In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Sexual abuse
- Health and reproductive rights
- Voting and participation
- Privacy and education
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
A request to launch a class-action lawsuit against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada and the United States has been filed in Quebec alleging that the church failed to protect children from sexual abuse. Filed against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the parent company of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada and the organisation’s American headquarters, the complaint accuses it of setting up an organisation that permitted authority figures to commit sexual abuse with impunity. In particular, the complaint argues that the religious organisation “created an environment that protects sexual assailants of minors” by “hindering denunciation to secular authorities” including the police and Quebec’s Directorate of Youth Protection. The complaint includes two groups of complainants, those alleging that they were abused by church elders and those reporting abuse committed by members of the congregation. The Superior Court of Quebec will now decide whether the complaint is sufficiently substantiated to authorise the class action.
French Cardinal, Philippe Barbarin is set to go on trial in April next year accused of covering up sexual abuse committed by a priest in his diocese. The Cardinal is accused of failing to report the priest Bernard Preynat to authorities in 2014, after a former scout accused the priest of abusing him during the 1980s. Preynat was allowed to remain in his post until the year after the allegation, and continued to have contact with children. Barbarin is the most senior Catholic leader in France to be tried for failing to report a priest accused of committing sexual abuse and will stand trial with six others, including a bishop and archbishop. The case is not the first of its kind in France — in 2001, a bishop was given a three-month suspended jail sentence for failing to inform authorities about a priest accused of sexually abusing children.
The Associated Press has published the results of its investigation into sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), based on interviews with victims and affected communities. The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC is the largest in the world, and of the 2,000 complaints of sexual abuse and exploitation made against the UN over the past 12 years, 700 occurred in the country. The report documents the experiences of those abused by peacekeepers, many of whom have been unable to access support and rehabilitation and have faced stigma within their communities. Victims themselves as well as the children born as a result of rape have found themselves excluded from their communities. The UN has substantiated at least 41 cases of paternity worldwide since 2010, but published figures indicate only one instance in which paternity payments have been made. Ahead of this year's General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General appointed Jane Connors as the first Victims’ Rights Advocate to support the UN’s response to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, including providing remedies to victims.
Health and reproductive rights
Air pollution levels have plummeted
in cities across Bolivia
, as the country marked a nationwide car-free day in which all non-emergency vehicles were banned from the roads. The number of cars clogging city streets has increased over the past ten years in line with a rise in the country’s middle-class population. The car-free day started 18 years ago in Cochabamba, one of Latin America’s five most polluted cities, and has gradually taken root across the country. “The difference in air quality is noticeable. It [pollution] drops to almost zero when normally it can rise as high as 100 parts per cubic metre,” said Jorge Martin Villarroel, director of the environmental charity PAAC
. Cochabamba now has three pedestrian days a year, including the national day, while Bolivia’s highland city of Potosí recently set up four. Andres Clares, 16, agreed, saying: “I really like walking at least one day without cars. It’s quieter and the air is so much fresher.”
Advocates of women and girls’ reproductive rights in Cuba
say boys and girls should receive better sex education
to prevent abortion being seen as a contraceptive method when other non-invasive methods are available. Abortions in the country have been provided by the health service for free for over half a century. Access to abortion brought benefits for women and girls, said sociologist Reina Fleitas, “The most important has been the drop in maternal mortality,” which she also labelled “an example of gender focus in health”. For many years abortion was the only form of contraception used by Cuban women and girls until modern contraceptives were introduced and became more widespread. Experts say that there should be better use of contraceptives, in view of which they say sex education during adolescence should be improved, as should the implementation of health policy.
A new study has found excessive levels of the Mercury
, which can seriously harm unborn children, in women in parts of the world due to gold mining, industrial pollution and fish-rich diets. The study
covering 25 countries found the most extreme levels were found in women from sites in Indonesia
where mercury is heavily used in small-scale gold mining and where fish is also commonly eaten. Serious mercury pollution from gold-mining was also found in Kenya
. Industrial pollution leading to mercury poisoning affected women in Nepal
. “Millions of women and children in communities mining gold with mercury are condemned to a future where mercury impairs the health of adults and damages the developing brains of their offspring,” said Yuyun Ismawati, an Indonesian woman from Ipen
, the coalition of NGOs that produced the scientific report. A global agreement to tackle mercury pollution, the Minamata Convention
, came into force in August and intends to limit the use of mercury in many products from 2020.
Voting and participation
As many as 8,500 children could be added to the electoral roll in Malta thanks to proposals to lower the voting age for national elections and elections to the European Parliament. The country already allows 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, and the country’s Labour Party has pledged to give older children the power to vote in national elections in their 2017-2022 manifesto. As part of the process, Parliamentary Secretary for Reform, Julia Farrugia Portelli, launched a consultation document on voting rights for over-16s, called “Vote 16: Empowering Youth”. The document also asks whether 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to contest local elections, with the possibility of becoming mayors. Expressing her support for the legal change, the country’s Commissioner for Children, Pauline Miceli, said: “it is important to empower the young generation by facilitating the involvement in decisions that directly affect them and society at large.”
The Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) has also taken on the issue of children’s right to vote, launching a new campaign to lower the voting age to 16. The organisation has been lobbying for the lowering of the voting age for seven years, but Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire has claimed there are no plans to give 16 and 17-year-olds a political voice by enfranchising them. NIYF Chairperson Tara Grace Connolly said: "It is ironic that you can join a political party at 16 but can’t actually vote for it. Young people at this age can get married, pay taxes, have a job, leave school, consent to medical treatment, and start a family but they cannot vote”. Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, also expressed her support for reform and spoke at the Votes for 16 campaign launch, saying that there was “no reason to deny them the vote”.
Germany’s recent general election also saw calls to extend the right to vote to under-18s. Children aged 16 years old and over can currently vote in municipal elections, but three of the main political parties expressed support to lower the voting age to 16 for federal elections. Worryingly, however, Peter Altmaier, chief of staff at the German Chancellery, said he found the idea of 16-year-olds having the right to vote "chilling." Read more about children’s right to vote.
Privacy and education
Cyber security experts say that a new app which monitors children’s activities on their smartphone in South Korea is actually a reproduction of a previous model that was removed from the market after it was found that children’s personal information could be leaked. Parents in the country are required by law to install monitoring software on children’s smartphones, which filter and block objectionable content or send alerts to parents if children swear or talk about issues like sex or bullying. Some systems even allow parents to control the apps on their child's phone and even schedule when the phone can be used. Internet watchdogs Citizen Lab and Cure53 say the new "Cyber Security Zone" app is almost identical to a previous system, "Smart Sheriff", which had security flaws allowing children's personal details and browsing activities to be leaked or for the phone to be hacked. "The flaws in the apps open the door to possible breaches of sensitive information including passwords, phone numbers, and other user data," Citizen Lab said in a statement. Critics have raised concerns over children’s privacy rights, as they said the South Korean law legalised surveillance of children.
UNESCO says there is a global “learning crisis”, as schoolchildren are not achieving the minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. The agency made the conclusion in a new report, which found that 617 million children were lagging behind in these subjects. Two-thirds of the children who are not learning are in school. Poor quality of education is among the main problems, the report suggests. Failure to retain children in school and a lack of access to school are also cited. Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, said the new data represents a “waste of human potential” and is a “wake-up call” for much more investment in the quality of education.
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
Just for Kids Law: Chief Executive Officer
Application deadline: 18 October 2017
Location: London, United Kingdom
THE LAST WORD
A senior member of Germany’s governing political party recently expressed his horror at the fact that under-18s can vote in municipal elections in the country. Upon being asked whether children should be allowed to vote in federal elections, Peter Altmaier, chief of staff at the German Chancellery, said he finds the idea of 16-year-olds having the right to vote in local elections as "chilling."
Perhaps his horror stems from the paternalistic idea of all under-18s being irrational, incompetent and unable to make an informed decision -- qualities that we all know suddenly evaporate the second we hit 18. Altmaier, and others like him, seem to be in need of a friendly reminder: that their jobs are seated in institutions founded on democratic values and political equality, and that disenfranchising millions of young people because of their age directly offends those democratic principles. But if that’s too hard to understand, not to worry, as Altmaier’s comments may have just made the who-to-vote-for decision much easier for future over-18s...