In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Juvenile justice in Italy
- Civil and political rights
- Armed conflict
- Sex education
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Juvenile justice in Italy
A law which would effectively abolish Italy’s system of youth courts has been roundly criticised by human rights experts, NGOs and more than 26,000 people online. The new legislation, proposed by Italian Minister of Justice, Andrea Orlando, would fold the specialised juvenile justice system into the adult justice system, undoing the progress Italy has made towards treating children fairly in court. Since the International Association of Youth and Family Judges and Magistrates first drew attention to the law earlier this year, many academics, magistrates and NGOs in Italy have moved to oppose it, with nearly 400 experts signing onto an open letter, and tens of thousands of people later signing an online petition aimed at saving the youth justice system. UNICEF Italy, Defence for Children International and Terre des hommes are among those expressing their concerns about the move. Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, also wrote to the President of the Italian Senate in May to say that Italy would be taking “a step in the wrong direction” if it passed the new law. To sign the petition and help stop the abolition of Italy’s youth courts, click here.
Civil and political rights
Authorities across Russia have harassed and intimidated schoolchildren and older students who participated in anti-corruption demonstrations across 90 cities after a larger-than-expected youth turnout. Human Rights Watch reports that officials also harassed and intimidated parents for allowing children to take part in protests. In Moscow alone, authorities arrested 70 children, the majority of whom police questioned, with some facing administrative charges. Opposition candidate Alexei Navalny, who intends to stand for the Russian presidency next year, was among a reported 1,750 people arrested and will spend 30 days in jail. Other reports have claimed that education officials in several towns required high school students to watch films criticising Navalny during classes, or lectured students against participating in public demonstrations critical of the government. The speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Valentina Matvienko, went as far as suggesting the government ban children from unsanctioned gatherings, ignoring their rights to free assembly and association.
Authorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region are trying to stop their Muslim Uyghur citizens from fasting and praying during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan by embedding Chinese officials in their homes. While authorities typically try to force restaurants to stay open and restrict access to mosques during Ramadan to discourage religious activity, some local officials are now taking more drastic steps and assigning officials to monitor Muslim families. Officials staying with Uyghur households aim to ensure that families neither fast nor pray. A farmer, who asked to remain anonymous, told journalists that officials had been embedded in his village since the day before Ramadan began and will be there for up to 15 days. Authorities have also been forcing Uyghur civil servants and government retirees who receive a state pension to sign a document pledging that they will neither fast nor pray during Ramadan as a condition of receiving their pension.
Also in China, a school has caused controversy by arranging for 16 HIV-positive students to take an exam in separate classrooms to other pupils. The students will sit China's university entrance exam in two classroom turned exam rooms at the country's only school for children with HIV. The school’s principal said the decision to set separate exam rooms was out of care for the children who were infected with HIV from mother-to-child transmission. However, after many years working against HIV and AIDS discrimination, the school underestimated growing acceptance of people with HIV. Wang Linghang, a doctor with Beijing Ditan Hospital, told Beijing News that: "Separate exam rooms objectively create a discriminatory atmosphere," adding that "Obviously, there is no transmission risk when HIV students take the exams together with other candidates."
A girl in Ireland who sought an abortion was detained under the country’s Mental Health Act because her treating psychiatrist said terminating the pregnancy “was not the solution”. The child was deemed to be at risk of suicide as a result of the pregnancy, but medical professionals claimed this could be managed by other treatment. When a second psychiatrist assessed the girl it was determined that she presented as being depressed, but there was no evidence of a psychological disorder, meaning she should not still be detained. The second psychiatrist accepted that the state of the child’s mental health was difficult to ascertain on admission because both she and her mother had thought they were being transferred to Dublin for an abortion, and the child was very agitated when she found that she was being admitted to a mental health unit. The case was revealed in the first new set of cases released by the Child Care Law Reporting Project for 2017.
At least 15 children have died in rural South Sudan in a botched measles vaccination campaign that allegedly saw 12-year-olds administering some vaccinations. Reports also suggest that health workers administering vaccines used the same syringe for as long as four days without sterilising it, and failed to store the vaccine properly. An investigation supported by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF found that the deaths were caused by severe toxicity resulting from the administration of a contaminated vaccine. The government said all of the children who died were under the age of five, and it is also setting up a commission to determine who is responsible and whether victims’ families will be compensated. The measles vaccination campaign is targeting more than two million children across the country and about 300 children were targeted in the area where these deaths occurred.
As many as 40,000 children are trapped in extremely dangerous conditions in Raqqa, Syria, as fighting intensifies in and around the city. UNICEF has reported that “many are caught in the crossfire,” noting that as many as 25 children were reportedly killed and scores injured during fighting in the city in recent days, while as many as 80,000 children remain internally displaced. Hospitals and schools have also come under attack, and those attempting to flee face injury or death in many cases. Little humanitarian assistance has reached Raqqa due to violence and access restrictions imposed by the so-called Islamic State, which has controlled the area since 2014. Concerns for the safety of civilians living in the city reemerged recently after a coalition of fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the United States, began an operation to retake the city from the so-called Islamic State. Airstrikes carried out by the US and the use of white phosphorous munitions are being closely monitored by human rights groups over fears that civilians will bear the brunt of these attacks. UN war crimes investigators have also said that intensified US-led coalition airstrikes against IS fighters in Raqqa are causing a “staggering loss of civilian life”.
Increasing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) central Kasai province has prompted calls for an investigation from the UN human rights chief. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged the Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation into serious rights abuses in the region, including summary executions, killings and recruitment of children, and sexual violence, claiming that the State’s response had been “consistently inadequate”. UNICEF also issued a warning, saying the ongoing violence has severely disrupted the education of 150,000 children, with at least 400 dead and an estimated 1.3 million people forced to leave their homes. The government of the DRC responded to the demands dismissively, with Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa stating that: "As far as the violence recorded in the Grand Kasai provinces go, including the murder of two UN experts and the police officers beheaded by the Kamwina Nsapu [militia], the Congolese judicial system will retain charge of the investigations".
The Malaysian government has dropped a category on preventing “gender identity disorder” and homosexuality from a sex education video competition, following outcry from LGBT+ activists. The competition, which offers up to US$1,000 in prizes to 13 to 24-year-olds who submit the winning videos, will now focus on three categories: gender and sexuality, sexual health and sex and the internet. The health ministry decided to change the competition guidelines, which described LGBT+ people as suffering from “gender confusion” and called for videos to depict the “consequences” of being LGBT and how to "prevent, control and [...] seek help". The move was made after meetings with ministry officials, the Malaysian AIDS Council, experts and representatives from "key population groups". Homosexual activity is illegal in Malaysia under both secular and religious laws, and is punishable by a prison sentence or corporal punishment. Transgender activist Nisha Ayub welcomed the changes to the competition and highlighted the need to “create a safe space for discussions and raise awareness”.
Secondary school sex education in Thailand is failing to equip teenagers with critical sexuality skills, according to a new UNICEF-supported study. The research looked at the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme implemented in almost every school in the country and found that important topics such as sexual rights, gender equality and diversity were often neglected in favour of a narrow focus on biology and abstinence. Rather than building communication and critical thinking skills, teaching on the programme was found to have too much emphasis on delivering information, leaving many students with misguided attitudes about gender roles and domestic violence. According to the report, 41 percent of male vocational school students in Thailand believe that a husband has the right to physically assault his wife if she is unfaithful, and only 54 percent of female students in secondary schools said they were confident they could always insist on their partner’s use of a condom. UNICEF’s Chief of Education, Hugh Delaney, called for improved training, increased classroom time and a more comprehensive CSE curriculum to promote critical thinking about gender roles.
Educators in the United Kingdom have dismissed claims that cutting spending on sex education is the key to reducing teenage pregnancies. A new study from academics at Nottingham and Sheffield universities claims that government cuts to sex education spending in 2010 accelerated the fall in teenage pregnancy rates, finding that the decline was steepest in areas where the cuts to spending had been the most dramatic. Sexual health campaigners are questioning the truth of these claims, pointing to the 50 percent reduction in national rates of teenage pregnancy between 2000 and 2015, as well as the fact that local authorities continued sex and relationships education initiated under a teenage pregnancy strategy in 2000 even after the spending cuts in 2010. The UK continues to have one of the highest teenage birth rates in western Europe despite the fall in recent years, and sexual health advocates are concerned that further cuts to sex education will result in poorer sexual health. They stress that sex and relationships education, rather than encouraging risky behaviour, increases the likelihood of using contraception at first sex, improves the ability to recognise and report abuse, and reduces the age gap between sexual partners.
Environment: Seminar on Urban Planning and Children
Organisations: Child in the City Foundation & European Network for Child Friendly Cities
Dates: 19-20 June 2017
Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands
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
Date: 9-11 October 2017
Location: Honolulu, United States
Plan International: Human Rights and Gender Advocacy Intern
Application deadline: 14 June 2017
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Plan International: Human Rights Intern
Application deadline: 14 June 2017
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Defence for Children International: Project Officer - Advocacy and Outreach
Application deadline: 15 June 2017
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
UNICEF Turkey: Consultancy on Protection for Children
Application deadline: 16 June 2017
Location: Ankara, Turkey
THE LAST WORD
“Transferring the competencies of dedicated courts and prosecutors to ordinary judicial bodies is likely to lead to a dilution of the capacity of judges and prosecutors to pay adequate and specific attention to children’s needs.”
“The primary aim of juvenile justice is ensuring the protection of the rights of children who come into contact with judicial authorities, whether as offenders, victims and witnesses of crimes, in order to seek redress for rights infringements or to safeguard their interests.”
-- Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, in a letter to the Italian Senate opposing the move to incorporate the juvenile justice system into the adult justice system.