In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Recruitment and exploitation
- Juvenile justice
- Sexual abuse
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Recruitment and exploitation
More than 300 children recruited by armed groups in South Sudan have been released in a process which could see hundreds more freed in the coming weeks. A total of 700 children have been screened and registered for release in phases — 563 from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and 137 associated with the Sudan People's Liberation Army In-Opposition. The children are expected to be reunited with their families and given three months' worth of food assistance and psychosocial support, along with the opportunity to go to school as part of a UN programme. The "laying down of the guns" ceremony for 87 girls and 224 boys represents a glimmer of hope for children forced to fight in the country, with 19,000 children believed to have been recruited over the course of the five-year war. The UN has so far secured the release of almost 2,000 children, reporting that more than ten percent of them have been younger than 13.
A journalist who helped to expose the continued use of child labour in Turkmenistan’s cotton harvest has fallen ill as a result of the poor conditions at the labour camp in which he is imprisoned. The reporter, Gaspar Matalaev, is serving a three-year sentence after being arrested in late 2016 for posting evidence of students, teachers and other public sector workers being forced to pick cotton by the government. Monitoring groups say Mataleav’s trial did not meet international standards, and additional charges have since been added to his sentence. According to the latest reports from human rights groups Turkmenistan mobilised huge numbers of children to pick cotton alongside adult public sector staff in 2017 for the first time in a decade, despite international commitments to end the use of forced or compulsory labour.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is set to investigate the government’s detention of more than 60 Indonesian children in adult jails. The children were found on board boats destined for Australia and detained for people-smuggling offences between 2008 and 2012. They were arrested, tried and convicted as adults, often because attempts to verify their age were flawed or insufficient. One 13-year-old was initially sentenced to five years in an adult jail for a minor role in a people-smuggling operation, but was later acquitted. In many cases, police relied on a flawed wrist X-ray technique to establish the children’s age. After being treated as adults by the courts, some of the children spent long periods in adult jails, with one reportedly detained for nearly 800 days. Sam Tierney, a solicitor with a firm representing some of the children, claimed that had the children been Australian “there would be a royal commission and massive changes afoot”.
India’s Supreme Court has criticised the government for the “tardy if not virtual non-implementation” of juvenile justice laws and called for swift action. In a 62-page judgment the court found that the government was turning a deaf ear to the plight of “voiceless if not silenced” children because they have “no voice in the affairs of the State”. The judges decried the current conditions in orphanages and shelters for children, noting towards the end of their judgment that even engaging with the courts as a victim of a crime was often “traumatic” for children. The judgment directed the Ministry of Women and Child Development and all state governments to ensure that positions in national and state commissions for protection of children’s rights were filled promptly and called for the establishment of child-friendly courts among a string of other recommendations.
UN human rights experts have called for the release of Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian girl detained in Israel for slapping and kicking soldiers. This week Tamimi’s trial began behind closed doors with the judge eventually ruling that she would be held until the end of the trial, adjourning the hearing until March. Experts who deal with human rights in the Occupied Palestine Territory and arbitrary detention respectively, noted that children should be deprived of their liberty only as a last resort and called for future hearings to be held in strict accordance with international legal standards. The experts called on the Israeli authorities to respect and ensure basic due process rights, with particular attention to the rights and protections afforded to children. They noted that the girl, who was 16 at the time of her arrest, was arrested in the middle of the night by well-armed soldiers, and then questioned by Israeli security officials without a lawyer or family members present. Although Tamimi’s case has attained an extremely high profile, it is far from unique, with an estimated 500 to 700 Palestinian children tried in Israeli military courts annually.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has announced it will open a preliminary inquiry into alleged extrajudicial killings committed during the Philippines government's crackdown on suspected drug dealers and users. Since the 2016 launch of President Rodrigo Duterte's ‘war on drugs’ up to 60 children had been killed by police, according to Amnesty International. Thousands of people are thought to have died in reported incidents of extrajudicial killings. ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stressed that the inquiry, which was announced alongside one on the alleged use of excessive force in Venezuela during anti-government demonstrations, is "not an investigation", but a process of examining information "in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation". In response, President Duterte's spokesperson, Harry Roque, claims that Duterte has employed "lawful use of force" against threats to the country.
Last week saw dozens more children killed in parts of Syria as conflict in these areas intensified. “The violence shows no sign of abating,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta H Fore, warning that malnutrition has increased fivefold in East Ghouta alone over the past few months. “I am heartbroken by what the children of Syria continue to suffer because of actions taken by adults — actions that show total disregard for the protection, safety and wellbeing of children,” Fore added. She stressed that “Schools, hospitals and playgrounds should be places of safety, never targets.” And that “evacuation of sick and wounded children from besieged areas should be a given, not part of bargaining efforts.”
Two children were killed in gun violence in Brazil last week. In separate incidents, a three-year-old girl was shot dead after an armed gang opened fire on her parents’ car, and a 13-year-old boy died when gun fights broke out during a police operation at the Maré favela, at the north of the city, which is home to about 140,000 people. The area is beset with violence as two rival drug gangs, the Red Command and the Third Pure Command, battle each other and the police for control of Maré, with a smaller area of the favela controlled by criminal groups of former and serving police and firefighters. Alberto Aleixo, from the not-for-profit group Redes da Maré (Maré Networks), said conflict in the area had worsened recently: “Violence is increasing — as much between armed groups as from police operations.” In a new report, Redes da Maré said there were 41 police operations in 2017, which led to schools being closed for 35 days and 42 deaths during shootouts.
The Prime Minister of Australia will offer a national apology to victims of institutional child sexual abuse following a five-year investigation’s findings that seven percent of Catholic priests allegedly sexually abused children between 1950 and 2010. "We owe it to the survivors not to waste this moment and we must continue to be guided by their wishes," Prime Minister Turnbull said. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which issued its final report in December 2017, heard from more than 8,000 people about abuse in more than 4,000 institutions. The report heard of abuse in religious institutions, schools, childcare centres, youth detention facilities, health service centres, in home care, youth clubs, at jobs, sports events and in the armed forces. The commission's report made 409 recommendations, including a lifting of celibacy requirements for Catholic clergy and a requirement to report abuse disclosed in confessions.
Spending by the United Kingdom’s Church of England on issues relating to sexual abuse has increased fivefold since 2014, with the most recent figures showing that it faces more than 3,300 allegations. The disclosure comes as the church prepares to face scrutiny from the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, which starts hearing evidence next month. Professional safeguarding advisers have been appointed to every diocese to deal with disclosures of abuse, but the church’s own lead bishop on safeguarding has said that the pace of change needs to accelerate. The church said that the vast majority of sexual abuse allegations relate to children, young people and vulnerable adults within church communities. Almost one in five of the reports were made against clergy and other church officials, with the rest relating to other members of the congregation who volunteer within the church.
The number of refugee women and child victims of sexual harassment and violence in overcrowded reception centres on the Greek islands is increasing. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that the situation was especially dire on Lesbos and Samos where 5,500 people are living in extremely poor conditions. UNHCR spokesperson Cecile Pouilly said the reception centres on the islands are extremely overcrowded, and offer little or no security to protect them from attack. "In these two centers, bathrooms and latrines are no-go zones after dark for women and children. Even bathing during daytime can be dangerous,” Pouilly said. Last year UNHCR received reports from 622 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, though due to a reluctance to report assaults, the actual number of incidents is probably far higher, with children particularly vulnerable to abuse.
THE LAST WORD
In the midst of a punishing flu season in the United States, evangelical Christian preacher Gloria Copeland has urged the faithful to “inoculate yourself with the word of God
”. Although admittedly flu vaccines are in short supply, no medical experts have so far come forward to recommend the word of God as a suitable alternative, suggesting that medicine, hand washing and rest are better options.
By the start of January this year, more than 50 child deaths were linked
to the flu across the country. In the Copeland family’s home state of Texas, nearly 14.5 percent of hospital and doctor visits during the last week of January were reportedly for flu-related symptoms — perhaps they’re simply not praying hard enough.