In this issue:
- Sexual abuse
- Deprivation of liberty
- Sexual and reproductive health and rights
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Following a high profile case involving the sexual abuse of a toddler, the President of Chile has backed plans to remove the statute of limitations on sexual offences against minors. The action came just days after a 20-month-old child was brought to a Chilean hospital with signs of severe physical abuse, dying shortly after being admitted. Chile currently has a five-or 10-year statute of limitations on sexual abuse involving children, which varies according to the nature of the crime, but new measures are set to remove time limits on prosecution entirely. The draft law will be brought before Chile's lower House of Congress with "extreme urgency", President Sebastian Pinera said. Last year Chile’s prosecutor’s office received 22,540 complaints about sexual abuse, with children and teenagers representing the largest single group of victims.
A Vietnamese victim of child slavery has launched legal proceedings against the government of the United Kingdom after he was sexually assaulted at an immigration removal centre. The Home Office has admitted that the boy, then 16, was being detained illegally when he was attacked by another inmate. The boy, known as H, had already been recognised as a potential victim of child trafficking at the time of the assault and was held for a further six months after the attack. Following interventions by law firm Duncan Lewis, the Home Office confirmed that H was a victim of modern slavery but refused to release him and has continued to try to deport him back to Vietnam. H is now in a safe house for victims of trafficking and has been released on bail from immigration detention, but his application to stay in the UK has been rejected. The appeal to have this decision reversed forms part of the judicial review against the Home Office.
Australia’s most senior Catholic and the controller of the Vatican’s finances in Rome, Cardinal George Pell, has pleaded not guilty after he was ordered to stand trial over historical sexual offence allegations. Though many of the most serious allegations against Pell were dismissed by a Melbourne magistrates’ court a number of charges were ordered to go to trial. The nature of those allegations cannot be detailed for legal reasons, but Pell’s defence team claimed that one group of charges was “substantially different” to another group, indicating that they might push for separate trials as a result. Since the announcement the Archdiocese of Sydney has run ads in its news publication, the Catholic Weekly, seeking donations to fund Pell’s legal costs. Dr Judy Courtin, a lawyer representing alleged victims of child sexual abuse called the move "utter hypocrisy", adding "Churches should be putting more pressure on the government to reform laws to give victims equal access to the courts and to set aside profoundly unjust deeds of release”.
Deprivation of liberty
Aboriginal elders in Australia
have called for the New South Wales government to commit to expanding a pilot youth court programme
after an evaluation found it halved the amount of time young people spent in detention. The Koori court began as a pilot project at a children’s court in February 2015 but has not received ongoing funding. The programme only admitted young offenders at risk of jail time, who had pleaded guilty to their charges and volunteered to be sentenced through the Koori court. This court defers sentencing for six to 12 months to allow for a period of intensive case management, and at the end of the deferral period, young people had a celebratory “graduation day” from the programme and received their deferred sentence. An evaluation of the programme released by the University of Western Sydney found it cut the average time spent in youth detention and helped address issues such as unstable accommodation, lack of engagement in education and employment, and disconnection from Aboriginal culture.
In the United States
the Oklahoma legislature has passed a bill which, if signed into law by the state governor, would make it easier for children to receive life without parole sentences
. The law would scale back protections put in place by the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals that requires a jury to find that a child is beyond rehabilitation before these sentences can be imposed. Under the new rules, children would lose the right to jury sentencing, while adults who commit the same crimes would still have that right. Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Colorado have all eliminated life without parole sentences for children. Jody Kent Lavy, from The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth said the bill went against the growing national consensus against these types of punishments for children. She added: “Not only has the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in almost all cases, but the number of states to ban life without parole has quadrupled in just the last six years, with traditionally conservative states leading the way”.
There has been a dramatic
rise in the number of pregnant women and children in prison in Cambodia
following the recent escalation in the government’s ‘war on drugs’. In 2017, a total of 179 children were in prison, representing an almost six-fold increase on the figure for 2015. The trend looks set to continue, and even to worsen as 149 children have been reported as living in prison during the first three months of this year. Many of the women have been imprisoned for low-level drug offences, the most common being possession of small quantities of methamphetamine. In Cambodia, children born to incarcerated mothers can remain with them in the prison until they turn three years old. Growing up in overcrowded and dirty cells stunts the children's development, with children being limited to small spaces or confined to lie in hammocks all day. Naly Pilorge from Licadho, an organisation that works in prisons noted that food, drinking water, medical services, legal representation and sanitary items are “extremely scarce” in most Cambodian prisons, with bribes expected for extra food or better sleeping arrangements.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights
Politicians in El Salvador have failed to consider proposals that would have decriminalised abortion in some circumstances. Abortion is a crime in the Catholic-majority nation, with access to abortion governed by strict laws that rights groups say put women’s lives in danger. A lifting of the ban would have been particularly important for children, as it is estimated that almost a third of all pregnancies in El Salvador are among girls aged 10 to 18, with many the result of incest or rape at the hands of someone known to the girl. In April the United Nations called on El Salvador to revise the law and review all such cases in which women had been jailed, but as a conservative-majority Congress takes over next week many regard the window for reform as at least temporarily shut. About 25 women are in prison accused of abortion-related crimes even though rights groups say they actually suffered miscarriages, stillbirths or pregnancy complications.
Lawmakers in Zimbabwe have the opportunity to overturn discriminatory provisions in the country’s colonial-era public health laws during an upcoming parliamentary debate. Amnesty International has called on the government to remove age barriers for sexual and reproductive health services and information, and to ensure third party permission for accessing these services is not required, during the upcoming parliamentary debate on the Public Health Act Amendment Bill. The organisation alleges that adolescent girls bear the brunt of existing discrimination and could be worse off if the law limits legal capacity to consent to receiving health services and information to those aged 18 or older. Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa noted: “The reality is that many adolescents are sexually active before they are 18 and the government must act to ensure that they can access the services and advice they need to help safeguard their health and their futures”.
THE LAST WORD
“Lawmakers have failed to fulfil their obligations because they have not guaranteed the constitutional right to health and life of girls and women,”
— Statement from Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion after El Salvador's government failed to decriminalise abortion.