LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Kuwait’s National Assembly voted last week to prohibit the death penalty and life imprisonment for offences committed by children and to raise the age of criminal majority to 18, to ensure children cannot be sentenced as adults. The reform comes just three months after legislation came into force in the country allowing children to be sentenced as adults from the age of 16, a reform that effectively reintroduced the death penalty for offences committed by children. The new legislation would cap the maximum sentence for children convicted of a criminal offence at 15 years’ imprisonment. Members of the parliament are reported to have traded harsh words during the debate on the bill, alleging that the original legislation had been politically motivated and intended to crack down on young protesters. Parliamentarians voted nearly unanimously for the legislation - 53 out of 54 voted in favour - and the bill must now be promulgated by the Amir before it can enter into force.
The senate of New York, United States has passed a bill to raise the minimum age of marriage across the state, a major step in amending its law to ban child marriage. Currently children as young as 14 can marry in the state if their parents consent and a court approves the marriage. The bill would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 17 to marry, a reform that falls short of prohibiting child marriage completely. Between 2001 and 2010, 3,850 under-18s were married in New York state, though New York is not alone in the US in allowing child marriage. A total of 27 states have no strict limit on when a child can marry with judicial approval. Commenting on the reforms, Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch said that even though the US has been a leader in urging an end to child marriage in regions such as Africa and Asia, the practice is “shockingly” still allowed on its own soil. The bill must now be passed by the state's assembly before it becomes law.
Sexual exploitation and abuse
New UN Secretary-General António Guterres has outlined the organisation’s latest approach to tackling sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers in its latest annual report on the issue. The new strategy focuses on four areas of action: putting victims first, ending impunity, engaging civil society and external partners, and improving strategic communications for education and transparency. The report calls on the General Assembly to back financial penalties for the failure to investigate allegations, to conclude investigations "in a timely manner", and to put penalty money into the currently underfunded Trust Fund for victims. "I fully recognise that no magic wand exists to end the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse," Guterres said. "Nevertheless, I believe that we can dramatically improve how the UN addresses this scourge”. Guterres asked UN envoys in the four peacekeeping operations with the most sexual exploitation and abuse allegations to immediately appoint a victims’ rights advocate and announced that he will appoint a human rights expert as an Assistant Secretary-General to serve as a UN-wide victim's rights advocate. Unfortunately, the report falls short in a number of other areas, failing to address the need for criminal prosecutions rather than administrative penalties against those found guilty, and relying on voluntary, non-binding recommendations to States.
For more information on the issue, see CRIN’s advocacy guide and campaign on sexual violence by peacekeepers.
Facebook has come under fire over the way it handled reports of sexualised images of children on its platform. The BBC reported dozens of photos to Facebook, but more than 80 percent were not removed, with Facebook responding by reporting the BBC journalists conducting the investigation to the police. The chairman of the United Kingdom's House of Commons media committee, Damian Collins, said it was extraordinary that the BBC had been reported to the authorities when it was trying to "help clean up the network". The BBC investigation found "secret" groups were being used by paedophiles to meet and swap images, providing information to the police that led to one man being sent to prison for four years. Facebook's rules forbid convicted sex offenders from having accounts, but the BBC found five convicted paedophiles with profiles, and reported them to Facebook via its own system. None of them were taken down.
Children in institutions
The NGO Disability Rights International (DRI) is bringing a legal case against the Mexican government centred on abuse of children and adults detained at the Casa Esperanza institution in Mexico City. Abuse is rampant in the facility for people with disabilities, and during investigations in 2014 and 2015, DRI found that 37 people were held in “dangerous, violent, degrading and unhygienic conditions”. Cases of assault, sexual abuse, forced sterilisations and isolation were subsequently reported to the authorities in June 2014, but abuses continued until the facility was closed in September 2015. The organisation then followed up with some of its former residents, finding that at least two of them had died since leaving Casa Esperanza, while another endured even worse sexual violence in a new institution. DRI has filed their case with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, seeking reparations for abuses constituting torture at the facility, and calling for full community integration through the provision of housing and support services for all people with disabilities who have been institutionalised.
Forty girls have been killed by a fire at a state-owned home for abused teenagers in Guatemala. The fire started when residents set mattresses alight following an overnight riot and attempt to escape the overcrowded and long-criticised facility. Riot police had been called the previous night to quell unrest, capturing and isolating 40 escapees in the dormitory where the fire later broke out. According to survivors, the girls escaped and then started the fire to protest rape and abuse at the Virgen de Asunción home, which has long been the subject of complaints about violence, inadequate food, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. The shelter had an official capacity of 500, but housed at least 800 at the time of the fire. In a public statement, Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales blamed the disaster on the courts for ignoring a request by his administration to transfer youths with criminal records out of the facility to detention centres.
Claims that the Hungarian government plans to detain all asylum seekers aged 14 and older in shipping containers after they enter the country has prompted a wave of criticism from human rights groups. A coalition of civil society organisations this week deemed the move a “flagrant violation of international law”, while UNICEF sounded the alarm over the measure’s potentially traumatising effect on children. Afshan Khan, UNICEF's regional director in Europe, explained: "It effectively criminalises children and robs them of their rights such as education. The impact of this on any child, no matter their age, can last a lifetime". The plans also fail to take into account evolving international law on the topic, as just this week two Bangladeshi asylum seekers who were detained in shipping containers in Hungary were each awarded more than €10,000 in compensation and €8,000 in costs.
The government of the United Kingdom may have illegally detained many child asylum seekers, according to a decision by the country’s court of appeal. The ruling assessed the legality of “reasonable belief” age assessment test for unaccompanied minors after a Sudanese child was detained because an immigration officer believed he was over 18. Delivering the judgment on Thursday, Lord Justice Davis said that if the result was not acceptable to the government “then its remedy is to amend the statutory provisions”. The ruling follows from a decision in the UK’s high court last year, which ruled that the policy of relying on the “reasonable belief” of immigration officers was legally flawed and declared that age assessments in unaccompanied minor cases must be determined as “an issue of objective fact”.
A federal judge in the United States has granted a temporary restraining order against President Trump’s second executive order banning immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries. The order is limited to the one man and his family, and will remain in effect only until the asylum request for his wife and child can be resolved. The judge found that returning to Aleppo while waiting for the outcome of the asylum request would pose, "significant risk of irreparable harm" for the man and his family. Lawyers and activists across the US have filed challenges and prepared protests to oppose the new ban, which comes into force on 16 March, claiming that it is not substantially different to the president’s first order banning travel from seven countries. In the meantime travel for refugees and migrants from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen remains effectively blocked, with stories of children and families being denied entry remaining common.
Proven instances of killing, maiming and recruitment of children increased sharply in Syria last year, leading UNICEF to deem it the worst year yet for the nation’s young population. In a new report on the situation of Syria’s children UNICEF said that 2016 represented the "highest on record" level of grave violations against children since the civil war began. According to the report, at least 652 children were killed in 2016, with 255 of those killed in or near a school. The number of child fatalities in 2016 was at least 20 percent higher than in 2015, with 647 children also reported as injured, though the true number is likely to be far higher. After six years of conflict, nearly six million children in Syria depend on humanitarian assistance; 2.8 million live in hard-to-reach areas, including 280,000 living under siege; and more than 2.3 million live as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq.
A 15-year-old has been shot dead by security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir during protests over a raid that killed two suspected rebels. The boy, named as Amir Nazir, was one of a group of protesters wounded when police fired live ammunition, tear gas and shotgun pellets in a confrontation that reportedly killed two militants, two demonstrators and wounded as many as ten other people. A senior police officer explained that a gun battle erupted early on Thursday after troops cordoned off the southern half of a village, having received a tip that armed rebels were hiding there. According to police, villagers marched to the area and attacked government forces with rocks, though this account has been disputed in other local reports. Protests in Kashmir have been ongoing since July 2016, triggered by the killing of a popular secessionist leader by security forces, with many children injured or killed while attending protests.
Guns assembled in the United Kingdom may be being sold for use in conflicts involving child soldiers, according to new research by the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic security (BITS). The report alleges that at least one gun manufacturer in Germany is attempting to bypass obstacles to exports at home by using a subsidiary company in the UK, where a “lack of transparency” has frustrated attempts to scrutinise arms deals. The report showed that in 1969 and 2008, the German government allowed Heckler & Koch, a major weapons manufacturer, to sell Saudi Arabia licences to manufacture its assault rifles. In May 2015, Berlin admitted that Saudi Arabia had supplied these rifles to militias fighting in Yemen, where the UN has confirmed that more than 1,400 children have been recruited as part of the conflict. The report also presents case studies from other countries where German weapons have seen use, including Colombia, Syria, Iraq, India and the Philippines.