AZERBAIJAN: New sex-ed curriculum targets sex-selective abortions

Discussing sex is still sensitive in the conservative society, but officials are worried about the prevalence of sex-selective abortions.


By Austin Clayton


Eurasianet (11.01.2019) –– Azerbaijan is rolling out a new sex-education curriculum to address high adolescent pregnancy rates and abortions among teenage girls. The program also aims to tackle sex-selective abortions; across the country, but especially in conservative rural areas, parents often prefer boys and will terminate female embryos.


The government has been developing the new curriculum for three years, and it will be the first comprehensive sex-ed curriculum in Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet period. Previous sex-ed instruction, which often focused on preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, was adopted with the help of UNICEF and other international organizations but was “sporadic and not comprehensive,” Dr. Nabil Seyidov, head of the Department of Health Policy and Reforms at the Health Ministry, told Eurasianet.


Abortion rates among teenage girls appear to be on the rise.


A 2013 study by the London School of Hygiene and Topical Medicine concluded that in Azerbaijan, “between 2005 and 2009 almost 10 percent of potential female births […] did not occur because of prenatal sex selection.”


And a 2014 study by the European Population Conference determined that for every 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in Azerbaijan, there were a total of 67 pregnancies registered, placing the country only behind Bulgaria among the countries surveyed. It also noted that “abortion reporting [in Azerbaijan] is incomplete and pregnancy rates are therefore underestimated.”


Abortions by teenage girls also have been on the rise: In 2017, there were 1,605 abortions among girls from 15-19 years old, compared with 1,261 the year before, according to government statistics. Among girls between ages 15-17, the increase was even greater.


The new curriculum “will decrease the number of STDs and infections, and will also prevent teenage pregnancies and abortions,” Seyidov said. The program also “aims to improve the mental state of women, because these problems bring psychological effects to women, and these issues have never been addressed before.”


Thus far, the program, created by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, has been tested in a pilot program involving about 60,000 public school students in the seventh and ninth grades. It covers sexually transmitted disease prevention, but also educates “what girls can and should do in the occurrence of sexual assault,” Seyidov said.


Trainings on for instructors of the new curriculum began in November in Baku, and will be formally introduced in all schools following the approval of the curriculum by the Ministry of Education, which is expected in early 2019, though an exact date has not been announced.


Public opinion about the proposal appears mixed. When the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty did interviews on Baku’s streets to gauge public opinion, most respondents said that there was a need for better sexual education in Azerbaijan but were unsure that schools were the place to do it. One interviewee said that the “public mindset isn’t ready for this type of education.” Another said, “I have a daughter, [and] only the mother can discuss [these issues] with her.”


But women’s health advocates welcomed the effort. “Sex education is very much needed in Azerbaijan. This is a country with serious gaps in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights,” Shahla Ismayil, chairwoman of the Women’s Association for Rational Development, a nongovernmental organization, told Eurasianet. Still, she said the success of the program will rely on its implementation by teachers who are often poorly qualified and have a “biased” attitude against sex education. “Will they truly be able to teach children sex education?”


This is not the government’s first effort to tackle sex-selective abortions. In 2013, Baku considered banning prenatal gender detection as a way to combat the practice, though ultimately no policy was changed. After abandoning that effort, the government instead looked to education as a way to change behaviors, ultimately leading to the new curriculum, Seyidov said.


Sex-selective abortions are more common in rural areas of Azerbaijan, and there the challenges are especially great. While the overall sex-ratio at birth is 115 boys to 100 girls – one of the highest rates in the world – in rural areas it is even higher. The western districts of Sheki and Ganja have ratios of 149 and 144 respectively, according to statistics from the United Nations Population Fund.


Rural women are often unwilling to take or unable to afford contraceptives if they don’t want to get pregnant. “Many women still believe that [contraceptive] hormones are something evil, that they are harmful to health, [and that] abortions are a better evil, if you have to choose between them,” said obstetrician-gynecologist Elnara Huseynova in an interview with news website The problem can be exacerbated by unscrupulous gynecologists who treat abortions as a source of income and thus steer women toward them, Huseynova added.


“Rural communities will resist sex education more intensively,” predicted Ismayil, and suggested that some parents could use it as a justification to remove girls from school, when it is already common for them to drop out at age 13 or 14. “There should be a very intense and in­-depth awareness raising and orientation with parents and rural ‘gatekeepers’ to explain them the necessity and benefits” of the program,” she added.

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NEPAL: Mother and two boys suffocate in latest ‘period hut’ tragedy

Practice of banishing women to small outbuildings during periods claims further victims despite country declaring practice illegal


By Arun Budhathoki and Michael Safi


The Guardian (10.01.2019) –– A woman and her two sons have suffocated to death in a windowless shed to which they were banished in the latest tragedy linked to the illegal practice of chhaupadi, whereby women in Nepal are forced to sleep in “period huts”.


Police said Amba Bohara, 35, had spent four days in the cowshed with her sons Ramit, nine, and Suresh, 12, when her father-in-law discovered their bodies on Wednesday morning.


She had been confined in line with the outlawed practice of chhaupadi – when woman having their monthly periods are forced to sleep inside tiny sheds or animal shelters because they are considered impure.


Uddhav Singh Bhat, deputy police chief in western Nepal’s Bajura district, said it appeared the family had lit a fire to keep warm inside the freezing mud hut but were overcome by fumes, and flames had spread to their blanket.


“The doctors have already finished the postmortem but we are yet to get the results,” he said.


Chhaupadi was criminalised in 2005, with penalties including a 3,000-rupee (£21) fine and a three-month jail term introduced last year for those convicted of perpetuating the custom. But it remains deeply embedded in some communities, particularly in the country’s poor western regions.


The tradition, associated with Hinduism, controls what a women can eat, where she sleeps and who she can interact with during her monthly cycle. Many adherents believe that disobeying the rules invites misfortune and death.


The UN has linked the practice to reports of diarrhoea, pneumonia and respiratory illnesses as well as sexual abuse or attacks by wildlife. It has also been blamed for infant and maternal deaths when mothers and babies are confined to the huts after birth.


Another woman suffocated to death in a shed in January 2018, and the previous year a teenager was bitten by a snake and died.


“Although NGOs are advocating against the blind belief and even educating the people, most women are unable to let go the tradition because of societal norms and religion,” said Judda Bahadur Rawal, the programme manager from an advocacy group in Bajura district.


He said the local government should take action against those upholding the custom. “Though the number of women practising the tradition is decreasing, there are still a number of women who practice it without being forced. The new law itself is not effective.”


Agni Shahi, NGO Federation president for Bajura, said that, despite ongoing education programmes, it had been “a real struggle to make the women let go of the belief that’s been plaguing the country”.

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KENYA: Schoolgirls to face compulsory tests for pregnancy and FGM

Girls in Narok County will be made to reveal identities of babies’ fathers and tell police about female genital mutilation


By Rebecca Ratcliffe


The Guardian (04.01.2019) –– Plans to subject schoolgirls in Kenya to mandatory tests for female genital mutilation and pregnancy are a violation of victims’ privacy, campaigners have warned.


All girls returning to school this week in Narok, Kenya, will be examined at local health facilities as part of a countywide crackdown.


Girls found to have undergone FGM, which is illegal, will be required to give a police statement. Those who are pregnant will be asked to identify the man involved, according to George Natembeya, the Narok County commissioner.


Narok County has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Kenya, while FGM is prevalent among the Maasai community. But campaigners say the tests are humiliating for girls, do not tackle the root causes of teenage pregnancy, and are unlikely to improve prosecution rates for FGM.


“One of the biggest gaps in the prosecution of FGM cases is lack of evidence. It’s not [a lack of] evidence of girls being cut, but evidence of the actual act,” said Felister Gitonga, programme officer of an Equality Now team devoted to ending harmful practices.


Gitonga said that the county’s efforts to tackle FGM were welcome, but added: “We need a different strategy ensuring we respect the girls’ right to privacy and also that we have a clear plan of what we do with the information.


“When we find out that a girl has gone through FGM, what will be the consequences? Will there be psycho-social support? Or does this mean that she will be denied permission to go to school?”


Mandatory examinations risked further victimising girls who have experienced abuse, warned Gitonga.


All forms of FGM were criminalised in Kenya in 2011, as was discrimination against of women who have not undergone the procedure. Failing to report a case to the authorities was also made unlawful, together with aiding the performance of FGM or taking a Kenyan woman abroad to perform the procedure.


The practice is becoming less prevalent across the country, where one in five women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM.


Campaigners say tackling FGM is crucial to stopping teenage pregnancies and child marriage. “For girls who have undergone FGM, the community believes that those girls become a woman. Therefore every other violation that happens at that point happens [after] the FGM,” said Gitonga. “If they are having sex even with older men the community does not recognise it as defilement.”


In Narok, four in 10 girls become pregnant as teenagers, according to Kenya’s most recent demographic and health survey, produced in 2014.


Efforts to reduce teen pregnancies will fail unless gender-based violence and poverty are addressed, added Gitonga.


“For girls living in informal settlements, it is very hard; there is a risk of sexual violence. Sometimes they have to do sex work to help with educating their siblings. So you need to understand their situation,” she said. “You can’t just punish people for getting pregnant.”

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ISRAEL: Knesset approves penalties for prostitution clients

Israel joins small club of nations to criminalize procuring sex services; punishments include fines in the thousands that will grow for repeat offenses


The Times of Israel (31.12.2018) –– The Knesset on Monday gave final approval to a bill that punishes johns caught hiring sex workers.


The new law, approved in its second and third readings by 34 MKs, with none voting against, will criminalize procuring the services of a prostitute, as well as presence in a location chiefly used for prostitution, such as a brothel.


First-time offenders will be fined NIS 2,000 ($530), with the sum doubled for repeat offenses within three years. Prosecutors will also be empowered to indict prostitution clients in certain cases, with a maximum penalty fine of NIS 75,300 ($20,400).


The law will come into effect in 18 months, during which time the state will form rehabilitation mechanisms for sex workers, to allow them to find alternative livelihoods.


However, those mechanisms have yet to be approved, and are likely to cost tens of millions of shekels whose allocation is not currently guaranteed.


Among the bill’s sponsors were MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (both formerly of Jewish Home, now of New Right).


Lavie said upon the law’s approval she believed it would have a “dramatic impact” and “defines the state of Israel as a society, who we are and what our values are.”


She warned, however, that there was still “a long and challenging road ahead” in tackling the phenomenon and vowed “to continue to ensure that the law will be applied in full to protect the rehabilitation, security and well-being of all those on the prostitution spectrum.”


Moalem-Refaeli called the law’s passage “one the most significant achievements” of the 20th Knesset.


Another major proponent of the law, MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union), compared the war on the prostitution industry to “the war on slavery… at first it was considered radical and revolutionary… but now we have this law, definitely an important and historic step.”


Though pimping, sex trafficking, and running a brothel are punishable under existing Israeli law, prostitution itself remains legal.


Green-lighting the bill in August, ministers also approved the establishment of a team to implement the recommendations of the Committee to Reduce Prostitution, headed by Justice Ministry director-general Amy Palmer.


In 2016, the Welfare Ministry estimated there were 11,420-12,730 sex workers driving the country’s NIS 1.2 billion ($318 million) industry. According to that report, 71 percent of prostitutes said they began sex work out of financial desperation, and 76% said they would leave the industry if they could.


Punishing prostitution clients was first introduced by Sweden in its 1999 Sex Purchase Act — since adopted by Norway, Iceland, Canada, France, and Northern Ireland — which requires consumers to pay a fine or face up to six months in jail.


Defending the apparent contradiction in making buying sex illegal, but selling it legal, Sweden has contended that prostitution is essentially an act of exploitation and violence by the customers, who hold a position of power and should bear the brunt of the penalty.

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MOROCCO: Tangier court sentences husband to two years for raping wife

The court’s decision could pave the way for a law that criminalizes marital rape in Morocco.


Morocco World News (29.12.2018) –– The Tangier Court of Appeals has sentenced a husband to two years in jail for raping his wife. The court also ordered the man to pay an MAD 2,000 fine and MAD 30,000 in compensation to the victim.


The convicted 25-year-old husband from Larache, a town near Tangier, had violently forced his wife to engage in sexual intercouse, reported Al Ahdath al Maghribiya on Saturday. The woman suffers from severe depression.


The court’s decision was based on Articles 485 and 400 of the penal code. Article 400 states: “Any act of violence or assault, even if it caused no disability or illness is punishable by imprisonment from one month to one year in addition to a fine of MAD 200 to 500.”


The wife’s lawyer reported that her medical certificate verified serious indications of physical violence. The lawyer noted that the woman already suffers from depression, and the rape could induce her to become suicidal.


Law 103-13 to eliminate violence against women, sexual harassment, and gender-based discrimination, which took effect in September, does not list marital rape as a punishable crime.

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THAILAND: Islamic council bans marriage of children under 17

Thailand’s Islamic council has – for the first time in history – issued a ban on child marriage nationwide. This followed public anger sparked by the marriage earlier this year of an 11-year-old child to a man four times her age.


By Kornrawee Panyasuppakun


The Nation (14.12.2018) –– The Central Islamic Council of Thailand (CICOT)’s new regulation bans children under the age of 17 from marriage. The new regulation would be announced to all mosques on today, Wisut Binlateh, director of the coordination centre for the Sheikhul Islam Office and a senior member of the Islamic Council, told the online Benar News. Wisut also said that the Sheikhul Islam of Thailand Aziz Phitakkumpon, who also chairs CICOT, had given his approval for the new regulation in late November.


Panadda Isho, legal specialist at the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), also told Benar News that SBPAC would translate the new regulation into Bahasa Melayu and publicise the information through seminars.


The new regulation ensures local mosques cannot grant permission for marriages involving anyone aged under 17 unless an Islamic court gives permission or the parents sign a document approving the marriage at the provincial Islamic committee office or at the local police station, Panadda told Benar.


A special sub-committee was also set up to consider marriages involving children younger than 17, and give the green light if the marriage benefits the spouses. One of the three committee members must be a woman with knowledge of Islamic laws and she must be in charge of questioning and interviewing the girl.


The historic move ends a widespread practice in the southern Muslim-majority provinces where girls were married off by poor parents with the permission of the local mosque once the girl had started menstruating.


In the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Satun, Islamic law were used in place of the Civil Code for family matters and inheritance. The law does not specify the minimum age for marriage unlike the Civil Code, applied elsewhere in the Kingdom, which has set the minimum age at 17. The loophole allowed many Malaysian men to take much younger girls as wives from Thailand, and local imams benefited monetarily from the loopholes, activist Sanphasit Koompraphant previously told The Nation.


National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapai-jit, meanwhile, said the Islamic Council’s move was not enough. Without penalties set for violators, the regulation is more like “asking for cooperation,” she told The Nation.


Further readingThailand’s Islamic leaders issue restriction on child marriage, but the ruling has no teeth

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