The week in children's rights - 1549

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20 September 2017 subscribe | subscribe | submit information
  • In this issue:

    Latest news and reports
    - Inhuman sentencing
    - Education and child protection
    - Sexual abuse
    - Refugees and migrants 

    Upcoming events 

    Employment

    LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS

     

    Inhuman sentencing

    A young man in Saudi Arabia is at imminent risk of execution for an offence he is alleged to have committed as a child. Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was 16 when he was arrested at a checkpoint and accused of offences related to his involvement in anti-government protests in the Eastern Province of the country. Amnesty International reports that Abdulkareem was tortured into confessing, subjected to five months of solitary confinement, beaten and threatened with death during the interrogations. The Supreme Court has upheld the sentence and the execution may be carried out as soon as the sentence is ratified by the king. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners, reportedly having carried out 83 executions so far this year. Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon also remain on death row for their alleged involvement in protests as children. For more information on the death penalty for child offenders in Saudi Arabia, see CRIN’s campaign report.

    The Prime Minister of Iraq has said a German teenager could face the death penalty for her involvement with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. The girl, 16-year-old Linda Wenzel, was found hiding in a basement in Mosul by Iraqi forces during an offensive to drive the militants from the city in July. Wenzel reportedly left home to join IS after talking to extremists online and is believed to have spent around a year in the country. She is currently in a prison in Baghdad, awaiting trial to determine whether or not she will face death by hanging. If tried in Germany, the girl could face a prison term of between one and ten years. The German authorities claim they are working to have her returned, but there is currently no extradition treaty between the two countries. Iraq carried out at least 88 executions by hanging in 2016 and has executed large numbers of people for terrorism offences since reclaiming the city of Mosul from IS. Officials have also reported that as many as 800 children were captured during the battle for the city, and plans are in motion to deport adults and their children who entered the country illegally.

    An Irish man who was arrested in Egypt during a family holiday when he was 17, for allegedly taking part in anti-government protests, has been acquitted of all charges after spending more than four years in prison. Ibrahim Halawa has been detained awaiting trial in the country since he was arrested by Egyptian security forces that stormed the Al-Fath mosque in Cairo in August 2013. He was arrested alongside his three sisters on allegations of inciting violence, riot and sabotage during mass arrests in response to anti-government protests. Though his sisters were released three months later, Halawa has remained in detention for more than four years and, according to human rights organisations that have been working on his case, has been held in solitary confinement and told that he would face execution if convicted. He faced a mass trial with 493 others, the majority of whom were adults. It is not clear when Halawa will be allowed to return home to Ireland.
     

    Education and child protection

    At least 21 students and two teachers died last week in a fire at a religious school in Malaysia, the latest in a string of similar incidents which have raised concerns about safety measures in the country’s unregulated education sector. The fire broke early in the morning and the victims are thought to have been trapped in their dormitory as the windows were covered with metal grilles. Local media reports that the school could have been operating against government regulations, because its fire safety permit application was allegedly still pending. The students, all boys between the ages of 13 and 17 years old, are believed to have died while trying to escape, with reports indicating that the entire upper floor of their school was gutted by the blaze. Malaysia's urban well-being and housing minister said there had been 29 fire incidents at similar religious schools in the country since 2015. On top of concerns about fire safety, an 11-year-old schoolboy died in hospital earlier this year after reportedly being beaten by a warden at a religious school.

    Students and teachers are reported to be taking part in this year’s cotton harvest in Turkmenistan, despite the government’s recent approval of a law supposedly regulating the industry. Many government workers, including doctors, teachers and civil servants, are forced to pick cotton for the government each year, with threats of unemployment or violence reported by those who have tried to resist the state-imposed forced labour. Many schools close during the harvest, and children are often brought to the fields along with adults. As in previous years, international observers have recorded young people stepping onto buses bound for cotton fields rather than schools this season. It was previously reported that 545,000 hectares have been allocated for cotton farming in Turkmenistan this year, from which it is estimated that more than a million tonnes of cotton will be harvested.

    School segregation has been criticised by the Council of Europe’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for its negative impact on minority students and for the damage it does to national education systems as a whole. In his new report on the topic, Nils Muižnieks notes that many European countries continue to deny thousands of children, including children with disabilities, Roma children and refugee or migrant children, equal access to education by keeping them in segregated schools. Muižnieks noted that a lack of awareness about the importance of inclusive education was one of the main barriers to progress, and recommended governments launch campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of school segregation, while stressing the benefits of inclusive education. “This is not a utopian project, but an achievable goal that can ensure more equal treatment of all children and, in the long term, improve social cohesion”, noted the Commissioner. The report sets out 12 recommendations to develop more inclusive education policies, particularly through improved anti-discrimination laws, school desegregation strategies, and better regulation of school admissions.


    Sexual abuse

    The UN has again been accused of mishandling allegations of sexual misconduct against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). Internal documents on 14 cases were leaked to the Code Blue campaign, which show the UN conducted botched investigations. If allegations are found to be credible, it is the responsibility of the alleged perpetrators' home countries to prosecute them, but if the UN decides that the case is not credible, the case is dropped. Code Blue alleges that in eight of the 14 cases, the alleged survivors were not interviewed at all, while ten of the cases were reportedly handled exclusively by UN personnel. One was allegedly carried out by authorities from the alleged perpetrators’ country of origin, while the remaining three were joint investigations. Ten of the 14 cases do not appear on the UN website where data is usually released about sexual misconduct cases, Code Blue said. Sharanya Kanikkannan, a lawyer with Code Blue, said the UN was filtering out complaints in the early stages and throwing out cases before they could be properly investigated, effectively ensuring that there is no access to justice for the vast majority of victims.

    A diplomat from the Holy See in Washington has been recalled to Rome after the US State Department said the priest may have violated laws related to child sex abuse images. The United States notified the Holy See last month of the possible crime, and said they wanted the Vatican to voluntarily lift the official’s diplomatic immunity so that he could face charges. The Vatican refused. Officials from the Holy See said an investigation had been opened and the church was seeking “international collaboration to obtain elements relative to the case”, claiming it would be handled confidentially to begin with. This is not the first time the Vatican has recalled a diplomatic official. In 2013, it recalled its then ambassador to the Dominican Republic following allegations that he sexually abused minors. Józef Wesołowski was defrocked but died before a Vatican trial against him commenced. He never faced court in the Dominican Republic.

    The Supreme Court of Washington state in the United States has ruled that children who take naked pictures of themselves can be found guilty of producing ‘child pornography’. The court upheld the sentence of a young man, then 17, who sent an explicit picture to a woman who he had been harassing for a year with anonymous phone calls. Because he was 17 at the time the defendant was charged with “second-degree dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct”. The court's ruling means that any teenager with a smartphone who engages in sexting could be considered to be producing child sexual abuse imagery. Rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that this move criminalises consensual sexual activity between teens, including sexting. Three members of the court disagreed with the ruling, noting that the defendant was being prosecuted for exploiting himself and that the decision did not consider he has Asperger’s syndrome. The dissenting opinion argued that the law was designed to protect children, but under the majority decision, children who send such pictures to each other could be punished more harshly than an adult who sends such a picture.

     

    Refugees and migrants

    More than half of the 400,000 Rohingya Muslims who have entered Bangladesh from Myanmar are children, UNICEF reported last week, yet by the end of the year an estimated 600,000 children are expected to have crossed the border. The UN’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, accused Myanmar last week of carrying out “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims, after receiving consistent reports of widespread extrajudicial killings, rape and other violations. With the influx of refugees, including over 1,100 unaccompanied children, the Bangladeshi border camps have been overwhelmed and are ill-equipped to provide shelter, food or clean water. Consequently, new settlements are expected to be built in the next week and will include 14,000 new shelters. In the meantime, aid groups working in the border camps have begun a vaccination programme against the threat of measles, rubella and polio for children below the age of 15.

    More than 75 percent of migrant and refugee children trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean face appalling levels of abuse, exploitation and trafficking, according to a new report. Some 22,000 migrants and refugees, including some 11,000 children and young people, were interviewed for the UNICEF-International Organization for Migration joint report, which highlights how under-25s are at higher risk of abuse than older adults. It notes that children from sub-Saharan Africa are targeted more than any other group, and that those who migrate unaccompanied or have lower levels of education are highly vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of traffickers and criminal groups over the course of their journeys. The two organisations are calling for the creation of safe and regular pathways for migration to avoid migrants and refugees resorting to such dangerous journeys.  

    Refugee children are experiencing an education crisis, according to the UN Refugee Agency, with more than 3.5 million aged between five and 17 years old not attending school last year. It reports that only 61 percent of refugee children attend primary school, compared to 91 percent of the world’s children. The agency says the figure drops below 50 percent for refugee children in poor countries, and that far fewer adolescents attend secondary school. In the case of Syrian refugee children, funding appears to be a factor, as millions of dollars pledged by world leaders last year never reached the students and cannot be accounted for, Human Rights Watch has revealed. The missing funding has contributed to around half a million Syrian children being out of school, according to the organisation. It appears that in some cases the funds by donor nations were delivered after the beginning of the school year or were not earmarked specifically for education.
     

    UPCOMING EVENTS

    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: EENET - Enabling Education Network
    Date: 5 October 2017
    Location: Manchester, United Kingdom

    Disability: Pacific Rim Int'l Conference on Disability & Diversity
    Organisation: Center on Disability Studies
    Dates: 9-11 October 2017
    Location: Honolulu, United States

    Health and nutrition: Sion’s 19th International Seminar
    Organisation: International Institute for the Rights of the Child Dates: 9-11 October 2017
    Location: Sion, Switzerland

    Education: Child Rights Public Budgeting
    Organisation: HREA
    Dates: 18 October-1 November 2017
    Location: Online

    Education: Child Rights Situation Analysis
    Organisation: HREA
    Dates: 1 November-12 December 2017
    Location: Online

    Violence: 19 Days of activism for the prevention of violence against children and youth
    Organisation: Women's World Summit Foundation
    Dates: 1-19 November
    Location: Online

    Freedom of expression: Advocacy training surgery
    Organisation: MLDI and IHRDA
    Date: 13 November 2017
    Application deadline: 27 September 2017

    Freedom of expression: Litigation training surgery
    Organisation: MLDI and IHRDA
    Dates: 14-16 November 2017
    Application deadline: 27 September 2017

     

     

    EMPLOYMENT

    EPIM: Call for research proposals - Reception and inclusion of children and youth on the move in Europe
    Application deadline: 18 October 2017
    Location: Negotiable, Europe

     

    THE LAST WORD

    The majority's contrary interpretation of the statutory language produces absurd results. The majority's interpretation punishes children who text sexually explicit depictions of their own bodies to adults far more harshly that it punishes adults who do the same thing. It punishes children who text such depictions of their own bodies to adults even more harshly than adults who text such sexually explicit photos to children. It even punishes the child who is groomed and led into taking such photos and forwarding them to the grooming adult!

    “In short, the majority's interpretation punishes the most vulnerable participant—the depicted child—no matter what personal pressures or personal demons compelled the child to do it. That cannot be what the legislature intended. I therefore respectfully dissent.”


    - Excerpt from Justice Sheryl McCloud's dissenting opinion in State of Washington v. Gray

     
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