important tool for tearing through the mantle of invisibility surrounding the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation, to mobilize societies and to translate political commitment into effective protection of children from all forms of violence,” Ban’s Special Representative on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais said, citing significant law reforms to criminalize such crimes.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-05/26/c_13315662.htm

On May 6th-8th, 2010, a truly historic event took place in Africa. Five hundred grandmothers from across sub-Saharan Africa joined together in Swaziland for the first international Grandmothers’ Gathering on the continent. On May 8th, 2,000 grandmothers united in solidarity and marched in the capital city of Manzini, to call for support and action the world over to support them as they struggle at the frontlines of the AIDS pandemic to create a hopeful future for their families.

African grandmothers congregated to share their experiences and concerns, and to lay the groundwork for a strong regional network to support one another as they strive to turn the tide of AIDS. These courageous women, who are caring for scores of grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, made their voices heard, amplifying the urgent need for increased support, the recognition of their leadership, and the pivotal role they play in resurrecting families and communities damaged by the loss and strife of the AIDS pandemic.

Since the Grandmothers’ Gathering in Toronto in 2006, which brought together 100 Africans and 200 Canadian grandmothers, the SLF has been providing financial support to organisations both run by and for grandmothers to support them and the grandchildren in their care.

These projects have flourished and deepened the breadth and reach of their work. They have grown the number of grandmothers involved in grief counselling and income generation. They have opened grandmother-led early childhood education centres, and increased hugely the numbers of grandmothers in support groups. They have taken on home-based care work – identifying households in crisis and bringing care, sustenance and support to ever-more families in their communities.

The Gathering will provide these remarkable women the opportunity to talk about the advances made in their work and their understanding of the role of grandmothers in the context of the AIDS pandemic, and identify the way forward – from programming, to advocacy, policy and funding aspirations and intentions at the regional, country and community levels.

Imagine the determination it takes to care for three, five or fifteen children orphaned by AIDS, with little or no resources. Imagine the many trips every day for water and firewood, and the backbreaking labour of working to harvest enough food to eat, and perhaps a little to sell for money. Imagine losing your own children to AIDS and becoming a parent anew in your fifties, sixties or seventies.

Now imagine all of that determination, commitment, ingenuity and hope coming together for one purpose: to turn the tide of the pandemic across the continent. The implications are simply stunning.

Source http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/african_grandmothers_gathering.htm

See also blog postings at http://stephenlewisfoundation.wordpress.com/

Activists say the case of the girl, known only as “Amalia,” illustrates the lack of protection for women’s rights in the state of Quintana Roo, which recently passed a law banning most elective abortions.

The girl, 10 years old at the time, told authorities she was raped by her stepfather, and activists say a doctor at a government hospital failed to inform her that the new law allows for rape victims to have abortions. The child is reportedly carrying the baby to term and will give birth by cesarean section.

Officials in Quintana Roo did not respond to requests for comment.

Local media reported that the girl’s mother would not have approved of an abortion even if she had known about the exception for rape victims, but activists said she may have been influenced by right-to-life groups that backed the new law. In recent months, over half of Mexico’s 31 states have passed anti-abortion measures.

Quintana Roo has been rocked by sexual-abuse cases in the past, and activists say child rape and teen pregnancy rates are exceptionally high there.

Members of reproductive rights groups held a demonstration Thursday to announce an online campaign in English, Spanish and French asking tourists to stay away from Cancun.

“We are going to tell them not to visit Cancun because in Quintana Roo state they violate the rights of women and children,” said Maria Eugenia Romero of the Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. “We are going to tell them they would be better off choosing some other tourist destination.”

In 1999, a 13-year-old rape victim in Baja California state became a cause celebre after medical authorities refused to give her the abortion she was entitled to by law. She later gave birth to the child.

The girl, Paulina Ramirez, brought her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2002, drawing international attention and sparking a high-profile campaign seeking reparations from the Mexican government.

The government later agreed to pay more than US$33,000 to Ramirez, who has publicly identified herself as the victim in the case.

Activists are seeking a similar agreement in the case of Amalia.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g7-npzJF6mXqOKRRtPMNEyT4_T4gD9FHJ0SG2

Nigerian women’s groups say they’ll take legal action against a politician who married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl at Nigeria’s national mosque.

Female members of the country’s senate have promised to support a petition to reprimand Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, 49, the BBC reported Wednesday. Sani married the girl at the mosque in Abuja several weeks ago, the BBC said.

Nigeria’s human rights commission says it will investigate whether the marriage is legal.

Women’s rights groups say Sani has broken the law, citing the Child Rights Act of 2003.

“When you marry them out at this early stage, is it because it is viewed as a commodity that can be easily disposed of and a new one acquired,” Mma Wokocha, the leader of the coalition protesting the marriage, said.

The group wants an investigation into the child’s identity, her age, the circumstances of her entry into Nigeria and the dowry paid to her family, the BBC reported.

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/International/2010/04/28/Child-bride-sparks-outrage-in-Nigeria/UPI-18551272497535/

See also:
* Nigeria – investigation into senator’s ‘child bride’
* Nigerian senator Sani denies marrying girl of 13

The attorneys representing Chilean Judge Karen Atala, a lesbian who brought her case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming discrimination in the loss of custody of her three daughters, accused the Chilean state of sending out “unequivocal” signals of a lack of will to implement the regional body’s recommendations.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a Washington-based Organisation of American States (OAS) body, found that “the Chilean state violated Karen Atala’s right to live free from discrimination,” and issued recommendations.

But Supreme Court chief magistrate Milton Juica said Thursday that he would not join the working group proposed by the government to comply with the suggestions issued in February.

“The courts do not discriminate in any way,” Juica said, referring to the case. “We are not going to take part in any working group.”

Although the government of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera said it accepted the IACHR’s recommendations, Juica’s remarks are “an unequivocal signal of the state’s lack of will” to live up to them, said Jorge Contesse, director of the private Diego Portales University’s (UDP) human rights centre.

In a May 2004 decision, the Supreme Court stripped Atala of custody of her three daughters because she was living with her lesbian partner, Emma de Ramón, a history professor.

In so doing, the Court overturned the rulings of two lower courts that had granted her custody after she separated from her husband, who is also a judge.

With no further chance to appeal the ruling, Atala took her case to the IACHR in November 2004, with the backing of the UDP human rights centre, Corporación Humanas, a women’s rights organisation, and the Lawyers Association for Public Freedoms.

In March 2006, the Chilean government and Atala’s defence counsel began to negotiate a friendly settlement agreement, but the effort failed.

The IACHR declared the case admissible in July 2008, and early this year it issued its final report, which found that Atala’s rights were violated and urged the state to make reparations to her and to take steps to adopt legislation, policies, and programmes to prohibit and end discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Piñera administration announced this week that in line with the IACHR’s recommendations, it would set up a working group comprised of representatives of all of the concerned parties, to propose public policies and legislative reforms aimed at preventing a repeat of what happened in Atala’s case.

But the Supreme Court has refused to participate.

In the next few weeks, the Chilean government is to submit to the IACHR a report on the steps it plans to take. The Commission must then decide whether or not to refer the case to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Atala’s defence attorneys believe the case will end up in the Inter-American Court if the Supreme Court does not agree to join the working group.

The Supreme Court’s decision surprised Atala’s lawyers because of Juica’s well-known work in cases of human rights abuses committed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006).

“What stands out about this case is the concept of human rights held by the Supreme Court, because human rights not only involve the widespread, systematic violations that occurred during the dictatorship, but also have to do with people with a diverse sexual orientation,” said Contesse.

Atala “is happy with the Commission’s decision, and is waiting to see what happens. This has been a long process, and the damage is irreparable,” Corporación Humanas lawyer Helena Olea told IPS.

“Chile has not shown signs of moving in the direction of living up to recommendations in favour of sexual minorities,” said Contesse, who pointed out that for years the country has been debating a draft law containing anti-discrimination measures.

According to the lawyer, the IACHR report is “historic and unprecedented. This is the first decision of this kind on the rights of people of diverse sexual orientation to be handed down in the inter-American system” of human rights.

The resolution in this case “was awaited in countries like the United States, Colombia, Argentina. Karen Atala’s case is forging new ground,” Contesse told IPS.

The Inter-American Court has issued rulings against Chile in several cases: in 2001, for violating freedom of expression by censoring the film “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and in 2005 for trying cases involving civilians in military courts.

In 2006, two other sentences were handed down, involving access to public information and the incompatibility of the 1978 amnesty decreed by Pinochet, which let human rights violators off the hook, with the American Convention on Human Rights.

Source http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50981

The Vatican’s Secretary of State – No. 2 to the Pope himself – has suggested the paedophilia crisis engulfing the Catholic Church is linked to homosexuality, not priests’ celibacy.

During a press conference in Chile, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone also insisted that the church has never stymied investigation of priests accused of paedophilia.

”Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and paedophilia,” the cardinal said. ”But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem.”

The cardinal’s remarks have sparked a storm of controversy in Italy as well as Chile, where they were strongly criticised by politicians and medical experts, who accused the Secretary of State of ”vast generalisations”.

Senator Juan Antonio Coloma, president of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union, told the Chilean newspaper La Nacion that while he understood the claims were made in good faith, they were generalisations that could not be sustained.

Senator Patricio Walker of the Christian Democrats categorically disagreed with the comments. ”Paedophilia is a mental and sexual abnormality that affects both heterosexuals and homosexuals,” he said.

”I would like to see what studies he is talking about because I would find it fairly surprising to see evidence for these claims.”

Cardinal Bertone’s comments follow a series of claims from senior Vatican and Catholic officials over the past few weeks that the charges of clerical abuse and their cover-up by the church that have emerged in Europe, the US, Ireland and Australia are a product of media gossip and exaggeration.

Rolando Jimenez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in Chile, said no reputable study exists to support Monsignor Bertone’s comments.

In Italy, Aurelio Mancuso, former president of the gay rights association, Arcigay, said: ”The truth is that Bertone is clumsily trying to shift attention to homosexuality and away from the focus on new crimes against children that emerge every day.”

The Pope’s press secretary, Federico Lombardi, said the pontiff might consider a private meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse in Malta during a visit there next weekend. But he said the Pope should not be pressured by the media and should be given the space to listen to and communicate with the victims.

Newspapers in Chile reported that the most prominent paedophiles uncovered in the Chilean church attacked young girls and made a teenager pregnant.

The archbishop of Santiago at the time was shown to have received multiple complaints about Father Jose Andres Aguirre from the families of the young girls. But the priest was allowed to continue serving at several Catholic girls’ schools. The church later moved Aguirre out of Chile twice and he was finally sentenced to 12 years in prison for abusing 10 teenage girls.

In La Nacion, one of the young women, identified only as Paula, said she had been abused between the ages of 16 and 20. She said when she told other priests at confession, they simply told her to pray but ”everyone looked the other way. No one corrected or helped me”.

The Associated Press reported that she said one of the priests she confessed to about her sex with Aguirre was Francisco Jose Cox, who had been bishop in La Serena, in northern Chile, for several years but was removed in 1997 amid rumours he was a paedophile and transferred to Santiago, then Rome, then Colombia and finally Germany.

The Schoenstatt movement, a worldwide lay community within the Catholic Church, is reported to have paid for his transfers as well as ”treatment”. He was finally removed for ”inappropriate conduct” in 2002.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/child-abuse-is-a-gay-problem-says-vatican-20100414-se4y.html

See also: Child abuse overshadows another scandal – the Church’s abuse of women

UNICEF Regional Director Dan Toole has highlighted the challenges facing children and families during a six day visit to Afghanistan.

Together with Afghan President Hamid Karzai he launched the country’s National Immunization Days 2010 on 14 March – a campaign which aims to immunize nearly eight million children against polio in three days.

He emphasized the right of all girls to lives free from violence during a visit to Herat in western Afghanistan where he spoke with girls and women in a safe house, where victims of early marriage or domestic violence find can find refuge.

“It’s shocking to hear the stories of these girls, some of them hardly nine years old, who have been forced from home into an unwanted relationship, often with a man five times their age,” he said, also noting that the perpetrators of such crimes often go unpunished.

UNICEF is working to increase the numbers of girls in school by supporting the training of female teachers and setting up child-friendly classrooms. Mr. Toole visited female students at Herat Girls High School to see such efforts firsthand.

“To see such a big number of girls who are enthusiastic about becoming teachers, doctors or engineers is extremely encouraging. Their protection is among our key concerns in this country where early marriage and the denial of access to education for females is still deeply rooted in the society,” said Mr. Toole.

“Especially in high-risk, difficult to access areas, UNICEF is promoting community-based schools,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue. “We set up community management committees for each school, discussing with them from the onset the importance of girls’ education and their role in making it happen.”

Afghanistan has seen an improvement in the number of children – including girls – who are enrolled in school. Today about three quarters of boys and nearly half of girls of primary school age are enrolled in primary school. While this is a drastic increase from the 42 per cent rate for boys and 15 per cent rate for girls in 2000, the gender gap remains wide.

Lack of security is a significant concern for both Afghan citizens and humanitarian workers. A total of 613 school incidents were recorded from January to November 2009, a frightening increase from 348 incidents in 2008. Insecurity is pervasive — with continued threats and direct attacks against schools, health centres and humanitarian workers.

“We are concerned about the positioning of UNICEF in an increasingly complex environment,” said Mr. Toole. “Our mandate is apolitical, but not when it comes to the basic rights of children. Humanitarian support is needed at the bottom, and development of the country will come from the Afghan citizen.

“The children whom we assist today are the adults of tomorrow,” he added.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/UNICEF/85b9d5faeb9d2f16d877b8fbb6961a14.htm

A time to focus on adolescent girls

“Last week in Guatemala I visited a UNICEF centre that houses girls as young as thirteen who have been rescued from brothels. The stories of suffering are simply unimaginable — horrific situations of rape, prostitution, torture and lost innocence.

With the help of UNICEF and its partners, many of these girls are now being given the opportunity to heal and build a better life through education and care. While these girls have been rescued, unfortunately so many more remain trapped in an underground world of abuse.

Stories such as these are not uncommon in many other parts of the world and serve as a reminder of the work that must be done to ensure young girls and women are better protected.

Millions of adolescent girls live in poverty, experience gender discrimination and inequality, and are subject to violence, abuse, and exploitation. The result is not only the suffering of girls themselves, but a continuing cycle of oppression and abuse.

While progress has been made towards equal rights and equal access for women and girls in areas like basic health and education, too often adolescent girls are still excluded. Investment in education and health are essential, but so too are much tougher laws, penalties, and prosecutions against the abusers.

Education is one key to better lives for girls, their families and their communities. Expert studies estimate that every extra year a girl spends in secondary education lifts her income by more than 15 per cent. Better educated girls have better employment and health prospects and, as they grow to womanhood, they pass these benefits to their children.

There is a strong link between the educational levels a country provides for its girls and the size of that country’s economy. But more importantly, education empowers women and gives them the opportunity to have a greater voice in society.

As we recognize International Women’s Day this March 8th, the international community, together with governments around the world, must work more aggressively to ensure that every girl has the right to a childhood that provides her with the opportunity to reach her full potential.”

http://www.unicef.org/media/media_52921.html