In this issue:
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Men and boys are routinely sexually abused during detention in Syria, according to survivors now living in refugee camps. Their testimonies were collected in a new UN refugee agency report that highlights how sexual violence and torture is being used against men and boys in detention to inflict deep psychological wounds and using cultural taboos to create feelings of shame and stigmatisation. The use of sexualised torture against men and boys is partially explained by the country’s strict gender roles and the country’s rules against same-sex sexual activity. Those who survive are often left to deal with serious injuries and may be shunned by their families and communities, with some even being threatened with death. Discussing the difficulties with finding help, one interviewee said: “A man would never speak of this. Why should he? We know that everyone in jail is raped – it is normal”. The report goes on to call for improved support for, and advocacy on behalf of, male victims of sexual violence and torture, as well as stressing the need for more data on the issue to be collected.
An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) has shed light on the scale of sexual abuse of children in Pakistan’s religious schools. Although the problem has been spotlighted before, clerics remain a powerful force in most communities, and the issue is still rarely discussed or acknowledged in public. Two officials who spoke to AP claimed that what was happening in madrasas across the country was comparable to the abuse of children by Catholic priests in other countries. "There are thousands of incidences," one explained, "I am not sure what it will take to expose the extent of it. It's very dangerous to even try". Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousaf reportedly dismissed the suggestion that sexual abuse is widespread, while the Interior Ministry, which oversees madrasas, refused all requests for an interview. More than 22,000 registered madrasas or Islamic schools in Pakistan teach at least two million students, often the country's poorest, but thousands more are unregistered and operate without scrutiny.
A report on the sexual abuse of boys by the Afghan military has allegedly been kept under wraps by an investigatory body in the United States. An aide to a Democratic senator has claimed that the Pentagon has tried to block an independent assessment of child sex abuse committed by Afghan soldiers and police, instead insisting on writing its own, less authoritative version. A separate report, released by the defence department Inspector General’s office last month, concluded that US personnel have been inadequately trained to report such crimes for years. However, a parallel investigation by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is thought to contain a much more detailed account of the problem’s severity. This last report has been requested by 93 members of Congress since 2015, but remains classified at the Pentagon’s direction, raising questions about the military’s transparency and the extent to which it is actually committed to ending such abuse.
Vaccinations and health
The Constitutional Court of Italy has upheld a bill requiring children to be vaccinated against ten diseases in order to attend school. Children under the age of six will not be permitted to attend kindergartens without having the vaccinations, while the parents of older children face fines of between €100-500 for refusing to ensure immunisation. The bill was passed this summer in response to a rise in measles among children, including cases that ended in death. In 88 percent of recorded cases of measles, patients had not been vaccinated against the disease. Authorities in the Veneto region had appealed against the law, arguing that it constituted a violation of the individual right to healthcare and has argued for an information campaign in place of compulsory vaccination. The court found, however, that the bill protects the right to individual and collective health.
The Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, is set to rule on whether parents have the right to prevent the vaccination of their children when they have been taken into state care. The case revolves around three children who are now in state care. Earlier this year, a children’s court ruled that the three children should be immunised, but the children’s mother has appealed against the decision, arguing that it should not be possible to make long term decisions about children while they are in temporary care. The department of health and human services has fought the appeal, arguing that children’s courts must have broad powers to make orders in the best interests of children. No date has yet been announced for the court to deliver its judgment.
Armed conflict and reintegration
Fifty children who were detained in a maximum security adult facility in Afghanistan have been transferred to a juvenile rehabilitation centre. The move came after lobbying by the UN and was welcomed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. The transfer took place on 7 November this year and further efforts are being made to return the children - all charged with crimes related to national security - to the provinces they are from, while giving them better access to legal, social and educational services. The SRSG also stressed that children associated with armed forces or groups should be considered primarily as victims and, whenever possible, alternatives to detention should be used.
Iraqi authorities have moved hundreds of foreign wives and children of suspected so-called Islamic State (IS) militants from a detention centre in northern Iraq to Baghdad, citing security concerns and the difficulties of keeping them in a remote location. More than 800 women and children were moved to the secure detention facility, though as many as 700 reportedly remain behind. Most of the women and children have been in detention since 30 August, when more than 1,300 people surrendered in the wake of several IS strongholds falling to government and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The move to the capital coincides with a push by Iraqi officials to begin legal proceedings to determine the fate of these women and children and to end their prolonged detention. Aid groups have expressed concern at the lack of notice before the move, with a representative of the Norwegian Refugee Council noting that the women and children remain “a very vulnerable population”.
Government authorities in China have ordered an investigation after a school was found to be demanding “voluntary” fees from parents. Public schools in China are supposed to be free during the compulsory education period from first to ninth grade and the Ministry of Education has banned primary and secondary schools from offering paid extracurricular classes. However, some schools are still finding ways in which they can charge students, including donations for children to be allowed to attend weekend classes. The administrators of the school under investigation defended the practice and claimed that the idea came from parents. It remains common for students in urban areas to have to pay for textbooks and other supplementary fees. In July of this year, the government announced that schools would not be able to charge such fees during the compulsory education period, regardless of location. To many, these fees go against the ethos of making education accessible to all and damages the public’s perception of teachers and schools.
Schools in the Indian city of Delhi have been reopened despite levels of choking smog that doctors labelled a public health emergency. Immediately after the smog descended on the city, authorities closed schools, banned construction and barred trucks from entering the city. However, local authorities quickly reopened schools amid concerns over students missing exams, which angered parents. Doctors across the city claimed that the government was “playing with children’s health”, noting that younger people are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, which can cause long-term damage to their lungs. Delhi is now the world’s most polluted capital, with levels regularly exceeding those in Beijing. One 2015 study found that four in ten Delhi children were suffering from severe lung problems and that pollution had claimed as many as 2.5 million lives in India that year. In Delhi, local industry, coal-fired power plants and a growing number of cars on the roads have worsened the air quality crisis previously created by farmers burning crop stubble after the harvest.
LEAK OF THE WEEK
The best way to stop children experiencing violence in the home from acting out is to threaten them with further violence on the street, according to a police commissioner in Australia.
In response to the claim that young people in the Northern Territory are responsible for around half of the break-ins during the festive period, Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw thinks it’s proportionate to deploy specialised police armed with military-grade assault weapons. The snag in Kershaw’s plan however is that, by his own admission, the children are probably “out on the streets because of things like domestic violence”. Yet rather than suggesting that the root problem be tackled, Kershaw’s clearly military mind prefers to breed violence with further violence.
Keeping an eye on children will never have been so easy, as officers would also be wearing night vision goggles, if Kershaw’s proposal comes to pass. But we’ll give Kershaw the benefit of the doubt for not seeing the problem with his proposal, as - after all - the police’s stealthy urban camouflage is intended to avoid detection.