Thursday, May 30, 2013

Will Saudi Arabia end child marriage?

Three years ago, 12-year-old Fatima was "sold" into marriage to a man more than four times her age. Her father, unemployed and addicted to drugs, sold her into wedlock for about $10,500, money that he then used to buy himself a car. You might be asking yourself how this possible. The answer – because there is no minimum age of marriage law in Saudi Arabia.
But Fatima didn’t give up. With the help of Equality Now, her uncle and our Saudi partners, Fatima beat the odds earlier this year to secure something many thought was impossible given the cultural norms she was pushing up against – a divorce. And with new regulations being considered that would effectively set a minimum age for marriage of 16, Saudi Arabia may finally be taking the steps necessary to ensure that children like Fatima are spared a similar ordeal.
After years of debate, the Ministry of Justice has drafted regulations setting 16 as the minimum age of marriage in the Kingdom. If a girl is under 16, her mother’s approval must be received. If a male guardian applies, a designated court of marriage must also approve the marriage before consent can be given. The girl must also be medically and psychologically fit, and there is a provision that the marriage must not be expose her to danger (although these requirements are not elaborated on). The proposals will now be discussed by the Shura Council (the consultative assembly), the cabinet and various governmental committees. A timetable for their passage has not been announced.
Clearly, the draft regulations are only a start, and the exemptions to the minimum age are still troubling. But in a country where the male guardian had absolute power in deciding a girl’s fate, the proposed legislation is a welcome step in the direction of recognizing the discrimination inherent in the male guardianship system.
The draft regulations also help the Saudi government move toward fulfilling its international human rights obligations in relation to ending child marriage, which it should implement  without delay. But it should also press forward and work to meet the internationally recognized standard of a minimum marriage age of 18.
Sadly, Saudi Arabia is not the only country sidelining the rights of children – child marriages continue in numerous countries, despite the clear evidence that such marriages have severe adverse physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications for the children involved.  Indeed, the World Health Organization has estimated that over the next decade, 100 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday.
The emotional consequences of child marriage are obvious as the practice violates the human rights of girls by excluding them from decisions regarding the timing of marriage and choice of spouse. But the adverse impact on their health is equally troubling, with such marriages frequently marking an abrupt initiation into sexual relations, often with a husband who is considerably older and a relative stranger. Premature pregnancy, meanwhile, carries significant health risks, and pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 years worldwide. Early marriage also jeopardizes girls’ right to education, while stifling the potential for social connections. Marrying girls restricts their mobility, limits their control over resources, leaves them with little power in their new households, and, according to studies by UNICEF, places them at considerable risk of domestic violence.
Saudi Arabia has undoubtedly turned an important corner with these proposed regulations, and has demonstrated an increasing commitment to addressing concerns about its treatment of women and girls. And the draft regulations should be seen for what they are – a step toward addressing the wider issue of male guardianship. Saudi Arabian authorities, however, must be encouraged to abandon discrimination against women and girls, whether it be over access to education, employment or justice through the legal system.
Saudi women, along with all women, should have the ability to make their own life choices, and nobody will lose by restoring fairness and ensuring equal access and opportunity. Empowering women and girls will have enormous economic, cultural and social benefits for Saudi Arabia as a whole. The question now is whether the country’s leaders are willing to keep pressing ahead.
Post by:  

Rape cases: CII says DNA data not acceptable as primary evidence

Published in Dawn on May 30,2013 at

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has declared that DNA test is not acceptable as primary evidence in cases of rape, but it could be used as a supporting evidence for confirmation of the crime.
A meeting of the CII, presided over by its chairman Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani on Wednesday, also maintained that there was nothing wrong with the blasphemy law and it didn’t need amendment.
The meeting was of the view that Islam has set procedures to determine cases of rape and said Islamic procedure should be adopted during investigation.
It declared human cloning illegal because it is against Islam.
The CII directed the Higher Education Commission and other institutions to correct English translation of ‘Allah’, ‘Rasool’ and ‘Masjid’.
It said the usage of ‘Holy Book’ and ‘Holy Place’ was illegal.
The meeting expressed concern over changes made in the syllabus of Islamic Studies, especially in Punjab, and instructed the provincial government to include the deleted chapters/essays from the curriculum.
It instructed the Director General, Research, Mohammad Ilyas Khan who is also CII secretary, to send letters to all provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan asking them to ensure Islamic education in their syllabus.
The meeting ordered the authorities to look into the books being taught in educational institutions and rectify errors.
The council suggested dialogue to resolve the issue of ‘Ruet-i-Hilal’ (sighting of moon) due to which every year a dispute arises between religious scholars of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and other provinces.
Maulana Mufti Ghulam Mustafa Rizvi, retired Justice Nazir Akhtar, retired Justice Mushtaq Ahmed, Dr Mohammad Idrees Soomro, Allama Iftikhar Hussain Naqvi, Saeed Ahmed Shah Gujrati, Maulana Hanif Jalandhari and others attended the meeting.

Pressured to bear children

Ramesh and Shanti are waiting to have children until they can save some money, which is atypical. Most newly married girls face strong pressure to start bearing children right away.
Suneeta Kori, at age 20, already has three daughters and a son. When she brought her youngest to a clinic for immunization, she told a health worker she was not ready to start using family planning, since her mother-in-law wants her to have one more boy.
About half of the girls worldwide who are affected by child marriage live in South Asia. This harmful practice persists for various sociocultural and economic reasons. But the common thread that runs across all ethnic groups and religions is the low status of women and girls.
The parents of both Bijay Laxmi and Shanti were both motivated by a traditional belief that they would go to heaven if their daughters were married before reaching puberty.
Child marriage often denies girls an education, and often subjects them to discrimination, domestic violence and abuse. Many start bearing children before their bodies are ready, putting them and their babies at deadly risk during childbirth.

Say "NO" to Child Marraiges

Bijay Laxmi, 15 years old, has been married since she was 11. In a few months, she will move in with the family of a husband she doesn’t know. There, she will cook, clean, tend the livestock and, most likely, start having children of her own.
She knows giving birth at such a young age is dangerous, but the choice will be not hers.
“I’m sorry I was married young, but what can I do?” Bijay Laxmi asks. “I will try to convince my in-laws that it would be better if I started having children in four years.”
In Nepal, half of all girls are married by age 18, even though child marriage is against the law. Campaigns against the practice are starting to have an impact, and a growing number of girls, empowered to defend their rights, are resisting child marriage. But the change is coming too slowly and too late for many.

Too young, Too poor

Shanti was married at age 12, but she and her husband are trying to save up some money before having children.
Photo: William A. Ryan/UNFPA

Shanti, 16, has lived with her husband Ramesh and his family since she was 14. Ramesh, 17, left school after fifth grade and has no job.
“Life is hard, because my husband has no earnings,” Shanti says, and then recounts her normal routine: “Every day I cook the morning meal for my in-laws, feed the livestock, clean out the shed, watch the cattle in the field, cook the afternoon meal and then clean the pots – all by myself.”
Ramesh says it breaks his heart to tell Shanti there is no money when she needs something. “My advice to other young people is to stay in school,” he says. “Don’t get married if you can’t provide for your family.”
Unfortunately, Shanti and Ramesh had no say in whether to marry. Their parents arranged their formal marriage when he was 12 and she was 11.
Shanti gets lonely when Ramesh goes to India for months at a time to do manual labour, leaving her with her in-laws.
“I’m married now; my mother cannot look after me,” she says. “I love my husband and I don’t want him to go away. But we are poor; that’s the reality.”
“I have to bear my fate,” Shanti adds. “But I’ve told my parents: please let my sisters stay in school.”

Eight Adiala Jail inmates test HIV/AIDS positive

At least eight inmates at the notorious Adiala Jail have been tested HIV/Aids positive and around 32 are suspected of having the disease during a screening carried out by the Punjab Aids Control Programme, The Express Tribune has learnt.
A doctor at the jail, speaking on condition of anonymity, said  that at least 5,000 prisoners were screened on Tuesday for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Aids) under Punjab’s programme.
“During the screening test a total of 40 inmates have been diagnosed to be suffering from Aids,” the doctor said, adding that blood samples collected from the inmates have been sent to a laboratory for further tests. He said eight samples tested positive and the infected inmates will be provided treatment under the programme till their stay in prison.
“These tests will also determine the stage of infection and the patient’s readiness for drug treatment, which may depend on a variety of factors such as the patient’s medical history,” he claimed, adding that 32 results were still pending.  Almost all those who tested positive are drug addicts and shared syringes.
Superintendent Adiala Jail Malik Mushtaq confirmed that the prisoners tested positive for Aids during the screening.
“We have been carrying Aids screening tests on a monthly basis and mostly drug addicts who use and share syringes are diagnosed as HIV/Aids affected,” Mushtaq stated. 
Dr Salman Shahid, Project Director Punjab Aids Control Programme, also confirmed the cases. “We have imparted proper training to doctors and technical staff of all jails in the province,” Shahid said.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trading a 13-year-old daughter for a new wife. Rangina, Afghanistan

Rangina’s mother died when she was 12. In 2003, at the age of 13 she was forcibly married in abadaal (exchange) marriage as her father wanted to acquire a new wife. According to Rangina, the man that she was forced to marry had mental health problems.
“I was my father’s only daughter, so when my mother died and he wanted a new wife he gave me away in exchange. The man he gave me to was mentally ill. I did not want to marry him, but I had no choice. My father did not listen, and my mother was dead. My father thought only about his new marriage, not about me, his daughter.”

Rangina says that her in-laws verbally and physically abused her:
“All the family members were beating me, and calling me names. I was so miserable. My husband couldn’t speak properly, so I didn’t understand what he was saying. My mother-in-law would always say to me, “You are worthless—see how little your father cared about you—he married you to my son, and he is like this, he is mentally ill.”

My father thought only about his new marriage, not about me, his daughter.
After one year, Rangina ran away. Despite coming from a remote and highly conservative area of eastern Afghanistan, she managed to journey to the capital, a perilous trip for a young woman to make alone. She made contact with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, who arranged for her to stay in a shelter. Her husband’s family found out, and came to Kabul to demand her return. She told us,
“They came and asked for me to come back. I said no, they kept coming. I always say no. I don’t want to go back. I can’t go back. They want to kill me.”

An official who wishes to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch that the family discovered the location of the shelter and made threats against her and her staff. The family enlisted the support of various powerful regional political figures to pressure the government to return Rangina to them. A delegation of elders from her province, with the backing of various senators and members of parliament, called on the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to return her. The Ministry of Interior also supported their efforts, despite the illegality of her marriage under Afghan law.
The case was even debated in parliament, where a majority of MPs who spoke did so in favor of Rangina being returned to her husband’s family. Some MPs also called for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to be closed because it was encouraging girls to run away from home. The director of the shelter says that the debate became very personalized:
“In parliament they named me, they said I was hiding her, and that I wasn’t Muslim, I was Western, I was working for foreigners, for foreign ideas. They got 500 signatures against shelters, against me, against the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and took it to the president.”

The lobbying attempts of the husband’s family culminated in a meeting that included representatives from the Office of the President, the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Court, parliamentary representatives, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
President Karzai became directly involved. Instead of ensuring protection for Rangina and enforcement of Afghanistan’s marriage law, he urged Rangina to trust her husband’s family when they promised they would not harm her. Rangina refused and said:
“I told Karzai that if he was so confident then he could send his wife or daughter to my village instead of me.”

The cousin of Rangina’s husband, Haji Munowar Khan, led the campaign to have her returned. He told a BBC reporter that Rangina would not be returned to her husband against her will, and she could instead be given to one of his brothers:
“We don’t want our woman to be in Kabul, we can’t allow her to have another husband. We’re not foreigners–we’re not Russians–we’re not unbelievers, we’re Muslims, and we are Pashtuns, and for Pashtuns three things matter–our religion, our women, and our country. To defend these three things we will give up our lives. We’ve promised we won’t do anything to her, and if she comes back to our village we’ll promise again, we won’t harm her at all.”

Rangina has now been living in a shelter for five years. Her attempts to gain a legal separation from her husband, which began in 2007, have so far been unsuccessful. Rangina’s husband has repeatedly failed to appear in court, which under the civil code can be grounds for granting a woman a separation. However, there has still been no resolution.
In August 2007, the Supreme Court accepted a request to have the case heard by the Family Court in Kabul on the grounds that her life could be endangered if she traveled to her home province. However, the Family Court demanded witnesses to prove that she suffered abuse and that her husband was mentally ill. Nobody from her home province agreed to testify on her behalf, because of fear of retribution from the husband’s family in the region. No witness protection program exists. Rangina said:
“I don’t like the courts or the judges. Whenever I go there they say, “Why did you run away? Why did you do this, why you do that?” And now they ask for evidence even though they know I cannot give it to them. It is too dangerous.”

According to a human rights worker connected to the case, the Family Court wants to delay a decision and wait for a presidential intervention:
“The judges are supportive, but they are too afraid to take responsibility because they have no security. There will be danger for the judge if she takes a decision.”

They are saying that her husband is a good man, and he gave her clothes, food, medicine. They say she’s a bad lady to leave her home.
The head of the Family Court is Qazi Rahima Razayee. She denied that she is afraid to act. Instead, she said that the problem was that nobody wants to testify on Rangina’s behalf:
“Nobody wants to come to support her. They are saying that her husband is a good man, and he gave her clothes, food, medicine. They say she’s a bad lady to leave her home, she’s not a good lady.”

When asked why the court could not provide a separation on the grounds that the marriage had been illegal in the first place, since Rangina was underage and forced to marry, the judge said:
“She was 13 when she married this person. This was against our law. But if she didn’t want to marry her husband then she should have come to us at that time and made her objections. Instead she stayed with him for two years and she was happy with that, and only when she’s 15 does she come to us and complain, so then we can’t do anything.”

Faced with pressure from the president, hostility from powerful MPs, and extralegal arguments by the head of the Family Court, women and girls in situations such as Rangina have little reason to trust the state or government to protect them.

The burden of being a child bride in Vietnam

“I was on my way home from school. Together with three men, this boy caught me and tied me up. They carried me to the boy’s house and locked me in a small room for three days. His parents brought alcohol and money to my brother’s house. My brother accepted the price and I became the boy’s wife.”
This is the story of 12-year-old May, a member of the Hmong ethnic group from northern Vietnam’s mountainous Ha Giang province. The colourful local culture and dramatic landscapes of the area attract tourists by the busload, but behind this vista of beauty is the little known custom of hai pu (literally “pull wife”) or bride kidnapping. May’s new husband, Pao, the boy who kidnapped her, is also 12 years old and works across the border in China as a labourer. May didn’t know him before the kidnapping.

Stolen dreams

Although illegal in Vietnam, bride kidnapping is regularly practised in Hmong communities. The process involves a boy kidnapping a girl without her or her family’s consent. Once the girl is at the hopeful husband’s home, his parents are obliged to contact the girl’s family, who can either demand her release or accept the marriage. A bride price, to be paid by the boy’s family, is then negotiated.
May is one of 10 million girls around the world each year who are forced into marriage before they are 18. One in every three girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18; one in seven by the age of 15.
Vietnamese law requires men to be at least 20 years old and women to be at least 18 before marrying. Both spouses must also give free consent. But child marriage persists in rural areas like Ha Giang.
Now I’m married, I will life a life like other married girls in the village: taking care of the family, working on the field and giving birth”
May dearly misses her hour-long walk to school. It was on that same path, slick with mud during the rainy season, that she was kidnapped.
“If I don’t get married at this age, I can go to school and nurture my dream to be a teacher. However, if I become a teacher, no men in the village will want to marry me. They don’t like highly-educated women. They prefer the young ones who can work hard in the field,” she says. “Now I’m married, I will live a life like other married girls in the village: taking care of the family, working on the field and giving birth.”

Left on the shelf

Girls in Ha Giang are considered “left on the shelf” if they are not married by age 18, says Tanushree Soni, Plan International’s gender specialist in Asia.
“Gender is society’s expectation of the roles of men and women, boys and girls. If a society assigns high value and expectations to nurturing roles for women, then girls will be socialised and prepared to perform them.”
These nurturing roles include cooking, cleaning, planting crops and starting a family. Child marriage disproportionately affects the educational opportunities and achievements of married girls, adds Soni.
“Child marriage is closely associated with lower education and economic status of girls. Child brides are less able than older or unmarried girls to access schooling and income-generating opportunities.”
Research by Plan International found that 33 per cent of married boys in Ha Giang have never enrolled in school, compared with 67 per cent of married girls, while only 17 per cent of married girls complete their secondary education compared with 48 per cent of married boys.
Despite opportunities for girls to complete primary and secondary education in Ha Giang, traditional gender roles and expectations are holding girls like May back.
“I’m not happy, but because I am a girl, I cannot do anything to change this,” she says.

Calling for Access to Contraception at Women Deliver 2013

From 28-30 May, Kuala Lumpur plays host to the Women Deliver conference, billed as “the largest global event of the decade to focus on the health and empowerment of girls and women.” This is particularly timely as May 28th is the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, which highlights access to contraceptives and family planning as a human right. Women’s ability to choose the number, spacing and whether they wish to have children is a basic human right, an important indicator of women’s empowerment, and is a cornerstone for improving women’s health outcomes. It is also very much a development issue, as it is linked to poverty alleviation and attaining food security and sovereignty.
Globally, approximately 222 million women have unmet need for modern contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Of these, 140 million women come from Asia-Pacific. Women who have an unmet need for contraception are those who are sexually active and wish to delay or stop having children, but are not using modern contraception. The Malaysian case is a good example through which to view the problem of unmet contraceptive need. According to the UNFPA, the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) in Malaysia has stagnated at approximately 50% in the last 20 years. CPR refers to the percentage of women of reproductive age who are using some method of contraception; comparatively, countries like Australia, Thailand and Vietnam have a contraceptive prevalence rate of over 70%.The Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM), one of ARROW’s Malaysian national partners, states that Malaysia’s low CPR results in high unwanted pregnancies, and “clearly indicates the continuing problem of public perceptions about the safety of modern contraception and the inadequacy of family planning programmes and the media to accurately inform and reassure people.” This is a common theme across much of Asia-Pacific. Sivananthi Thanenthiran, the Executive Director of ARROW, says, “Unmet need is routinely underestimated in Asia-Pacific as the data does not reflect unmarried women except in Cambodia and the Pacific.”
But why is access to contraception important? It reduces unwanted pregnancies, which limits demand for unsafe abortion. The lack of access to safe, legal abortion services kills and disables thousands of women in the global South each year. Spacing of children would also reduce pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths, one of the top killers of women in the Asia-Pacific. Access to contraception is critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters by 2015.
Beyond the above, Thanenthiran emphasises, “We need to understand that sexual and reproductive health is not only an issue of access to health services. Women being able to decide on the number, timing and spacing of the children they bear is an important indicator of women’s autonomy over their bodies.”  Unmet need for contraception tends to reflect wider concerns of gender inequality. Due to the fact health care is not universally available either for free or at subsidised rates in Asia- Pacific, women who experience complications during pregnancy or childbirth can face substantial costs that drive them into poverty.
The Women Deliver conference is unique in that it brings together researchers, policy makers and civil society organisations from all around the world in order to problem solve for better health outcomes for women and girls. This is the first Women Deliver global conference to be held in Asia and signals the growing sentiment that women’s health and girls health are of crucial importance to the health and success of growing and developing Asian economies.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Iran moves to legalize marriage for girls under 10 years old

When Saudi Arabia announced three months ago that girls as young as 10-years old would now be allowed to marry, Iran decided to drop the age limit even further.
Iranian Christian news service Mohabat News reports a member of the Iranian Parliament (Majiles) Mohammad Ali Isfenani, "we must regard 9 as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married. To do otherwise would be to contradict and challenge Islamic Sharia law."
He argues,"Before the revolution girls under 16 were not allowed to marry. Parents determined to get around the law would often tamper with their daughter's birth certificate. Under the previous constitution, people were legally regarded as adults when they were 18. After the revolution the age at which children were regarded as going through puberty was lowered to 9 for girls and 15 for boys.
Mohabat News reports statistics that show over the past few weeks, over 75 female children under 10 were forced to marry much older men. And in nearly 4000 cases, both the bride and groom were under 14.
The Examiner says according to a news release from the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee, the current civil law, drafted before the revolution in the late 1970's regarding the legal age of marriage for girls under the age of ten, is considered "un-Islamic and illegal."
Majiles (Iranian Parliament) is now expected to vote on the proposal to bring civil law more in line with Sharia Law.
The Women's News Network reports that there are more than 10-million girls under the age of 18 married each year around the world, usually without their consent and to much older men.
Baroness Jenny Tonge, chair of a British parliamentary inquiry looking at the issue of child brides, tells the Women's News Network, "We decided to look into child marriage because some two, three years ago we did an investigation into maternal mortality." "We realised that one of the major causes of maternal death is early marriage, and (that) the girls are married so young that their bodies are simply not ready for child birth." She tells the story of one young girl, "she was an eight-year-old who was married to a 45 to 50-year-old in Yemen, arranged by his family – died three days later after the first intercourse from bleeding. When you hear the stories, it just makes you feel quite sick."
A report from the British inquiry is expected early this fall.

Ordinance to help curb HIV/Aids promulgated

Sindh became the ‘first territory’ in South Asia to have a law to control and treat HIV/Aids as an ordinance was signed.

Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad promulgated ‘The Sindh HIV/AIDS Control, Treatment and Protection Ordinance 2013’ on Wednesday, said press secretary to the governor Syed Wajahat Ali.
Caretaker Sindh law minister Mehmood Mandviwalla said with the promulgation of the ordinance, Sindh had become the first region in South Asia to have such an ordinance.
“We are the first in the whole South Asia, even countries like India and Sri Lanka are yet to enact such a law,” said Mr Mandviwalla while speaking to Dawn.
He said with the ordinance, which would be in effect for the next 90 days, people living with HIV would be ensured to be treated as equal citizens of the country and an unfair stigma and discrimination associated with the disease would be helped to dilute.
Besides, he said, the law was made in such a way that it would ensure prevention of epidemic-like situations vis-à-vis the disease in such districts as Hyderabad and Larkana.
“HIV is in our society and it is spreading. We should take it as a reality and take measures to counter it instead of sweep the matter under the carpet,” he said.
He said NGOs, religious scholars and all other stakeholders were eager to deal with the problem.
“We could draft and implement such a landmark law because of the devolution process through the 18th constitutional amendment,” he said.
“We have introduced an ordinance and have offered it to the next political government, which should make it into law through legislation.”
He said with this law not only Sindh but the whole country would get appreciation in the international community as “we are party to most UN conventions but our pace of ratifications is not very appreciable”.
The ordinance contains implementation and monitoring, formation of the Sindh Aids Commission, administration of the Sindh Aids Commission, prohibition of discrimination based on HIV status, penalties for discrimination, measures with regard to awareness of HIV/Aids, need for behaviour change, communication and advocacy, HIV screening for sexual assault cases, children, prisoners, provision of universal precautions and post-exposure prophylaxis, confidentiality of information, authorised disclosure of information, partner notification to prevent HIV transmission, penalties of risk of transmission HIV/Aids, penalties of negligence of a health facility, penalties of unauthorised disclosure, etc.
According to the ordinance, a six-member commission would be formed and all members would be taken from outside the government.
The commission would also be responsible to advise the government on all matters relating to prevention, control, care, support and treatment of the disease.He said the most important provisions of this ordinance were protection provided to the people living with HIV against discriminations in all spheres of life, including healthcare, employment and education.
The ordinance also incorporates penalties prescribed for any such discrimination and stigmatisation of HIV/Aids patients.
Mr Mandviwalla said that Pakistan was facing a concentrated epidemic of HIV/Aids and the government since 1987, when the first HIV positive case was reported in the country, had been trying to respond to the situation, through national and provincial Aids control programmes.
”It prohibits coercion and/or requirement of screening of a person for any of the above purposes or for marriage,” said Mr Mandviwalla.
Published in Dawn on may 23, 2013

In control of their lives

Poonam of Nangal Salagri village in Himachal Pradesh’s Una district was barely 18 when she got married. With no idea of how to prevent pregnancy, she gave birth to a baby daughter at 19. A second daughter followed soon. With two children and an entire household to look after by the time she turned 20, Poonam found herself struggling to fulfil her responsibilities.
When the local anganwadi bahenji spoke to her about using contraception — condom or oral contraceptive pill (OCP) — to control her family size, she mustered the courage to speak to her alcoholic husband about it. He paid no heed and thrashed her instead. Two traumatic miscarriages later, Poonam was once again pregnant and gave birth to her third daughter. Physically and emotionally exhausted, this 24-year-old is dreading the day she finds herself in the family way yet again. Poonam now gets OCPs from the anganwadi worker and takes them on the sly. If caught, she is sure to be beaten by her in-laws, who are desperate for a grandson.
Every Indian State has its share of Poonams, who, in the absence of relevant knowledge and access to family planning services, have no control over their lives. In a bid to make a difference to women like her, the government has been working towards nationally repositioning family planning within the framework of maternal and child health and women’s rights, instead of seeing it as tool for population control.
It started with the National Population Policy (NPP) of 2000 — a document that moved the country away from a target-oriented approach hinged on sterilisation to the affirmation of people’s voluntary and informed choices in reproductive health. In fact, a major objective enumerated in the NPP is the focus on delaying age at marriage to 18 years and addressing the vast unmet need for spacing and limiting births.
The reality is that even though India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has declined to 2.5 and many States have achieved replacement level fertility, it has not meant a significant decline in maternal and infant mortality levels. Among the reasons for this is the large unmet need for family planning, which stands at an estimated 32 million.
One in six women begins childbearing between 15 and 19 years. So preventing early marriage, then, constitutes the first step. But this, according to the Population Foundation of India (PFI)-initiated systematic review of effective interventions to reposition family planning implemented in various developing countries, is an especially challenging goal, owing to age-old community norms. Through systemic research of literature and intervention studies, this review has identified strategies that have been effective in delaying age at marriage and at first birth, increasing birth spacing and improving quality of family planning services.
According to Dr. Shanta Sinha, Chairperson, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), “There can be no greater violation of a girl’s human rights than forcing her into a physical relation by way of marriage. A few years ago, the NCPCR did a survey to find out what happens to child brides one year after marriage. We collected stories of 70 youngsters in the 12-14 year age group in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. The results were horrific. Some had gone into depression; many had come back to parental homes unable to cope.”
To delay marriage, while the PFI review recommends keeping girls in school, intensive community mobilisation and providing life skills education to young women and men, in Dr Sinha’s experience, too, “talking education with the family along with the possibility of a job is the most powerful weapon against early marriage”.
In Bihar, Sanjay Kumar, executive director, State Health Society, feels this can be a credible solution. In Bihar, the TFR is a high 3.7, 46 per cent of the girls get married at the age of 16 and 60 per cent of them are mothers before they reach 19. Says Mr. Kumar, “As of now about half of the 8,000 panchayats in the State have a high school. We are advocating the opening of a high school in every panchayat. Moreover, the State government has been distributing cycles to girls in Class IX and X so that they can travel independently to the nearest high school.”
Besides averting early marriages, engaging young couples on contraception use to delay the first pregnancy and ensure adequate birth spacing is another priority area. Anuradha Gupta, mission director, National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), puts it this way, “The only message we have given out these past two years is that family planning is all about families making their own choices. We do tell couples about the importance of having smaller families for the sake of their own health and better quality of life.”
When it comes to delaying first pregnancy, Dr. T.K. Sundari Ravindran of the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies stresses on the need to provide women with an enabling environment, “One-to-one community counselling for couples as well as other gatekeepers like mothers-in-law, local panchayat leaders and even religious leaders are known to remove barriers.”
Published in "The Hindu: newspaper on May 14, 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

President approves extension of ‘Criminal Law Act, 2011’ to PATA

President Asif Ali Zardari on the advice of the prime minister has approved the extension of ‘criminal law (Third Amendment) Act, 2011’ to the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Spokesperson to the president Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the president, in exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of article 247 of the constitution of Pakistan, has approved and signed the notification.
The Criminal Law Act, 2011 shall now apply to the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
After the extension in the criminal act, section 310-A of Pakistan penal code now provides for punishment of up to 7 year imprisonment but not less than 3 years and a fine of five hundred thousand rupees for giving a female in marriage or otherwise in badla-e-Sulh, Wanni or Swara or any other custom or practice under any name, in consideration of settling a civil dispute or a criminal liability.
Whereas, sections 498-A, B& C, dealing with offences against women, now provides for prohibition of depriving women from inheriting property, prohibition of forced marriage and prohibition of marriage with the Holy Quran respectively.
The summary received in the presidency states that the KP governor has approved the proposal for extension of the said act and accordingly the home and tribal affairs department of the province, after being vet by the law, justice and parliamentary affairs division submitted the summary to the prime minister through the ministry of states and frontier regions for onward submission to the president for his approval.
The spokesperson said that under article 247 of the constitution, no act of parliament or provincial assembly shall apply to PATA or any part thereof unless the governor of province, in which the tribal area is situated, with the approval of the president, so directs.
Published in Dawn on May 15th, 2013

Women’s health in rural areas of Pakistan

Pakistan is a developing country so its women have to face a lot of health problems particularly in rural areas. It is estimated that about 1,600 women per 100,000 die during childbirth.

The main reasons of this alarming percentage are lack of education, health care centres and tribal customs that restricted the women from clinical tests. In most of the rural areas most of the tribal customs forbid women to work and to be visited by male doctors, as a result most of the women do not go to hospital for check-ups.

The main health problem for the rural women is sexually transmitted diseases, and reproductive tract infections. Important point is that, unfortunately, most of the rural women remain unaware to these disorders, main reason is that a rural women have to pay a tough duty. Out of 278 rural women 61.5% work in the fields with her males, even during pregnancy. Not only this, she also have to pay duty in kitchen and other household activities. At the end of the day she has no time to think about her health and about her baby and 9 months complete in this routine.

Moreover, socio-economic conditions of rural areas of Pakistan are highly responsible for the poor health of women. In 2004-2005 government estimated that nearly 24% of rural population was living below poverty line. And in Pakistan there is patriarchal family system particularly it is very strictly obeyed in rural areas. The most common problem in rural areas of Pakistan is that women deliver at home and unfortunately it is hardly to predict which women will develop pregnancy complications, and many complications rapidly become life threatening. Only 44% of the women in Pakistan delivers by skilled birth attendant which is very below than required value.

Another major problem is that literacy rate of rural women is very low. She cannot understand complications of reproductive cycle and face a lot of problems which not only disturb her family but also affect the development of Pakistan. Women’s education not only important for mothers health but very important for her baby.

Available information from 68 countries with data on under-five mortality by mothers’ education indicates that a woman’s education is a key factor in determining whether her children will survive past the first five years of life. A child’s chances of surviving increase even further when his or her mother has a secondary or higher education. Children of mothers with no education in the Latin America and Caribbean region are 3.1 times more likely to die than those with mothers who have secondary or tertiary education and 1.6 times more likely to die than those whose mothers have primary education.

These facts suggest that rural women’s deficits in education have broader and longer-term implications for family well-being and poverty reduction.

SUGESTIONS: 1. Every Pakistani have to get education at least up to graduation particularly girls education must be necessary. 2. Female doctors should be appointed in rural areas. 3. There should be a hospital in every village. 4. Technical schools for men and women should be established so that rural population can improve the living standard thus helping the country in progress.

Published in The News on May 22, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

EVAW Law to protect women & girls in Afghanistan stalled in Parliament

Going in what numerous human rights organizations say is a ‘giant step backwards’, the Lower Afghan Parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga, has been debating the reversal of a protective law called the EVAW – Elimination Against Violence Women LawThis Law was officially endorsed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2009 to protect girls from child marriage, as well as protect women from unjust sentencing under accusations of adultery inside the region.
But when Afghanistan’s President signed the endorsement for the Law a large problem that has blocked much of the Law’s effectiveness was never solved, the legal process of debate for all legal changes in the country required by both the Lower and Upper Parliament to fully instate the Law was never made. Karzai signed the endorsement during a break in the Parliament and the Parliamentary sessions that followed never picked up the legislation for discussion.
Lobbying efforts prior to the Lower Parliament deliberations debate on Saturday May 18, 2013 had been heralded by Afghan women’s advocates, along with other key organizations like AWN – Afghan Women’s Network and the AIHRC – Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, that included a request that the bill not be debated at this time. What the advocates feared most was that a public dissection of the bill in Parliament may cause any protected language to be taken completely out of the Law. But their pleas seemed to fall on ‘deaf ears’ as the deliberations went through anyway and five conservative members of the Parliament as predicted pushed in the opposite direction of the original bill asking for much less legal protection for women and girls.
“What women’s and human rights activists feared, did indeed happen today [Saturday May 18, 2013]…,” outlined AAN – Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent non-profit policy research organization funded by the Government of Sweden that includes a core team of analysts and a network of contributors with expertise in the fields of Afghan politics, governance, rule of law, security, and regional affairs.
Saying that the law does not represent fundamental tenants of Sharia Law and is only coming from ‘the West’, some of the most conservative members of the Parliament echoed strong conservative religious policies that are still upheld today by many of Afghanistan’s rural tribal community leaders.
Getting the bill pushed through both Lower and Upper Parliament may be much more difficult say the women’s advocates, as a majority of those in the Parliament hold conservative religious views.
“…Five MPs stood up and said early marriage and forced marriage should not be considered crimes, shelters had to be abolished, women who wanted to work needed their husbands’ approval and the conditions for multiple marriages had to be got rid of,” outlined the researchers for AAN who heard directly from observers that were present during the Parliamentary session. “Only six MPs and the speaker had the chance to express themselves before the debate was stopped,” AAN added.
The EVAW law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. This includes legal protections for women and girls from forced prostitution and sex-trafficking, early marriage, restrictions on polygamy and the trading of young girls in the tribal Pashtun custom of Baad, which has been used by Afghan tribals for centuries to settle disputes. It also grants women and girls greater access to equal education, property and land inheritance.
Because the government of Afghanistan has officially endorsed the Law, EVAW Law offices have been opened in local regions throughout Afghanistan. The result is that some court decisions have used the Law even without Parliamentary support, but the court actions are still limited by the limitations of the Law as it exists today.
“Traditional mechanisms coexist with State institutions and handle various types of cases throughout Afghanistan. Composed of influential male elders, they generally seek to preserve families and prevent escalation of tribal and other conflicts rather than protect
individual rights and enforce law.,” says a November 2011 report by United Nations OHCHR – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Head of the Parliament’s Women’s Affairs Commission, Ms. Fawzia Koofi, who has publicly said she wants to run as a candidate for the next Afghanistan presidential election and who has been recently honored by Newsweek’s online publication The Daily Beast as one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World,” has been pushing for the EVAW Law to go through its formal legal process in debate inside the Parliament in spite of the fear by many women advocates that this would kill the Law. Koofi’s hope is that the Parliamentary process would actually strengthen the Law, not cause it to be stripped of its effectiveness.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Narrowing the vague: SRHR and Environment

Written by: Surendra Kumar Bohara
Kahthmandu, Nepal

Health and environment are deeply related from the past. Early ecologists had defined bad health as the result of mal-adaptation with the environment. Ecological concept of health defines health as state that is maintained by equilibrium with one’s internal and external environment. In holistic concept health means, “a sound mind in a sound body in a sound family in a sound environment”. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Right are center to all health aspects of human Health. Thus, in shaping the sound sexual and reproductive health, environment plays a vital role. World has moved into the miracle of science and technology. A world of realm and eternity has been possible due to industrialization, and this is only possible by using natural resources and omitting the natural processes. In this artificial world most of activities are against nature. From Stone Age to the modern industrialized world, nature has suffered most, and human are crossing the limit of carrying capacity of Earth. Volcanoes, Earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, floods, raising sea levels, etc. are some examples of crossing capacity of nature. Environmental pollution, decrease in cultivation of crops, unseasonal rain and pandemic diseases are some warnings of nature. One cannot fully exercise his/her right regarding sex and reproduction. Health care facilities will be less prioritized relative to climate change. Also, most of the pregnancy related complications will ends at death within geographical territory due to unaccess to health services. This is closely related to ensuring the sexual and reproductive health services and right in the society.
Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.
Countries in the developing world least responsible for the growing emissions are likely to experience the heaviest impact of climate change, with women bearing the greatest toll. In tandem with other factors, rapid population growth in these regions increases the scale of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, for example, food and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and human displacement. Over 200 million women want, but currently lack, access to modern contraceptives. As a result, 76 million unintended pregnancies occur every year. Meeting this unmet need could slow high rates of population growth, thereby reducing demographic pressure on the environment. There is now an emerging debate and interest about the links between population dynamics, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and climate change. Among the debates between solutions to climate change, population control might not be the solution. This fact can be proved since; developed countries have only 20 percent of the world population cause 80 percent of the accumulated CO2 built-up in the atmosphere. As well, population control erodes reproductive rights, victimizes the displaced, and is no substitute for gender justice. Hence, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on the perception and behavior related to sexual and reproductive health and right.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Momentum towards meeting the MDGs: 1,000 days of action remain

As of 5 April, only 1,000 days remain until the end of the 2015 target date for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight MDGs – which range from halving extreme poverty to promoting gender equality to providing universal primary education by the target date of 2015 – form an internationally agreed blueprint which countries and leading development institutions have signed onto. Since their adoption in 2000, the MDGs have made a huge difference, helping to set global and national priorities and fuel action on the ground. They have raised awareness and shaped a broad vision for development work across the world.

The MDGs are not just abstract or aspirational targets. Achieving the Goals is about ensuring certain basic human rights for all, and making a real difference in people’s lives. UN Women is actively working on the achievement of the MDGs, for which women and girls play a pivotal role, as well as for MDG3, which specifically focuses on promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.