In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Violence against children
- Privacy and digital rights
- Famine and gender
- Migration and child protection
- Health and physical integrity
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Violence against children
Thousands of members of the Otodo Gbame community in Lagos, Nigeria have been left homeless after police stormed their waterside settlement and set fire to their homes. Residents allege that the police fired bullets and tear gas indiscriminately, reportedly shooting a 16-year-old boy in the chest. In January, a Lagos court issued an injunction stopping demolitions after more than 30,000 Otodo Gbame residents were evicted in November 2016 to clear the way for redevelopment. In March, however, the homes of more than 4,700 people were destroyed for environmental and health reasons in a move defended by Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode as being compliant with the January injunction. Following the most recent demolitions, which according to the Lagos State Governor’s Monitoring Team were carried out as a security measure, the Lagos High Court ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to order the activities of the Governor, despite commenting that he had undermined the rule of law.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia failed to protect the hostages of the Beslan school siege in 2004, which left 330 people dead. The case concerned an attack on a school in Beslan, North Ossetia where for 50 hours more than 1,000 people were held captive by Chechen rebels demanding Russian troops pull out of Chechnya. The Court held that Russian authorities failed to take preventive measures to stop the attack in violation of the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The state was found to have had sufficient information of a planned attack linked to a school, but did little to disrupt the terrorists’ meetings, preparations and travels, increase security at the school or warn the school and the public. The Court found further violations of Article 2, arising from the use of lethal force by security forces, and serious flaws in the planning and control of the security operation. Powerful weapons such as tank cannon, grenade launchers and flame-throwers were used, contributing to hostage casualties and violating the requirement that lethal force should not be used more than is “absolutely necessary”. The Court ordered Russia to pay the 409 applicants 2.9 million Euros in compensation.
UNICEF has released a report highlighting a surge in the use of children in suicide bombings’ by Boko Haram insurgents in the first three months of the year. According to the report, 27 children have been used in attacks by the armed Islamist group in the Lake Chad region comprising Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. There were nine cases in the same period last year, and a total of 30 children - mostly girls - were used for bombings in 2016. The Boko Haram insurgency is now in its eighth year and has claimed more than 20,000 lives, with thousands more kidnapped, raped and forced to become suicide bombers, militants or brides. Children who manage to escape from Boko Haram are often ostracised by their communities and families or detained by authorities - last week Nigeria’s military released 593 people, including children, after clearing them of having ties to Boko Haram. Around 1.3 million children are displaced across the Lake Chad region, and UNICEF says that its response to the crisis “remains severely underfunded”.
Privacy and digital rights
Russian lawmakers have proposed legislation that would ban children under the age of 14 from creating social media accounts and require adults to provide passport information when signing up for an account to confirm their identity. Children older than 14 would be allowed to register for accounts, but would be restricted from joining groups that share information on subjects such as “gay propaganda”. The law would also criminalise sharing information about “unsanctioned” public demonstrations, make it illegal to publish correspondence with another social media user without that person’s consent and introduce fines of up to US$5,350 for violations. Though the reform may be difficult to enforce on social media based outside of the country, the change could have a serious impact on Russia’s domestic social media platforms, such as VKontakte, where users are currently allowed to register anonymously. The law is being submitted to the Duma by the Leningrad Oblast legislative assembly, which represents the greater St Petersburg area.
A member of parliament in Egypt has proposed a law that would impose a tax on social media users in a bid to "counter terrorism". Riyad Abdel Sattar said on Saturday that users of websites such as Facebook and Twitter should pay monthly "registration fees" that would allow the state to closely monitor activity online. The proposed legislation has already faced opposition from some of his peers, with one slamming the bill as "draconian" and adding that the next step would be taxes on "breathing air". Social media played a pivotal role in the 2011 uprising, which involved many young people and ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, but since a 2013 military coup the government has clamped down on internet freedoms. During the uprising, Egypt severed all online activity in a failed attempt to crack down on the mass street protests organised through sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In 2015, Egypt also reportedly blocked Facebook's Free Basics Internet service after the company refused to give Egyptian authorities the ability to spy on users.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that educational technology services are invading the privacy of students in the United States. A third of students, from kindergarten to 12th grade, use school-issued devices made available at reduced cost or for free. However, according to EFF’s research, providers commonly collect more data than necessary, including name, browsing history, search terms, location data, contact lists and behavioural information. In many instances, this data was collected without the consent - or even knowledge - of students or their parents. The report finds that “technology providers are spying on students - and school districts, which often provide inadequate privacy policies or no privacy policies at all, are unwittingly helping them do it”. The report also offers more than 70 recommendations for protecting student privacy including advice on negotiating contracts that limit or ban data collection, offering families the right to opt out, and making digital literacy and digital privacy part of school curriculum.
More needs to be done to protect the privacy of children who go missing, according to a report from Missing Children Europe. The study, based on data collected from 100 professionals from 19 missing children hotlines across Europe, found that while appeals through social media may encourage missing children to return home, the “digital footprint” they leave can have a lasting impact on those children, resulting in bullying and further trauma. The study is critical of leaving images and personal information about children in the public domain, which denies children the right to be forgotten and makes it difficult for them to move on from their experience. Speaking about the impact of public appeals for missing children, co-author Dr Karen Shalev-Greene said: “We need to understand the impact it has, both good and bad. We're saying, 'Be more aware of the downside and support the children and their families once they come back.’” At least 250,000 children are reported missing every year in the EU alone.
Famine and gender
Millions of children are on the brink of starvation in the worst humanitarian crisis in decades, in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. UNICEF has urgently called for nearly $255 million to respond to immediate needs of almost 22 million children who are currently hungry, sick, displaced and out of school in the four countries. Nearly 1.4 million are at imminent risk of death this year from severe malnutrition. Famine was declared a month ago in South Sudan, and will likely be declared soon in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen where fighting has pushed people off farmland and droughts have destroyed their animals and what is left of crops. The UN agency reports that the $255 million it has called for could provide 22 million children with food, water, health, education and protection services for just the next few months. The majority of that funding will go towards nutrition programmes to screen children and provide them with therapeutic food, as well as health services and water and sanitation.
Recent reports have also shown that child marriage has soared in Yemen as families struggle to feed their children amid a conflict that has left the country on the brink of famine. More than two thirds of girls in Yemen are married before they reach 18, compared to half of girls before the conflict escalated. Parents struggling with deepening poverty are increasingly marrying off their daughters to reduce costs and the number of mouths to feed or because they believe a husband's family could offer better protection. Around 80 percent of families in Yemen are in debt or are borrowing money to feed their children, according to UNICEF. Dowry payments are also acting as an additional incentive for poor parents to marry daughters off early, and campaigners say girls are sometimes married at eight or nine. A Reuters investigation recently found a similar situation in Somalia, where parents are increasingly resorting to arranging marriage for their daughters in order to use dowry payments to provide food for the family.
Migration and child protection
New guidance from the European Union on improving the protection of migrant and refugee children has been welcomed by UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UN bodies hailed the new document as “the first EU policy to address the situation and rights of all children in migration… linking migration, asylum and child protection”. The guidelines include ideas for better systems of child protection, improving data collection to ensure children are properly tracked and the appointment of guardians for children, as well as dissuading Member States from carrying out invasive age assessments on children. In a joint press release, the two UN agencies stressed that children should never be detained, irrespective of their legal or migratory status, or that of their parents. This week also saw a warning from the UN, as the UNHCR also called on States within the European Union to stop returning asylum seekers to Hungary, reminding them of the country's new policy of systematically detaining them in high-security container camps, on top of previous cases of violence by Hungarian security forces towards people fleeing conflict. According to the UNHCR, some 110 people, including at least four children are being held in these container camps.
Doctors Without Borders has reported that refugee children in Greece are self-harming after seeing adults in detention attempt suicide. The group claims that a mental health crisis is taking place on five Greek islands which are hosting more than 13,000 migrants and refugees. The conditions and confinement in detention camps have particularly affected more than 5,000 children held there, and aid workers have noticed an increase in suicide attempts and self-harm incidents involving children as young as nine. Save the Children staff on the islands claimed that some suicide attempts had taken place in public, and children had later imitated the same acts. Staff from relief agencies have said that many young people arriving at the camps are happy that they’ve escaped war and concluded harrowing journeys—but months spent locked up on the islands has taken a toll on their mental health. New reports have also surfaced this week claiming that many children on the Greek islands are being sexually exploited by adults as they try to earn money for smugglers to take them on to northern Europe.
Health and physical integrity
A civil society lawsuit in Uganda is seeking to compel the government to teach comprehensive sexual education in schools, in a bid to overturn last year’s ban on the subject. The move sparked months of uncertainty about whether or not discussions of sexuality, HIV prevention and family planning in schools were illegal. Advocates hope the case, which has its first hearing this week, will help clarify schools’ and NGOs’ understandings of what is and is not allowed. Since the ban, aid groups have scrambled to reconfigure their programmes, often working under the threat of government shutdown. Uganda-based NGO the Center for Health Human Rights and Development announced earlier this year that it would sue the education ministry over its failure to issue a comprehensive sex education policy in schools, claiming that banning sexuality education was “an absurdity”. The case is expected to form part of a much broader debate over how to manage sensitive topics in a country where more than half of the population is below the age of 18, and HIV-transmission rates are particularly high among adolescent girls.
In the United States a doctor has been charged with carrying out female genital mutilation on girls as young as six, in what is believed to be the first trial of its kind in the country. Michigan physician Jumana Nagarwala was charged after federal authorities were given an anonymous tip and conducted interviews with two child victims from Minnesota. Performing FGM in the US is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, and Nagarwala has also been charged with several other offences, including making false statements to a federal officer. The UN, together with many human rights organisations across the world have been urging countries for several years to end the practice of FGM, and in 2013 UNICEF reported a worldwide decline in the practice due to multiple campaigns intended to educate parents on the emotional and physical health risks associated with the procedure and its aftermath.
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Education: Online course on Child Rights-based Approaches
Organisation: Human Rights Education Associates
Dates: 26 April - 11 July 2017
Europe: Justice for Children Award
Organisations: DCI and OMCT
Submission deadline: 30 April 2017
Disability: Ensuring rights of children with mental disabilities through capacity building and monitoring
Organisation: Mental Disability Advocacy Centre
Date: 10 May 2017
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Juvenile justice: Youth Justice Summit
Organisation: Youth Justice Legal Centre
Date: 12 May 2017
Location: London, United Kingdom
Course: Implementing the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children
Date: 15 May 2017
Conference: Children on the move in southeast Asia
Organisations: Save the Children, Terre de Hommes, the International Detention Coalition & the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
Dates: 24-25 May 2017
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Best interests: International Conference on Shared Parenting
Organisations: National Parents Organization & the International Council on Shared Parenting
Dates: 29-31 May 2017
Location: Boston, United States
Course: Online course on Child Rights Governance
Organisation: Human Rights Education Associates
Dates: 31 May-11 July 2017
Child abuse: ISPCAN European conference on child abuse & neglect
Organisation: International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
Dates: 1-4 October 2017
Location: The Hague, Netherlands
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KIYO Child Rights NGO: Communication Manager (NL/FR)
Application deadline: 23 April 2017
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Child Rights International Network: Executive Assistant
Application deadline: Rolling
Just For Kids Law: Trainee Youth Advocate
Application deadline: 2 May 2017
Location: London, United Kingdom
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LEAK OF THE WEEK
The drought currently ravaging the horn of Africa has many predictable consequences, like difficulty finding clean water, woefully inadequate crop yields and the deaths of many types of livestock. But in northwestern Kenya there has been one surprising effect: more girls in school
. Often such droughts see young girls married off in the interest of dowry payments and in order to reduce the number of mouths a family has to feed; but thanks to cash transfer schemes organised by the government, many families have decided that it makes more sense to keep their children in school.
While girls are sadly still being assessed merely in terms of the financial benefits they can bring to their families (they are now much safer investments than drought-threatened cattle), the news that their families will keep them in school bodes well for their education, and the empowerment of more girls in their communities in the future.