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PAKISTAN: Escapee from forced marriage speaks out on Intl Day of the Girl Child

Escapee from forced marriage speaks out on Intl Day of the Girl Child

Girls from religious minorities are targeted for forced conversions through sham marriages across South Asia. 

Public called to sign an open letter to the Pakistani PM and post a picture wearing green with the hashtag #EndForcedMarriage on 11 October.


ADF International (07.10.2021) – https://bit.ly/3iHqDsW – This International Day of the Girl Child (11 October), many girls in South Asia fear for their safety. 14-year-old Maira is one of the estimated 1000 girls that are “converted” against their will through a forced marriage in Pakistan every year. Maira escaped her abductor and “husband”, and now waits in hiding while her legal team fight in court to annul her marriage certificate. ADF International, the human rights organisation supporting Maira’s case, is gathering signatures for an open letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, calling on the government to address this common threat to girls from religious minorities.


“I was forcibly abducted, forced to sign documents, and told that I had to become a Muslim. I was also told that I was now married and could not return to my parents. They threatened to kill my parents and harm my loved ones. I thank God that Sumera is my lawyer. I want to appeal to the government of Pakistan to pay attention to this case and ensure proper prosecution,” said Maira.


#EndForcedMarriage campaign launched 


The open letter, drafted by ADF International, calls on the government of Pakistan to create reporting helplines, return forcibly married minors to their parents, and train the police and judiciary to better protect girls belonging to religious minorities. The human rights organisation calls for supporters of the campaign to post a picture of themselves wearing green with the hashtag #EndForcedMarriage on 11 October and sign the letter on EndForcedMarriage.org.


“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. In South Asia, young Christian girls are abducted and converted through forced marriage. The case of Maira is just one shocking example. We call on supporters to add their voice to the #EndForcedMarriage campaign and sign the letter to apply maximum international pressure to the Pakistani authorities, and to let these girls know that someone hears their voice,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International. 


Girls like Maira must be protected


Maira was on her way to school in her town of Faisalabad when she was kidnapped. She was able to escape her captor, but not before she was brutalised, blackmailed, and forcibly married to a much older Muslim man. When Maira’s parents went to court to regain custody, the Lahore High Court initially ordered that she be returned to her abductor. As she waits in hiding, ADF International allied lawyer, Sumera Shafiq, is working to annul her marriage certificate.  


Pakistan is recognized as one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be a Christian. Maira’s case highlights the problem of forced “conversion” through marriage which affects an estimated 1,000 girls, most commonly aged 12 to 15 years old, from religious minorities in her country every year.  


The practice is usually carried out through kidnapping, sexual violence, and blackmail. Local authorities are often complicit in such cases. Courts have often failed to uphold the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which sets the legal age of marriage for girls at 16 years, and victims have been returned to their abductors during any legal challenge.  


A global concern


Forced conversion through forced marriage is not unique to one country. Reports have emerged of girls being forcibly married to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban have also already publicizing plans to “eradicate the ignorance of irreligion” by taking non-Muslim women and girls as sex slaves. In Northern Nigeria, many Christian girls face forced marriages and forced conversions to Islam. In Northwest Nigeria, the median age of marriage is only 15, and girls usually have no say in the matter. According to UN Women, approximately 700 million girls worldwide have been married before their eighteenth birthday. One in every three girls in developing countries is married before reaching the age of 18 and one in nine is married under age 15.


“Pakistan’s government must do more to prevent such extreme violations of fundamental rights in the country. Maira’s case is a much too frequent example of what religious minorities face and can no longer go unnoticed. All people have the right to freely choose and live out their faith without fear of violence. All states must ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International. 


Photo credits: adfinternational.org

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KYRGYZSTAN: Kidnapped, raped and wed against their will, a brutal tradition

Kidnapped, raped, wed against their will: Kyrgyz women’s fight against a brutal tradition

At least 12,000 women are still abducted and forced into marriage every year in Kyrgyzstan. But pressure is growing to finally end the medieval custom


By Mauro Mondello


The Guardian (30.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/2X2E5j6 – A isuluu was returning home after spending the afternoon with her aunt in the village of At-Bashy, not far from the Torugart crossing into China. “It was 5 o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday. I had a paper bag full of samsa [a dough dumpling stuffed with lamb, parsley and onion]. My aunt always prepared them on weekends,” she said.


“A car with four men inside comes in the opposite direction to mine. And all of a sudden it … turns around and, within a few seconds, comes up beside me. One of the guys in the back gets out, yanks me and pushes me inside the car. I drop all the samsa on the pavement. I scream, I squirm, I cry, but there is nothing I can do.”


The man who kidnapped her would soon become her husband. At the wedding, Aisuluu discovered that she was not even the woman he had intended to kidnap for marriage. But in the haste of having to return home with a bride and after wandering the streets all afternoon, the man decided to settle for the first “cute girl” he saw.


This was 1996, and Aisuluu was a teenager. Today she has four children by her kidnapper-turned-husband, to whom she is still married.


Known as ala kachuu (“take and run”), the brutal practice of kidnapping brides has its roots in medieval times along the steppes of Central Asia, yet persists to this day. It has been banned in Kyrgyzstan for decades and the law was tightened in 2013, with sentences of up to 10 years in prison for those who kidnap a woman to force her into marriage (previously it was a fine of 2,000 soms, worth about $25).


The new law has not curtailed the practice, however, and prosecutions are rare. Nevertheless, according to the human rights organisation Restless Beings: “This is a significant development, in that prior to this the sentence for stealing livestock was considerably more than that for ala kachuu.”


“A happy marriage begins by crying,” goes one Kyrgyz proverb, and those tears are of anger and terror at the start of a marriage for ala kachuu brides.


Ala kachuu is practised in all the countries of Central Asia, but it is especially common in the rural areas of post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim nation of about 6 million people. During Soviet rule, the custom was rare and parents generally arranged marriages.


Data from the Women Support Center, an organisation that fights for gender equality in the country, indicates that at least 12,000 marriages take place, and are consummated, every year against the will of the bride. (The figure is from a 2011 report and believed to be an underestimate). Men kidnap women, they say, to prove their manhood, avoid courtship (considered a tedious waste of time) and save the payment of the kalym, or dowry, which can cost the groom up to $4,000 (£3,000) in cash and livestock.


After the ala kachuu, which in some cases can be a consensual “kidnapping” when a couple wishes to speed up the process of marriage, the brides are taken to the house of the future husband. The in-laws welcome the woman and force her to wear the jooluk, a white shawl that signifies submission to the bride’s new family. Then comes the wedding. About 80% of the girls kidnapped accept their fate, often on the advice of their parents.


According to data from the Unicef office in Bishkek, the percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 who become pregnant in Kyrgyzstan is among the highest in the region, while 13% of marriages take place before the age of 18, despite it being illegal.


It is estimated that 2,000 women are raped by their future husbands each year (again this number is believed to be well below today’s figures), and are thus condemned to marry, because returning to their family would be a deep mark of shame. Fleeing brides also risk further violence and even death.


One such bride, Aizada Kanatbekova, 27, was found strangled to death in a field in early April this year, two days after being forcibly bundled into a car with the help of two passers-by. The kidnapping took place in daylight in the centre of the capital, Bishkek – an alarming indication that this practice is not limited to the countryside.


Altyn Kapalova, a writer, feminist activist and researcher at the University of Central Asia in Bishkek, condemned the lack of legal protection for women. “A police station is not a safe place for a woman seeking help. If a woman goes to a police station to report a kidnapping, they laugh at her, tell her it’s not their business, to go home and settle it with her family,” she said.


In 2018, one shockingly gruesome case highlighted the authorities’ callous attitude. The victim, Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy, a 20-year-old medical student, was murdered in a police station by the man who had kidnapped her. He stabbed her, then carved her initials and those of another man she had planned to marry on to the woman’s body. The officers had left the two of them alone in the waiting room.


The perpetrator was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. But activists say that the majority of violence against women still goes unpunished. “The problem is one of culture, of education, and not of laws,” said Kapalova, who has received constant threats since 2019, when she jointly organised Kyrgyzstan’s first feminist art exhibition. The highly controversial show, Feminnale, brought whip-wielding nationalists out in protest when it ran for 17 days at the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts in Bishkek.


Another artist hoping to change attitudes is Tatyana Zelenskaya, who works with the human rights organisation Open Line Foundation, which supports victims of bride kidnapping through counselling and legal advice. Zelenskaya created the drawings and graphics of Spring in Bishkek, a video game for smartphones that aims to convince young people that kidnapping is not a tradition but a crime.


In just over six months, the app has already been downloaded more than 130,000 times; an extraordinary success, given that developers had hoped for 25,000. In the game, players witness the kidnapping of a best friend and must free her, while messages with suggestions prepared by psychologists, journalists and activists appear on the screen, as well as real telephone numbers that can be used in an emergency.


“The idea is to make the girls understand that they are masters of their own destiny. This is why we transform them into heroines capable of rebelling and changing the course of things,” said Zelenskaya. “For a generation of women who grew up with the idea that nothing is possible without a man’s approval, unhinging this concept is difficult.”


The Kyrgyz government has given little indication that it supports these efforts. Indeed, the wording of the new constitution is read by many as a shift in priorities towards an erosion of human rights and fundamental freedoms if they are in conflict with “traditional” values.


The prologue of the constitution, introduced by the nationalist president, Sadyr Japarov, and approved in a referendum in April 2011, underlines the importance of the spiritual and cultural values of Kyrgyz society – “following the traditions of our ancestors, continuing to live in unity, peace, harmony with nature, based on the precepts of Manas the Magnanimous”, referring to the hero of a Kyrgyz epic. The passage is seen by many as a tacit endorsement of ala kachuu.


Resistance to those old values is embodied by the dynamic group of eight Kyrgyz women aged 18 to 24 behind the Kyrgyz Space Programme, an initiative funded by private donations. They plan, next year, to launch into orbit Kyrgyzstan’s first satellite, a tiny “nanosatellite” with only basic functions but nevertheless capable of receiving and sending a signal.


“We have been working on a CubeSat for some time, building it entirely, piece by piece: technology, programming, mathematics, physics, up to welding,” said Kyzzhibek Batyrkanova, the eldest in the group.


All eight women are studying aerospace engineering while constructing the CubeSat. They also travel to remote areas to give seminars to schoolchildren, especially girls, on the basics of engineering, mathematics, science and technology. They also share personal stories of female “emancipation”.


Anna Boyko, who oversees the physics and programming courses for the group, says: “I was like them, a young girl whose highest aspiration was to find a ‘charming prince’ . Then I took part in two weeks of training in a computer company … and after two days they all realised that I was much better than my male companions with computers.”


Photo credits: Noriko Hayashi/Panos

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AFGHANISTAN: Taliban imposes new dress code for women in universities

Taliban imposes new dress code, segregation of women at Afghan universities

By Frud Bezhan


RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi (03.09.2021) – https://bit.ly/3jRzfOE – The Taliban has imposed a new dress code and gender segregation for women at private universities and colleges in Afghanistan, in line with a decree issued to educational institutions and obtained by RFE/RL.

All female students, teachers, and staff must wear an Islamic abaya robe and niqab that covers the hair, body, and most of the face, according to the extensive document issued by the Taliban-run Education Ministry on September 5. The garments must be black, the text added, and women must also wear gloves to ensure their hands are covered.

Classes must also be segregated by gender — or at least divided by a curtain — according to the order, which added that female students must be taught only by other women. But it added, though, that “elderly men” of good character could fill in if there were no female teachers.

Since seizing power after the collapse of the internationally recognized government in Kabul last month, the Taliban has said “women and girls will have all their rights within Islam.”

The militants have attempted to project a more moderate image and reassure Afghans and the world that it has changed. During its brutal regime from 1996-2001, the Taliban oppressed women and severely restricted girls’ education.

But the Taliban’s new rules — which came into effect on September 6 as private universities reopened — highlight how women’s lives are set to dramatically change under the rule of the hard-line Islamist group after the gains of the past 20 years.

‘Clear Sign Of Repression’

“The new changes like gender segregation in schools and universities are clearly creating more fear and a culture of discrimination against women and girls,” said Samira Hamidi, an exiled women’s rights activist who fled Afghanistan due to threats by the Taliban.

“Women wearing black veils do not represent Afghan culture,” she added. “It is a clear sign of repression in the life of women and girls.”

Before the Taliban’s return to power, Afghan women studied alongside men and attended classes with male teachers. There was also no dress code that forced women to cover themselves.


But women are now confronted with a new, harsher reality.

Photos widely shared by Afghans on social media showed men and women at Ibn Sina University, a private institution in Kabul, separated in classes by a curtain. Many of the women pictured wore black robes and hijabs, although their faces were visible — an apparent violation of the new dress code.


According to the decree issued by the Taliban, women should wear an abaya, the figure-shrouding outer garment, and niqab, a cloth that covers the face except for the eyes.

Maryam, a woman from the southeastern city of Khost, told Radio Azadi that many women were ready to wear a hijab, which covers the head. But she said the all-encompassing niqab or burqa would not be “acceptable to Afghan women.”


‘Good Behavior’

The Taliban also imposed the wearing of burqas in the 1990s.

The Taliban’s decree also said men and women should use separate entrances and exits at universities and colleges.

“Universities are required to recruit female teachers for female students based on their facilities,” the document said.

If it is not possible to employ female teachers, then institutions “should try to hire elderly men teachers who have a record of good behavior.”


While women must study separately, they are also required to finish their classes five minutes earlier than men to stop them from meeting outside.

The documents also stipulates that women must remain in waiting rooms until their male classmates have left the building.

Despite the new restrictions, the Taliban permitting education for women is a positive, said 18-year-old Salgy Baran, who received the highest score in Afghanistan on her university entrance exams this year.

“The Taliban must deliver on what they promise,” she told Radio Azadi, referring to the militant group’s pledge to protect women’s rights, including the right to education. “Our university professors must be encouraged and appreciated, and we must be optimistic about the future.”

Violating Women’s Rights

But others are not convinced that the Taliban has changed and will permit women to exercise their right to education and work.

After the U.S.-led invasion, university admission rates soared in Afghanistan, particularly among women. Millions of girls of all ages also flocked back to school, though the gains in female education were mainly restricted to the cities.

Women also played a role in public life as ministers, members of parliament, and provincial officials. They also had the right to vote and work outside their homes.

When it previously controlled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, the Taliban forced women to cover themselves from head to toe, banned them from working outside the home, limited education only to pre-adolescent girls, and required women to be accompanied by a male relative if they left their homes.


The Taliban has, thus far, reimposed many of the same repressive laws and retrograde policies that defined its extremist former rule.

In Kabul, the Taliban has advised women to largely remain indoors. The militants have dismissed female journalists working for state-run television. The Taliban has also ordered many former female government workers not to return to work even as their male colleagues went back. Many girls’ schools have also remained shut in the capital.

Scores of women have staged protests in Kabul, the western city of Herat, and the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif in recent days, demanding equal rights.

Protest organizers said Taliban militants violently dispersed a crowd of women who had taken to the streets of Mazar-e Sharif on September 6 to call for their rights to be preserved and their inclusion in the new government.

Dozens of women held placards with slogans such as “Violation of women’s rights = Violation of human’s rights” and “We want political participation at all levels,” according to photos shared on social media.


Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a focus on politics, the Taliban insurgency, and human rights. He has reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. BezhanF@rferl.org



Photo credits: Hoshang Hashimi

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IRAN: Officials report increase in child marriages in 2020

IRAN reports increase in child marriages

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (20.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/3BDj6SD – Iranian officials have reported an increase in the overall number of child marriages last year compared to 2019.


According to the Statistics Center of Iran, the marriage rate of girls aged 10-14 last year increased by 10.5 percent compared to 2019.


It says 31,379 girls in that age bracket were married in 2020 compared to 28,373 cases the previous year.


The legal age for marriage in Iran is 13 years for girls and 15 years for boys, though it is acceptable for children younger to be married with a father’s permission.


The statistics for child marriages are only those that were officially registered with the Civil Registry Office. The actual number is believed to be higher as many such marriages are unregistered.


The Statistics Center of Iran reported that about 5 percent of all the registered marriages in Iran in 2020 involved children under the age of 15.


Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, called for “immediate reforms” in the Islamic republic’s treatment of women and girls in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March, citing the prevalence of child marriage as a major issue.

Rahman said that “[Iranian] women and girls are still treated as second-class citizens.”


Photo credits: RFE/RL

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USA: Texas 6-weeks abortion ban takes effect with the Supreme Court silent

Texas 6-weeks abortion ban takes effect, with high court mum

By Jessica Gresko, Paul J. Weber and Mark Sherman


AP (01.09.2021) – https://bit.ly/3yDbY7c – Texas law banning most abortions in the state took effect Wednesday, with the Supreme Court silent on an emergency appeal to put the law on hold.


If allowed to remain in force, the law would be the most far-reaching restriction on abortion rights in the United States since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion across the country in 1973.


The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before most women know they’re pregnant.


In a statement after the law took effect, President Joe Biden said it “blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century.” And he said the law “outrageously” gives private citizens the power “to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion.”


In a phone call with reporters early Wednesday, Marc Hearron, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that “as of now, most abortion is banned in Texas.” Hearron said the abortion providers his group represents were still hoping to hear from the Supreme Court.


The clinics have said the law would rule out 85% of abortions in Texas and force many clinics to close. Planned Parenthood is among the abortion providers that have stopped scheduling abortions beyond six weeks from conception.


Abortion rights advocates say the Texas law will force many women to travel out of state for abortions, if they can afford to do so and also navigate issues including childcare and taking time off work. It is also expected to increase the number of women seeking to self-induce abortions using pills obtained by mail.


At least 12 other states have enacted bans on abortion early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.


What makes the Texas law different is its unusual enforcement scheme. Rather than have officials responsible for enforcing the law, private citizens are authorized to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. Among other situations, that would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.

Abortion opponents who wrote the law also made it difficult to challenge the law in court, in part because it’s hard to know whom to sue.


Late into the night Tuesday before the ban took effect clinics were filled with patients, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which has four abortion clinics in Texas.


Twenty-seven women were still in the waiting room after 10 p.m. at one clinic, leaving doctors crying and scrambling over whether they would see all of them in time, she said. The last abortion at one of her clinics finished at 11:56 p.m. in Fort Worth, where Hagstrom Miller said anti-abortion activists outside shined bright lights in the parking lot after dark looking for wrongdoing, and twice called police.


“This morning I woke up feeling deep sadness. I’m worried. I’m numb,” she said.


On the other side, Republican state Rep. Shelby Slawson wrote on Facebook after the ban took effect that it was “with great sadness that I relate to you that late into the night, some in Texas were scrambling to end as many unborn lives as they could before the clock struck midnight.” Her colleague, Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach wrote on

Twitter after the ban went into effect that “LIFE is winning in America … and Texas is leading the way!”


The law is part of a hard-right agenda that Texas Republicans muscled through the statehouse this year ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Abbott is up for a third term as governor.


Another law taking effect Wednesday ended required firearm training and background checks to carry handguns in public in Texas, and GOP lawmakers on Tuesday approved election changes that will further tighten what are already some of the strictest voting laws in the nation.


Texas has long had some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, including a sweeping law passed in 2013. The Supreme Court eventually struck down that law, but not before more than half of the state’s 40-plus clinics closed.


Lawmakers also are moving forward in an ongoing special session in Texas with proposed new restrictions on medication abortion, a method using pills that accounts for roughly 40% of abortions in the U.S.


Even before the Texas case arrived at the high court the justices had planned to tackle the issue of abortion rights in a major case that will be heard after the court begins hearing arguments again in the fall. That case involves the state of Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. 


AP writer Paul J. Weber reported from Austin, Texas.


Some related articles


After Silence From Supreme Court, Texas Clinics Confront Near-Total Abortion Ban









Photo credits: AP News


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