CRINmail 1420

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18 March 2015 subscribe | subscribe | submit information
  • CRINmail 1420

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    Juvenile justice and the death penalty

    In Pakistan, a last-minute stay of execution has been issued for a young man who was sentenced to death aged 14 after enduring nine days of police torture. Shafqat Hussain was due to be executed this Thursday after his sentence was suddenly rescheduled for 19 March, even though Pakistan’s Interior Minister had suspended the sentence in January following a wave of international support for Shafqat. All appeals for a stay of execution had previously been dismissed, leaving the government as the only authority able to stop the sentence from being carried out. A government minister confirmed this evening that a stay had been issued, and that an investigation would be conducted into Shafqat's age at the time of conviction and the torture he suffered before ‘confessing’ to the crime of manslaughter. 

    Only five other jurisdictions are known to still execute people for crimes committed as children: Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Hamas authorities in Gaza. A new report released this week by Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan, which represent Shafqat Hussein, suspect that there may be as many as 800 people currently on death row in Pakistan who were convicted while they were children. CRIN, alongside other children’s rights organisations, had appealed to Pakistan’s Interior Minister urging him to stop Shafqat’s execution and to stand by his promise to launch a full and independent inquiry into his case - particularly regarding his age and allegations of torture and police misconduct. 

    The UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez has now been waiting for more than two years for access to state and federal prisons in the United States, where he wants to probe the use of solitary confinement, particularly for underage offenders. Mr Mendez told reporters in Geneva last week that solitary confinement for children “should never happen, even for a single day”, pointing out that the punishment was “particularly harmful for children because of their state of development and their special needs”. Mr Mendez has repeatedly addressed the dangerous effects of solitary confinement on children. He has found that it can cause severe mental and physical pain or suffering which can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and even torture. Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that in 2011, more than 95,000 children were held in prisons and jails across the US. A significant number of these facilities use solitary confinement, in extreme cases for up to several years, on children held in them. A petition has been launched by the ACLU to call upon state and federal lawmakers to take steps to reform the use of solitary confinement.


    Two more States ban corporal punishment

    Benin and Andorra have banned all corporal punishment of children, including in the home. Andorra amended its Criminal Code to include corporal punishment among its provisions against assault, including that which does not cause injury. And Benin’s new Children’s Code 2015 bases its prohibition on the obligation to respect children’s dignity and protect them from cruel or degrading treatment. The global total of prohibiting States now stands at 46, while 47 others have committed to reforming their laws to ban all corporal punishment of children.
    For further details, see the individual country reports for Andorra and Benin.


    Stripped of their rights

    The state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has passed a bill abolishing abusive manual body searches of prison visitors, including children. The signing of this bill brings to an end a practice that the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Justiça Global (JG) describe as obliging prisoner relatives, including children and elderly people, to remove their clothes, squat down several times in front of a mirror and endure manual cavity searches of their genitals. The organisations say the practice violates the right to family of detainees, including children deprived of liberty, noting that in a number of cases prisoners have requested ending family visits to prevent their relatives from enduring a body search. According to the new law, the searches will in future be conducted through electronic security equipment, such as metal detectors and body scanners. “The approval of this draft bill is an important step that should pave the way for similar laws in all states of Brazil, and including juvenile detention units,” said Carolina Bárbara, child rights coordinator at the OMCT. The OMCT and JG are now calling on the state Parliament to approve another bill (PL 76/15) that extends the new measure to the juvenile justice system.

    Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, 288 children under five years old have been subjected to searches on suspicion of terrorism, drugs and “anticipated violence” in the last five years, freedom of Information requests to police forces across the country have revealed. The police said most cases involved children who had been persuaded to hide items on behalf of an adult. Yet despite police insisting that these children should be treated as vulnerable rather than as criminals, the controversial searches have long been criticised amid claims that they are often carried out unlawfully.


    Albinism, child marriage, & gender

    At least 15 albino children have been abducted, wounded, gang-raped or murdered ahead of national elections in East Africa in acts related to witchcraft. The Red Cross states that witchdoctors are paying up to $75,000 for a complete set of albino body parts to use in their practices, as they are believed to bring wealth, good luck and predict the future. Advocates warn that more attacks against albino children could occur ahead of the upcoming national election in Tanzania, with candidates believing they can improve their chances. Lawmakers banned witchcraft in January, and four people have since been convicted over the 2008 killing of a woman with albinism. At the same time, the UN has raised concern over the death sentences pronounced for some of the over 200 witchdoctors arrested in the last months. 

    Ten years after Nigeria prohibited underage marriage, many girls are still married before age 15, and two remain on death row for allegedly killing their older husbands. In one case a girl has been arrested at the age of 13 for the murder of her 35-year-old husband and is on death row, although a court ruled that her sentence is a violation of her rights. According to the organisation Girls Not Brides, 17 per cent of girls are still married below the age of 15 nationwide, with the number rising to 48 per cent in the Muslim-dominated north-west. Both death penalty cases take place in states that have not passed the decade-old Child Rights Act that bans child marriage and was adopted by only 24 of 36 states. Advocates say the high rates of underage marriage are due to a lack of opportunities and access to education for girls, parents’ common belief that marrying off their daughter is good for her, and a misinterpretation of Islam by politicians.

    The organisation suggests further steps parliamentarians can take to end child marriage in a global guide. Evidence of further strategies that can lead to success shows that access to information and education play an essential role in the process of change. Girl-led initiatives in Nepal, one of the world’s top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage according to UNICEF, have proven that point.  

    Finally, the World Policy Forum has released a report on gender equality.


    Education & discrimination

    Turkey’s Education Ministry has ordered the recall of a primary school book for including archaic remarks against women. The book “Flower Garden” tells the story of a peaceful forest ruled by lions, in which hyenas are preparing to seize power. A conversation between hyenas in the story discusses how giving women “complete freedom” so they can “consider themselves equal to males” would harm the community. One hyena says: “They would want to work the hardest jobs. They would not find time for their families. They would not even want to start a family. Even if they did, they would not want to reproduce because they would not be able to take care of their children.”

    In Colombia, a secondary school headteacher and a school psychologist are facing possible charges over their treatment of a 16-year-old gay pupil who committed suicide. According to information received by the public prosecutor’s office, the school issued disciplinary action against the boy for kissing his boyfriend, defined by the school as an “obscene” act, and was made to visit a psychologist. The boy was allegedly not allowed to return to class until he finalised his ‘treatment’. The prosecutor’s office says these measures could amount to “acts of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation”, as the school does not subject hetereosexual student couples to the same procedures. 

    Also in Turkey, parents are demanding that an Islamic religious education teacher be fired after she told some of her 13-year-old female students that they “deserve rape” for not wearing a headscarf. “You don’t cover your head anyway, so raping you or doing evil to you is permissible [in Islam],” the female teacher allegedly told students taking the elective class on the Quran. Such classes have been elective since 2012 in Turkey, while religious education is compulsory, despite a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling stating that high school students must be allowed to opt out of religious education to “ensure respect for parents’ convictions” and to guarantee the right to education.

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    Children's rights are given most prominence at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) during its first session of the year, which features the Council's annual day on the rights of the child. The focus of this year’s annual day was better investment in the rights of the child. CRIN reported live from the Council’s 28th session last week. During the week we produced daily bulletins, which are available on our website, as well as live coverage using #HRC28 on Twitter.

    This week’s CRINmail looks back at the past week, rounding up the highlights with a special summary of the annual day itself.

    Annual day on the rights of the child: A better investment in children’s rights

    The day took the form of a morning and afternoon panel of experts discussing how to achieve a rights-based approach to realising children’s rights through budgets and concrete examples from around the world.

    Panellists made it clear throughout the day that a rights-based approach to public spending was essential if the aim is to invest in areas that help to realise the enjoyment of children’s rights. 

    States’ obligation to guarantee children’s economic, social and cultural rights were reiterated, with one panelist urging that we need to “[p]ut our budgets where our commitments are”. But simply ticking the budget allocation check-list is not enough, said another panelist, emphasising that auditing should not just look at whether budgets have simply been spent, but if they have been spent efficiently.

    Discussion on the day also addressed the effects that budgetary cuts have had on the realisation of children’s rights, including how an ensuing rise in poverty rates has affected  children’s access to food, education and health. In view of this, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund were criticised for failing to conduct impact assessments of their economic policies.

    Panellists also emphasised the importance of identifying children’s needs across different population groups. They said vulnerable children, including those from poor, rural or ethnic backgrounds, are largely absent from policy considerations, and urged better data collection to make their needs more visible.

    Another recurrent issue throughout the day was children’s participation in deciding how their governments should spend public funds to implement their rights. Research shows that access to justice, protection from abuse, safety, combatting corruption, and training public officials to listen to children, are the areas most in need of investment, according to children around the world.

    Read CRIN's full coverage of the day here.

    The week's highlights

    Children’s rights featured in discussions throughout the week, as a number of UN independent experts with thematic mandates presented their annual reports to the Human Rights Council. Here is a quick reminder of the week's highlights:  

    Day one: 9 March

    • States should stop subjecting child offenders to the adult justice system and its heavier sentences, while the death penalty and life imprisonment should be banned globally in all its forms, urges UN expert on torture;
    • Children are often overlooked when it comes to creating environmental policies, despite being one of the most vulnerable groups to environmental harm, according to the UN expert on human rights and the environment;
    • People, including children, should be able to seek judicial remedies for violations of their right to food, said the UN expert on the right to food;
    • Read more about the day here.

    Day two: 10 March

    • Death sentences imposed for offences such as blasphemy or apostasy are a form of violence perpetrated in the name of religion, says UN expert on freedom of religion;
    • Delegates of States with questionable human rights records cling to national sovereignty arguments as an excuse to rein in opposition and the work of human rights defenders;
    • UN’s first-ever Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities presents her annual report, which notes that children with disabilities are often excluded from mainstream education systems;
    • Read more about the day here.

    Day three: 11 March

    • Military courts should not be trying juveniles, says UN expert on children and armed conflict, as they do not even apply basic standards of a fair trial;
    • UN expert on cultural rights says she represents the rights of people, not the interests of cultural industries, as she urges that copyright policies be in line with human rights interests in cultural participation;
    • We “need to build a culture of non-violence” to challenge the view of violence against children as normal and acceptable, says UN expert on violence against children;
    • Online media is a socialising and learning tool, says UN expert on child exploitation, but warns that it has also facilitated the exploitation of children online;
    • Read more about the day here.


    In other UN news...

    Ninety-two NGOs have called on the UN Human Rights Council to create the mandate for a Special Rapporteur on privacy during its current session, citing an urgent need for guidance and monitoring on the right to privacy, which is recognised across the board among UN independent experts. The organisations say the establishment of the mandate would make an "essential contribution to the development of a coherent and complementary approach to the interaction between privacy, freedom of expression and other human rights," and would enable the Council to "play a leading role in strengthening the promotion and protection of the right to privacy."

    Senior UN officials in Jerusalem have been accused of backing away from recommending that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) be included in the UN’s list of serious violators of children’s rights following calls from senior Israeli officials. The list in question names violators of children’s rights in the annex of the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, including non-state groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and the Taliban. Organisations have pressed for the IDF’s inclusion in the list for the IDF’s killing and injuring of Palestinian children. The war in Gaza last summer left more than 500 children dead and more than 3,300 injured, while attacks on schools and hospitals were “indiscriminate”. But Israeli officials warned of serious consequences if a meeting between UN agencies and NGOs to decide to include the IDF in the list took place. Within hours, the meeting was cancelled. If eventually included in the list, the IDF would be the only state army there, and could lead to UN sanctions against Israel.  

    UNICEF and the OHCHR are inviting submissions for the preparation of a report on children's rights, which contains information on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with a focus on the right to education. The deadline for submissions is 2 April 2015. Click here for more information

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    The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by Bhutan, but it does not appear to form part of its national law. Moreover, the courts do not cite or refer to the provisions of the Convention. Cases on behalf of children must be brought in their name by a family member through a guardian or a jambi (qualified Bhutanese law practitioner). Legal aid is available to any person who is unable to secure justice by reason of economic or other disabilities and the courts may waive fees associated with filing a case for indigent plaintiffs.

    Read the full report on access to justice for children in Bhutan.

    This report is part of CRIN’s access to justice for children project, looking at the status of the CRC in national law, the status of children involved in legal proceedings, the legal means to challenge violations of children’s rights and the practical considerations involved in challenging violations. 

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    Sexual exploitation: ‘Multi-Agency Child-Centred Practice’
    Organisation: Children & Young People Now
    Date: 25 March 2015
    Location: Birmingham, United Kingdom

    Call for nominations: International Children's Peace Prize 2015
    Organisation: KidsRights Foundation
    Deadline: 1 April 2015

    European conference: Net Children 2020 - rowing up with Media
    Organisation: Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research et al. 
    Date: 16-17 April 2015
    Location: Berlin, Germany

    Child abuse: 9th Latin American Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
    Organisation: International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
    Dates: 26-29 April 2015
    Location: Toluca, Mexico

    Course: LLM in International Children's Rights
    University of Leiden
    Date: From September 2015
    Application deadline: 1 May 2015
    Location: Leiden, The Netherlands

    Asia-Pacific: Alternatives to detention and restorative justice for children
    Organisation: Asia-Pacific Council for Juvenile Justice
    Date: 5-8 May 2015
    Location: Phuket, Thailand

    Bodily integrity: 2015 Genital Autonomy conference
    Organisation: Genital Autonomy
    Dates: 8-9 May 2015
    Location: Frankfurt, Germany

    LGBT rights: Int'l Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia (IDAHO)
    Organisation: IDAHO Committee
    Dates: 17 May 2015
    Location: N/A

    Statelessness: International Conference - 'None of Europe's Children Should be Stateless'
    Organisation: European Network on Statelessness
    Dates: 2-3 June 2015
    Location: Budapest, Hungary

    Child rights: 9th European Forum on the Rights of the Child
    Organisation: European Commission
    Date: 3-4 June 2015
    Location: Brussels, Belgium

    Justice systems: International Congress 'Children and the Law'
    Organisation: Fernando Pessoa University
    Dates: 11-13 June 2015
    Location: Porto, Portugal

    Course: Children at the heart of human rights
    Organisation: Université de Genève
    Date: 16 June - 4 July 2015
    Location: Geneva, Switzerland

    Justice sector reform: Training programme on applying human rights based approaches to justice sector reform
    Organisation: International Human Rights Network
    Dates: 22-26 June 2015
    Location: Maynooth, Ireland

    Business: Course on children's rights and business
    Organisation: University of Leiden
    Date: 6-9 July 2015
    Location: Leiden, The Netherlands

    Course: International children's rights - Frontiers of children's rights
    Organisation: University of Leiden
    Date: 6-11 July 2015
    Location: Leiden, The Netherlands

    Funding opportunity: Advocacy fund on post-2015 violence against children agenda
    Organisation: Elevate Children Funders Group
    Application deadline: 31 July 2015
    Location: N/A

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    CRIN: Legal research internship 
    Location: London, United Kingdom
    Deadline: 6 April 2015

    CRIN: Advocacy assistant (Paid internship)
    Location: London, United Kingdom
    Deadline: 7 April 2015

    CRIN: Legal research volunteer/ Pro bono lawyer (Hebrew-speaking) 
    Location: Flexible
    Application deadline: 8 April 2015

    Consortium for Street Children: Consultant for drafting the General Comment on children in street situations
    Application deadline: 31 March 2015
    Location: Various

    Oak Foundation: Call for organisation to lead project on understanding resilience in children exposed to abuse and exploitation
    Location: N/A
    Application deadline: 3 April 2015   

    Child Soldiers International: Africa Programme Officer
    Location: London, United Kingdom
    Application deadline: 13 April 2015

    Love146: Safe accommodation live-in worker
    Location: N/A
    Application deadline: N/A

    Love146: Residential deputy manager
    Location: Hampshire
    Application deadline: N/A

    Love146: Residential care worker
    Location: Hampshire
    Application deadline: N/A



    Our time at the Human Rights Council last week reminded us of the abundance of flowery, congratulatory and long-winded interventions by state delegations, which, thankfully, the Council President firmly restricted to the 2- to 3-minute time limit.

    Although at CRIN we always encourage the use of plain, concise and simple language in all materials, States’ interventions last week have inspired us to conclude this CRINmail in the same tone - and with the same use of jargon - that we usually advise against. *Cue the irony* (or the hypocrisy -- albeit for the sake of amusement.)


    On behalf of the distinguished representatives of the CRIN delegation present here at the UN Human Rights Council’s 28th session, we would like to thank our readers for their interest in and commitment to reading about the the discussions on children’s rights that took place at the Council this week. We value this strong expression of support. We would also like to welcome any new subscribers that have joined our eminent readership, as we hope it will lead to a constructive dialogue that paves the roadmap of innovative action. We would like to congratulate these pathfinders for spearheading the way for… um… action. However, we would also like to draw attention to the fact that challenges lie ahead, yet we wholeheartedly support efforts to overcome these and encourage further efforts to place children’s rights issues on the table.

    CRIN readership President: "Thank you CRIN. Your time is up. We need to move on."


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