By Jessica Glenza
Luis is just 14 years old, but he already has an exhausting, dawn-till-dusk job. Last summer, he started working in tobacco fields in North Carolina.
Even though Luis is just a child – too young to buy cigarettes – it is legal for him to work here in the US.
The job pays about $7.25 per hour.
Monday through Saturday last summer, when he was not in school, he rose at 5am, dressed in long sleeves, jeans, boots, gloves, a hat and a plastic poncho, and waited for a van to drive him to fields as far as an hour away. He came home around 7pm. This is a typical schedule for laborers in this tough and dangerous job.
Workers in tobacco are vulnerable to heat sickness, in temperatures which regularly reach 32C (89F); they risk injuries from sharp objects; and, if the Trump administration has its way, children will return to using the most toxic agrochemicals.
Then there is the plant itself. Tobacco naturally contains water-soluble nicotine. This makes morning dew or overnight rain a vehicle for huge doses of nicotine. Workers are regularly exposed to six cigarettes’ worth of nicotine per day, one study found. This can result in acute nicotine poisoning, called green tobacco sickness, characterized by nausea, vomiting, headaches and dizziness.
“I wanted to help my mama,” said Luis. He wanted to work, he said, “to get school supplies, so she doesn’t have to waste money”. Luis is the son of a cervical cancer survivor. He started to work when his mother, a waitress, was too ill to hold a job. (The Guardian has changed the names of workers and their families in this report.)
“It’s heavy work, very hard,” said Luis’s mother. But, she said, “there’s no choice”. Children need to help buy “clothes, shoes, their own things, things they need”. She said it would be “better when they were older, but he started because I had cancer ... He was helping me as well as my older son.”
In the US, lax laws and an informal economy in which landowners are removed from hiring laborers allow teens to work growing and harvesting tobacco. This contravenes some tobacco companies’ own policies, which often prohibit children from performing hazardous work.
“There’s a lot of 14-, 15-year-olds working in the fields,” said Antonio, a 19-year-old who has done so since he was 15, a history confirmed by his mother. “They need money or they want to work,” Antonio said.
Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, which produces Marlboro cigarettes, said growers were “prohibited from hiring those less than 16 years of age, and may only assign hazardous duties to workers 18 and older. Both are above the legal requirements. We require parental consent for those under 18 working in tobacco farming.”
The company also said it reviewed all growers every three years. In 2017, it found only one case of child labor, in which a farmer hired two 15-year-olds.
“While the individuals were no longer employed by the grower, the contract requirements were reviewed with the grower to strengthen their understanding of the minimum age requirement,” the company said. The company also said it had hired third-party assessors to monitor labor conditions.
Miguel Coleta, director of sustainability for Philip Morris International, said the company had been “making progress in tackling complex labor issues on farms supplying to PMI and our standards exceed US in many areas”.
“Challenges remain, and PMI continues to work with Verité and the Farm Labor Practices Group on systemic issues associated with child labor, grievance mechanisms to protect workers’ rights and to achieve meaningful improvements on the ground,” said Coleta.
In 2015, PMI adopted a new leaf-buying model in the US, and it now buys through the third-party leaf buyers Alliance One International Inc and Universal Leaf North America. At the time, Human Rights Watch said the move would improve labor conditions on US farms.
The Guardian interviewed several teens, parents, and labor organizers for this story. They described a picture in which child labor was commonplace. However, many said they depended on their children’s income to make ends meet. Many of those interviewed also work in other crops, including picking cucumbers, peppers or other vegetables.
“It’s the fact that we have to do it, because there is no alternative,” said Laticia Savala, a labor organizer with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (Floc) in North Carolina. Floc does not support outlawing child labor in fields, because organizers feel it would harm families who depend on children’s income. However, needing the money does not lessen the harm.
“What mom wouldn’t want their kids studying [rather] than working in the fields?” asked Savala. “You’re forced into doing something.” If labor conditions on farms “were better, probably child labor wouldn’t exist”.
The world’s largest tobacco-producing countries span the globe. They include Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Pakistan and the United States.
Together, North Carolina and Kentucky produce 70% of the 700m pounds of tobacco grown in the US each year. Only 0.04% of US farmland grows tobacco, but the United States is still an international juggernaut, the fourth-largest producer in the world.
North Carolina is just one part of a global supply chain that feeds cigarette makers with tobacco leaf. However, the value of tobacco farming is dwarfed by the value of the global tobacco products. Tobacco farming was worth $19.1bn in 2013. Once leaf is manufactured, marketed and branded, tobacco products were worth $783bn the same year.
North Carolina’s farmers employ mostly Latin American workers, who toil in fields owned by white, ageing farmers. The US does not grant agricultural workers collective bargaining rights and workers are sometimes undocumented. Workers are vulnerable to wage theft, exploitation and dangerous working conditions.
Because children work in an informal economy, there is no data on how many might work in fields in summer months, or even when they should be in school. A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) was the first in recent memory to ignite debate about child labor in tobacco in the US. The advocacy group followed up the report in 2015, and found little had fundamentally changed in fields.
“If you appear younger than 16, they’ll ask,” said 19-year-old John about children working on the fields. “But otherwise, no,” they don’t ask. Many contractors, one mother said, encouraged children to lie about their age.
Attempts have been made to regulate tobacco growing in the past. In 2012, the Obama administration attempted to make it illegal for children younger than 16 to work in tobacco. But the Department of Labor backed down after Republicans falsely argued the measure would prevent children from working on family farms.
At the state level, as recently as 2017, the Democratic Virginia delegate Alfonso Lopez tried to introduce a bill to bar child labor on tobacco farms. He was blocked by Republicans.
“If this was your kid, would you be OK with having them work in this job?” Lopez asked at the time as the bill was shelved. “Would you? I don’t think you would. So why is it OK for kids you don’t know to do this job?”
When criticism of child labor on US farms reached its peak in 2014, Philip Morris International hired a company to audit its supply chain. It found children working in hazardous conditions on 16% of the US farms it visited.
However, auditors concluded: “The root cause of many labor related issues in the US is the lack of sustainable, reliable workforce exacerbated by poor US immigration policies.”
The US has signed an international human rights convention meant to protect children “from economic exploitation” and work likely “to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”. To that end, it encourages trading partners to meet these standards, and publishes an annual report on the “worst forms of child labor” around the world.
One country singled out in the report was Malawi, visited by the Guardian earlier this year as part of an investigation, where children “continue to engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in the harvesting of tobacco”, the most recent report by the US Bureau of International Labor Affairs said.
The tobacco industry, through its Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco Growing Foundation, agrees “in principle” children should be prohibited from hazardous work, “particularly the use of of machinery and agrochemicals by children in tobacco farming”.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is hoping to further deregulate farm labor. Rules put into place after the 2014 HRW report are being rolled back by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which is examining whether children should again be allowed to work with dangerous pesticides on farms.
“I’ve worked in the field as well; it’s very difficult. For a young person it’s worse,” said Antonio’s mother, a 37-year-old with three sons who works behind the counter of a rural convenience store. Teens often prefer farm work to other work, she said, “because they’re given jobs despite their age”.
Dominance of American tobacco has waned in recent decades, as the tobacco supply chain has globalized. This and the deregulation of US tobacco price controls has encouraged consolidation. Where in 1978 there were 188,000 tobacco farms, today there are around 4,200.
“A lot of times they’re underage and they lie and say they’re 16 or 17, but they’re actually 13 or 14 years [old],” Antonio’s mother said. “It’s hard, but there aren’t any more options.” She said claims that child labor was not happening on tobacco farms were “a lie”.
Published on The Guardian on June 28, 2018
By Sarah Elliott
There has been growing recognition of the heightened need to respond to human trafficking in contexts of humanitarian crisis. Although there have been some positive developments, actors need to take into account pre-existing mechanisms and policies to develop more robust humanitarian protection programmes and counter-trafficking initiatives.
The grave risk posed by human trafficking in humanitarian crises has recently gained serious attention by the international community. Horrifying accounts of sexual and labour exploitation at the hands of armed groups, such as ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army, illustrate the most extreme manifestation of the problem.
A growing body of evidence has shown that humanitarian crises can exacerbate pre-existing human trafficking trends – and give rise to new ones. However, as recent research from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) argues, this is often overlooked and not incorporated into humanitarian responses. The IOM research draws on case studies from Syria, Haiti and Nepal, as well as mixed migration situations, such as those seen in East Africa and the Horn. Earlier reports, including that of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (focusing on Jordan) and the Freedom Fund (focusing on Lebanon), came to similar conclusions.
‘Trafficking in persons’ is defined in international law, and criminalized in most states. ‘Crisis’, however, is a descriptive term, often used to describe any number of emergencies, such as armed conflicts, natural disasters and large, protracted and/or mixed movements of refugees and migrants. When searching for practical responses to this issue, I argue that we first need to be clearer about the situations in which these two phenomena come together and, secondly, that we need to build on existing tools and applicable legal frameworks, to avoid overburdening humanitarian actors already faced with competing priorities. There have already been several positive developments in this regard.
The link between humanitarian crises and human trafficking
Some forms of human trafficking are a direct result of crises, such as forced armed recruitment of child soldiers, the demand for exploitative sexual services by armed groups (and even peacekeepers) or the enslavement of persecuted ethnic minorities. The links between other forms of human trafficking and crisis situations are less direct, such as the opportunistic trafficking of displaced people for the purposes of forced labour in neighbouring countries or cases where children are trafficked into the international adoption market.
It can sometimes be difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain whether a crisis situation has led to an increase in trafficking in persons, or whether the arrival of aid workers has merely shed new light on previously unreported trends. Regardless, it is essential that any counter-trafficking response outlives the humanitarian imperative.
When tailoring a robust counter-trafficking response in a crisis context that needs to be reconciled with the existing responsibilities of humanitairan humanitarian actors, it is important to not only identify the type and cause of trafficking taking place, but to identify the crisis at hand, and to take into account the country, and its applicable legal, policy and coordination frameworks.
Acts of human trafficking are often associated with other violations of international law within the crisis-affected country or the region. These include humanitarian law, international criminal law or the international principles and guidelines concerning internally displaced people. For this reason, in the absence of a functioning protection pathway for victims of trafficking, other coordination structures and policies may assist. These could be the UN cluster response in humanitarian crises, the Refugee Coordination Model in situations with refugee populations, or the work of the Platform on Disaster Displacement.
In addressing the needs of people displaced by natural disasters, actors may already be engaged in responding to forms of exploitation not labelled ‘human trafficking’ as such, including forced marriage (through the Sexual and Gender Based Violence Area of Responsibility of the Global Protection Cluster), or the recruitment of child soldiers through UNICEF’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on grave violations of children’s rights in situations of armed conflict.
One particularly underutilized protection response to trafficking in crisis is refugee status. Armed conflict may be a cause of internal displacement and refugee movements across borders. Targeting people for exploitation – such as women for forced marriage or sexual enslavement – could be part of the conflict itself as combatants aim to displace or even eliminate opposing groups. Victims of such exploitation should be granted refugee status in the countries they flee to, and protected from non-refoulement. In turn, this form of legal protection helps reduce their vulnerability to being trafficked in their new location. Where that risk remains, they should be resettled. While some host states provide permanent legal stay to victims of trafficking formally identified as such, most do not. For these reasons, ensuring that victims of trafficking also have access to asylum procedures, both in the region of an armed conflict and further afield, should be considered an integral part of the anti-trafficking response. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recently published Issue Brief No 3 from ICAT (the Inter-Agency Co-ordination Group Against Trafficking In Persons), which gives more detail on the relationship between trafficking in persons and refugee status.
Enabling victims of trafficking to safely seek international criminal redress is also an important yet overlooked counter-trafficking in crisis response, both in terms of ending impunity for trafficking committed as a war crime or crime against humanity, and in tackling the root causes of the crime itself.
Further, targeted, preventative action taken to help relieve the economic scarcity that often ensues in protracted conflict or refugee situations can help mitigate the risk of people falling into negative coping mechanisms or risky behaviour in order to survive, particularly the most vulnerable. These strategies include linking financial assistance to education and social services, and considering of the cost borne by families not sending their children to work within such assistance efforts.
Calls for more robust counter-trafficking responses in crisis situations, however, may not translate into specific actions in every case. The safety of all parties and the potential for conflicting priorities must also be considered in any such response programme. Given the chaos inherent in crises, identifying trafficked people and managing individual cases may be impossible or even unethical if the services victims need do not exist. Where government actors are known to be involved in perpetrating the crime, the safety of humanitarian actors may be jeopardized by addressing this issue head-on. In such instances, where a direct counter-trafficking response inside the crisis itself is not possible, identifying those groups most at risk, and improving their protection in general through monitoring and referral pathways, might be the only feasible counter-trafficking in crisis strategy to pursue.
Some positive steps
Despite these challenges, providing humanitarian actors with information about how human trafficking affects the groups they serve, and how it can be identified, prevented or addressed in the specific context at hand is a worthwhile investment. Much can be done through local initiatives and targeted campaigns that raise awareness about reported trafficking recruitment methods, or by linking up humanitarian actors with existing national referral mechanisms for victims of trafficking that may continue to function despite the crisis.
There have been several recent developments that suggest we are on a positive trajectory. For example, there is now growing recognition within UN bodies that responding to trafficking and exploitation can be strengthened further as part of emergency humanitarian programming.
UN Security Council Resolution 2331 (2017) recognizes that the response to trafficking in conflicts could be strengthened and calls upon all relevant UN agencies, including the UNHCR, to develop their joint capabilities and cooperate more effectively. Meanwhile, UN Security Council Resolution 2388 (2018) focuses on people displaced by armed conflict and recognizes the need to enhance the protection of any displaced person who is either a victim of trafficking or at risk of becoming one.
In terms of specific agencies’ progress on the issue, an Anti-Trafficking Task Team has been formed as part of the Global Protection Cluster – an established initiative that coordinates inter-agency approaches to protection in humanitarian responses. This task team (of which I was previously a part) will aim to develop a collective position on anti-trafficking interventions in humanitarian responses and to provide recommendations on how best to integrate them systematically into the Global Protection Cluster.
This year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime will issue guidelines on countering trafficking in persons in conflict zones. Work on developing these has benefited from an expert round table of security, humanitarian and protection actors. The recently published UNHCR Guidelines on International Protection Number 12 also give more clarity on conflict-induced refugee movements for asylum decision-makers, while the ICAT Issue Brief No 2provides recommendations to states and the international community on what kinds of thinking and action are needed to respond to trafficking in crisis situations.
It is heartening to see that human trafficking in contexts of crisis has been placed at the forefront of the international agenda as a concern that needs to be addressed through an evidence-based and cross-sectoral approach. However, the recommendations for further action have, in my view, often been shrouded in a certain lack of precision and contextual confusion. It is essential to assess with greater clarity not only the cause and type of human trafficking taking place, but the type of crisis at hand, the applicable legal frameworks at the national and international level and the link between the reported trafficking and the crisis itself. Humanitarian actors should consider which existing mechanisms could be applied and which practical interventions taken in the quest for a streamlined humanitarian response to human trafficking.
Published on The Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime on June 20, 2018
By Graça Machel
The legendary editor of the Guardian newspaper CP Scott famously declared in 1921 that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. Unfortunately, when it comes to hard evidence on how many children are locked up in prisons, detention centres, migrant and refugee camps, rehabilitation units or other institutions across the world, the facts are more scarce than sacred.
There is no single source of accurate data for these figures and estimates vary widely between 15,000 and 28,000 in Africa alone, but common sense dictates that the numbers are likely to be worse than even the highest approximations.
The UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty – due to be presented to the general assembly this September – aims to address this data gap.
Whatever the numbers, no child should be kept in prison. Detention should only ever be used as a last resort, and then only for the shortest possible time.
A lack of statistics makes it hard to identify any country or region in the continent as being worse than another. The recent conference onAccess to Justice for Children in Africa, convened by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) and its partners in Addis Ababa, made it clear that young people are poorly served by the justice systems meant to protect them. Despite some progress in recent years, the conference heard how groups such as children with disabilities, victims of trafficking, sexual abuse and violence, orphans, refugees and migrants are routinely discriminated against: they are denied access to justice, to adequate legal representation and to fair trial.
ACPF held the gathering to call on governments and international agencies, research institutions and experts as well as the media to highlight the injustices children are facing in judicial systems. Participants, numbering more than 200, committed themselves to giving a face and a voice to these children, and making access to justice a reality for all young people on the continent.
Their call to action pulls no punches, noting that children remain predominantly invisible in the justice systems in Africa, that traditional, customary or religious justice remains largely unregulated and renders children particularly vulnerable; and that African laws need to be brought into line with international standards and principles such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The call to action makes it clear it is our collective responsibility to ensure progress – governments, the African Union, UN agencies, civil society and non-governmental organisations, academics – no one can shirk their responsibility.
But calling for action is one thing, getting it is another. African countries must make greater strides towards improved access to justice for children. This will be marked by, among other things, law and policy reform that recognise the rights of children in the justice system, as well as growth in services that support these laws. Many African countries now have laws and standards to protect children in the justice system, some have child courts and dedicated police units, but true progress requires their systematic implementation.
Some countries such as Uganda report a significant drop in the number of children being detained. Elsewhere, trials of new technology such as “virtual courts” lessen the stress of children having to appear in person. But progress is painfully slow, and all the while another generation of children faces discrimination and ill-treatment at the hands of the systems intended to protect them.
As the call to action concludes: “There is an imperative on all of us to act now, as the future of our continent depends on ensuring justice for our children today.”
Published on The Guardian on June 18, 2018
By Marion MacGregor
A network of organizations working to stop people trafficking and migrant smuggling in Afghanistan has been launched in Kabul. The aim of the network run by the International Organization for Migration and funded by the US aid agency USAID, is to help the government to implement a 2017 law against people trafficking.
Afghanistan is a major hub for human trafficking, which affects the lives of millions of people. In January 2017, the country passed a new law against trafficking and smuggling of migrants.
At the launch of the first national referral network of NGOs and media (ANCTIP), Afghan President Abdullah said his government was committed to counter human trafficking, but “there is still much to be done.”
The main aims of ANCTIP are to educate the public about trafficking and people smuggling and to help the government to enforce the law. The network will share information and work with Afghanistan’s neighbors to stop trafficking across the borders.
The initiative is being funded by the US international development organization USAID. Mission Director Herbert Smith said, “It is important to focus on the rights and needs of victims in the fight against trafficking in persons.”
The network will also try to raise awareness about migrant smuggling, says Nasir Ahmad Haidarzai, communications officer of IOM Afghanistan. Haidarzai told InfoMigrants that migrants who rely on smugglers are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking in Afghanistan and abroad.
Most victims are children
Most Afghan trafficking victims are children exploited in carpet making and brick factories, domestic servitude, commercial sex, begging, poppy cultivation, transnational drug smuggling, and truck driving within Afghanistan.
Traffickers often prey on returnees from Iran and Pakistan and other internally displaced people, according to a 2017 US State Department Report on Trafficking.
Afghans – women, men, and children – often pay people to help them to find jobs in Iran, Pakistan, India, Europe and North America . Sometimes they are forced into labor or prostitution as a result. Afghan women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic slavery in Pakistan, Iran and India. Afghan boys and men are subjected to forced labor and debt slavery in agriculture and construction jobs, mostly in Iran, Pakistan, Greece, Turkey and the Gulf States.
Afghan boys at high risk
Boys, especially those traveling alone, are especially vulnerable to trafficking. Some Afghan boys are subjected to sex trafficking in Greece after paying high fees to be smuggled into the country.
In Iran, male Afghan migrants including registered refugees and boys as young as 12 are coerced by the government and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to fight in Syria. They are threatened with arrest and deportation to Afghanistan.
Foreigners forced into prostitution, labor
The US government cites reports of women and girls from the Philippines, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka and China being subjected to sex trafficking in Afghanistan. Some Afghan recruiters also reportedly promise high-paying jobs to lure foreign workers to Afghanistan where they are subjected to forced labor after they arrive.
Published on InfoMigrants on June 5, 2018
That represents almost half of all children aged between seven and 17, and it marks the first time that the out-of-school rate has increased, since 2002, said UNICEF.
The figures are part of the Global Initiative on Out of School Children report, released on Saturday, which indicates that persistent discrimination against girls is a major factor driving down school attendance.
Girls account for 60 per cent of those being denied an education, putting them at a particular disadvantage, and compounding gender-based discrimination, says the report. In the worse-affected provinces – including Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Paktika, Zabul and Uruzgan – up to 85 per cent of girls are not going to school.
The study notes that displacement and child marriage are major obstacles to classroom participation, together with a basic lack of women teachers, poor facilities, and insecurity in conflict-affected areas.
“Business as usual is not an option for Afghanistan if we are to fulfil the right to education for every child,” said UNICEF Afghanistan Representative, Adele Khodr. “When children are not in school, they are at an increased danger of abuse, exploitation and recruitment,” she added.
But there are rays of hope in the study. It notes that dropout rates are low, with 85 per cent of boys and girls who start at the primary level, managing to stay in school to complete all grades, while the figures are even higher for those who begin at secondary school level.
“We commend the Government of Afghanistan for prioritising and declaring the year 2018 as the year of education,” said Ms. Khodr. ”Now is the time for a renewed commitment, to provide girls and boys with the relevant learning opportunities they need to progress in life and to play a positive role in society,” she added.
“Getting girls and boys into school is so much more than sitting in class,” she said, adding that it was about providing routine and stability, “which is a wise investment given the insecurity across parts of the country.”
The report calls for a continued commitment on the part of the Afghan government and civil society groups to address the country’s classroom crisis.
Published on UN News on June 2, 2018
By Aisling Reidy
The first vote I ever cast was in one of the six referendums that Ireland has had on abortion. Today, I watched with tears of joy as it became clear that two-thirds of Irish people voted to repeal the 35-year constitutional ban on abortion and to allow parliament to regulate abortion access in the future. Voters had turned out in historic numbers. I am both proud and relieved.
I was too young in 1983 to vote in the first referendum that led Ireland to change its Constitution, adding what is known as the eighth amendment, banning abortion in almost all circumstances, even though it had already been criminalized in the country for over a century.
Under the constitutional ban, while “due regard” was given to the right to life of pregnant women and girls, the state’s responsibility was to “vindicate” the right to life of the “unborn.” When I was a university student, anti-choice activists successfully used the ban to make it illegal for doctors and family planning clinics to offer patients information about abortion services outside of Ireland. Student union officers were prosecuted for distributing such information. Magazines from abroad turned up in Ireland with blank pages, which would otherwise have contained advertisements with information on abortion services in the UK.
Over the years, the ban led to an injunction against a 14-year-old rape victim to stop her traveling to England for a termination, and, as recently as 2014, to a forced caesarean on a young asylum seeker, who despite being raped had not been allowed to travel for an abortion. Some women, like Savita Halappanavar, died because of the eighth amendment. The European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committeeruled on multiple occasions that the ban violated women’s rights, and told Ireland time and again to change its laws.
I voted in three referendums that won small but important gains: the right for a suicidal pregnant woman or girl to obtain a life-saving abortion; the right to information about services abroad; and the right to travel for these services. Between 1980 and 2016, more than170,000 Irish women and girls “travelled” (as it euphemistically became known) to have abortions: rape victims, women with diagnosis of fatal fetal anomalies, women who needed to end pregnancies to undergo life-saving treatment, and those who, for myriad personal reasons, could not continue their pregnancies. It’s likely everyone in Ireland knows family members or friends who “travelled” – often alone and in secrecy. I do.
After years of women making this lonely and often agonizing journey, listening to the brave individuals who came forward to break the silence, watching the commitment of the indefatigable pro-choice campaigners, and seeing the thousands who travelled #hometovote, yesterday’s vote was particularly poignant. The emphatic nature of the ‘Yes’ vote gives me hope that it will mark the start of a new, honest, rights-respecting era for women and girls in Ireland.
Activists in Poland, Malta, Italy, and in other regions such as Latin America -- where women and girls continue to fight for access to abortion – watched as Ireland voted. I hope today marks a day where women’s struggle to secure or protect their basic reproductive rights wherever they are, is bolstered.
Published on HRW on May 28, 2018
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.