The week in children's rights - 1543

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10 August 2017 subscribe | subscribe | submit information
  • In this issue:

    Latest news and reports
    - Environment and climate change
    - Child recruitment
    - Sexual abuse in religious institutions
    - Digital rights

    Upcoming events




    Environment and climate change

    As much as 73 percent of Gaza’s coastline is dangerously polluted with sewage, according to the latest environmental survey carried out in Palestine. The crisis has been caused by a decade-long blockade of Gaza by Israel, contributing to power shutoffs for the whole strip including water and waste management infrastructure. With electricity to lagoons, treatment works and sewage pumps cut off, Gaza’s waste managers have been forced to choose between allowing cities to flood or letting raw sewage escape the overflows into the sea. The beach has been a key recreational area for many of the region’s children, and while many parents have stopped their children from entering the water, some continue to swim in the dangerously contaminated sea. On top of the problems with sewage, the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights has also reported that 29 people, including 24 children, have died in fires related to the electricity shutoffs since 2010. This week Oxfam labelled the electricity crisis as an illegal punitive measure.

    An attempt to sue the federal government of the United States for affirmative actions it has taken, and continues to take, that cause fossil fuel production, and greenhouse gas emissions, has been put on hold after an unusual legal action from the Trump administration. The case against the government was brought by 21 claimants, now aged between 10 and 21 years old, who are arguing that their constitutional rights have been violated by the government’s promotion of the production of greenhouse gases through the use of fossil fuels, the approving of pipelines, and oil and gas exploration on federal lands, among other actions. The president’s staff filed a petition calling for the appeals court to step in and independently review the decision made by a federal judge last year, which allowed the climate lawsuit to move to trial. A temporary stay on the proceedings has been ordered while the appeals court considers the petition. The move, described by some as the “Hail Mary” of legal procedures, is the final measure that could potentially stop the case from going to trial.

    Child recruitment

    Child recruitment and ethnically-based massacres are taking place in the Kasai provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a new UN report. The accounts of violence in the report are based on interviews with 96 refugees in neighbouring Angola. The report confirms that 251 people were victims of extrajudicial and targeted killings between 12 March and 19 June, including 62 children, of whom 30 were under the age of eight. Investigators met people who had been seriously injured or mutilated, including a seven-year-old who had had several fingers cut off and his face severely disfigured. Fighting began between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and the government in August 2016, and another militia, the Banu Mura, was formed around March. The Banu Mura were allegedly armed and supported by local leaders and security officials to attack the Luba and Lulua communities, which are accused of working with the Kamuina Nsapu. Luba and Lulua witnesses reported that the Banu Mura had carried out well-planned attacks on villages, beheading, mutilating and shooting victims, and in some cases burning them alive. Witnesses said that the Kamuina Nsapu are largely composed of children, many aged between seven and 13, while groups of girls called “Lamama” reportedly accompanied the militia, drinking victims’ blood as part of a ritual to render them invincible.

    The UN mission in Mali has uncovered mass graves in a northern village, as well as evidence of forced disappearances, kidnapping and robbery. The mission confirmed the enforced disappearance of children who have been involved in the recent fighting, suggesting a “possible presence” of child soldiers among the ranks of both armed groups. Fighting between rival Tuareg factions, including the pro-government Platform group and the former rebels of the Coordination of Movements of Azawad group, has intensified in recent weeks, and attacks have continued against UN forces, civilians and the Malian army. The UN mission is the deadliest to date, with more than 100 peacekeepers killed in recent months. The conflict began in 2012 when jihadists and allied Tuareg rebels took control of the desert north. The escalating violence has led to a surge in attacks against aid workers, restricting delivery of food and healthcare to millions of people, with some agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres, temporarily suspending operations. According to UN data, more than 3.7 million people across Mali will need aid this year.

    Hundreds of children in Ukraine have spent the summer at paramilitary training camps set up by the Azov volunteer battalion, a group notorious for its far-right views. Parents have sent their children to these summer camps in order to receive training in military techniques and physical exercise. The battalion, formerly part of the Ukrainian National Guard and currently operating as a de-facto private army, has set up a two-week paramilitary programme for children, instructing more than 850 children at seven camps across the country. In the midst of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine, which has left almost 10,000 people dead since 2014, the summer camp training is infused with nationalistic ideas, with camouflage-clad children spending their evenings chanting, chest-beating and flag-waving. Members of the Azov battalion have been accused by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of torture and “other egregious abuses” in the conflict zone. The group has strongly rejected accusations of having neo-Nazi leanings, despite sporting an emblem that resembles a symbol widely used by Nazi factions during World War II.

    Sexual abuse in religious institutions

    collection of nearly 100 sexual abuse claims made against Catholic priests and other authority figures in Guam has been made available to the public by USA Today. The trove of documents contains allegations against priests, scout leaders and teachers stretching back decades, filed after the country removed the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims. The move to allow historic cases to be prosecuted was made after a series of public accusations by former altar boys, who alleged that Guam’s Archbishop Anthony Apuron sexually abused them decades ago. The collection of complaints detail alleged attacks from 1955 to 1994 and claim some religious leaders knew of the exploitation and ignored it, or helped to cover it up. One retired priest, who admitted in an affidavit that he sexually abused 20 or more boys, reportedly still receives a monthly stipend from the archdiocese on the island.

    Laws to provide compensation, counselling and personal responses to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse will go before Australia’s federal parliament in Spring 2018. The details of the redress scheme, proposed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, have yet to be finalised, but the country’s 2017-18 budget committed AUS$33.4 million to set up the scheme and confirmed funding for support services. The commission, established in 2013, is investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and proven instances of child sexual abuse. On 15 December 2017 the body will present its final report to the government, with further recommendations on preventing and responding to child sexual abuse in institutional contexts. The royal commission estimated the full cost of redress payments could be as high as AUS$4 billion over 10 years.


    Digital rights

    The United Kingdom has announced that it will set the minimum age at which children can use online services without needing parental consent at 13. The announcement came as part of a proposal for a new Data Protection Bill, which mirrors the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, due to enter into force next year. The default for the regulation is to require parental consent for children under the age of 16 to use online services, but EU member states can set their own minimum age between 13 and 16. Ireland recently announced that it too would be setting its so-called ‘age of digital consent’ at 13. The UK’s proposals have, however, opened the government to criticism about its understanding of the concept of “privacy by default and design”, a principle key to the EU regulation. The term refers to ensuring that processes and systems involving people’s personal data are designed in a way that protects privacy, whereas the UK’s proposal mistakenly claims to realise the principle by requiring that citizens have a right to know when their personal data has been released contrary to data protection safeguards.

    YouTube’s child protection mechanism is failing, according to volunteers responsible for monitoring and reporting child endangerment and grooming on the website. The company operates a system of volunteers, called Trusted Flaggers, who are able to report comments or accounts on the website to raise concerns about child exploitation. YouTube employees are then responsible for reviewing these complaints and acting in response. Trusted Flaggers who spoke to the BBC, however, have reported that there is a huge backlog of reports and that YouTube has responded to only a fraction of those in which children may be at risk. One volunteer, who made 9,000 complaints in December 2016, reported that none of them had so far been reviewed. The volunteer went on to say, ““[YouTube has] systematically failed to allocate the necessary resources, technology and labour to even do the minimum reviewing of reports of child predators in an adequate timeframe … There also seems to be an overall lack of understanding regarding predatory activity on the platform and that thousands of children are being targeted and manipulated.”

    A class action has been filed in California, United States, alleging that Disney allowed technology companies to embed software in its apps to allow for the unlawful collection of children’s personal information. US law requires verifiable parental consent for the collection of personal information of children under the age of 13 and the complaint alleges that the company failed to meet this requirement. The lawsuit also alleges that children’s information is being sold to third-party companies for the purposes of tracking individual children’s behaviour across different apps and devices. The complaint relates to Disney’s online games played on smartphones, but also makes allegations against three other advertising technology companies who are claimed to have embedded software used to collect data within the games.


    Education: Child Safeguarding
    Organisation: HREA
    Dates: 30 August-10 October 2017
    Location: Online

    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

    Disability: Pacific Rim Int'l Conference on Disability & Diversity
    Organisation: Center on Disability Studies
    Date: 9-11 October 2017
    Location: Honolulu, United States

    Health and nutrition: Sion’s 19th International Seminar
    Organisation: International Institute for the Rights of the Child
    Dates: 9-11 October 2017
    Location: Sion, Switzerland

    Education: Child Rights Public Budgeting
    Organisation: HREA
    Dates: 18 October-1 November 2017
    Location: Online

    Education: Child Rights Situation Analysis
    Organisation: HREA
    Dates: 1 November-12 December 2017
    Location: Online



    OHCHR: Junior Professional Officer in Human Rights (environmentally sound waste management) 
    Application deadline: 14 August 2017
    Location: Geneva, Switzerland

    IJJO: External Evaluator (Juvenile Justice Systems in the counter-terrorism context)
    Application deadline: 14 August 2017
    Location: Online

    IJJO: Professors (Online course on fostering alternative care for troubled minors) 
    Application deadline: 14 August 2017
    Location: Online

    INEE: Coordinator (Standards and Practice Working Group)
    Application deadline: 21 August 2017
    Location: New York, United States

    IJJO: Curriculum developer (Online course on diversion in juvenile justice and children’s rights)
    Application deadline: 25 August 2017
    Location: Online



    Australia has taught us an important lesson this week: how not to spend public money. In just over two weeks, the country will hold a postal vote on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, which will cost as much as AUS$122 million — though it won’t be legally binding. Aside from clearly being in dire need of money saving tips, Australia also seems to have forgotten that matters of fundamental rights, such as the equal treatment of all citizens, isn’t something that should be put to public vote; equal rights should be a given.

    But if the national debate has given rise to anything, it has been a messy and combative series of discussions. A frontbench MP, Penny Wong, put it best when responding to opposition comments about the need for a respectful debate on the issue, which has reportedly seen religious groups label the children of same-sex parents a “stolen generation”.

    “We love our children. And I object, as [does] every person who cares about children, and as do all those couples in this country, same-sex couples who have kids, to be told our children are a stolen generation. You talk about unifying moments? It is not a unifying moment. It is exposing our children to that kind of hatred.”

    “I wouldn't mind so much if you were prepared to speak out on it. If the Prime Minister was prepared to stand up and say ‘that is wrong’. Maybe he can stand up for some people who don't have a voice. Because we know the sort of debate that is already there. Let me say, for many children in same-sex couple families and for many young LGBTI kids, this ain't a respectful debate already.”


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