Join the Fight Against Sex-Slavery with Author Karen-Anne Stewart

Our guest post today is by author Karen-Anne Stewart. I am so thrilled to welcome her back to Plain Talk.

The Rain Trilogy is a powerful story of abuse, human trafficking, and beautiful, redeeming love. I have experience working with domestic abuse survivors, but I
wasn’t very familiar with sex-slavery, other than knowing it exists and is horrific.

This is not a happy or easy topic; in fact, it’s sickening and saddening. Throughout the research process for the trilogy, I spiraled through a myriad of emotions, anger being the most prevalent. Reading statistics and stories about what so many children, women, and even men, go through every minute of every day enraged me.

There were many times I had to walk away from my laptop because I simply couldn’t read any more of the horrors of this modern day slavery. I cried, wanted to scream, and even wanted to cause physical harm at times, while reading about what goes on in every country, every state, and every town. I have a daughter, and the thoughts of anything bad happening to her is paralyzing. Continue reading…

Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school. Let’s fix that.

Today, as children all over the US head back to school, 10.5 million children in Nigeria will not go to school.  In fact, Nigeria has the highest out-of-school population in the world.   And increasing levels of violence have targeted children for wanting to go to school and learn.  Please sign our petition below showing our support for President Jonathan’s commitment to education, and urging immediate action so that all children and youth have the opportunity to learn and thrive in society.

Dear President Jonathan,

Within the last few weeks, school children and teachers have been gunned down and others firebombed and burned to death – simply for wanting to go to school.

We stand united with UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, and teenage education campaigner, Malala Yousafzai, in supporting the call for safe schools for the 10.5 million out-of-school children in the country.

With the highest out-of-school population in the world, we ask the government, with the support of the international community, to deliver education so these children can go to school. We ask that conditional cash transfer programs be implemented at the state level for families so that 900,000 girls can enrol into school now. We also request that the state governors and their ministers draw up plans for universal education, and leading up to the next budget cycle, the national government develop financial incentives for state level results to ensure every child goes to school by 2015.

Every Nigerian child deserves the chance to go to school and learn.

Click here to sign the petition. Thank you for supporting this cause with me. Every signature really does make a difference!

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1000-Day Countdown to Global Education

The urgency of the 1,000-day countdown is doing exactly what we hoped: pressuring world leaders and businesses to sit up, take notice, and — most importantly — take action.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Militants Massacre 14 Female Students On School Bus

Over the weekend, 14 young female students were massacred as a bus taking them home from university in Quetta, in western Pakistan, was blown up by extremist militants — and we were once again reminded of the continued need to stand behind Malala and her cause.

 

Afghan Girl Tortured by In-laws for Resisting Prostitution

Sahar-Gul-was-rescued-by--007

Photo courtesy Guardian UK

Sahar Gul is a 15-year-old girl who was brutally beaten, burned, cut, starved, enslaved, and tortured by her in-laws for months in the basement of their home. The perpetrators of these heinous acts needs to be brought to justice not only for Sahar Gul, but also for other Afghans who are subjected to brutal violence.

A UN report issued in November found that a 2009 law meant to protect Afghan women from a host of abusive practices, including rape, forced marriage and the trading of women to settle disputes, was being undermined by sporadic enforcement.

The Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was passed in August 2009 and had raised hopes among women’s rights activists that Afghan women would get to fight back against abuses that had been ignored under Taliban rule. The law criminalised many abuses for the first time, including domestic violence, child marriage, driving a woman to resort to suicide, as well as the buying and selling of women.

Yet the report found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women were pursued by the Afghan government.

Between March 2010 and March 2011, prosecutors opened 594 investigations into crimes under the law – only 26% of the 2,299 incidents registered by the Afghan human rights commission, the UN report said. Prosecutors filed indictments in only 155 cases, or 7% of the total number of crimes reported.

Here’s what you can do.

Please join me in signing this petition to President Karzai and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for immediate action. This petition is a resounding plea from concerned persons around the world seeking justice on behalf of fifteen-year-old Sahar Gul who was brutally tortured and mutilated by her Afghan in-laws.

Let’s get some signatures on this petition. Sign the petition here 

To read more about this story please visit The Guardian UK.

Egyptian TV Series Spotlights Child Marriage

Republished from Al-Shorfa.com

The new Egyptian television series “Al-Qasirat” (Minors) is taking a hard look at the problems of child marriage, which is still prevalent in parts of Egypt and a number of Arab countries.

Young child bride

Photo courtesy Al-Qasirat media office

The MBC series, which began at the start of Ramadan, includes some realistic and shocking scenes, said Cairo University psychology professor and family relations consultant Waliyuddine Mukhtar.

It condemns the “reactionary ideas prevalent in many societies that treat females as mere commodities to be bought and sold”, he told Al-Shorfa.

The practice of underage marriage is widespread in Upper Egypt and in other parts of the country, he said.

In some cases, young girls are temporarily married to wealthy older men or foreigners for a designated period of time, particularly during the summer vacation.

PROLIFERATION OF CHILD MARRIAGES

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as a formal marriage or informal union that takes place before the age of 18. According to a 2010 UNICEF report, 18% of the female population in the Middle East and Africa are married before this age.

Underage marriage has spread “under the guise of religion” in Yemen, SaudiArabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is misrepresented as an application of sharia, Mukhtar said.

Poverty and illiteracy also contribute significantly to its spread, he said.

Egypt’s Ministry of Family and Population put the number of underage marriage cases in 2011 at 150,000, or 11% of all marriages in Egypt that year, Mukhtar said.

“Al-Qasirat” star Salah al-Saadani told the Middle East News Agency that the series’ boldness in confronting the issue compelled him to accept the role, though he knew some might find its scenes and events shocking.

What most interested him was the realistic portrayal of the issue, he said, explaining that the series is set in an Egyptian village where a wealthy man exploits poor families in order to marry their daughters.

AGAINST EGYPTIAN AND ISLAMIC LAW

“Underage marriage is illegal and a crime against humanity that is being committed in the name of sharia,” said Al-Azhar University sharia and law professor Sheikh Nayef Abd Rabbu, who serves as an advisor at the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

“Egyptian law, which stems from sharia, prohibits the marriage of girls under the age of 18,” he said.

There is a common belief that Islam legalises child marriage, though this is an explicit distortion of religious texts and the hadith, as it is actually old customs and traditions that drive these marriages, Abd Rabbu said.

“Islam stipulates safeguarding the rights of women in marriage,” he said. “In the case of minors, their rights in marriage are slim to non-existent. Sharia legislators agree that a marriage must be entered into with an intention of continuance, and that it not be a temporary contract, as it is in many of these cases.”

Under Egyptian law, which prohibits exploiting children in any form, forcing a girl into marriage is a punishable offense, said Fayez Shukr of the Egyptian Ministry of Justice’s department of legislative studies and research.

Additionally, he told Al-Shorfa, under a 2008 child law, “no marriage contract shall be authenticated if either party has yet to attain the full age of 18 years”.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND HEALTH PROBLEMS

Dr. Fahim Farhan, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, said he follows the television series with interest.

It is one of the “most important works shedding light on this blight in Arab societies, and in Egypt in particular”, he said.

Underage marriage exposes girls to numerous health and psychological problems, including infertility, miscarriage, preeclampsia, anaemia and premature childbirth, he said, noting that there is a rising incidence of death among these girls and their babies.

“Al-Qasirat” is directed by Magdi Abu Emera, written by Samah el-Hariri and stars al-Saadani, Dalia al-Buhairi, Yasser Galal, Menna Arafa, Malak Ahmed Zaher and May al-Gheiti.

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Bangladesh Practice Child Marriage Despite Law

Excerpt Feature

Mass Child Marriage Continue in India

Mass Child marriage ceremony

Mass child marriage ceremony photo by Hungree.com

Every Three Seconds A Girl Is Traded

Psychiatrist from Lahore re Swara effects

Bangladesh Continue to Practice Child Marriage Despite Laws

Bangladesh outlawed child marriage in 1929. Yet, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), sixty-six percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before they reach the age of eighteen.

The practice of child marriage is rooted in social tradition and economic need, but it has adverse effects on the health and education of girls. According to a report by the International Center for Research on Women, child brides are prone to suffer domestic violence and abandon school, and as a result of early pregnancy are susceptible to health complications.

The Law

When the Bangladesh government developed legislation that led to the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, it considered various socio-cultural factors—such as poverty and societal values—that drive parents to marry off their young daughters.

Excerpt FeatureThe law criminalizes marriages when either party is a minor, classified as girls under eighteen and boys under twenty-one, and penalizes those who permit or aid such a marriage, including parents. Punishment for the crimes can be a fine and up to one month imprisonment.

Bangladesh’s laws on the issue are encompassed by its obligations, including The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the State ratified in 1984 and prohibits child marriage in Article 16(2).

In 1998, Bangladesh acceded to the Convention on Consent to Marriage, which calls for the “full and free consent” of both parties in all legally binding marriages in Article 1. Article 2 requires states to set a minimum age for marriage. However, Bangladesh reserved its right to apply Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention concerning the issue of child marriage “in accordance with the Personal Laws of different religious communities of the country.” Allowing personal laws of religious communities to supersede international law sustains the practice of child marriage in Bangladesh.

The Law vs Cultural Influences

Adherence to these principles can be complicated in Bangladesh, where many villagers believe that marriage protects a girl’s chastity and is a divine command from God.

As explained by Farah D. Chowdhury, a political science professor in Bangladesh, in a 2004 article in the International Journal of Social Welfare, all females are obligated to become wives and raise a family and the sooner they are married, the sooner the obligation is fulfilled.

Additionally, the marriage of young, submissive, and obedient girls maintains the status quo of a patriarchal society. The older an unmarried girl becomes, the more her family will be shamed in the community.

Economic Advantage of Child Marriage

Beyond the religious and cultural influences, there is an economic advantage to marrying off girls at an early age. Girls are often considered a burden to families because of their financial dependence. Once a girl has been married, her husband and his family must provide for her, thus liberating her parents of their financial duty. When a family is impoverished, there is consequently a greater desire to marry off daughters at a younger age. Further, the parents lessen the financial strain of their daughters’ dowry since the younger the girl’s age at marriage, the smaller the dowry can be.

Bangladesh Does Little to Protect Child Rights

Despite the many laws that child marriage in Bangladesh continues to violate, Bangladesh has done little to enforce the laws and protect children’s rights.

One positive note is that the government does plan to register all marriages and births, which would provide greater oversight. However, Bangladesh’s reservation to the Convention on Consent to Marriage indicates the country is not ready to confront the differing practices based on religious communities. Embracing the whole of the convention both by dismissing the reservations and implementing procedures to enforce all obligations would broaden protection for the Bangladeshi people. Regardless of the existence of legislation to combat the tradition of child marriage in Bangladesh, insufficient enforcement of the laws will preserve the practice of child marriage to the detriment of young girls in the country.

Article By 

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Every Three Seconds, A Girl is Traded as a Swara

Swara is a child marriage custom in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This custom is tied to blood feuds among the different tribes and clans where the young girls are forcibly married to the members of different clans in order to resolve the feuds. It is most common among Pashtuns. – Wikipedia.

The average age of swara girls is between 5 and 9-years-old, according to registered cases and local accounts. The reason provides an insight into the immense challenge in changing deep-rooted traditions in Pakistan: In tribal areas, a girl older than this is probably already promised to somebody else.

In Pakistan, at least 180 cases of swara were reported last year — every other day — thanks to the work of local journalists and activists. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of undocumented cases. Worldwide, an estimated 51 million girls below age 18 are married, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

A further 10 million underage girls marry every year — one every three seconds, according to ICRW. The legal age to marry in Pakistan is 18 for boys but 16 for girls, though they can’t drive, vote, or open a bank account until adulthood. According to UNICEF, 70 percent of girls in Pakistan are married before then.

Swara FeatureMohammad Ayub, a British-trained psychiatrist from Lahore, has worked with child soldiers in Sudan and young Taliban recruits in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He now manages the Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital in the Swat Valley, an area that came under the spotlight when terrorists attempted to kill 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai because of her struggle to promote girls’ education. “I saw small children holding guns bigger than themselves,” he says. “But these girls…. It’s just as tragic.”

Many child brides come to Ayub with severe pain, sometimes blinded or paralyzed — the effects of a psychiatric condition known as “conversion disorder.” Practically unknown in the West since the beginning of the 20th century, it has reached epidemic proportions in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to Ayub. It is a sort of psychological stress that manifests in physical ailments, including convulsions, paralysis, or fits.

“Here women don’t have a voice, particularly girls,” Ayub says. “She can’t say, ‘No, I don’t want this marriage’ … so she keeps it all inside, and eventually it will come out in the form of some physical distress. We receive loads of women here, three to four cases with the same symptoms every day only in my clinic, and I mean daily! Thirteen-, 14-year-old girls, all married.”

The rise of Islamic militancy in Pakistan could only make things worse. As extremists grow more powerful, they have started imposing their own draconian rules on society — including even more discrimination against women.

In 2004, the Pakistani parliament passed an amendment to Pakistan’s penal code making swara a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison. Since then, around sixty decisions made by jirgas involving swara girls have been prevented by local courts, though in most tribal areas the law still does not apply.

Part of this story was re-published from Foreign Policy. The original article was written by Adriana Carranca. Follow her on Twitter: @AdrianaCarranca.

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The Coexist Initiative – Working to End Gender-Based Violence

This article is re-published from Girls Not Brides. org.

The Coexist Initiative.

Wanjala Wafula is the founder and CEO of the Coexist Initiative, a Kenyan community-based organisation that works alongside boys and men to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence. Coexist was awarded the African Achievers Awards 2012, celebrating the successes of engaging men and boys as a means to empower young girls.

Below, Wanjala speaks of the work he does with community elders to raise awareness of the harmful consequences of child marriage.

The law vs enforcement.

The prevalence of child marriage in Kenya saddens me. We have collectively failed to realize the rights of many girls to a life of their choosing. In the past two years, 40% of girls in Kenya were married before their eighteenth birthday; 61% in the Kajiado County alone. At this rate, Kenya will see 35,000 more girls married off within the next year. That’s 35,000 girls who will suffer violations of their right to health, education and non-discrimination.

Coexist quoteThe Children’s Act, passed in 2001, prohibited the marriage of anyone under 18, and even stated that “no person shall subject a child to early marriage or other traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, or dignity”. The problem is not the law, but rather the lack of political will to enforce it.

We have no adequate structures to monitor and prosecute child marriage cases, no services that provide shelter to runaway brides. Children’s rights sit at the very bottom of the government’s list of priorities, if at all, even though rising tensions between ethnic groups have prompted many abductions for marriage and rendered the situation all the more alarming.

I find it tragic that, whenever there is conflict, men use the bodies of women and girls as their battlefield and that it elicits so little outrage from state officials.

Engaging community elders and reaching out to boys.

Clearly, the cost of child marriage is too high to be overlooked. So where do we go from here?

I firmly believe that the way forward is to engage the community as a whole. Social transformation will not happen without community engagement. That’s why much of our work at Coexist Initiative is focused on raising awareness of the harmful impact of child marriage through media and entertainment.

We also reach out to local leaders, residents and service providers with key child marriage prevention messages. For example, we’ve been working on “Our Voices Our Cry”, a book that gathers the stories of children who have been sexually exploited, and we are currently pushing for its inclusion into the school curriculum. This way, by bringing the dialogue about child marriage into public consciousness and our schools, we hope to address the discrimination that is at its heart.

For the past year, we have worked closely with the Maasai and Kaya tribal elders to prevent harmful traditional practices like child marriage. I have found that working with spiritual leaders and community elders can dramatically enhance the reach of our message. Because they are seen as the custodians of culture, they impart their traditions and beliefs onto younger generations. Traditional leaders have the authority needed to decrease the acceptance of child marriage, and their voices are particularly important when it comes to reaching out to boys and men.

A key moment in a boy’s life is the time when he learns the “rules of manhood”. This traditionally happens during the male circumcision ceremony, when boys are exposed to highly gendered messages about what it means to be a man. Working with spiritual leaders has proven paramount in opening a new space for dialogue, in teaching boys different lessons about manhood: boys become men by seeing and supporting women as human beings.

By getting men to reject the practices that subordinate women and girls and subject them to violence, we can get to the root of child marriage. The support of community elders’ is a vital part of that process.

Positive changes.

That’s why I am so pleased to see social change happening in my own time. After two years working alongside Kaya elders, known for their strict adherence to tradition, not one underage girl was married in their community this year. Not a single one! And in only one year, 10,000 boys and men from the Maasai tribe have rejected female genital mutilation (FGM) and polygamy.

I must say it makes me incredibly optimistic for the future. True enough, FGM isn’t necessarily a precursor to child marriage, but they do share a common root that needs to be addressed: the ingrained idea that women and girls are somehow inferior. In that sense, FGM is a gateway to ending child marriage in Kenya.

October 11, 2012, the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, gave us a fantastic opportunity to show the changes that have occurred in the community and further raise awareness of the consequences of early and forced marriage. Maasai elders gathered to denounce the practice of child marriage and celebrate the achievements of the transformed generation of Maasai Men. We also had a choir of girls, who used to be married and are now in school perform songs about our work and successes in the community. If our budget allows it, we would love to produce a video of the celebration and reach even more people.

Most of our successes have come from working on preventing child marriage. It’s a daunting task, but we must continue our work. No girls should ever be forced to marry; not a single one.

Learn more about the Coexist Initiative here and about Girls Not Brides here.

Afghan Women’s Political Power Revoked

Women’s rights in Afghanistan take yet another hit, as conservative male parliamentarians secretly remove a legal requirement that states women make up at least a quarter of all provincial elections.

According to Reuters, the change took place in mid-May but was only discovered by women parliamentarians a few days ago.

Hundreds of Afghan women

Photo by 24piecescholars.net

Activists said it could also reduce the number of women serving in parliament’s upper house, as most women are elected there via their role as elected provincial officials.

“In negotiations you don’t gain anything unless you also give something up,” said prominent women’s rights activist and MP Farkhunda Naderi.

The action has sparked fears among women’s rights activists that President Hamid Karzai’s government is increasingly willing to trade away their hard fought gains to placate the Taliban as part of attempts to coax them to the peace table.

Women entered Afghanistan’s male-only political arena in 2001 soon after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by a U.S. led invasion.

At least a quarter of the seats in some 400 districts and 34 provincial councils had been set aside for women.

Karzai appointed 17 out of 28 women in the upper house, the remaining 11 must be chosen from among women sitting on district and provincial councils, but those positions are now under a cloud.

On May 22, the change was approved by parliament’s lower house, the Wolesi Jirga.

“(They) removed it without informing us. We trusted that the law we signed off on was the same as previous drafts,” said parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

The law still needs approval from the upper house and Karzai before being passed into law.

Critics of the change told Reuters its removal will not only affect women’s ability to serve in the upper house, but also do away with more than 100 seats in local government bodies nationwide that were previously guaranteed to women.

“Women are not in the position to win votes in this country based on popular vote alone, this amendment is worrisome  they’ll lose their voice,” said Noor Mohammad, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.

Conservative male parliamentarians backing the change said the concept of granting rights based on their gender was unconstitutional.

“It’s undemocratic to grant a seat to a woman even though a man had more votes, simply because the law favors her,” said Qazi Nasir Ahmad Hanafi, head of the legislative commission.

This story was originally published by Reuters.

(Edited by Gillian Felix)

Young Reporters Fight Against Child Marriage

Fazal Haque, 15, student at Anchalik High School of Simina village in Kamrup district of Assam, and nine other boys and girls keep themselves busy by looking out for families who are marrying off their under-age daughters and intervene.

Fazal and his classmates Babar Ali, Aqib Hussain, Mamoni Begum, Karabi Kalita and Jyotsna Begum are members of a group called Asha Rengoni, which means ray of hope.

According to Aquib, at least 10 girls from their school dropped out because they were married off. “Their parents citing tradition as well as economic hardship,” said Aquib. So far they have intervened and stopped two child marriages.

Photo by MapsOfIndia.com

Photo by MapsOfIndia.com

The group is part of a program called Young Reporters Initiative; there are more than 90 groups in the districts of Kamrup and Dibrugarh. Some groups in the Dibrugarh district are running campaigns against child marriage.

Momi Munda, 18, member of the group said that many people, especially tea plantation laborers, don’t know that there is a minimum age for a girl’s marriage.

Young Reporters Initiative is run jointly by the Assam branch of Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) andUNICEF.

More than 1,000 children in the Kamrup and Dibrugarh districts have been included in the groups.

“It is a kind of multi-purpose initiative where we are not only talking about child rights directly with select groups of children, but also supporting them in taking rights-related issues to the community,” said Damayanti Devi, state secretary of KGNMT.

Young Reporters also conduct surveys and field reports on child labor, sanitation, safe drinking water, malnutrition, immunization, primary school education, mid-day meal, birth registration and delivery of various Integrated Child Development Services programs.

Last year, village elders at Sarulah in Hajo block of Kamrup district enlisted the help of the local Young Reporters group in mounting a campaign against drugs and liquor.

“The group not only helped coin slogans and cartoons against drugs and liquor, but also composed jingles and staged street plays,” said Himarani Baishya, coordinator of the project.

Recently, 15 children each from Dibrugarh and Kamrup carried out a random survey in two villages near Guwahati, during which they discovered several problems.

“The findings of these groups are published as news and features in Mukta Akash, a quarterly newsletter. This newsletter is not only distributed in schools, panchayats (Villages), clubs and mahila samitis (women’s group?) in the two districts, but is also sent to government functionaries, including the chief minister,” Damayanti Devi said.

Many of these reports have had an impact. In Dibrugarh district, a wooden bridge which had been damaged by floods was repaired only after a Young Reporters group wrote about it.

Source: IndianExpress.com

Profile of FORWARD UK with Naomi Reid

FORWARD – Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development.

Through FORWARD’s programs, young women and girls are educated in exercising their rights, and encouraged to take leadership roles in their society. FORWARD also educates the public on the physical and physiological effects of FGM and child marriage.

In part I of my profile on Forward UK, I had the pleasure of interviewing author and ambassador Gavin Weston.

Profile on ForwardUK part IIIn part II I chat with the dynamic Naomi Reid, Events and Special Projects Coordinator at FORWARD UK.