By Emma Batha
Norway approved a law banning all child marriage on Tuesday, with campaigners saying it would set an example to others ahead of a global 2030 deadline for eradicating the practice.
The Nordic country has a minimum age of 18, but allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent and permission from the county governor. A government spokeswoman said very few under 18s had sought to wed in recent years.
“We believe ... this law will send a clear message, nationally as well as internationally, that we do not accept children getting married in Norway,” Minister of Children and Equality Linda Hofstad Helleland said in emailed comments.
“A marriage should always be based on full, free and informed consent,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Globally, an estimated 12 million girls are married every year before their 18th birthday - nearly one girl every two seconds, according to global campaign group Girls Not Brides.
The United Nations has said all countries should end child marriage by 2030 under global development goals.
The Norwegian branch of aid agency Plan International, which has led calls to reform the law, said Tuesday’s unanimous vote in parliament for a total ban was an important milestone.
“A major reason why the law needs to change is the global perspective,” said spokeswoman Siv Meisingseth.
“How can we encourage other countries in the developing world to ban child marriage if we don’t have our own house in order?”
Meisingseth said the reform - which comes a year after Denmark passed a similar ban - would give Norway one of the strictest laws on child marriage in Europe.
“We really want other countries in Europe to copy this law. This should be the standard,” she said.
Child marriage forces girls to drop out of school, limits their opportunities and traps them in poverty, experts say. It also raises the risk of domestic abuse, rape and serious childbirth complications.
Parliament will hold another reading of the bill next week, but sources said this was a formality and the law would likely come into force shortly.
The law will also ban Norwegians from marrying abroad if either party is under 18. Meisingseth said there had been cases where girls had been taken overseas to be married off to men in their parents’ country of origin.
The maximum penalty for child marriage will be three years’ imprisonment.
Published on Reuters on May 22, 2018
By Usman Hamid
The end of military-backed autocratic rule on May 20, 1998, opened the way for greater respect for human rights in Indonesia. How far has the human rights agenda in the country progressed as the reform era (Reformasi) marks its 20th anniversary?
Reformasi has seen significant reforms in terms of politics and civil liberties as well as the separation of the army and the police, but, practically, human rights are still under threat in the country. Violations continue to take place in new forms.
The birth of Reformasi did not necessarily address human rights violations that took place during the military rule of Suharto. High ranking government officials and military generals remain above the law. Reformasi takes impunity for granted and former military generals, including some who are still on duty and who must be brought to justice for past human rights violations, still hold strategic positions in governments of post-Suharto regime.
Suharto’s successor BJ Habibie, a nonmilitary figure but seen as very close to Suharto, started the reform era by releasing all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, allowing people to establish many political parties to contest in the general elections in 1999. However, he did not attempt to seek justice for the past abuses by the military.As of today, there have been five administrations since Reformasi was born. Each of them had a human rights agenda but unfortunately their work remained unfinished.
The next president, Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, another nonmilitary figure, moved forward with his progressive human rights agenda: separating the police and the military and establishing the law on Human Rights Court in order to be able to try serious human rights violations in the past such as mass killings in Tanjung Priok 1984. Unfortunately, his human rights agenda was stalled after he was later impeached due to a highly questionable graft accusation.
Despite the Gus Dur government’s move to amend the constitution to better define articles on human rights, the military, which still had political influence in the parliament, managed to insert an article endorsing the legal principle of nonretroactive law enforcement, in a move to prevent future administrations from punishing the military for its past human rights violations — especially the killings of around 500,000 accused communist supporters in 1965, around 200,000 people in East Timor from 1975 and 1999, thousands of people in Aceh between 1989 and 1993 and hundreds of people in Papua since the 1980s. This was where Reformasi also officially gave birth to impunity.
Gus Dur limited the power of the military in his government but the latter regained its power under the rule of his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, also a political but nonmilitary figure. Megawati in 2003 took a more repressive approach in responding to independence movement in Aceh and Papua by bringing more soldiers to the two contested regions and restricting access for journalists and human rights defenders.
The regime of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), Megawati’s successor, was seen as the return of the military to the presidency, due to his status a military general from the Suharto’s era. After 10 years of ruling the country, SBY failed to live up to his promises to solve past human rights cases and the 2004 murder of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib, which implicated senior officials in the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).
After SBY, Indonesians returned the presidency to nonmilitary leadership by electing Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a former mayor and businessman, as the country’s seventh president. Jokowi made a big promise to solve past human rights violations that cheered human rights defenders and family members of victims.
However, as he is being challenged by a political opposition power led by a strong former military general Prabowo Subianto, a former son-in-law of Suharto, Jokowi finally resorted to pragmatism. The president has embraced former police and military generals to serve in his government and Cabinet in what many see as a bid to contain Prabowo’s opposition leadership. Some of the ten former military generals, including Wiranto and Hendropriyono, who are members of Jokowi’s inner circle and Cabinet, were allegedly implicated in human rights violations cases such as the killings in East Timor.
Reformasi has failed on human rights in Indonesia because despite status of the government, whether military or not, former police and military generals implicated in past human rights violations have continued to hold power in the past 20 years.
As a result, human rights are still at risk in Indonesia despite people enjoying greater civil liberty and political participation.
Security forces in Papua, the restive and eastern most region of Indonesia, frequently apply unnecessary force when dealing with peaceful demonstrations that usually end up with extrajudicial killings. After East Timor, now Timor-Leste, became an independent country through a referendum in 1999 and Aceh secured a peace agreement with the central government in 2005 to end its struggle for independence, Papua is the only region in Indonesia today that still has both armed and peaceful independence movements, making the province the country’s hotbed for human rights violations in what security forces called ‘fighting against separatists.’
In the past 20 years, although Indonesia no longer had violent conflicts both in Maluku and Central Sulawesi, the country still saw ethnic and religious tensions and violence, resulting from divisive and scapegoating politics by the elites. Draconian laws have been readopted to restrict civil liberties and activism deemed as anti-Pancasila, separatist, or communist. Also, minority groups such as Ahmadiyah, Syiah, Christians, followers of native faiths, human rights defenders, journalists, as well as LGBT people frequently suffer discrimination and attacks from both state and nonstate actors without any serious efforts to bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice.
This culture of impunity goes back to the fact that none of the administrations from 1998 to 2018 managed to bring to justice those responsible for killing students in Trisakti University in Jakarta and in the Semanggi Tragedy, as well as the disappearance of students who fought for Reformasi in 1998. It is clear that Reformasi still has an unpaid debt to the killed and disappeared students who fought to defend the reform movement.
Published on The Diplomat on May 21, 2018
By Libby Hogan
When Tang Seng heard gunshots close to his village in Myanmar, he had a choice: carry his grandmother away from the fighting on his back or run for help. She asked him to kill her and leave her there but he refused.
Tang Seng walked out of his village carrying Supna Hkawn Bu to a makeshift camp for the displaced, where they remain with their family. She has had to flee from conflict five times in her life and didn’t speak for two days when they first arrived.
War in Myanmar is synonymous with the Rohingya crisis but Tang Seng and his grandmother are not Rohingya refugees. They are from the country’s north, in the state of Kachin, where another brutal but far less well publicised conflict is playing out between the largely Christian minority group and government militias.
The humanitarian crisis in Syria is worse this year than ever before in the country’s seven-year-old civil war, a United Nations official said on Friday.
“We see in 2018 the humanitarian situation inside Syria being the worst we have seen since the war started: a very dramatic deterioration, massive displacement, disrespect of protection of civilians and people’s lives still being turned upside down,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in Beirut.
Syria is the worst place in modern history in terms of attacks on healthcare workers and facilities, accounting for 70 percent of all such attacks worldwide, he said.
U.N. data shows 89 healthcare workers died in 92 confirmed military attacks on healthcare facilities between Jan 1 and May 4, compared to 73 killed in 112 attacks in the whole of 2017, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis.
The two areas which saw the most healthcare attacks in 2018 were Eastern Ghouta and Idlib.
Eastern Ghouta had been the largest rebel-held pocket near the capital Damascus, but came back under government control in mid-April after a fierce offensive.
Idlib, in northwest Syria, is the largest remaining area under opposition control, containing around 2.5 million people.
Idlib’s population has ballooned over the course of the conflict, with people there from fighting inn other areas. The government has also transferred a large number of rebel fighters and their families to Idlib as part of surrender deals elsewhere in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to take back every inch of Syria.
Moumtzis said the U.N. does not want to see a repeat of what happened in Ghouta happen in Idlib. He urged the warring sides to come to a peaceful solution.
Moumtzis also said he was concerned about poor aid access in Syria.
In 2017, 27 percent of requests made by the U.N. to Syrian authorities for permission to deliver aid were granted. In the first four months of 2018 only seven percent were granted, Moumtzis said.
The number of people designated by the U.N. as living in besieged areas has fallen dramatically this year to stand at 11,100, after the Syrian government took back control of almost all rebel-held pockets around the capital Damascus.
But 2.05 million people in need of humanitarian assistance still live in hard-to-reach areas, the U.N. said.
Published on Reuters on May 18, 2018
By Fabiana Frayssinet
Child labour has been substantially reduced in Latin America, but 5.7 million children below the legal minimum age are still working and a large proportion of them work in precarious, high-risk conditions or are unpaid, which constitute new forms of slave labour.
For the International Labor Organisation (ILO) child labour includes children working before they reach the minimum legal age or carrying out work that should be prohibited, according to Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, in force since 2000.
The vast majority of these children work in agriculture, but many also work in high-risk sectors such as mining, domestic labour, fireworks manufacturing and fishing.
Three countries in the region, Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay, exemplify child labour, which includes forms of modern-day slavery.
Cambodian authorities should quash the politically motivated “insurrection” convictions against 11 members, supporters, and activists of Cambodia’s now dissolved main opposition party, Human Rights Watch said today. Cambodia’s Court of Appeal is scheduled to announce its decision on an appeal by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members, who had received sentences of from 7 to 20 years, on May 10, 2018.“The prosecution of 11 CNRP members was one of the first of many bogus cases brought against the opposition after the party nearly won the disputed 2013 elections,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party apparently decided to lock up political opponents to stave off defeat at the ballot box.”
Zimbabwe’s colonial-era public health laws must be revised to guarantee the human rights, and the dignity and equality of everyone, including adolescent girls who bear the brunt of existing discrimination, Amnesty International said today, ahead of the parliamentary debate on the Public Health Act Amendment Bill.
The organization warned that Article 35 of the Bill, as it stands now, could put adolescent girls’ health at further risk, as it implies that anyone under 18 years of age will not have legal capacity to consent to receiving health services and information.
“For too long adolescent girls in Zimbabwe have suffered the consequences of inconsistent laws which are used to deny them their sexual and reproductive rights. This, combined with the shame and stigma around adolescent sexual health services, means young girls face an increased risk of unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.
Saudi Arabia is detaining thousands of people for more than six months, in some cases for over a decade, without referring them to courts for criminal proceedings, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia’s attorney general should promptly charge or release all criminal defendants and stop holding people arbitrarily.Human Rights Watch analyzed data from a public online Interior Ministry database, which revealed that authorities have detained 2,305 people who are under investigation for more than six months without referring them to a judge. The number held for excessively long periods has apparently increased dramatically in recent years. A similar Human Rights Watch analysis in May 2014 revealed that only 293 people had been held under investigation for that period.
By Satoshi Matsui
Three years have passed since roughly 9,000 people died in a massive earthquake in Nepal. In the aftermath of the disaster with no way to earn money, there has been no end to cases of women and children falling victim to human trafficking across the Indian border.
"I was locked in a dark room all day, and there were days where I would be forced to service 20 people. I wasn't allowed to even see the light of the sun, and I thought about dying over and over again," a 24-year-old Nepali woman who fell victim to trafficking and was forced into prostitution for roughly nine months in New Delhi said in a quivering voice. She was rescued by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in May 2017.
The woman comes from the eastern part of Nepal. The farm where she lived and worked was destroyed by the April 2015 earthquake, and she lost her job. She worked as a cook at a hotel after that, but once rent was deducted from her monthly paycheck, she was only left with 500 Nepalese rupees (approximately 510 yen) to buy food.
With few options, a male acquaintance told her that he knew of a safe job in India where she could make money, and she crossed the border in a bus accompanied by the man. But where they eventually arrived was a brothel in New Delhi.
"They watched me carefully and I couldn't escape," she said. "There are many women who are suffering in the same conditions."
According to Indian authorities, the number of Nepali victims rescued on the border rose to 336 in 2015, the year of the quake, while there had only been 33 cases the previous year. In 2016, that number further grew to 501, and ballooned to 607 people in 2017. The majority of those who have been rescued are women aged 16 or younger, and many of them were about to be sold into prostitution.
The Nepali government is also taking countermeasures against the alarming trend, and has already saved roughly 13,600 people before they could fall victim to human trafficking during the 2016 fiscal year.
"The overall number of cases of human trafficking is growing," said Santosh Sedhai, head of investigations for NGO Rescue Foundation, which is leading efforts to save victims. "The traffickers have already thought of how to escape capture." Concerning the present conditions in Nepal three years after the deadly quake, he added, "The tourism industry has recovered, but there are many victims still struggling to make a living. Support for victims and economic growth are important issues."
Published on The Mainichi on April 29, 2018
By Libby Brooks
Scotland has taken control of its welfare system in a transfer of power from Westminster that campaigners have praised for recognising social security as a human right.
The first devolved welfare system also offers automatic split payments of universal credit to protect women’s financial autonomy and aims to end unnecessary disability assessments.
As the Holyrood parliament unanimously passed the final stage of the social security (Scotland) bill on Wednesday evening, the director of the Poverty Alliance, Peter Kelly, said it offered the possibility of the new welfare system playing a very different role in Scotland.
“With almost daily reports of the impact of the cuts to social security at the UK level, such as the freeze on levels of many UK benefits or the roll out of universal credit, it is time to show that a different approach is possible.”
The new powers, part of the package promised to the Scottish parliament after the 2014 independence referendum, account for 15% of Scotland’s total benefits bill and will affect 1.4 million people.
Eleven benefits are being wholly transferred, including disability living allowance and personal independence payments, along with the opportunity to top up existing payments and create new ones.
The bill was passed after an intense afternoon of debate, which showcased the cross-party and third sector expertise that has shaped the landmark bill, alongside the input of ordinary Scots canvassed in a country-wide consultation.
There were a number of significant last-minute amendments to the legislation, including the removal of any time limit on terminal illness. It was brought by the social security minister, Jeane Freeman, after senior medical professionals called for its inclusion. Current rules for disability benefits and universal credit say a patient must have six months or less to live before their illness is classed as terminal.
The feminist campaign group Engender welcomed the success of Labour MSP Mark Griffin’s amendment on split payments, in particular for those 89% of domestically abused women who experience financial restrictions by their partner.
Both the Poverty Alliance and the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland called on Freeman to reconsider Griffin’s unsuccessful amendment to top up child benefit by £5 a week, which he insisted would lift 30,000 children out of poverty. The Scottish government argued that the framework bill for the new powers was not the appropriate place for such a change.
Presenting the final bill to Holyrood, Freeman said: “The devolution of social security represents the greatest single increase in the responsibilities of this parliament since devolution. Today we write a new chapter in our history, a system built for the people of Scotland, designed in partnership with the people of Scotland, a system with dignity, fairness and respect at its heart, a system quite unlike any other that has gone before.”
The new system will include an unprecedented degree of independent scrutiny, put in place after anti-poverty groups expressed concerns about the extent to which the detail of new benefits is being left to regulations, rather than included within primary legislation, which could make it easier for subsequent governments to cut payments or change eligibility criteria.
Published on The Guardian on April 25, 20`8