By Helene Christensen
“We are equal to boys and can also contribute to society,” said 17-year-old Lidia Suale Saide. Lidia knows what it means to stand up for these beliefs. One year ago, she refused her mother’s attempt to marry her off. She said she wanted to become a doctor instead.
“I want to become independent and free of the harms and expectations placed on girls in my community,” she told UNFPA recently.
But many girls in Mozambique are not able to avoid marriage. Child marriage is widespread in the country, with 48 per cent of women aged 20-24 reporting they were married before reaching age 18.
Child marriage often pushes girls from school, and it leaves them vulnerable to abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm or even death.
Child marriage and teen pregnancies are closely linked: In Mozambique, some 46 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are either pregnant or already mothers, according to 2015 data.
But Lidia is helping to change these trends.
She is now a mentor in Raparinga Biz, a UNFPA-supported programme that has mobilized tens of thousands of adolescent girls to learn about their sexual and reproductive health and human rights, as well as about citizenship and life skills.
This knowledge is helping girls advocate for themselves and each other: Within the programme’s first year, only 1 per cent of the 23,500 adolescent girls involved were married before turning 18.
Tackling gender inequality, violence
Raparinga Biz, which translates to “Busy Girl,” was launched in May 2016. It has so far reached 94,000 girls and young women. Over 2,300 girls have been trained as mentors.
The programme directly takes on one of the root causes of child marriage and teen pregnancy: gender inequality. Girls discuss the importance of equality, empowerment and human rights.
“Our society is portraying girls and women as inferior, and it is influencing our confidence and value,” said 16-year-old Assma Cassam Ismali, one of the programme’s young mentors. “As a mentor I want to support girls to value themselves.”
Too often, gender inequality takes the form of violence against women and girls. Even school can be an unsafe environment. Seven in 10 girls in Mozambique know of cases of sexual harassment and abuse in their schools, a 2013 UN report indicated.
“My teacher has been harassing me for a year,” Maria* told UNFPA. “One time he forced a sexual relation with me in a classroom. I feel ashamed and blame myself. He is HIV positive, and I fear what more can happen.”
Maria is another of the new mentors trained under Rapariga Biz. She spoke about her experience during a mentors’ training session on human rights.
She wants to help other girls stand up for themselves and their rights, and to help girls seek justice if abuses do occur.
Former child bride advocates change
The resilience of mentors like Maria and Lidia is one of the programme’s strengths. Mentors are able to draw from their own experiences, as well as their training, when educating and advising other girls.
Lucia*, from Angoche District in Nampula Province, was pressured by her family to become the wife of a man who was already married. As an orphan, Lucia had little support in opposing the marriage. She ultimately married him against her wishes.
She was miserable, and after much negotiation with her extended family, she managed to leave the marriage.
Today, she focuses on her studies and advocates for change as a Raparinga Biz mentor.
“I want to inspire girls to marry out of love and choice,” she said. “We cannot be obliged to marry against our will. I hope my story can inspire adolescent girls in my community to choose who to marry at the right time.”
Raparinga Biz is led by the Government of Mozambique, with technical support from UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO and UN WOMEN. The programme receives funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, along with a contribution from the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
It aims to reach 1 million girls and young women by 2020.
Published on UNFPA on February 15, 2018
By Alex Gitta
A new law introduced in 2016 which criminalizes child labor has failed to stop exploitation due to inadequate implementation. More than 2 million children in Uganda are estimated to be affected.
Thirteen-year-old Bugembe is just one of more than 2 million children in Uganda who are currently being exploited as child laborers.
"I am not in school because I have no school fees, so I sell my uncle's polythene bags in Nakasero Market and I get here at 5 am – I have not been here for long," he told DW.
His work means he often stays in Kampala city until late in the evening and must be careful to avoid the yellow-clad Kampala City Council workers who arrest street vendors.
Bugembe says his uncle does not pay him for his work. But he still hopes to one day return to schooland realize his dream of becoming a doctor.
Unfortunately, Bugembe's situation is not unique. In Ruti market near Mbarara in Western Uganda, DW met 13-year-old Colins Turyamuhaki, who earns a living by packing sacks of bananas. But he also must take on the responsibility of paying his own school fees, as well as those of his younger brother.
"I pack bags. For each bag I am paid 3000 (€0.70; $0.85) or 2000 shillings, but in a day I can pack like three or four. So I use this money to buy books and school fees, and then my parents also top-up when they can," he told DW.
Turyamuhaki only manages to take a break once all of the banana trucks have left for Kampala. In the afternoon, he helps shoppers in the market carry their goods for a fee. Then in the evening, he sells fruit on the streets of Mbarara. He only hopes he will earn enough to complete his education. "I know this kind of work will never make me rich, so I want to make enough money to see me through school."
Children not aware of their rights
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) claims 45% of children from households living below the poverty line are forced out of school to work and supplement their parents' incomes, with children aged between 5 and 17 years the worst at risk.
But although the government approved the Children Amendment Act in 2016, which officially criminalizes child labor, follow-ups on identified cases are often not carried out.
The majority of human rights officers wait for affected children to report their cases first. However, not all children are aware of their rights when it comes to child labor.
Teopista Twembi works with the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in Mbarara. She says that this responsibility ultimately comes down to the parents.
"They are supposed to do what is in line with their age – we want to guide the parents who we find are using these children to do work which is really beyond their age, and we condemn it," she told DW. "If a child reports [child labor], then that's an issue we can handle, because we listen to this child and we call on the parents or the responsible person, and we guide them accordingly."
Implementation of child labor laws remains weak
But bodies, including the UHRC, who are required to tackle child labor say many challenges come with the job – not least of which is the lack of will among the country's leaders to implement the laws, as they seek political popularity.
Despite the challenges, however, Jeremiah Kamurari, the chairperson of Isingiro District, says he is committed to seeing the law implemented in his district.
"I am going to ensure that no child within this area is doing such hard labor. All children must go to school," Kamurari said, adding that serious measures would be taken if the law is not followed: "We must apprehend the parents, arrest them and prosecute them, because the future of these children lies in their hands. If they misuse it, the children will also become a problem for the government in the future. I will not allow this."
But with limited funds available, this still leaves families headed by children with no adults to prosecute in an uncertain situation.
Published on DW on February 8, 2018
Nearly 700 children in El Tarra were forced to stop their regular classes after clashes between armed groups. "The reality for many children is in stark contrast to the positive picture painted by the peace agreement," warned Christian Visnes, the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) Country Director in Colombia. A crossfire caused bullets to fly over a school, whilst children were attending classes, in the first two days of February. Additionally, 176 people fled their homes as a result of the fighting and threats in the Eastern province of Norte de Santander.
In the region, clashes between armed groups and security forces continue to affect populations near the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
International Humanitarian Law proscribes attacks on educational institutions by armed groups. “We – Governments, humanitarian actors, donors- have a shared responsibility to ensure that schools are safe and that education continues during armed conflict and displacement”, said Visnes.
NRC encourages the Colombian Government to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and step up its efforts to ensure that schools are safe and protected. Strict measures against those who violate these principles should be implemented.
According to an NRC report, the armed conflict, which is compounded by a lack of state presence, severely limits children, adolescents and youth's right to education. Almost three out every ten children living in rural areas in Colombia never attended school. Half of those who go to school do not continue after the primary level (five years of education).
Consequently, children and adolescents aged 12, 13 and 14 have little education, which makes them extremely vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups or the illegal economy. Collaborative effort between the government and its institutions is needed to ensure that schools in conflict- affected areas are safe and protected, and free from military use and attacks.
“It is our joint responsibility to ensure that schools are safe during times of crisis. In conflict affected areas where NRC is delivering humanitarian assistance, displaced children often tell staff that schools are the place where they feel safest” said Visnes. When schools are attacked and land mines are planted along the road, their sense of safety vanishes. Attacks and military use of schools have devastating consequences on children’s lives, as it not only disrupts classes, fosters drop-out but also limits the quality of education.
The year started with more newly displaced people in Colombia. Nearly 2,800 have been displaced as a result of the conflict. The protracted crisis has displaced more than 7.2 million Colombians.
Published on NRC on February 7, 2018
By ANNE-BIRGITTE ALBRECTSEN
The Sustainable Development Goals were a step forward for girls. The adoption of a standalone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, was a major landmark, an indicator of the international community’s commitment to ensuring that women and girls have equal opportunities by 2030. Furthermore, girls are mentioned explicitly in seven targets. But do the SDGs go far enough in truly protecting girls’ rights?
Plan International’s new research argues perhaps not.
Girls are one of the largest excluded groups on the planet, carrying a double burden of gender and age-based discrimination. They are disadvantaged as compared to boys in education, work, health and family life, and can experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination from poverty, ethnicity and disability.
Despite these challenges, international law and agreements continue to take a relatively gender and age-neutral approach, effectively rendering girls invisible. Particularly concerning is the fact that both the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – the cornerstones of girls’ rights – explicitly refer to girls only once. The specific challenges and barriers girls face to accessing their rights are all too often concealed under the ageless category of “women” or the gender-neutral categories of “children”, “adolescents” or “youth”. This means that girls continually fall in the shadow of women’s and children’s rights, and the specific barriers they face to claiming their rights remain obscured.
In order to better understand this issue, and position girls at the heart of the international agenda, Plan International has launched the Girls’ Rights Platform. This platform houses the world’s most comprehensive and searchable human rights database of more than 1,400 international policy documents. This unique tool will be an important resource for diplomats, NGOs, activists and academics, providing them with easy access to robust language to promote and protect girls’ rights. The Girls’ Rights Platform will also be a hub for training to help build knowledge and understanding of these critical issues, and includes a 6-module training tool.
Together with the Girls Rights Platform, Plan International has published an in-depth study on the status of girls in international law. The Girls’ Rights are Human Rights report dives into these 1,400 international policy documents and highlights the gaps in human rights protection for girls.
One of the important findings of Plan International’s research relates to a concerning pattern of reservations in international law and policy. Reservations are caveats to international agreements that allow States to choose not to be bound by particular provisions. The research has found, unsurprisingly, that most reservations around girls concern their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), as well as issues surrounding equality in marriage and family life. These reservations are often justified by States on the grounds of religious or cultural differences, but whatever the reason, they erode girls’ autonomy over their own life and their bodies. Even the Sustainable Development Goals attracted a high number of reservations, a third of which relate to gender equality and SRHR. Despite the few specific mentions of girls, the high number of reservations on these critical issues calls into question the willingness of Member States to truly move the needle on girls’ rights.
The Sustainable Development Goals do go further than their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which mentioned girls only in the context of education. Still, girls in the SDGs remain grouped together with women or boys. In addition to the 2030 Agenda being the object of many reservations on issues critical to girls’ rights, the Goals don’t go far enough to truly single girls out and highlight their specific needs and barriers that are different from women and boys.
As a global leader on girls’ rights, Plan International is calling on the international community to single out girls, articulating their rights and needs in a way that has never been done before. If the current gender and age-neutral approaches continue, girls will remain in the shadows. Plan International urges the international community to:
Without making these changes, girls around the globe will continue to slip through the cracks. In their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical that States intentionally and explicitly address the double burden of discrimination faced by girls in all issues, and recognise the realisation of girls’ rights as an objective in itself.
Published on IISD on February 8, 2018
By Susanna Rustin
It doesn’t help the cause of children’s rights that many people have never heard of them. Almost a century after the first “children’s charter” was drafted by the English social reformer Eglantyne Jebb, the phrase “children’s rights” still has an abstract ring. Reach for a utopian vision of liberated children in charge of their destinies and you bump up against William Golding’s dystopian Lord of the Flies.
I’ve visited schools whose walls are plastered with the text of the UN convention on the rights of the child. But it’s striking that even when young people are subjected to grotesque violations – such as the tortures allegedly inflicted by David and Louise Turpin on their children in California – we rarely frame efforts to protect and empower them in terms of advancing their rights.
This week, one key children’s rights issue is back on the agenda, following the announcement that 16-year-olds in Wales will, like their Scottish peers, be allowed to vote in local elections . But in Conservative-run England, children’s rights are under attack, even if this is barely noticed. Imagine the outrage if the post of women and equalities minister had been abolished in the recent reshuffle. Yet this is what happened to the minister of state for children’s job, when Robert Goodwill was sacked and his responsibilities passed down the chain to parliamentary under-secretary Nadhim Zahawi – a previously obscure politician now notorious for his attendance at the men-only Presidents Club dinner.
It may seem crude, or even tasteless, to link child abuse with voting rights, but crimes against children follow from their powerlessness. While the UN convention does not demand votes for children, it does insist on their right to speak and be heard.
Children’s living standards in the UK are declining, with child poverty forecast to reach record levels by 2022. Young people are losing out in relation to other age groups as a result of increasing house prices, tuition fees many will never pay off, and an uncertain jobs market.
In 2004, the Labour government responded to the murder of Victoria Climbié with the Children Act, which created a new post of children’s commissioner for England and reorganised children’s services. Ten years later, Gordon Brown called children’s rights “the civil-rights movement’s unfinished business”. But while David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s governments have supported progressive legislation in some areas – gay marriage, trans rights, new laws against domestic violence – further progress on children’s rights has been blocked.
It’s not hard to see why. Just as the backlash against #MeToo is easy to understand when you recognise that more power for women means less power for men, so more power for children means less power for adults. And in siding with the grownups, Conservatives are also signalling their distaste for the state.
Families, not governments, should have authority over children, say rightwing politicians who defend the right of parents to hit their children, or keep them out of school without letting local councils know they exist, or send them to the inadequate private religious schools recently highlighted by Ofsted. Such ideas find their most extreme expression in the US – the only UN member state not a party to the children’s rights convention – where campaigners for “parental rights” are seeking an amendment to the constitution, and insisting that no new regulation of home schooling is necessary since the “private school” where the Turpins imprisoned their children was a one-off.
There are important ways in which children’s rights could be strengthened. Children’s commissioners are important advocates but lack teeth since they can only carry out formal investigations when the government says so. Just as the Equality Act imposed a duty on public sector bodies to eliminate discrimination against women and minorities, so a new children’s act could require them to consider young people, and to engage them in meaningful consultation. When did an education secretary, for example, last seek children’s views on the national curriculum?
I used to be against votes at 16. Let them be children, I thought. But the thing is, we don’t. The Scottish children’s commissioner, Bruce Adamson, has called “absolutely ridiculous” the situation in which children are held criminally responsible for their actions almost a decade before they are allowed to vote. Meanwhile teenagers are expected to pay adult prices for almost everything, from train fares to clothing, while youth services of all sorts shut up shop. We only need to look at the environment to see how disastrously we adults are failing future generations. Votes at 16, absolutely, but that’s just a start.
Published on The Guardian on January 30, 2018
The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab has threatened and abducted civilians in Somalia’s Bay region to force communities to hand over their children for indoctrination and military training in recent months.
Since late September 2017, Al-Shabab has ordered elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and communities in rural areas to provide hundreds of children as young as 8 or face attack. The armed group’s increasingly aggressive child recruitment campaign started in mid-2017 with reprisals against communities that refused. In recent months, hundreds of children, many unaccompanied, have fled their homes to escape forced recruitment.
“Al-Shabab’s ruthless recruitment campaign is taking rural children from their parents so they can serve this militant armed group,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To escape that cruel fate, many children have fled school or their homes.”
Over the past decade, Al-Shabab has recruited thousands of children for indoctrination and to become frontline fighters. Since 2015, the armed group has opened several large Islamic religious schools in areas under their control, strengthened indoctrination methods including by bringing in younger children, and pressured teachers to retrain and teach Al-Shabab’s curriculum in schools.
On a recent trip to Baidoa, the capital of Bay region, Human Rights Watch spoke to 15 residents from three districts in Bay region largely under Al-Shabab control – Berdale, Baidoa, and Burhakaba districts – as well as child protection advocates and United Nations officials. The findings match similar trends in other parts of the country since mid-2017.
Village elders said that in September Al-Shabab ordered them to go to Al-Shabab-controlled Bulo Fulay and to hand over dozens of children ages 9 to 15. A resident of Berdale district said: “They said we needed to support their fight. They spoke to us in a very threatening manner. They also said they wanted the keys to our boreholes [watering points]. They kept us for three days. We said we needed to consult with our community. They gave us 10 days.” Two other community residents said that they received threatening calls, including death threats, after the 10 days ran out, but as of late 2017 they had not handed over the children.
Three residents said that in September Al-Shabab fighters forcibly took at least 50 boys and girls from two schools in Burhakaba district and transported them to Bulo Fulay, which witnesses say hosts a number of religious schools and a major training facility. Two weeks later, a large group of armed Al-Shabab fighters with their faces covered returned to the village, entered another local school, and threatened and beat the teacher to hand over children.
“They wanted 25 children ages 8 to 15,” said the teacher, who resisted the order. “They didn’t say why, but we know that it’s because they want to indoctrinate them and then recruit them. After they hit me, some of the children started crying and tried to run out of the classroom. But the fighters were all around. They caned a 7-year-old boy who tried to escape.”
The fighters gave the community 10 days to hand over the children.
Residents from Berdale district said that in at least four villages, Al-Shabab abducted elders who refused to hand over children. In one village, three elders were released only after they agreed to hand over eight boys from their village.
In May, Al-Shabab pressured elders and other residents in villages in central Somalia’s Mudug and Galgadud regions – from which Ethiopian military forces had recently withdrawn – to hand over children ages 7 to 15. A boy who fled Middle Shabelle region without his parents said: “Our school wasn’t controlled by Al-Shabab. Six weeks ago [late June], they came to our school, took down our names, and took two boys. The teacher managed to escape. They threatened that next time they would come back for us.”
A woman in Burhakaba district said that her four children had witnessed 25 of their classmates being abducted from their school: “The four of them are now so worried about going to school. But if they don’t go to school, and get the fundamentals of the religion, they will go to waste.” Some local religious schools in Bay region are closing fearing further attacks, or because the teachers have fled or been abducted.
Some residents said that their only option to protect their children was to send them, often unaccompanied, to areas outside of Al-Shabab control – a difficult and dangerous journey given the threat of Al-Shabab abduction along the way. Community elders and local monitors said the recruitment campaign has forced approximately 500 people as of October, often unaccompanied children, to flee their homes to Baidoa.
“I heard that children were being captured in neighboring villages and so got very scared,” said a 15-year-old who fled by foot with his 9-year-old brother to the nearest town. “My parents gave me money to come to Baidoa. My brother and I were very scared of being captured along the way, since we went through the bush.”
In August, an official from Adale in Middle Shabelle told the media that his community was hosting approximately 500 children ages 10 to 15 who had fled forced recruitment in Galgudud, Hiran and Middle Shabelle districts. Some children have fled to towns where they have relatives, others end up in dire conditions in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Local groups estimate that over half of the children recently displaced to Baidoa now live in IDP settlements. But unaccompanied children, especially those in informal camps, are unlikely to find security or schooling and may be forced to work to survive.
“The government with UN agency assistance should ensure that displaced children, including those without adult guardians, receive protection and appropriate schooling,” Bader said. “Children should not flee one danger zone for a new one.”
The UN Security Council’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) reported that in June, Al-Shabab detained 45 elders in El Bur who refused to provide them with 150 children and only released them on the condition that the children would be handed over. The SEMG found that 300 children were abducted from the area during this period and taken to an Al-Shabab school.
In April Al-Shabab announced over its radio station that it was introducing a new curriculum for primary and secondary schools and warned teachers and schools against “foreign teachings.” A Bay region resident said that Al-Shabab took a dozen teachers for “retraining” around April, and they were only released after paying about US$300 per person. In certain areas, Al-Shabab ordered schools to shut down and communities to send their teachers to Al-Shabab curriculum training seminars, SEMG reported.
Human Rights Watch did not find clear evidence that children abducted in recent drives were taken directly for military training, but interviewees repeatedly raised the concern. The UN monitoring group reported that some of the schools set up by Al-Shabab were linked to military training facilities. Child abductions, notably from schools, and children’s use as fighters by Al-Shabab significantly increased in the second quarter of 2017, the UN monitoring group said. Boys who had been associated with Al-Shabab since late 2015 said that the religious schools and teachers were often used to recruit boys as fighters. These boys said their military training included a mixture of rudimentary weapons training and ideological indoctrination.
The Somali government has taken some steps to protect schools and students, Human Rights Watch said. In 2016 it endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment by countries to do more to ensure that schools are safe places for children, even during war. Somalia has signed but not yet ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict, which states that armed groups “should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.”
The government, with the help of international donors, should wherever possible identify Al-Shabab recruitment drives, including their location, scale, and use of educational institutions, that could inform protective measures, Human Rights Watch said. Doing so would also help efforts to assist displaced children, such as addressing their health, shelter, and security needs and providing them free primary education and access to secondary education, as well as appropriate psychosocial support.
“Al-Shabab’s campaign only adds to the horrors of Somalia’s long conflict, both for the children and their families,” said Bader. “The group should immediately stop abducting children and release all children in their ranks. The Somali government should ensure these children are not sent into harm’s way.”
Published on HRW on January 14, 2018
Attacks by Syrian-Russian forces in an area near the Damascus in late October and early November 2017 killed eight children and destroyed or damaged four schools, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks on Eastern Ghouta, 15 kilometers from the Syrian capital, resulted in the closing of schools, depriving many children in the besieged area of access to education.
Impunity for unlawful attacks and a deadly siege of Eastern Ghouta by government forces mean that children in the enclave are at grave risk. The Syrian government and affiliated militia are on the United Nations’ “list of shame” of parties responsible for serious violations of the rights of children in armed conflict.
“Syrian and Russian forces appear to view the lives of children in Eastern Ghouta as utterly disposable,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council should demand an immediate end to all unlawful attacks, not least those killing children and destroying schools, under threat of targeted sanctions against those responsible.”
Human Rights Watch spoke to nine witnesses in November and reviewed photographs, videos, and reports by Syrian human rights and media organizations of the school attacks. The attacks were apparently indiscriminate, in violation of the laws of war.
The Syrian-Russian military alliance has attacked many of the towns in Eastern Ghouta repeatedly. Attacks on the enclave intensified after anti-government armed groups attacked Syrian forces at a frontline location in the area in mid-November, including the use of cluster munitions, and re-started after a brief lull in December. The Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian nongovernmental group, reported that Syrian and allied forces killed 45 boys and 30 girls in the Damascus suburbs from November 1 to January 3.
On the morning of October 31, a mortar round hit the entrance gate of a primary school in Jisreen, a town in the besieged enclave, killing six schoolboys and a man selling sweets from a cart. Half-an-hour later, two mortar rounds landed almost simultaneously, on either side of a school in the town of Mesraba, killing two adults and two children, including a father and his son. Attacks on November 8, including at least one airstrike, destroyed a kindergarten in the town of Hamouriyeh, and badly damaged two elementary schools in the towns of Saqba and Kafr Batna.
Residents and an education official from Eastern Ghouta told Human Rights Watch that in October schools in the area rescheduled and shortened class time from about 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. to keep children safe by reducing the time they were gathered together in classrooms. But attacks continued to kill and maim schoolchildren and forced emergency evacuations of schools and kindergartens. In November, local councils closed public schools in response to these dangers. In one community where a school was attacked, residents opened an “alternative” school in the basement of a residential building for greater safety, but an airstrike destroyed the building in December.
Anti-government armed groups, Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Islam, control the towns where the schools were attacked. But residents said the armed groups did not have materiel or personnel in the towns, under agreements with local civilian councils. Witnesses and residents said that the mortar attacks originated from areas controlled by Syrian government forces that had been the source of previous and continuing attacks on the towns.
Syrian government forces have besieged Eastern Ghouta, which has a population of about 400,000, since 2013. In October 2017, the government restricted the only entry point for commercial merchandise, exacerbating a scarcity of food and medical supplies. The government has refused to allow in adequate humanitarian aid, which reached only about a quarter of the enclave’s residents in 2017, and unnecessarily hindered the evacuation of people with urgent medical needs.
At least three children died in November after Syrian authorities refused to permit their urgent evacuation for medical treatment unavailable in the enclave. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, stated in December that 137 children needed immediate medical evacuation. But the government allowed the Syrian Red Crescent to evacuate only 17 children and 12 adults with life-threatening health conditions, and their family members, from December 27 to 29, reportedly as part of a deal in which Jaysh al-Islam released detainees. One of the children on the list of those due to be evacuated had already died, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, a nongovernmental group.
The laws of war that apply to all parties to the conflict in Syria prohibit attacks that target civilians or civilian infrastructure like schools, fail to distinguish between civilians and military objects, or disproportionately harm civilians. Parties are required to take all feasible measures in conducting operations to avoid, or in any event minimize, loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. The laws of war also prohibit siege warfare if it causes disproportionate harm to the civilian population, and require the parties to provide access for humanitarian aid for civilians in need. Anyone who commits, aids, or abets serious violations of the laws of war intentionally or recklessly may be prosecuted for war crimes.
Russia has repeatedly used its veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to block accountability for war crimes by all sides in the Syria conflict. Russia and Syria should end their unlawful attacks on schools and civilians. The Security Council, which on December 19 renewed its mandate for cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of desperate Syrian civilians, should demand that the Syrian government immediately end unlawful restrictions on aid to Eastern Ghouta or face targeted sanctions against those responsible.
“In 2017 a mortar blew off a boy’s legs at his school gate, a warplane flattened a kindergarten, and children died from illnesses that could have been treated just a few kilometers away,” Van Esveld said. “The suffering of children in Eastern Ghouta should shock the conscience, but it continues unabated in 2018 as Russia and Syria persist in their unlawful attacks.”
Read the full article here. Published on HRW on January 11, 2018
By Karen McVeigh
A new law that could legalise marriage for children as young as nine in Iraq would be “catastrophic”, setting back women’s rights by half a century, activists said.
The proposal, an amendment to Iraq’s personal status law, would allow clerics of Muslim sects to govern marriage contracts.
Public demonstrations were held last weekend by civil society and women’s rights groups against the amendment. The United Nations in Iraq (Unami) called for wider consultations and for women’s rights to be fully recognised and protected.
An earlier, more extreme version of the bill, provoked an international outcry when it was proposed, ahead of the elections in 2014. The earlier version also restricted women’s rights in terms of divorce, parenting and inheritance.
Opposition to the current proposals, which were approved this month, has so far concentrated on their impact on child marriage.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, of Equality Now, based in Jordan, told the Guardian: “This bill contradicts international conventions and the national law in Iraq. If it is approved, in effect, each and every religious sect will follow their clerics. It will be catastrophic for women’s rights.
“We are outraged, and we will be supporting women in Iraq by issuing alerts about the bill. We are also writing letters to the speaker of [parliament] and the president.”
Some religious sects in Iraq believe the wife of the prophet Muhammad was aged nine, and say children of that age can marry, while others believe children can do so when they reach puberty.
Abu-Dayyeh said: “We are fearful we will lose the good laws we have.”
A petition signed by activists from civil society organisations, gathered in Sulaymaniyah last Sunday, said: “This new bill to amend the personal status law will authorise religious men to enforce illegal marriages and force girls under 18 to live with their in-laws. This is a setback to the achievements Iraqi women made and struggled for half a century ago.”
Humans Rights Watch said it was examining the amendment and would be issuing a statement about how far-reaching the law could be.
Belkis Wille, Iraq and Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “It fundamentally undermines international law and also Iraqi law. Some religious sects do not allow equal rights – in terms of marriage and in terms of inheritance. If you read the amendment it says very little. What it does say is religious leaders from individual sects and religious tenets will govern marriage contracts.
“One would think in the aftermath of Isis, one of the key priorities of the government would be to assert more clearly that everyone in Iraq has equal rights.
“We will be issuing a statement about this proposed amendment, trying to hammer down how it will erode the current rights. We will also be talking to MPs to bring pressure on them to make sure it will not pass.”
On 1 November, Iraq’s council of representatives voted in principle to approve the new amendment, and it has been signed by 40 parliamentarians. Iraqi elections will be held in May next year. The amendment states: “It is permitted to conduct a marriage contract for the followers of the Sunni and Shia sects, according to their faith, by those who are permitted to conduct such contracts as directed by the jurists of that faith.”
The legal age for marriage in Iraq is 18, but under the current personal status law, a judge is allowed to permit girls as young as 15 to marry in “urgent” cases. This already violates child protections under the UN convention on the rights of the child, which Iraq ratified in 1994. The draft amendment would go much further, putting many more girls at risk of forced and early marriage, and making them vulnerable to sexual abuse. The treaty defines a child as being under 18.
The draft is not yet on the agenda in parliament and the timing of the vote is unclear.
The version of the bill proposed in 2014 included provisions that would have banned Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, legalised rape within marriage, and prevented women from leaving the house without their husband’s permission.
Published on The Guardian on November 14, 2017
By Corinne Redfern
"We’ve never had this many female pupils before,” says principal Lal Chandra Pandey as the class opens their textbooks. “I’d say we were used to 90% of the girls in the region coming to school for a few years, and then typically having to leave at around 14 or 15 and get married. It was only last year that we noticed they were staying on for longer and longer. We had to borrow more chairs from the primary class next door.”
It’s been more than a decade since Pandey started teaching at Shree Nepal Rastriya higher secondary – a school positioned precariously on the edge of a lake in Nepal’s southern district of Kapilvastu – and he’s never seen anything like it. “But of course, by this point, we know who’s responsible.”
As if on cue, 17-year-old Sheskalo Pandey lifts her gaze from her notebook and raises her hand to ask a question. She’s been awake since 4am, when she began weaving paper baskets in the dark – but she won’t let her concentration slip. “School is my whole life,” she tells me later. “I’m working so hard to be here. It wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t work even harder when I get to my desk.”
The girls choose to sit together, she says. “We’re not going to distract each other. I won’t let that happen. I’ve invested too much in this.”
Three years ago, just after Sheskalo’s 14th birthday, her parents decided it was time she got married. “Two of the girls I walked to school with had dropped out of our class to get married, and my family decided I should probably leave too,” she recalls. “They said that it was expensive – and that walking in on my own was too dangerous in case I was raped. I think they thought I’d be happy because I could plan a wedding instead.”
To her parents’ dismay, the teenager reacted by bursting into tears and refusing to eat for four days. “Even when my mother brought me a bowl of homemade curd – which we never have because it’s so expensive – I left it on the ground. I felt sick, like my whole future was being taken away from me.”
Then Sheskalo remembered a group of elderly women she’d seen making handicrafts and selling them at wedding fairs. This could be one answer, she thought, and came up with a business plan to sell handcrafted baskets, bowls, calendars and incense at markets across the district in order to enable her to pay the 300 rupees (£2.20) monthly school fees.
“I begged my brother to lend me enough money to buy some coloured paper and glue,” she says. “He’s older than me, and had been allowed to finish school and go to university, so he agreed. He said he was proud of me for standing up for myself.”
With his support, their parents caved – agreeing that Sheskalo could attempt to pay her own school fees for six months. But if she failed, that was it: marriage was the only solution. Her mother nodded while Sheskalo made her business proposal, but her father remained silent. “I thought it was because he didn’t approve,” she says. “But the next day he came home with a rusty bicycle he’d spent all his savings on. He said that I could pay him back when I started making money. And that at least this way, he knew I’d be safe.”
Her debt was repaid two weeks later, and within two months other girls in the village were asking Sheskalo for help. “I could barely leave the house without somebody stopping me,” she recalls. “Mothers were pleading with me to teach their daughters how to make money so that they could stay in school too, and my friends started telling their parents they didn’t want to get married either.”
Community workers funded by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) caught wind of the girls’ rebellion, and began to coordinate a “girls only circle” where they could talk freely about their fears of forced marriage and ask for professional support to prevent it happening. Accountants were drafted in to teach them about banking and managing their money.
And when the time came to elect a group president, it was an easy choice. “There are 35 of us who have bought our own bicycles now, and we stopped two girls from getting married last month,” Sheskalo says proudly. “Next on my list is gender-based violence. We’re actually making a really big impact in a really short time.”
She now earns up to 8,000 rupees (£56) for a month’s work. Half of her income goes to her father, and she saves the rest. She’s saving to do a degree in accountancy after she finishes her final exams next year. In January, she began an course in computing, cycling an hour and a half to the town of Taulihawa once a week and paying 900 rupees [£6.60] to learn how to use Microsoft Word and Excel.
“I’d never even seen a laptop before,” she says. “My instructor says I have potential, but sometimes he still has to hold my fingers down because they keep slipping off the keys – I’m not really sure how to keep them still.”
“It’s not complicated why girls are made to drop out of school,” she says. “It’s just about money. People don’t have enough food to eat three times a day, so if you have a daughter, you’re going to want to find her a husband as soon as possible because that means you won’t have to feed her any more.”
Societal conventions also demand that the more educated a girl, the higher the dowry her parents are expected to present to their in-laws: a financial demonstration of gratitude for taking their worldly daughter off their hands. “If I left school in year seven, maybe my parents would only have to give my husband’s family a buffalo and some jewellery,” Sheskalo explains. “But if I finish school or go to university, they’ll probably have to buy gold necklaces and motorbikes – and a refrigerator too.”
Despite a legal age limit of 18, 41% of girls in Nepal are married before reaching that age – through secret ceremonies conducted in rural regions, or local police reportedly bribed with local alcohol to stay quiet. In Kapilvastu, an agricultural region, the figure is thought to be almost double that.
“Nepal is seeing slow but steady movements in the right direction, and the government has developed a sound strategy for ending child marriage,” says Lubna Baqi, the UNFPA’s Nepal representative. “However, there is a lot left to be done. Keeping girls in school is key to mitigating child marriage. Empowering girls with knowledge – and the confidence which comes with it – is key.”
Ending child marriage is one of the key targets for the sustainable development goals, and there is slow global progress being made.
With that in mind, as the morning’s classes come to an end at 11am, Sheskalo is one of the first out the door – wheeling her bike towards the gate in a rush. “I love school, but there’s too much to do to hang around,” she says. “I mean, some of us have businesses to run.”
Published on The Guardian on November 9, 2017
By DELIA PAUL
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Koumbou Boly Barry, has called on UN Member States to fight discrimination to ensure that all children have access to education, fulfilling Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 (quality education). The UN reports that 263 million children around the world are not receiving education, due to a range of factors, including being migrants or refugees, or because of their cultural, linguistic or ethnic background.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres circulated the Special Rapporteur’s report (A/72/498) to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 23 September. The report reviews the role of equity and inclusion in strengthening the right to education, particularly in the context of achieving the SDGs. The report highlights a number of factors that influence whether or not children have the chance to be educated include poverty, disabilities, living in rural areas, being nomadic and being girls. The report cites studies from around the world indicating the dimensions of the problem and provides examples of national actions that have been effective in promoting equity and inclusion in the educational sphere.
The report calls for governments to identify people and groups in need of specific, targeted support and to review their laws and policies to address those needs. Such action, the report argues, must include collecting and publishing disaggregated data and should encompass all aspects of education from early childhood care to adult literacy programmes.
The report concludes by calling for States to take significant, positive actions to tackle discrimination, inequity and exclusion in education to ensure that the SDGs are met.
Koumbou Boly Barry is from Burkina Faso, and was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to education in 2016.
Published on IISD on October 26, 2017.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.