INDIA: UN report says infant mortality rates lowest in five years, four-fold decline in gender gap in girl child survival

Opindia (18.09.2018) – –  The number of infant deaths reported in India for the year 2017 is the lowest in five years. According to reports, the United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME)has stated in its report that 8,02,000 infants died in India in the year 2017, the lowest in five years.


The UNIGME report states that in 2016, 8,60,000 infants had died in India. Yasmeen Ali Haque, the UNICEF representative in India has stated, ” India continues to show an impressive decline in child mortality deaths, with its share of global under-five deaths for the first time equalling its share of childbirths.”


Yasmeen Ali Haque also reportedly stated that the efforts for improving institutional delivery along with a countrywide scale-up of newborn care units joined with robust immunisation drives have been instrumental in achieving the feat. According to reports, India’s infant mortality rate was 44 per 1000 live childbirths. In 2017, the gender-specific mortality rate has come down to 39 per 1000 live male childbirths and 40 per 1000 live female childbirths. Haque added that the four-fold decline in the gender gap in the survival of girl children is even more heartening.


In 2012, a UN report had stated that the gender gap in child mortality in India is far worse than the global average in developing countries and as girls have biological advantages over boys for better adaptability and resistance to diseases, the child mortality rate of 56 boys for every 100 girls dying suggests a disturbing socio-cultural trend of neglect and lack of care for the girl child.


The recent UNIGME report states that globally a total of 6.3 million children had died in 2017, 1 in every 5 seconds. Most of these deaths were due to preventable causes. A majority of these deaths, 5.4 million is among children below 5-years of age. Laurence Chandy, the director of data, research and policy in UNICEF has stated that simple measures like access to clean water, sanitation, electricity and vaccines can drastically reduce the numbers. Chandy added that over half of the 5.4 deaths among children below five had occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and a further 30% In South Asia.


The UNIGME report states that most children under 5 die due to preventable causes like complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhoea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. The report also stated that for children everywhere, the riskiest period is the first month after birth. 2.5 million of the 5.4 million deaths under were of infants in their first month. Even within countries, rural areas show a 50% higher rate in neonatal deaths than urban areas.


In India, the recent increase in awareness over sanitation and the government’s drive to ensure toilets in every household is widely considered a strong factor in bringing down death rates among the population. A recent WHO report had stated that over 3 lakh deaths due to sanitation-related diseases were prevented in India due to the government’s push for Swachh Bharat Mission. In Uttar Pradesh, an aggressive immunisation and awareness programme called Dasatk has been able to significantly bring down deaths due to Japanese Encephalitis. UNICEF India had praised UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s government recently for successfully immunising every child in the state against Japanese Encephalitis.


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TUNISIA: Historic leap: Women make up 47 per cent of local government

UN Women (27.08.2018) – – Seven years after the 2011 Revolution and four years after the adoption of the Constitution, women now make up 47 per cent of the local council positions in Tunisia following the May 2018 elections. The dramatic increase in women members is the result of a 2016 electoral law that includes the principles of parity and alternation between men and women on candidate lists for all elections.


In May, Ichrak Rhouma was elected to the Sidi Hassine Council in Tunis, the capital city. Prior to being elected, Rhouma participated in the Women’s Political Academy, a joint project by UN Women and the Tunisian women’s rights organization, Aswat Nissa (Women’s Voices). The Academy trained women candidates on local governance, missions and roles of municipal councils, as well as media relations. Rhouma says that the Women’s Political Academy “allowed us to deepen our knowledge on women’s rights in general, but also to learn new concepts such as gender-sensitive budgeting.”


In addition to the Academy, the project has conducted research on women’s expectations of municipal council’s activities in five regions across the country. The study’s results informed candidates’ electoral campaigns and shaped regional development planning.


Prior to the 2018 elections in Tunisia, UN Women and its civil society partners conducted capacity building sessions and supported the updating of the gender-sensitive election observation manual. UN Women also provided capacity building to 75 election observers who were trained on the importance of women’s participation in elections and how to observe gender-related issues during the voting stages.


UN Women also supported the Tunisian League of Women Voters (LET) to run awareness-raising campaigns to increase voter participation, especially in the regions of Sousse, Bizerte and Nabeul, which had registered the lowest rates in 2012 elections.


“The objective was to invigorate a participatory democracy and political culture within women and youth. Our awareness campaigns trained and engaged young men and women who went door to door explaining the importance of women’s participation in the political scene,” explains Nejma Ben Kheher, Project Officer at LET.


Khedher added, “Now that we have this high number of elected women in local and regional councils, we hope to continue supporting them with targeted training, such as access to information or gender-responsive budgeting to help them succeed in their mission.”


“The increased women’s representation in the municipal councils offers an opportunity to impact territorial policies in Tunisia,” said Leila Rhiwi, UN Women Representative in Maghreb. “UN Women will continue supporting the councils to integrate gender concerns into their communal development plans that foster good governance and women’s leadership.”


Tunisia is one of the few countries in the world to establish the principle and practice of equal representation of men and women across candidate lists (horizontal parity – where women should head 50 per cent of candidate lists), as well as down the candidate lists (vertical parity – alternating men and women through the list), in its electoral law. While gender parity has been achieved regarding the municipal lists, according to the High Authority for Independent Elections, more work is needed to support horizontal parity, since women only made up 29.6 per cent of positions at the head of party lists.


Tunisia will hold its parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019.


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MOROCCO: Violence against women and sexual harassment criminalised

New bill imposes tougher penalties on various types of sexual violence and harassment, but critics say it falls short.


Al Jazeera (12.09.2018) –– A new law in Morocco criminalising violence against women goes into effect on Wednesday, in what critics say is merely a first step in the right direction.


Approved by parliament on February 14, the bill imposes tougher penalties on perpetrators of various types of violence committed both in the private and public spheres, including rape, sexual harassment and domestic abuse.


Locally known as Hakkaoui law after family affairs and women’s issues minister Bassima Hakkaoui, the legislation also declares the definition of sexual harassment, including unsolicited acts, statements or signals of a sexual nature, delivered in person, online or via telephone.


Along with harassment, there are also measures stipulating punishment for people who try to force someone into a marriage using violence or the threat of violence.


Those found guilty of violating the law face prison terms ranging from one month to five years and fines from $200 to $1,000.


While welcoming the law, critics say it stops short of addressing the full repertoire of crimes.


More specifically, the legislation does not explicitly outlaw marital rape or spousal violence, and does not provide a precise definition of domestic violence, leaving women vulnerable.


The law also fails in providing financial assistance for survivors and does not define the government’s role in providing support and services to victims, Human Rights Watch group said in a press release.


Women violence


Violence against Moroccan women remains widespread and a largely taboo subject in the country, according to research data.


In 2009, a national survey reported that 62.8 percent of women had experienced physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse.


Of the sample interviewed, 55 percent reported “conjugal” violence and 13.5 percent reported “familial” violence.


It also became a hot issue last August after a video was posted on the internet showing a young woman on a bus being sexually molested by a group of boys while the driver or others passengers failed to react to her appeals for help.


This sent shockwaves throughout the country and intensified calls for more to be done in the kingdom.


According to AFP news agency, about 1,600 cases of rape were heard by Moroccan courts last year, twice as many as previous years.


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MAURITANIA: Women raped risk jail for seeking justice – report

Sex outside of marriage in Mauritania is officially punishable by flogging, jail time, or in cases of adultery, death by stoning


By Nellie Peyton


Thomson Reuters Foundation (05.09.2018) –– Women raped in Mauritania are discouraged from reporting the crime because they themselves can be jailed for having sex outside of marriage, a rights group said on Wednesday.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed five women and girls who were prosecuted for “zina” – sex outside of marriage – after reporting sexual assault, including a 15-year-old girl who had been gang-raped and was sent to prison, it said in a report.


Mauritania’s government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. In a written response to HRW, the government said incidents of sexual assault are investigated by the judicial police, with almost 900 cases recorded since 2014.


HRW’s findings come as Mauritania awaits the results of legislative elections, which activists say offer parliament a fresh chance to pass a draft law on gender-based violence that would increase support for rape victims.


“Despite the difficult picture at the moment … there is an opportunity for change,” HRW researcher Candy Ofime told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


The law has been pending before parliament for two years.


Mauritania, a vast desert country in northwest Africa, is an Islamic Republic with a penal code partly based on sharia law.


Sex outside of marriage is officially punishable by flogging, jail time, or in cases of adultery, death by stoning, although corporal punishments are not, in practice, carried out.


When HRW visited the women’s prison in the capital Nouakchott earlier this year, nine of the 22 prisoners were detained on zina charges, although it was not able to determine how many were victims of assault.


There is no national data on zina cases and it has become less common over the last two decades for rape victims to be charged with the crime, HRW said.


But the risk of prosecution remains high, with some civil society organisations advising rape victims who are over 18 or pregnant not to go to the police, Ofime said.


“Mauritanian society doesn’t accept rape, and victims are often shunned and mistreated by their families,” said Aminetou Mint Ely, president of an association that runs support centres for sexual violence victims.


While civil society organisations provide emergency services to rape victims and women who have fled domestic violence, there are no overnight shelters in the country, said HRW.


“The thing that makes Mauritania an outlier … is the absolute absence of the state when it comes to the provision of direct support services to survivors,” Ofime said.


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INDIA: To cut underage marriage, expand RTE, say experts

By Ambika Pandit


The Times of India (12.09.2018) –– A report on child marriage and teenage pregnancies that analyses the data from National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16) shows a direct co-relation between underage marriages and educational status of girls.


Citing low prevalence rates where girls have completed secondary education, the report by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and voluntary organisation Young Lives makes a pitch for making secondary level schooling a fundamental right.


Findings show the completion rate of secondary schooling is considerably higher among unmarried girls aged 15-19 years in almost all states. Even National Human Rights Commission secretary general Ambuj Sharma emphasised the need to extend the right to education from Class VIII to the secondary level.


The NHRC is also planning to recommend to the ministry of women and child development a uniform age for marriage for both men and women. In 140 countries, age of marriage is 18 for both men and women. Last month the law commission in a consultative paper on family laws suggested the legal age for marriage for both men and women across religions should be recognised at 18 years, the universal age for majority.


The study based on NFHS-4 data shows that of the 15 to 19 year old girls, who at the time of the survey reported to have been married before the legal age of marriage, 30.8% had never been to a school and 21.09 % had education up to the primary level. The percentage of girls who had secondary education and were married before 18 was 10.2%.


Those with higher levels of education were further down to 2.4%. While overall prevalence of child marriage declined from 26.5% in 2005-06 to 11.9% in 2015-16. Bihar is a case in point. The state recorded a significant decline in child marriages from 47.8% in 2005-06 to 19.7% in 2015-16.


The study also reveals that amongst the married girls aged 15 to 19 years, 31.5% girls were found to be have babies. Almost a quarter of the married girls in the age group of 15 to 16 years had at least one child.


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Kenya: Religious leaders fight to rescue young girls from child marriage

By Tonny Onyulo


RNS (11.09.2018) –– As she sat outside her hut making jewelry to sell to tourists, 9-year-old Sajon Lengupayi pleaded with passers-by to rescue her from an early marriage that she said her parents arranged without her consent.


“It pains me a lot,” said Sajon as she broke down in tears. “I want someone to help me move out of this marriage so that I can go back to school.”


Sajon’s husband “beaded” her when he was 20 and she was 7 years old. He placed traditional beads around her neck, declaring his possession of her, and gave her family a dowry of cattle, goats and sheep.


They were married against her will in early 2017.


Beading in the Samburu tribe of northern Kenya is a form of sexual enslavement in which girls as young as 6 can be claimed by older men. The ritual lets the men — often warriors — engage in sexual intercourse with young girls even when they do not intend to marry them. In some cases, the men and young girls are related.


“The culture prepares these young girls for marriage in the future,” said John Lengoros, an elder in the community. “But we do not allow these young girls to get pregnant. In case of pregnancy we advise them to abort because we consider the baby as an outcast, being born as a result of people of the same family sleeping together.”


The practice of beading “exposes young girls to physical, mental and sexual violence,” according to the Helsinki-based KIOS Foundation, which is working with a local group that assists girls who have been beaded.


In Sajon’s case, Lengoros said she was lucky. The man who placed red beads on her neck was from a different family. He then married her. Other young girls are often abandoned by the men who beaded them because they come from the same family.


Sajon is one among thousands of Samburu girls living in the dry heartland of northern Kenya around 350 miles from Nairobi. Many are at risk for beading.


A few miles from Lengupayi’s home, Agnes Lempeei, another victim of beading, said a close relative approached her parents in 2016 with red Samburu beads and placed the necklace around her neck.


A few months later, she was pregnant and aborted the baby by taking poisonous herbs. Access to health care and contraception is minimal in the region.


The warrior abandoned her and married a girl from a different family, she said.


“I felt very bad because my parents allowed it to happen,” said Agnes, now 13. “My mother built a hut for us where we used to sleep with the warrior. I was not allowed to go back to school, and later the (warrior) went ahead and got another lady, leaving me alone.”


Child beading is a major cultural practice found in the Samburu community. But religious leaders are battling to end the practice.


Last month, the Rev. Francis Limo Riwa, a priest of the Diocese of Meru in northern Kenya, rescued a Samburu girl from an early marriage after he negotiated with elders to return the dowry the man had given the girl’s parents. The dowry was eight cows and $500.


The girl, Lilian Nabaru, was married in 2015 to a 50-year-old man. She was 12 years old and became his fourth wife. Though this older man allowed Nabaru to continue with her education, the girl had to spend the school holiday with her husband.


“I didn’t know the girl was married,” said the bearded priest, who has founded several schools in northern Kenya to help orphans and poor nomadic children access education. Riwa said he confronted the girl’s husband and demanded she be released.


Lilian’s husband finally agreed to set her free from marriage but demanded his cows and money back. Riwa said the girl would continue with her education. He called on elders to stop the practice of beading and to allow girls to go to school.


“I want to urge the government to sensitize the community on basic rights and elders to allow girls to access education,” said Riwa, who said he has rescued hundreds of other beaded girls in the region. “We’ll continue to save other girls against this brutal act that denies them basic rights.”


Local leaders contacted by Religion News Service had no comment about the plight of Samburu girls. But observers said the politicians in the region are afraid to go against the elders, fearing repercussions at the polls.


“They can’t do more about the issue. It’s our culture and they embrace it,” said Lengoros, the elder. He said local politicians also engaged in beading when they married.


“How can they fight the culture that gave them wives?”


Meanwhile, Sajon is waiting for help. She wants to go back to school and achieve her dream of becoming a teacher. To do that, someone will have to pay back dowry, said elders.


“I can’t help myself. I will be disobeying my parents,” she said. “But I want to go school and still be a small girl.”


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The dark secret of Thailand’s child brides

Underage Muslim girls are regularly forced into marriage with Malaysian men, and the government turns a blind eye


By Hannah Ellis-Petersen


The Guardian (01.09.2018) –– One day this summer, 11-year-old Ayu married 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid at a small pink mosque on the banks of the Golok river in the far south of Thailand. Earlier that morning, Che Abdul Karim and his soon-to-be child bride had travelled over the border from Malaysia into the Thai province of Narathiwat for the wedding. After a short ceremony at 11am and a trip to the Islamic Council offices to get their marriage certificate stamped, the couple crossed back over the border. Ayu was now Che Abdul Karim’s third wife.


In Malaysia, where men can legally marry girls under 18 if they get Islamic sharia court approval, Ayu’s case caused a national outcry in parliament and protests on the streets. But over the border in Thailand, where the controversial union took place, the response by the government and religious authorities has been notably muted.


Hashim Yusoff, the imam who married the couple, defended the arrangement: Ayu (not her real name) was “mature” he said, so the marriage was sah (legal under sharia law). The imam did make Che Abdul Karim – himself an imam in a rural village – pledge not to have sexual relations with his young wife, but medical tests since are said to show that the 41-year-old did not keep his promise.


Ayu’s father, Madroseh Romadsa, who was present at the wedding to give consent, said simply: “We have never done anything wrong. In Thailand, many people get married at early ages.”


Since 2003, under Thailand’s strict child protection laws, no one under 17 can marry, and sex with a minor is a prosecutable offence. However, in the southern provinces of Thailand – Narathiwat, Pattani and Yalla, which are majority Muslim – a legal loophole allows Muslim communities to apply Islamic law to family matters.


According to this law, there is no minimum age for marriage and, culturally, girls are deemed eligible as soon as they start menstruating. In this way, child marriage has continued as an unregulated norm and a solution to underage pregnancy and rape – with the Thai government appearing to turn a blind eye.


“Here, if a girl is not married by the time she is 16, it is already felt to be too late and that no one will want to marry her,” said Amal Lateh, who lives in Thailand’s Pattani province and was forced at 15 to marry a relative 10 years her senior.


The legal loophole has also created what Thai children’s rights activist Anchana Heemmina described as the “big business of cross-border marriage” – Malaysian men crossing into southern Thailand to easily engage in underage or polygamous marriages for which getting approval in Malaysia would be impossible or a very lengthy process.


Mohammad Lazim runs one such business, helping arrange cross-border marriages for Malaysian men. He works with more than 50 bridegrooms a year, mainly wanting a second or third wife – but insists never with underage brides. He says that his business is tiny compared with some.


“People come from all over Malaysia to do this,” he said. “Business is booming: instead of applying to a sharia court in Malaysia and answering all their difficult questions – a process that takes sometimes a year – the shortcut is to come to Thailand. Here there is no law.”


The practice is also particularly lucrative for imams practising on the Thai side of the Golok river, who charge four times as much to conduct a marriage for a visiting Malaysian as they do for people from their own community. In Malaysia, Che Abdul Karim would have found it difficult or impossible to obtain permission to marry Ayu; in Thailand, he simply paid the imam 4,500 baht (£105), and it was done. He has since been fined 1,800 Ringgit (£340) in a sharia court in Malaysia after pleading guilty to polygamy and conducting the marriage without the court’s permission.


Wannakanok Pohitaedaoh was forced into a violent marriage when young and now runs Luk Riang, a children’s shelter in Narathiwat. She said: “The biggest problem with child marriage in Thailand is that nobody wants to talk about it – not the Islamic Council, not the imams and not the government. It has always been swept under the rug, and that’s where they want it to stay.”


Her opposition is deeply personal. Wannakanok, now 34, was just 13 when she was forced into marriage by her parents and says the experience “haunts my soul to this day”.


“When he asked me to have sexual intercourse, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t even know really what that meant, so I refused, and then he raped me,” she said, sobbing at the memory. “He was very violent and every time he wanted to have intercourse, he would use violence. We were living at home, and my parents would hear me screaming.


“And it was the same for so many of my friends. Many of my friends who were 12 or 13 had been married to men who were a lot older than them, maybe in their 30s or 40s. But the girls were young like me and didn’t want sex, so violence was very common. We had no idea about sex at that age.”


Most of her friends were pregnant by 14. She still regularly hears similar cases to hers and Ayu’s. One 13-year-old girl, Naa, had recently been staying at the Luk Riang shelter while her mother worked in Malaysia. “Her mother came to pick her up but soon after they married her to a 40-year-old as his second wife,” said Wannakanok. “The family was very poor so she was a financial burden: it was easier to marry her off.”


There are no official figures on child marriages in Thailand but data from the human rights commissioner of Thailand shows that, in 2016 alone, in the public hospitals of Narathiwat, 1,100 married teenage girls gave birth. This does not include the three other provinces where child marriage is condoned, or births in private clinics and at home.


But the Thai government appears reluctant to engage with the problem at a senior level, pushing responsibility back to the provincial Islamic councils. “This issue has never been raised in the Thai parliament,” said Heemmina. “The government want to pretend it’s not happening because they don’t want to provoke the communities. They are protecting themselves.”


Their reluctance, she added, is rooted in sensitivity over self-determination for Islamic communities in the deep south of Thailand. For 14 years, a civil war has been raging in Narathiwat, Pattani, Yalla and occasionally southern areas of Songkhla. Its roots lie in Thailand’s annexation and conquest in 1909 of the Malay sultanate of Patani, which covered most of these provinces. A separatist movement formed in the 1950s exploded into all-out insurgency in 2004. Though the conflict has quietened in recent years, bombings and shootings are still common, and the fighting has cost almost 7,000 lives, 90% of them civilians.


As a result, policies imposed on the south from Bangkok are often a great cause of friction. The Thai government, which has thousands of troops stationed across the south, has little interest in stirring up tensions further by interfering in an issue deemed religiously sensitive.


Suraporn Prommul, governor of Narathiwat province, said he had recently met with the Islamic Council over the issue. However, the only change Ayu’s case had prompted was an agreement that in future – in cases involving a young bride and a foreigner – the couple must go first to the provincial Islamic Council office to get married, so the committee can look closely into the case.” There was no stipulation on how this would be enforced.


After the furore in Malaysia over Ayu’s marriage, the girl and her family have this month returned to their native Thailand. Child rights activists fear the Thai government’s apathy over the issue means Che Abdul Karim, who remains in Malaysia, will never be charged with child grooming and abuse. “I am scared this will be another case of child marriage legitimising paedophilia that is swept under the carpet,” said Heemmina.


The impact on girls of marrying before the age of 18 is globally accepted as causing lasting emotional and physical damage, but also perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Girls in the southern Thai provinces are commonly taken out of school once they are married. Many find themselves divorced and with a child before they are even 18.


But Safei Cheklah, the president of the Islamic Council of Narathiwat, while emphasising that council “guidelines” advise that under-18s should not be married, and admitting that it is “not suitable” – still vehemently defended the practice: “I have to speak based on Islamic principle, and according to Islam, the father can give permission for the girl to get married as long as she has achieved physical maturity.”


For the secretary of the Islamic Council, Abdul Razak Ali, whose own mother was just 13 when she married his 70-year-old father, allowing under-18s to marry was justified as a way to prevent “hideous” cases of adultery or illegitimacy. This also extended to forcing underage girls who are raped to marry their rapists.


Angkhana Neelapaijit, the human rights commissioner of Thailand, recounted a recent case of a 15-year-old who was raped in her village in the Yalla province. The girl was taken to a shelter but two days later the Islamic Council visited the girl to try to force her to marry her rapist. “They said it would be best for her,” said Angkhana.


Even charities seem wary of taking action. Aiyub Chena, vice-president of Nusantara, an Islamic NGO working with deprived children in southern Thailand, defended child marriage, because it protects girls from being stigmatised if they are caught with a man.


“Adultery is wrong and sinful according to Islam but if they banned child marriage, I am worried that would make adultery acceptable,” he said.


“You can change the law but that won’t change the society here. It will mean unmarried girls who get pregnant will be outcasts, and their children will not be accepted because they are illegitimate.”


Yet across the Islamic world there is a movement towards outlawing child marriage. Algeria, Oman, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey have all set the minimum age for marriage at 18, and recently Indonesia prepared a presidential decree to close the legal loopholes that allow child marriage.


In a small village in Pattani’s Sai Buri district, women spoke about how common forced underage marriage still is in southern Thailand. They described figures known as “facilitators” who would come to the village on behalf of men who are looking for a young wife.


Amal Lateh, who was forced into marriage at 15, said: “When the facilitators come to the houses, they don’t ask the fathers directly – they will say things like, ‘Do you have any lambs or baby goats you are selling?’ Everyone understands what that means: it means they are looking for a virgin to marry. And then an arrangement will be made between the girl’s father and the facilitator. The girl has no say.”


Suranya Litae was 15 when she was forced by her father to marry a man 16 years her senior in order to help her family out financially. She spoke of her anger that the law did not protect girls from the trauma of underage marriage.


“I did not want to be married. I cried so much, and I wanted so much to run away,” she said. “But my family needed the money from my dowry to build a house. At that time I felt so sad because getting married meant I had to abandon my studies.


Sadly, Suranya, stroked the head of her seven-year-old son, Afdon. “I dreamed of being teacher,” she said. “But that didn’t come true.”


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GUATEMALA: Discriminatory law puts at risk the lives and rights of thousands of women, girls and LGBTI people

Amnesty International (05.09.2018) – – Guatemala’s Congress must reject proposed law 5272, also known as the “Law for the Protection of Life and Family,” because it would violate the rights of thousands of women, girls and LGBTI, Amnesty International said today.


“This bill actually threatens what it claims to protect: life and families,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International Director for the Americas.


“We demand that the Guatemalan Congress reject this absurd bill that puts at risk the lives and the rights of women, girls and LGBTI people, and that it dedicate its resources to protecting them through laws and policies that guarantee real equality.”


Among other concerning changes, the bill would modify the penal code to criminalize miscarriages, impose prison sentences on women who suffer them and impose prison sentences on anyone who “promotes or facilitates access to abortion.” These regulations put at risk the lives of women and girls and their access to medical services.


Guatemalan law currently permits abortion only when pregnancies threaten the lives of women and girls. This violates their reproductive autonomy. The criminalization of abortion, miscarriages and providing information about abortion services violates the rights of women, girls and people who can become pregnant. The Guatemalan government must completely decriminalize abortion and guarantee access to legal and safe abortion as well as information about abortion services.


The bill also directly discriminates against LGBTI people by expressly prohibiting same-sex marriage and legal recognition for same sex couples, and by proposing a discriminatory and excluding definition of family.


Furthermore, the bill dangerously formulates a supposed “right” to “not accept sexual diversity or gender ideology as normal,” effectively legalizing discrimination that may foment violence against LGBTI people.


The bill also violates the rights of children to have access to comprehensive sex education because it prohibits “teaching sexual conduct that differs from heterosexuality as normal.”


In the context of persistent discrimination and negative reactions to gender equality and the rights of women, girls and LGBTI people, it is vital that Guatemala not promote damaging stereotypes and that the country guarantee the right of all people not to face discrimination, including for their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Additional information


The World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the UN Human Rights Committee have recognized the causal link between maternal mortality and laws that restrict or criminalize abortion. The WHO has stated that restriction of access to legal abortion does not decrease the need for abortion, and likely increases the number of women who seek illegal and unsafe abortions. This leads to higher morbitidy and mortality rates and creates social inequities.


According to international treaties that Guatemala has signed, the Guatemalan government is obligated to guarantee people’s rights without discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.


In its recent observations about the Guatemalan government, the Human Rights Committee highlighted its concern about discrimination and violence motivated by victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity, the criminalization of abortion and miscarriage and a lack of adequate reproductive health services. It demands that the Guatemalan government “ensure unimpeded access to sexual and reproductive health services, emergency contraceptives and comprehensive sex education for men, women, boys and girls throughout the country.”


For its part, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressly recommended that the Guatemalan government “ensure that sexual and reproductive health education is part of the mandatory school curriculum, and that it is developed with the involvement of adolescent girls and boys, with special attention paid to preventing early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.”


The bill 5272 was presented before Congress on 27 April 2017. On 28 August 2018 it was approved for a second reading. It now needs a third reading in a plenary session, which could take place in the next few days, and if it is approved there it will proceed to final article-by-article approval.


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MALAYSIA: International coalition of rights groups across Muslim societies condemns whipping of two women

International coalition of civil society groups across Muslim societies–from Algeria, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mali, Pakistan, Palestine, Turkey and beyond–condemn the whipping of two women for “attempted sexual relations” which was carried out on 3rd September 2018 by the Sharia High Court in Terengganu, Malaysia.


CSBR (04.09.2018) – – The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), and the undersigned organizations and individuals from across Muslim societies, condemn in no uncertain terms the public whipping of two women for “attempted sexual relations”, which was carried out on 3 September 2018 by the Terengganu Shariah High Court in Malaysia.


The two women, aged 22 and 32, pleaded guilty on 12 August 2018 to attempted “musahaqah” (sexual relations between women) under Section 30 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Takzir) (Terengganu) Enactment 2001. They were sentenced to RM3,300 in fines and given the maximum sentence of six strokes of caning.


By taking no action to condemn this violence or prevent the whipping, the Malaysian Federal government is complicit in the violation of its citizens rights as guaranteed under its own Federal Constitution, national laws, as well as its obligations under international human rights law.


From the beginning, the women were denied a fair trial, as they had no representation at the time of their sentencing. It is abhorrent that the whipping was carried out at all, and that it was done in direct violation of Section 289 of the Criminal Procedures Code that prohibits corporal punishment for female prisoners of any age.[1] Further, the women were subject to this humiliating and degrading punishment in public, in front of a crowd of approximately 100 witnesses.[2] These violations of dignity threaten the constitutional rights and human rights of all Malaysians. The public whipping is a clear tactic by the court adding fuel to the escalating intimidation, harassment and violence against LGBT people in Malaysia over the last month.[3] If state shariah courts are permitted to target one community in this way, then other individuals and groups in Malaysia are also at risk of the same kind of inhuman treatment.


We believe that state-imposed violence against women cannot ever be condoned, and that there can never be any justification for such inhuman and degrading punishments. Whipping is a clear form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, which is prohibited under international law in Article 7 of the ICCPR. Accordingly, “It is the duty of the State Party to afford everyone protection through legislative and other measures as may be necessary against the acts prohibited by Article 7, whether inflicted by people acting in their official capacity, outside their official capacity or in a private capacity”.[4] Allowing the discriminatory treatment and punishment of these women by a sharia court is also a violation of Malaysia’s obligations under CEDAW.


Further, there is no consensus at all on the punishment of whipping under Muslim jurisprudence, and many Muslim countries across the world forbid whipping as a fundamental violation of human dignity. We believe that all forms of penalisation and criminalisation of consensual same-sex relationships are in contradiction to Islamic principles of justice and equality.


We amplify the call made by the Joint Action Group on Gender Equality (JAG) Malaysia that the government “conduct a comprehensive review of the Shariah Criminal Offences laws of this country, with a view to repeal such laws, thus enabling all Malaysians to be governed by a single Penal Code under federal administration”, and that the “Shariah Criminal Offences laws to be repealed on the grounds that they have no basis in Islamic legal theory and practice”.[5]


We amplify the call made by Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO), endorsed by 52 Malaysian NGOs, that the government “eliminate all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the criminal justice system including the practice of whipping and caning”, and ratify and accede to the UN Convention Against Torture as part of this commitment.[6]


We stand in unequivocal support of LGBT people in Malaysia, and their fundamental rights to live with dignity and free from persecution and violence.


We call on the Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Pakatan Harapan government to take immediate action to end the escalating persecution of LGBT communities in Malaysia, and to uphold their own manifesto “to make [Malaysia’s] human rights record respected by the world” (Promise 26), as well as the PM’s Independence Day speech that guaranteed “justice for all the people, irrespective of race or religion” and promised “Malaysia will remain strong and progressive whatever the differences, contradictions and suspicions that may arise.” [7]


  1. Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (International)
  2. Association Femmes Leadership et Développement Durable-AFELDD (Mali)
  3. Association of Women Lawyers (Malaysia)
  4. Bebaak Collective (India)
  5. Beyond the Hijab (Singapore)
  6. Bishkek Feminist Initiative (Kyrgyzstan)
  7. Canadian Council of Muslim Women (Canada)
  8. ESITIZ–Equality Watch Women’s Group (Turkey)
  9. Fethiye Women’s Solidarity Association (Turkey)
  10. Forum for Dignity Initiatives-FDI (Pakistan)
  11. GAYa Nusantara Foundation (Indonesia)
  12. Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (India)
  13. Indonesian Women′s Association for Justice-APIK (Indonesia)
  14. International Women’s Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific (International)
  15. KAOS-GL (Turkey)
  16. Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative-’Feminita’ (Kazakhstan)
  17. Kirmizi Biber Association (Turkey)
  18. Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (Malaysia)
  19. Maruf Foundation (Netherlands)
  20. Muntada—The Arab forum on Sexuality, Health and Education (Palestine)
  21. Muslims for Progressive Values (International)
  22. PELANGI Campaign (Malaysia)
  23. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor-EMPOWER (Malaysia)
  24. Projek Dialog (Malaysia)
  25. Rural Women’s Association-Alga (Kyrgyzstan)
  26. Sayoni (Singapore)
  27. Transmen of Malaysia (Malaysia)
  28. Women Against Violence (Palestine)
  29. Women for Women’s Human Rights–New Ways (Turkey)
  30. Women Living Under Muslim Laws (International)
  31. Women’s Aid Organisation (Malaysia)
  32. Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights (Algeria/France)
  33. Women’s Party (Turkey)
  34. Anissa Helie, Professor (Algeria/US)
  35. Cynthia El Khoury, independent feminist (Lebanon)
  36. Evelyne Accad, Professeur Emerite (Lebanon/US)
  37. Khawar Mumtaz, Women’s Rights Advocate (Pakistan)
  38. Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (Algeria/France)
  39. Meerim Ilyas, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (Kyrgyzstan/US)
  40. Pragna Patel, Director-Southall Black Sisters (UK)
  41. Sabina Faiz Rashid, Dean-BRAC University School of Public Health (Bangladesh)
  42. Sabra Zahid, Attorney at Law (Sri Lanka)
  43. Samia Allalou, Mediterranean Women’s Fund (Algeria/France)
  44. Sheena Baharuddin, Performance Artist (Malaysia)
  45. Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Activist (UK)
  46. WUNRN – Women’s UN Report Network


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LIBERIA: ‘Ban FGM,’ Civil society groups demand government

By Hannah N. Geterminah


Liberian Observer (05.09.2018) – – The leadership of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia has called on authorities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to abolish the granting of licenses to female traditional healers (Zoes) for the practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM, in the country.


FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or injuries to the female genital organ for non-medical reasons.


Recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, the practice is mostly carried out by traditional healers who often play other central roles in a community, such as attending childbirths.


But Liberia Civil Society Organization platform members, in a resolution adopted and signed by 50 delegates at the end of a two-day consultation dialogue on the United Nations Concluding Observations on Liberia, held in Kakata, Margibi County, recently demanded the inclusion of sexual reproductive health and rights awareness in schools’ curriculum.


The Kakata dialogue, held on August 22-23, 2018, according to the CSO Platform’s secretary general, Adama K. Dempster, was a follow-up consultation with stakeholders, sponsored by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Liberia and Technical Support from the Center for Civil and Political Rights based in Geneva.


The forum was held under the theme, “Consultation on the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations on Liberia,” at its 3519th meeting held on July 23, 2018.


Delegates at the dialogue also requested the Liberian government to increase the budgetary allotments for the ministries of Education and Health, to enable them carry out sexual reproductive health and rights awareness in various schools.


Mr. Demspter, who read the group’s resolution at a news conference in Monrovia on Monday, September 4, appealed to donors to fund different projects that would be formulated by advocacy around issues coming out of the concluding observation.


He assured that the CSO Platform will engage government constructively through advocacy, create awareness, and lobby to ensure implementation of all the concluding observations.


Dempster said that “there is a need to conduct a validation perception survey to understand public perception on the need to harmonize both customary and statutory laws of Liberia to conform with international human rights treaties that Liberia has signed in order to avoid conflict, and maintain the country’s peace.”


He then promised that CSOs shall bring together all relevant stakeholders to further discuss the concluding observations concerning the issues of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, harmful traditional practices, People Living with Disability, to agree on the best way to implement them, “because of their sensitive nature.”


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