In this issue:
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
The minimum age at which children should be able to use online services without needing parental consent should be the lowest permissible, Ireland’s children’s rapporteur has said. Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, gave his recommendations in a consultation on Ireland’s Data Protection Bill 2017, which would give effect to a new European Union regulation on online data protection. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation sets out rules on the processing of children’s personal data on the internet, including gaming and social media, and requires online services to obtain parental consent where a child interested in signing up is under 16 years old. EU member states can adopt a lower minimum age, but it must be set no lower than 13. Shannon noted that while the aim of the regulation was to protect children from online marketing, the State must ensure it “does not unreasonably restrict children’s civil and political rights such as the right to freedom of information and expression”. He gave examples of state authorities abroad pressuring internet service providers to block websites deemed unsuitable for children, even sites containing “material which could be important for the wellbeing of many under-18s,” including on sex education, politics, and support groups for alcohol dependency and suicide.
Following China’s ban last month on social media news that does not adhere to “core socialist values”, content producers, including online educators, fear their sites could be shut down. The crackdown has been justified under the newly implemented Cybersecurity Law, which emphasises ideological control as a core component of maintaining state security. Authorities have said they will “repress information that magnify celebrities’ privacy, luxurious lifestyle and vulgar behaviours.” Topics considered inappropriate include homosexuality, drug addiction, prostitution, and overt displays of affection. Some content producers are now resorting to self-censorship to bypass the ban. Zhao Jing, the founder of Yummy, a site specialising in education on gender issues, said she would be using euphemisms for genitalia and avoid banned topics, such as one-night stands and extramarital affairs, to evade keywords that will trigger the censors.
Citizenship and discrimination
A Canadian parent has been successful in getting their child’s sex removed from their government-issued ID card. Kori Doty, a parent who identifies as transgender, refused to provide the sex of their child to the government when the child was born, and the child’s health card arrived in the post displaying a "U" instead of an "M" or "F" to designate the child's sex. Activists argue that race should no longer be recorded on birth certificates or other identification because it is personal information, and that sex and gender identity should be treated the same way. Jen Marchbank, who works with transgender young people in Vancouver, said research has shown that children are treated very differently when labelled male or female. However, simply offering a third gender option is not a perfect solution, she said, especially for those who feel their gender is fluid, rather than permanently fixed as male or female. A third option displayed on ID cards can also unnecessarily "out" someone as being either transgender or intersex, putting them at risk of further discrimination, warned Marchbank.
In Sierra Leone, women can now pass on their nationality to their children, following a change in gender equality legislation. Until the new Citizenship Amendment Act was passed, Sierra Leonean women were denied the right to hand down citizenship to their children born abroad, causing problems for the diaspora community and exacerbating statelessness. “Several Sierra Leonean women living in the diaspora married and unmarried with children had been disadvantaged over the years,” said Fatou Taqi of the women’s rights group 50/50, she added. But “The new law shows that Sierra Leone is gradually achieving gender parity like other countries around the world she added”. Just 25 countries in the world still deny women the right to pass on their citizenship, according to the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights. However, Taqi said much more needed to be done to further women’s rights in the poor West African nation. Sierra Leone has the unwelcome distinction of the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, according to the World Health Organization, along with high rates of sexual violence and an extremely high prevalence of female genital mutilation.
Gay couples in France with children born to foreign surrogate mothers have won an important legal victory, with the country's highest appeals court ruling that the partner of the biological father could adopt his child. Surrogacy, when a woman carries a child for parents who cannot conceive, is banned in France. Some LGBT couples have turned to surrogate mothers abroad, where the practice is legal, in order to have children. However, until now, France had refused in this case to recognise the partner of the biological father as one of the child's parents. The Court of Cassation refused a request that French authorities automatically recognise the two parents listed on the foreign birth certificate, but ruled that the father's partner could apply to adopt the child, in line with a 2013 law allowing both gay marriages and adoptions. Until 2015, France refused to recognise surrogate children as French citizens but, after pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, the State eventually agreed to give the children birth certificates and recognise their biological parents.
Sexual and reproductive rights
A teenage rape victim in El Salvador has been sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment after having a stillbirth. The high school student had been repeatedly raped by a gang member for months as part of a forced sexual relationship, and had not realised she was pregnant when she gave birth in a bathroom, aged 18. Medical experts were unable to establish whether the foetus died in utero or after delivery, and a female judge held that the failure to seek antenatal care amounted to murder. The prosecution accused the girl of deliberately avoiding seeking antenatal care because she did not want the baby, and of throwing the baby into the toilet with the intention to kill. Commenting on the verdict, Morena Herrera, executive director of the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, said: “in El Salvador, justice is applied without direct proof, without sufficient evidence that clarifies what a woman has done”. El Salvador is one of five countries where abortion is illegal in all circumstances, and many young women are imprisoned for murder after suffering complications during childbirth. After her arrest, the student spent a week handcuffed to a hospital bed while being treated for severe anaemia and a urinary tract infection. She has been detained ever since. Her lawyers will appeal the verdict.
Students in the United Kingdom are calling for a more open and “sex-positive” approach to sex and relationships education (SRE), currently lacking in schools. The new study published in the BMJ Open journal, which surveyed more than 3,000 people aged between 16 and 24, found that many young people want comprehensive SRE that embraces sexual diversity. One in five wanted to know how to make sex more satisfying, while others wanted greater discussion of different sexual practices, including masturbation, and of the emotions that accompany sexual activity. Some reported that LGBT+ students tend to be overlooked, and criticised current SRE lessons for defining sex narrowly as heterosexual intercourse and for ignoring the range and diversity of sexual activities that young people engage in. One young person told researchers that her teachers “don’t really go into the whole relationships thing, partly because they don’t want us to have relationships”. The findings also suggest that many young people dislike having their usual teachers deliver SRE. The British government announced earlier this year that it would be making SRE compulsory in schools from the age of four, and is currently consulting on how best to deliver these lessons.
Sexual abuse and exploitation
Police in Germany have brought down a major online platform used to share child sexual abuse imagery. Prosecutors in Frankfurt confirmed that police arrested a 39-year-old man in June in relation to the site, which allowed more than 87,000 members to organise sexual abuse of children. Police believe the man, who remains in custody, is largely responsible for the administration of the site, but others have been arrested in relation to the investigation in both Germany and Austria. The site, known as Elysium, only appeared on the dark web at the end of last year but attracted tens of thousands in a matter of months. Police have now seized the website's server, and reports suggest that toddlers were among the children sexually abused by users of the platform.
More than 350 sexual abuse complaints have been made by cadets in the United Kingdom in the past five years, and an undercover investigation suggests that more complaints may have been covered up. Figures released by the Ministry of Defence under freedom of information laws show that, of the 363 claims lodged between 2012 and 2017, a mere 282 were referred to the police. The new information has emerged after numerous witnesses and survivors, who alleged that their accusations of sexual abuse within the cadets were not acted upon, spoke to investigative journalists from the BBC. Some claim that they were told their complaints would be dealt with internally, while others reported that they were pressured not to take the incidents to the police. So far the allegations have also led to the dismissal of 99 instructors across the three cadet branches: army, air and sea, while the government has paid more than £2m in compensation to the survivors.
A new law has been passed in Japan to regulate so-called “JK business”, which arranges “dates” between schoolgirls and adults. The new legislation prohibits girls aged 17 and under from arranging to meet clients, but reporters from the Japan Times were still easily able to arrange meetings with underage girls a week before the new rules came into force. JK operators are now obliged to register with the authorities and submit a list of employees, allowing their ages to be verified, but some believe that a desire to keep making money will lead many young girls to continue arranging meetings covertly, potentially putting them at risk. In April and May, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department visited students at 267 middle schools and high schools to warn them about the dangers of becoming drawn into and victimised by the sex trade via the JK and internet porn industries, and further education initiatives are planned.
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
Date: 9-11 October 2017
Location: Honolulu, United States
Asia-Europe Foundation: Training on Human Rights & Children
Application deadline: 19 July 2017
Location: Sofia, Bulgaria
UNICEF Turkey: Consultancy on Protection for Children
Application deadline: 21 July 2017
Location: Ankara, Turkey
FRIDA: Climate and environmental justice special grants
Application deadline: 23 July 2017
THE LAST WORD
“All they ever do is talk about the dangers of sex and that, and nothing about the pleasure.”
-- A British student replying to a study on different attitudes to Sex and relationships education.