In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Toxics and pollution
- Child recruitment
- Humanitarian crises
Case study: First steps taken on ending anti-Roma discrimination in schools
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Toxics and pollution
The UN’s failure to compensate victims of lead poisoning in refugee camps after the Kosovo war is leaving affected families struggling to care for sick relatives. An estimated 8,000 people from Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian minorities were forced from their homes during the 1998-1999 conflict and around 600 were resettled in camps contaminated by lead from a nearby industrial mine. Many of those affected, including children, experience health problems such as seizures, kidney disease, and memory loss. In 2016, a UN human rights advisory panel found that the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, which was responsible for the camps, violated the right to life and health of people affected and recommended that it apologise and pay individual compensation. In May this year, the UN announced that it would create a voluntary trust fund to provide for community assistance projects, but did not commit to paying compensation to individuals affected. Human rights organisations have been critical of this approach, arguing that a voluntary fund is unlikely to raise the necessary finances and that the refusal to compensate victims directly fails to meet their right to a remedy for the harm they have suffered. Last week, a UN spokesperson reported that no contributions had yet been made towards the trust fund.
The United Kingdom is flouting its duty to ensure adequate air quality and to protect the rights to life and health of its citizens, including children, according to the latest report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Baskut Tuncak. More than 40,000 people are estimated to die prematurely in the country as a result of air pollution, including 9,000 in London alone. The report highlights the risk to children, older persons and people with pre-existing health conditions, who are at particular risk of mortality, illness and disability. A government spokesperson responded to the report by claiming that leaving the European Union would enable the UK to respond better to environmental protection issues, but the chair of the British Parliament’s environmental audit committee warned that Brexit risks leaving key environmental protections ineffective. The government’s environmental laws have twice been found unlawful following challenges brought by the non-governmental organisation ClientEarth.
The government of the Netherlands has been ordered to take immediate action to limit air pollution by the District Court in the Hague. The court found that limits on emissions of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter were being violated. The health ministry has also warned that current levels of these emissions, mainly caused by traffic and factories, can lead to respiratory illnesses, and that chronic exposure can shorten life expectancy. In response to the judgment, the government has promised to speed up existing plans to improve air quality, particularly in city centres. The case follows a decision in 2015, that ordered the government to cut emissions to at least 25 percent below the level in 1990 within five years. The case, brought on behalf of 900 plaintiffs, including children, was reported to be the first climate liability suit brought under human rights and tort law and triggered similar actions within the country and around the world.
Research undertaken by the UN has concluded that poverty and state violence, not religion, are driving young Africans to join militant groups. Researchers interviewed nearly 500 fighters, many of whom were recruited as children, with around 70 percent reporting that the arrest or killing of a friend or relative by security forces was their “tipping point”. The study highlights how marginalisation and neglect, usually starting in childhood, combined with few economic prospects or outlets for meaningful civic participation drive people towards extremist groups. The study also suggests that a better understanding of religion can make people less susceptible to recruitment by extremists. Among those interviewed, receiving at least six years of religious schooling was shown to reduce the likelihood of joining an extremist group by as much as 32 percent. Additionally, although more than half of the interviewees cited religion as a reason for joining an extremist group, 57 percent had not read religious texts, or understood little to nothing of them.
An Indonesian school with 200 students has been accused of harbouring and possibly encouraging children and teachers who have travelled to fight for the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. A Reuters investigation found that at least 12 people went on from the Islamic boarding school, known as Ibnu Mas’ud, to attempt to fight for IS between 2013 and 2016. Four were students, and Reuters said it had viewed a YouTube video in which the school’s principal endorsed the ultra-conservative strand of Islam known as Salafism, which links militant groups like IS and Al-Qaeda. In the video, Principal Masyahadi reportedly said: “Ibnu Mas’ud ensures that Muslim children are preoccupied with efforts to understand their religion correctly so they become a generation that understands the religion and will fight for the religion”. The facility hosts students aged from around five to fifteen years old and while government sources confirmed it was not registered as a school, no action has been taken to shut it down since it opened ten years ago.
Dozens of boys from Afghanistan have been returned from Taliban training camps near the country’s border with Pakistan. Afghan forces freed around 40 children during multiple raids near the border, with many reportedly recruited from poor families after militants promised to provide them with a religious education. Boys as young as four were among those being trained as fighters, or groomed for use as human bombs. Some children reported being kidnapped and given drugs which made them “dizzy and confused” during their ordeals, while others were paraded alongside their abductors in front of the media after they were rescued, with total disregard for their needs as victims. The use of children as combatants in Afghanistan was highlighted last year when it was reported that that the Taliban was training and deploying children for various military operations, including the production and planting of improvised explosive devices.
Almost 16 million children and their families have been severely affected by weeks of torrential monsoon rains and catastrophic flooding in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. There have been at least 1,288 reported deaths since mid-August, with more than 45 million people estimated to be affected. Many areas remain inaccessible because of damage to roads, bridges, railways and airports. UNICEF says the most urgent needs for children are clean water, hygiene supplies to prevent the spread of disease, food supplies and safe places in evacuation centres for children to play. In Bangladesh alone, there have already been more than 13,035 cases of people contracting waterborne diseases. School infrastructure and well over two million homes have been damaged or destroyed so far, and as rains continue and flood waters move south, there could be worse still be to come, warned Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.
The number of children suffering from life-threatening malnutrition across the Lake Chad Basin has soared to 800,000 since last year, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The number of children aged under five suffering from severe malnutrition in the region has risen by two-thirds since last September. The organisation fears the problem could spiral further as Boko Haram ramps up attacks in the region, where a “devastating food crisis” has left 7.2 million people across Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad in need of food aid. Many areas cannot be accessed by aid agencies because of insecurity, with the threat of Boko Haram cutting off several territories. The militant Islamist group has forced more than 2.7 million people to flee their homes in the Lake Chad region since the start of its violent bid to create an Islamic state. The terrorist group has killed 381 civilians in Nigeria and Cameroon since the beginning of April alone, mainly by strapping bombs to girls and women, according to Amnesty International. Funding is also an issue, with only 57 percent of the funds needed to address the crisis received so far, according to the UN Financial Tracking Service.
In Palestine, living conditions in the Gaza Strip represent a “growing humanitarian crisis,” Save the Children warned last week. The enclave has been suffering an energy crisis, which has left more than 740 schools struggling to function without electricity, and most families receiving only two to four hours of electricity each day. The organisation also noted that 90 percent of water sources are now too contaminated for human consumption and that 60 percent of the sea around Gaza is polluted with untreated sewage. In August a child died after swimming in the sea at Gaza City beach, after he developed Ekiri syndrome as a result of suspected prolonged exposure to toxic substances. Half of the two million residents of the Gaza Strip are children, many of whom suffer from anxiety, aggression and mood swings, linked to the effects on mental health caused by a ten-year Israeli blockade and disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which have affected access to many basic services.
A study of 93 schools in Liberia has shown that low-cost private school operator, Bridge International Academies, is not fulfilling its learning promises and is violating ethical principles. The independent research adds to concerns about Bridge’s operation and expansion plans raised in previous studies, which the company has repeatedly dismissed as biased. According to the research, Bridge schools have only achieved limited gains in learning for children, despite allegedly pushing out teachers and carrying out mass-expulsions of students. Civil society groups opposed to Bridge claim that the company tries to skew results by pouring large sums of money into selected schools in an unsustainable way, while failing to replicate results in other schools. A statement signed by 174 organisations published last month called on investors to cease all investments in Bridge International Academies and to take immediate steps to addressing the issues identified with their business model.
In Zimbabwe, cash-strapped parents and guardians who are unable to afford school fees have resorted to offering livestock and their manual labour to keep their children in education. Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector is in sharp decline and cash circulation has plummeted, resulting in 13,000 pupils dropping out of school due to unpaid fees. Zimbabwe’s education minister told the state-controlled weekly newspaper the Sunday Mail that schools needed to be “flexible”, allowing local people to work for them or trade animals instead of paying fees in cash. However, some civil society groups have criticised these alternative payments as “archaic”. The practice “decimates local people’s social and economic traditional fabric”, said Robson Chere from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe. The union puts the number of parents and guardians with children in school at 4.5 million countrywide, and estimates that 60 percent have resorted to using livestock and their own labour as a way of paying school fees.
Under reforms made over the summer, girls in Saudi Arabia will be able to take part in physical education in state schools for the first time. As with driving, sports and exercise have long been off-limits to women and girls in the country, including watching sports in a public stadium. The country’s ministry of education said that physical education classes for girls will be introduced “gradually” and “in accordance to Islamic Shariah regulations”. With sports being off-limits to women for so long, the country has few qualified trainers or sports instructors, and physical spaces for women to exercise or play sports are virtually non-existent. Women are still banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, presenting an obvious obstacle to taking part in team training or sports events. The country has more than a hundred national or international sports federations for men in sports such as soccer, volleyball and basketball, but still no federations at all for women or girls.
In the Karachi region of Pakistan, the electricity supply to 1,457 schools has been disconnected, after the local government has failed to pay suppliers or allocate funds in its annual budget to clear its arrears. Despite promises to the electricity providers to pay the outstanding bills, the local government did not deliver, and the schools have been cut off from the grid until payment is received. The incident is the latest illustration of the problems facing the education system in the region. More than half of schools in the Karachi area are functioning without electricity. There has been a fall of 50 percent in school enrolment in the last ten years and a lack of basic facilities, combined with a shortage of qualified teaching staff, has resulted in a steep decline in education standards.
CASE STUDY: First steps taken on ending anti-Roma discrimination in schools
Roma children in the Czech Republic are often segregated in schools, unfairly labelled as “mentally disabled” and shunted into “special” classes or schools. In 1999, D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic became the first case in Czech history to seek an end to this discrimination. In 2007, after a series of rulings and appeals, the European Court of Human Rights called the practice what it is: racial discrimination.
Read the full case study here.
CRIN’s collection of case studies illustrates different approaches to using the law in children’s rights advocacy. Throughout the world advocates are changing legislation and societies for the better through what is known as strategic litigation - when a case seeks broader impact than simply bringing justice in a case at hand. Looking at how these efforts work in practice, CRIN is interviewing those involved in cases and looking at their outcomes and the impact they created. We will highlight both successful cases and less successful ones - which have still had an impact - to allow advocates to learn from previous efforts to challenge children’s rights abuses.
Childhood poverty: Work, care and school in Young Lives
Organisation: Young Lives, University of Oxford
Date: 18 September 2017
Location: London, United Kingdom
Witchcraft and Human Rights: Expert Workshop
Organisation: The Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network
Dates: 21-22 September 2017
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
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
Education: Teacher Education for Inclusion - seminar and video launch
Organisation: Enabling Education Network
Date: 5 October 2017
Dates: 9-11 October 2017
KIYO: Communications Manager
Application deadline: 17 September 2017
Location: Brussels, Belgium
THE LAST WORD
“In the view of the Special Rapporteur, by neither taking action as expeditiously and effectively as possible, nor taking all possible measures to reduce infant mortality and to increase life expectancy, the United Kingdom Government has violated its obligations to protect life, health and the development of children in its jurisdiction.”
- An observation from the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, in his UK mission report.