In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Health and environment
- Child protection
- Slavery and exploitation
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Health and environment
Children from Leiria, the region of Portugal struck by fires this summer in which 60 people died, are crowdfunding a legal challenge against the European States’ failure to tackle climate change. Supported by the Global Legal Action Network, six children are seeking to bring a challenge to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), alleging that this failure amounts to a violation of their rights under the European Convention on Human rights. Marc Willers QC, the lawyer leading the action, claims that it would be the first challenge to bring multiple governments before the court for inaction over climate change. The ECtHR has jurisdiction to hear human rights complaints against the 47 members of the Council of Europe. It is usually necessary to file a case through national courts before approaching the ECtHR, but the complaint aims to directly target the court, arguing that the remedy can only be achieved at the multinational level. Council of Europe Member States account for an estimated 15 percent of all global emissions.
It has been more than two years since the first lead contamination cases emerged in the city of Flint, United States and many residents are still unable to drink their tap water. In 2014, the city began pumping water from the Flint river to combat a shortfall, but because the water was not properly treated, it corroded ageing pipes causing lead to leach into drinking water. The health effects on children ingesting lead include impaired cognition, behavioural disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty. A recent unpublished study also found that foetal deaths increased 58 percent during the water crisis. A US District Court approved a settlement earlier this year requiring the state of Michigan to set aside $97 million to replace pipes in Flint and reconnect water for at least 18,000 Flint homes by 2020. In the meantime, many households remain reliant on bottled water for drinking and washing, but as the crisis continues, it has emerged that Nestlé is applying to pump 210 million gallons of water from the nearby town of Evart, paying only $200 per year for administration costs.
A man in France who had sexual intercourse with an 11-year-old girl will not face rape charges after prosecutors deemed the girl had consented. The 28-year-old man met the girl in a park in a Paris suburb and convinced her to go back to his apartment, where he is accused of sexually abusing her. Her family insisted that the man be charged with rape, as the girl was "paralysed" by fear and "unable to defend herself". But prosecutors decided to only charge the man with sexual abuse of a minor (atteinte sexuel) on the basis that “there was no violence, no constraint, no threat, and no surprise" on the part of the man to justify the charge of rape. Critics say French law supports this reasoning in adult cases, but it does not take into account cases of children under 15, which is the age of sexual consent. One expert on similar cases said “submitting was not consenting”, and that rape victims sometimes “switch off”. Some rights groups have called for the French legal system to introduce a legal age under which sexual consent is never presumed. Ruling on a similar case in 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court said that age difference, the evolution of a relationship, and the older person’s degree of control or influence over the younger are important factors in determining consent.
Reports of suspected child abuse in Japan have reached a record high in the first half of 2017, exceeding the 30,000 mark for the first time since comparable data became available in 2011. According to the National Police Agency, the increase in reported cases may be due to increased public awareness, prompting people to notify authorities of potential child abuse. The number of children who suffered psychological and verbal abuse accounted for more than 70 percent of the total at 21,406. Among them, the number of those who witnessed acts of violence in their homes increased fivefold to 13,859 from the first half of 2012. The figure for physical abuse stood at 5,723, neglect at 3,036, and sexual abuse at 97. Child victims in criminal cases stood at 519, including 27 deaths. Criminal investigations were launched mostly on physical abuse cases. In 61 out of the 72 sexual abuse cases, a family member was the alleged perpetrator.
Tanzania’s Attorney General George Masaju has appealed against the July 2016 High Court ruling raising the minimum age for girls to marry from 15 to 18. The court had struck out Sections 13 and 17 of the Law of Marriage Act which allowed girls to marry at the age of 14 with court consent and at 15 with parental consent, whereas for boys the minimum age was 18. Masaju filed his appeal at the Court of Appeal this month, in which he argues that the High Court erred in its judgement by equalising the marriage age of boys and girls and declaring Sections 13 and 17 of the 1971 Law of Marriages Act irrelevant in today’s era. The appeal also challenges the ruling that customary and Islamic laws do not apply in matters of marriage stated in the law. The organisation Girls Not Brides labelled the move by the Attorney General as ‘disappointing’.
A youth activist in Russia has been charged with sharing “gay propaganda” for reposting articles from a sexual and reproductive rights organisation on Facebook and social networking site VKontakte. Evdokia Romanova, who works at the Samara Regional Public LGBT Movement also known as Avers, was charged in July with violating the law prohibiting "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors". Romanova had shared links to publications by the International Youth Coalition for Sexual Reproductive Rights and articles about LGBT rights by The Guardian and BuzzFeed. If convicted, Romanova could be fined up to 100,000 rubles, or $1,750. "I am not even sure [the] people who have charged me understood the content of the posts I've shared," said Romanova, who believed the articles were read via Google Translate. In June the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia's "gay propaganda" law, which bans giving children any information about homosexuality, is discriminatory and fuels homophobia. Romanova’s trial was initially set to be held on 18 September, but was postponed.
Interventions to challenge gender stereotyping should happen earlier according to new research, with new a study describing children as ”straitjacketed” into gender roles from early adolescence. “We found children at a very early age – from the most conservative to the most liberal societies – quickly internalise this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent,” said Robert Blum, director of the Global Early Adolescent Study. “And this message is being constantly reinforced at almost every turn, by siblings, classmates, teachers, parents, guardians, relatives, clergy and coaches,” he added. Much of it is about girls’ sexuality, the authors say, with pubertal boys viewed as predators and girls as potential victims. There is a constant emphasis on girls’ physical appearance, both as an asset and as a risk, and messages like ‘do not sit like that, do not wear that’ are directed only at them. But boys are not unscathed, says the report, which notes that they engage in and are the victims of physical violence more so than girls, they die more frequently, and are at greater risk of substance abuse and suicide.
More than half of all schools in Nigeria’s Borno state remain closed, with three million children estimated to be in need of emergency education support, UNICEF has said. Borno is at the epicentre of the country’s conflict with Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has resulted in more than 2,295 teachers being killed, and 19,000 being displaced across the region since 2009. Almost 1,400 schools have been destroyed with the majority unable to reopen due to extensive damage or because they are in areas that remain unsafe. The use of children as human bombs has sown a climate of mistrust among communities in the northeast, and a cholera outbreak has affected more than 3,900 people, including over 2,450 children. “In addition to devastating malnutrition, violence and an outbreak of cholera, the attacks on schools are in danger of creating a lost generation of children, threatening their and the country's future,” UNICEF said in a statement.
As the 2017-2018 school year begins, more than 1.5 million children across West and Central Africa are at risk of going to school hungry or dropping out altogether, due to the lack of financing for nourishing school meals, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has said. With a funding gap of $76 million for its regional programme, the WFP has had to drastically shrink its coverage, despite being the sole or main provider of school meals in many areas of the region. The repercussions of this meal shortage are dramatic, since the WFP-provided lunches and snacks are the only meal many children eat all day. “This is a crisis for education, but also a crisis for nutrition and food security which are the fundamental pillars of development,” said Abdou Dieng, West and Central Africa Regional Director of the WFP. Studies show the meals help improve attendance and performance rates. They are also a key incentive for parents to send their children – particularly girls – to school and to keep them there.
A tribunal in Melbourne, Australia, has ruled that a Christian school unlawfully discriminated against a young Sikh boy, when it refused to accept him as a student if he wore his traditional headwear. In keeping with his family's religion, the five-year-old has never cut his hair and wears a traditional patka on his head. His parents applied to enrol him at Melton Christian College in 2016, but the school told them that its uniform policy required boys to have short hair and not wear headwear from a non-Christian faith. The child’s father alleged the school's decision disadvantaged his son on the basis of his religious beliefs while the school argued it had not prevented the child from enrolling and had only told the family he would have to comply with the uniform policy. Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal member Julie Grainer ruled that the school had excluded the boy from enrolling, and had "indirectly discriminated" against him, in contravention of the Equal Opportunity Act. The tribunal is yet to decide what orders, if any, will be made following her ruling.
Slavery and exploitation
Many children in the United Kingdom are forced to work in cannabis factories and commit street crimes, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). In the last decade, the organisation has received more than 2,000 referrals relating to child trafficking cases, with domestic servitude and exploitation for sex or labour flagged as main concerns. The charity reported that Vietnamese children made up a fifth of all those referred to its Child Trafficking Advice Centre since it was set up ten years ago, noting that the secretive nature of modern-day slavery means that the number of referrals likely represents a small fraction of child victims in the country. The NSPCC has called for increased training among professionals to better identify warning signs, as well as the creation of a single international database to improve child protection efforts.
More than 40 million people, mostly women and girls, were trapped as slaves last year, according to a joint effort to quantify the number of victims worldwide by anti-slavery groups. An estimated 24.9 million people were trapped in forced labour while 15.4 million others were trapped in forced marriages. Almost one quarter of slaves were children, while three quarters were women and girls. The report shows modern slavery to be most prevalent in Africa, followed by Asia and the Pacific. Unlike previous estimates, the findings explicitly include people forced into marriage, seen to be a kind of sexual slavery but often excluded from discussions about modern slavery. A separate report released by the International Labour Organization showed 152 million children to be working, with almost half of those engaged in hazardous work. The anti-slavery groups have called for stronger labour rights, improved governance of migrants, action to address root causes of debt bondage, and better victim identification. The findings were based on surveys conducted in 48 countries and interviews with more than 71,000 people.
CRAE: Senior Policy & Public Affairs Advisor
Application deadline: 16 October 2017
Location: London, United Kingdom
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
Course: International Children’s Rights
Application deadline: 1 April 2018 (non-EU) / 15 June 2018 (EU students)
Dates: September 2017 - Summer 2018
Location: Leiden, The Netherlands
THE LAST WORD
Secondary school students in Saudi Arabia learned this month that King Faisal signed the United Nations Charter in 1945 while sitting next to a tiny green alien. Jedi Master Yoda, a Star Wars character renowned for his wisdom and patience, was shown in a photo reproduced in school textbooks after an error by the country’s now-fired under-secretary for curricula.
Yoda was immortalised in a social studies textbook alongside King Faisal in an archive photo of the 1945 signing. The image was originally created by Saudi artist Abdullah al-Sheri, who edits symbols of pop culture onto archive photos of historic events. The man behind the image said that he “paired up the king and Yoda because both were intelligent and because Yoda’s green skin and green lightsaber matched the green of the Saudi flag”.
The book has since been recalled and printing has begun on an amended version, with a legal committee being formed to investigate the oversight. For those affected, particularly children who have internalised this version of history, Yoda has already offered some words of wisdom. In 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back he prophetically told one student: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”