In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Health, gender and advertising
- Deprivation of liberty
- Sexual abuse
- HIV and AIDS
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Health, gender and advertising
Australia’s top Family Court has ruled that transgender children will no longer have to get court approval to access a vital stage in their hormone treatment. Since 2013, court permission has not been required for the first stage of treatment which involves taking hormone blockers, but was needed for stage two, in which a person is given testosterone or oestrogen to initiate the development of secondary sexual characteristics, such as facial hair in transgender boys and breast development in transgender girls. The decision means teenagers can now start stage two of their sex change with just medical and parental approval. The ruling comes in relation to the case of a transgender 17-year-old who identifies as a boy. His parents had applied to the court asking that he be deemed competent to authorise his own stage two treatment. The court recognised that, had a court denied his request to initiate stage two, the boy’s health would have deteriorated, “as his mental and physical health is heavily dependent on the perception of himself as male”. In the past, many young people postponed treatment until adulthood to avoid the stress of the court process.
Children are the worst affected by an epidemic of chronic kidney disease in the Mexican lakeside village of Agua Caliente, which environmental experts have linked to malnutrition compounded by water and air pollution. More than half of schoolchildren in the village have damaged kidneys, while only one in six shows healthy cognitive development, researchers found. Attention and memory deficits are also of concern, and many children also struggle with fine motor skills. Researchers say that agricultural and industrial contaminants flowing into the country’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Chapala, have exacerbated the problems faced by residents who are already battling malnutrition and poverty. The village takes its name, which translates as “Hot Water”, from the thermal springs that villagers use for washing and drinking. Seventy cases of birth defects, including heart defects, clubfoot and malformed hands, were recorded from 2009 to 2016 in several villages on the shores of Lake Chapala. A hair analysis of pregnant women in the village also detected high doses of arsenic, known to cause kidney disease and birth defects, while urines tests revealed the presence of pesticides used to kill insects and weeds. Investigators also determined that air pollution was a factor, as the contaminants in the lake pass into the air as the water evaporates, reaching the entire population.
Children in the United Kingdom are being “bombarded” by up to 12 adverts an hour for foods high in fat, sugar and salt during peak viewing times for family TV programmes, a study by the University of Liverpool has found. Current advertising rules, introduced in 2007, restrict the advertising of junk food during children's TV programmes or any programme where 75 percent of the audience will be children. But health bodies point to the thousands of children watching shows not specifically targeted at children, saying that 49 percent of children's viewing takes place between 6-9pm. The study cited a multitude of adverts for pizza, burgers and biscuits, and noted that in one episode of The Voice, watched on average by 708,500 children, a takeaway pizza advert was shown at the start and end of every commercial break. The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of 40 health charities and medical organisations which commissioned the study, has called for a ban on sponsorship by brands associated with junk food. Recent figures show a third of children in the country are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
Deprivation of liberty
Doctors, lawyers, health and human rights experts from across Australia have called for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised to at least 14 years. Currently, all states and territories in Australia allow children to be charged, sentenced and imprisoned from the age of 10. The call follows a report from the Royal Commission on protection and detention systems released last month, which found that children detained in the Northern Territory had been subjected to verbal abuse, physical control and humiliation, including being denied access to basic human needs, such as water, food and access to toilets. The report was triggered after footage from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre was aired, showing children being beaten, stripped and sprayed with tear gas. The report called for a fundamental change to the youth justice system, including raising the age of criminal responsibility and developing a shift towards diversion and therapeutic approaches to youth offending. Ruth Barson of the Human Rights Law Centre called the government to action: “[t]he Royal Commission has unequivocally told Australia that primary school aged children should be supported in the community, not siphoned into prisons. Our government must seize this historic opportunity to modernise our youth justice systems or risk another Don Dale.”
A crackdown on drug offences in Cambodia is leading to deteriorating conditions for children detained in prisons with their parents according to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho). More than 13,000 people are reported to have been arrested for drug offences since the beginning of this year, causing serious overcrowding. Licadho reports that there were 102 children and 56 pregnant women being held in the prisons monitored by the group as of July, though figures countrywide are likely to be higher. The organisation reports that mothers are returning to prisons with newborn babies, forced to sleep on cell floors with no additional food, sanitation or after-birth care. Speaking for the NGO, deputy director Naly Pilorge warned of the lasting harm to children brought up in prisons: “[c]hildren become institutionalised as they literally grow up in prison. They witness violence and are exposed to dangerous conditions.” In 2015, the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, called for an end to the practice of detaining pregnant women and women with children living in prisons with them, leading to a number of pardons, but the practice has continued.
A man has been jailed for ten years by a Swedish court after forcing 27 children from the US, Canada and the United Kingdom to perform sex acts on themselves or with other children that he viewed over the internet. The case marked the first time in Sweden that a person has been convicted of rape without having met the victim in person - setting a precedent for such crimes over the internet to be treated as seriously as if they were committed face to face. The 41-year-old Swede found the girls via social media and threatened them unless they committed the sex acts on themselves, on other children or with animals. The children, most under the age of 15, either streamed the acts to the man over the internet or recorded them and sent them later. The man was also sentenced for a large number of acts of online sexual abuse of children and child pornography. As a result of this case, other methods of investigation could be used in future, sentences in similar cases will likely be longer, and the chances of securing compensation for victims is also likely to increase, according to a Swedish prosecutor.
Norwegian police have uncovered 151 alleged sexual assaults, including three cases of child rape, in a small community in Lapland. An investigation was launched after a newspaper published testimonies of 11 men and women claiming to have been assaulted in Tysfjord, a northern municipality located above the Arctic Circle with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. A new police report identified 82 victims, around 70 percent of whom were members of the Sami community. Many were also followers of Laestadianism, a conservative Lutheran revival movement. Two people have so far been charged with ten assaults in total, the police said, adding that more indictments could follow. However, more than 100 of the cases were dropped due to the statute of limitations.
A sports doctor in the United States accused of molesting girls while working for national gymnastics team and Michigan State University pleaded guilty to multiple charges of sexual assault and will face at least 25 years in prison. Dr Larry Nassar, 54, has been charged with molesting seven girls, and faces similar charges and lawsuits filed by more than 125 women and girls. These latest charges followed reports last year about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving the doctor and other coaches. Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom's Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has admitted to child protection failings for allowing a coach to remain in his role for years, despite repeated warnings about his bullying and sexualised conduct, until he sexually abused an underage player and was sent to prison in July. The coach was arrested in December, and pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexual activity with a girl, and one of causing her to engage in sexual activity. Until now, the LTA has never publicly admitted its safeguarding failed.
HIV and AIDS
There will be 3.5 million new cases of HIV among adolescents by 2030 if the current rate of infection continues, according to data compiled by UNICEF and released to mark World AIDS Day. The data shows that the outlook for hundreds of thousands of children and adolescents is bleak unless action is urgently accelerated. The figures show that there are currently 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV, a 30 percent increase from 2005, while 55,000 adolescents aged 10 to 19, and 120,000 children younger than 14, have died from AIDS-related causes. Infected children younger than four years old were found to face the highest risk of AIDS-related deaths compared with other age groups, and nearly all of these adolescent deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, the latest data shows that testing and treatment for children is also insufficient, with fewer than half of HIV-exposed infants getting tested in their first two months of life.
Despite more than half of all children in Kyrgyzstan who are registered as having HIV contracting the disease in hospital, an investigation has found affected families have received little government assistance and support. The cause of the infections was found to be poor hygiene, infected blood transfusions and the re-use of needles and other medical equipment. In total, 14 doctors were charged with causing children to contract the disease, however six were acquitted, while the remaining doctors only served four years of probation. A similar scandal also broke in neighbouring Kazakhstan, where some 100 children were infected with HIV and 21 medical staff were sentenced to prison terms of up to eight years. While the accused doctors in Kyrgyzstan have served their sentences, many are now back practicing medicine, while the affected children and their families remain reliant on the limited assistance provided by NGOs.
THE LAST WORD
“To have a complete stranger decide what was going to happen to my body was horrible. I wasn’t going into female puberty, I didn’t like my body, and I felt really powerless and on top of that, mental anguish. Having to go to court is very time-consuming and costly as well.”
- Australian transgender advocate, recalling her experience of going through court to get permission to access hormone treatment.