Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

Share

© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 
Video

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.
 

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

Video

Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mozambican girls take part in a lesson as part of a program that aims to help girls stay in school longer and stay out of child marriage in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, April 20, 2018.

© 2019 AP Photo/Christopher Torchia

Mozambique’s national assembly took an important step toward ending the country’s sky-high rate of child marriage by unanimously adopting a law banning the practice. The new law prohibits marriage of children younger than 18 years old, without exception, and awaits the president’s signature to go into effect.

Mozambique has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with almost half of girls marrying before 18, and 1 in 10 before their fifteenth birthday. Child marriage often pushes girls out of school and condemns them to a life of poverty. It leaves them vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm and even death.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi should sign the proposed law without delay and ensure girls are protected from the harms of child marriage. Government authorities should then make sure that communities know about the law when it comes into force and monitor its implementation.

In 2016, Mozambique launched a National Strategy on Prevention and Fight against Child Marriage. The impact of the strategy, which expires at the end of this year, is unclear.

As parliamentarians acknowledged in the debate around the child marriage law, keeping girls in school is key to preventing child marriages. In addition to ensuring the law is fully enforcd, government authorities should also review efforts to increase school retention for girls as part of its strategy to end child marriage.

The government has already taken a few important steps in this regard. In December 2018, Mozambique revoked a discriminatory 2003 decree that forced pregnant girls to take classes at night school. Education officials should now monitor schools to ensure that pregnant girls are going to school during the day. They should ensure Mozambique’s new education strategy addresses the educational needs of all girls, including pregnant and married girls and young mothers. The government should also address other barriers to their education such as stigma and lack of finances.

By passing this law, the national assembly has recognized Mozambique’s international obligation to uphold the rights of girls. With the president’s signature, children in Mozambique will finally have a new law to protect them.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch mourns the passing of our dear former colleague Simon Rau, a talented, committed human rights advocate. As a Mercator Fellow with the Children’s Rights Division, Simon carried out research and reporting of the highest quality on barriers to education for children seeking asylum in Turkey and in Greece, and on donor funding for education in response to the Syria conflict. Simon contributed to tangible improvements in access to education for extremely vulnerable children. We send our deepest condolences to his friends and family. 

Human Rights Watch ist tief betroffen vom Tod unseres ehemaligen Kollegen Simon Rau, einem talentierten und engagierten Menschenrechtsverteidiger. Als Mercator-Stipendiat in der Abteilung für Kinderrechte führte Simon Recherchen zu Schulbildung für Flüchtlingskinder in der Türkei und in Griechenland durch. Dank Simon verbesserte sich der Zugang zu Bildung für besonders schutzbedürftige Kinder spürbar. Sein Engagement war außergewöhnlich; seine Kollegialität wurde von uns allen sehr geschätzt. Wir werden Simon sehr vermissen. Seiner Familie sprechen wir unser aufrichtiges Beileid aus.

See Simon's profile here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The school at Hammam al-Alil 1 camp for displaced people south of Mosul that security forces occupied on July 6, 7, and 9 in order to conduct security screenings of camp residents. 

© 2019 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

(Erbil) – Iraqi military have accompanied police in entering a camp for displaced people south of Mosul and started “screening” over 3,500 households there, Human Rights Watch said today. The screenings appear to include questioning camp residents about the actions and whereabouts of their relatives who are suspected of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation.

The arrival of the armed men, who occupied a school in the camp, is causing panic among camp residents, who have told Human Rights Watch that they fear arrest over the acts of their relatives, and in some cases sexual exploitation. Iraqi authorities have said they plan to conduct similar screenings at other camps for displaced people in the governorate.

“While Iraqi police forces should be taking reasonable actions to improve security for everyone, the military should not be occupying schools or even entering camps for the displaced,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “No one should become a criminal suspect just because of their relatives.”

Nine residents of Hammam al-Alil 1 camp, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, told Human Rights Watch that on July 6, agents arrived from Military Intelligence, the National Security Service (NSS), the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) forces under the Ministry of Interior, and local police.

The camp houses over 3,500 families who have been displaced for years, since fighting between ISIS and Iraqi forces broke out in the area. The families in the camp were screened when they arrived.

After some discussion, the residents said the security agents decided to conduct the screenings from the school inside the camp, which is closed for summer recess. Given the involvement of military forces, this violates international humanitarian principles and is contrary to the Safe Schools Declaration, a commitment Iraq endorsed to protect education in conflict by refraining from the use of schools by military forces. Human Rights Watch has found that the presence of fighting forces in schools endangers students and teachers, can lead to the damage and destruction of education infrastructure, and can interfere with students’ right to education.

Two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that there is already a screening site next to the camp. Aid workers at the camp said they protested the use of the school, but that security forces ignored their concerns and began using the school to screen residents on July 9, calling on families to start coming in in groups of 25.

After the first day of screening, security forces halted the process because of the objections from the aid groups, three aid workers said. As of July 17, Human Rights Watch was informed that authorities in Baghdad had decided that the screenings would relocate to the nearby screening site in coming days. 

Three witnesses also said the security forces were carrying arms when they arrived and during the screening, including at the doorway into the school caravan. An army colonel who manages security at the screening site adjacent to the camp told Human Rights Watch that they needed to be armed because his forces do not have a presence inside the camp, and because of fears that camp residents are potentially armed, smuggle drugs and alcohol into the camp, and are engaged in criminal activity like prostitution.

Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree in 2017 reiterating orders that security forces are not allowed to enter camps with weapons.

Three aid workers said the authorities told camp management they intended to conduct screenings to gather the details about the families inside the camp including their governorate of origin and to identify which families were ISIS-affiliated. The aid workers said the managers implied that families might be hiding ISIS relatives, saying they had been informed that some women in the camp with supposedly missing husbands had become pregnant in recent months, and they said they wanted to issue civil documentation to those without it.

The witnesses said they saw security forces give a group of informal community leaders in the camp forms and told the leaders that they had to give one form to each family and would risk legal action if they missed anyone. Human Rights Watch has obtained copies.

The forms tell each family to list all family members, with names, birthdates, gender, and marital status, the family’s home address, type of vehicle, and date of displacement. The forms tell families to list every family member who joined ISIS and to provide details on when they died, disappeared, or were arrested. The forms provided do not say why this information is being gathered, or by which authority.

The military colonel who manages security at the screening site outside the camp also told Human Rights Watch on July 11 that the authorities wanted to ensure that all families in the camp missing civil documentation could obtain it. However, two families who underwent the screenings on July 9 said that they told security forces they had children without civil documentation and the security forces did nothing to register the children or facilitate their access to documentation.

One woman said that she told security forces that her husband, who had joined ISIS, died in September 2017. She said: “They asked me if I was sure he was dead, and I said yes. Then they threatened – we will check that and if it turns out that you lied, we will take legal action against you.”

Another resident said: “The screenings triggered a panic in the camp, with families fearing arrest just because they have a relative who joined ISIS.” He said he knew of families who fled the camp upon hearing about the screenings, even though their home had been destroyed during military operations and they had nowhere to go.

Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances in the context of screenings linked to counterterrorism operations over the last three years in Iraq, including of family members of people perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS.

“Women near my tent were saying to me they were scared of what might happen to them going into that school alone to be screened by a group of male security forces,” the second resident said.

Four camp residents said they personally knew of cases of security forces engaging in sexual exploitation in the camp in the past. Two women described security forces entering the camp and coercing women they knew into sex, including for pay, particularly women who no longer had male adult relatives with them. One camp resident said she knew of two women in the camp who had become pregnant within the last six months as a result of coerced sex by security forces in incidents not linked to the screenings.

Two senior aid workers said the authorities have said they are planning to conduct these screenings at all camps for displaced people in Nineveh. They said they fear the security forces will again violate principles around the civilian nature of the camp by entering the camp armed and by taking over and using civilian infrastructure.

Iraqi forces should carry out Iraq’s commitments under the Safe Schools Declaration and refrain from using schools for military purposes. No military forces should enter displacement camps with their arms.

Individuals should only be detained according to the law, when there is evidence of their having committed criminal offenses themselves, and not because of the actions of their relatives.

“Security forces should ensure that they conduct their operations in line with Iraqi and international principles, and in a way that is humane and dignified for the families who participate in it,” Fakih said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sixteen beds fill a room with barred windows in a closed institution for children with disabilities.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

(Berlin) – Children with disabilities in state institutions in Kazakhstan are at risk of physical violence, forced sedation, and neglect, Human Rights Watch said today.

Kazakhstan should make it a priority to move children with disabilities out of closed residential institutions and provide support for children with disabilities to live with their families, or in other family settings in the community. All forms of violence in closed institutions and the use of restraints as a form of punishment, control, or retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff, should be prohibited.

“Hundreds of children and young adults with disabilities in Kazakhstan are locked away in closed children’s institutions, where they can face neglect and violence, and are isolated from families and society,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kazakhstan should call a halt to these abusive practices and urgently develop a way for children with disabilities and their families to get the services they need to protect their right to a family life.”

Between October 2017 and April 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 children and young adults with disabilities who had lived in closed children’s institutions, as well as parents of children with disabilities, institution staff, and disability rights experts and activists. Human Rights Watch also visited three institutions for children with disabilities.

Children and young adults who grew up in closed institutions for children with disabilities reported that staff beat them, forcibly administered sedatives to punish or control them, and forced them to take care of younger children.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, Kazakhstan has 19 state institutions for children with mental health conditions and developmental disabilities. More than 2,000 children live in these institutions, though many have at least one living parent.

Staff confirmed that they use psychotropic drugs to sedate children and have sent children to psychiatric hospitals for behavior such as screaming, shouting, or refusing to follow staff directions. Such drugs are usually medically prescribed to treat schizophrenia, sleep disorders, and strong pain. The sedatives put children to sleep, in some cases for up to 24 hours.

Several young adults who grew up in institutions said that staff beat them with objects such as crutches and mops, or slammed them or other children against the wall. Staff would also force children to work, for example to mop floors, or to feed, bathe, and change the diapers of younger children. In one institution, Human Rights Watch saw a young girl in physical restraints, with her arms fixed around her torso, enclosed in a pink cloth with sleeves tied behind her back, like a strait jacket.

Upon turning 18, many young adults with disabilities are automatically transferred to adult institutions and remain there. In part, this is due due to a lack of services to support young adults with disabilities to live independently.

They may face more violence in the adult institutions. One man described being repeatedly stripped naked and placed in a very cold cage-like isolation room as punishment.

Children with disabilities living in state children’s institutions receive little or no education. “We don’t have a school [education] program, but a correctional program,” one institution director said. “Children here are weak and difficult.”

In all the children’s institutions Human Rights Watch visited, children face neglect. Up to 16 children are kept in rooms together, with only a few caregivers. Some children, typically those who cannot walk or talk, are confined almost continuously to cribs or beds.

After her September 2017 visit to Kazakhstan, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas, noted that, “Living independently in the community is one of the major challenges for persons with disabilities in Kazakhstan,” and that she had received “worrisome allegations of violence, abuse and degrading treatment against persons placed in those institutions, especially girls and women with disabilities.”

An 18-year-old man who grew up in institutions said, “It’s not a life. They fed us, dressed us. I want to build my own life. I want a life! I want to live on my own, make [my own] food, go to work.”

In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, the Labor and Social Protection Ministry acknowledged that “large dormitory-like institutions lead to overcrowding… reduce the quality of services and the social adaptation of people in society, [and] lead to the loss of family ties.” The Labor and Social Protection Ministry also said that 727 children with disabilities had been returned to their families in 2018, facilitated by the development of day care centers. The ministry said that it plans to develop smaller homes, for 10 to 50 people.

However, while such homes may be smaller in scale, they would only perpetuate institutionalization in so far as residents would not have autonomy over their daily lives. Instead, the Kazakh government should invest in the development of community-based services to support independent living for people with disabilities. If small-group living arrangements are developed, they should be community-based, voluntary, ensure autonomy and individual decision-making, with support as necessary, and include programs to teach skills for living independently.

Kazakh law states that “every child has the right to live and be raised in their family, the right to know their parents, the right to their care, and the right to live with them, except when it is contrary to their interests.” As a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Kazakhstan should ensure that all children with disabilities can grow up in a family and be included in the community, regardless of their disability or multiple disabilities. The government is also obligated to protect children from abuse and ill-treatment and should prohibit using sedatives and physical restraints to control or punish people with disabilities.

Children should only be placed in residential institutions under the supervision of an independent judicial body, in cases of emergency, or to prevent the separation of siblings, and for a limited duration. Family reunification or placement in family-based alternative care should be the ultimate plan for the child, Human Rights Watch said.

The Kazakh government should adopt a time-bound plan to phase out the use of residential institutions for children with disabilities and prioritize accessible community-based services and support to families. The government should end abuses in closed children’s institutions and ensure rigorous monitoring of institutions pending their closure.

“All children, including those with disabilities, should be at home, with their families,” Rittmann said. “The Kazakh government should make sure that children with disabilities and their families have the support they need to live in the community, just like everyone else.”

For more information about conditions in closed institutions for children with disabilities in Kazakhstan, please see below.

Kazakhstan’s Labor and Social Protection Ministry helped facilitate access to three closed children’s institutions, in Almaty, Karaganda, and Shymkent, which Human Rights Watch visited in November and December 2018. The ministry also responded in July to a letter about conditions in such institutions. Interviews were voluntary and held in private. Human Rights Watch used pseudonyms for all the children and young adults interviewed to protect their privacy and confidentiality.

Children confined to a "lying down" room in a closed children's institution. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Institutionalization of Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities in state care in Kazakhstan live in institutions known as Special Social Services Centers for Children. There are currently 19 special children’s centers, with a total of over 2,000 children. Most children in these centers have intellectual, psychosocial – that is, mental health – or developmental disabilities. They include children with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. Children in Kazakhstan with other types of disabilities, such as physical or sensory disabilities, may live in residential special schools, or at home with their families, or in two specialized residential institutions for children with physical disabilities.

The practice of institutionalization in Kazakhstan carries over from its Soviet past, where, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, institutions were “considered as the best public care solution” and the prevailing view was that “all those who, for different reasons, could not fit within the rules of society should be isolated.”

At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visits to special children’s centers in 2018, there were 131 children in the Almaty special children’s center; 176 children at the Shymkent special children’s center; and 175 children in Karaganda special children’s center, ages 3 to 18. The Karaganda center also has 68 young adults ages 18 and older.

While many institutionalized children have at least one living parent, parents are required by law to relinquish their parental rights to admit their children in state residential institutions. The institution director becomes the child’s legal guardian.

Treatment and Conditions

Sedatives, Forced Psychiatric Hospitalization for Control and Punishment

Several of the current or former special children’s center residents interviewed said that staff had given them sedatives, or they had seen staff give other children sedatives to control them or punish them for their behavior. Some children said that staff forced them to go to local psychiatric hospitals for behavior such as not following staff directions, which they took to be punishment. Some were forced to remain there for weeks, a month, or more.

Institution staff, as well as one parent whose child currently lives at an institution, corroborated these practices. One staff member said that a child was hospitalized after behavior such as pulling another caregiver’s hair.

Kazakh law gives psychiatrists the authority to order forced hospitalization, including for children, for monitoring or treatment. But it is not clear what, if any, basis in law exists for holding children in psychiatric hospitals for these extended periods.

The use of medications for staff convenience, to control behavior, or as punishment, is known as chemical restraint and is never acceptable. The UN special rapporteur on torture has stated that “any restraint on persons with disabilities for even a short period of time may constitute torture and ill-treatment.” Medications should only be used for therapeutic purposes and consistent with the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Bakhyt, a 24-year-old woman who grew up in a special children’s center, said that institution staff punish children by “giving shots to make [us] sleep.” She also said that institution staff had punished her for running around in the bedroom by giving her an injection, and had sent her to the psychiatric hospital for two months. Bakhyt said that institution staff had told the attending psychiatrist that she had tried to jump out of the window, though she said she hadn’t. “They shouldn’t lie like that,” she said. “God is watching.”

Asel, 22, who grew up in the same institution, also said that staff punished children by giving them sedatives. “When they give you a shot,” she said, “then you sleep for one whole day.” Several other young people who had lived in other institutions said they too slept for long periods after staff gave them injections or pills.

Galym, now 23, was also institutionalized as a child. He said that in the special children’s center where he lived, “if you run off to go to the shop, they send you to the psychiatric hospital.” He said he was given shots twice a day which made him “slow.” He said both he and some of his caregivers asked the medical workers to stop the medication, but they refused.

Staff at all three children’s institutions said that when children become overexcited or uncontrollable, for example when they do not follow directions, the staff first summon the institution’s psychologist to talk to the child, to try and calm them. But they admitted that when that approach was not effective, they could call the doctor to give children sedatives and in more serious cases, send them to psychiatric hospitals.

One institution director said that if children “are uncontrollable, we call an ambulance, and they take the child to the psychiatric health center [hospital].” A caregiver who works with 15- to 18-year-old boys at the same institution said that staff sometimes threaten to call the psychiatric hospital ambulance to compel the boys to follow instructions. She said that staff summoned the psychiatric hospital ambulance after a boy in her group pulled the hair of one of the caregivers. “He spent a month at [the psychiatric hospital],” she said.

A medical worker at another special children’s center said that in 2017, staff called a psychiatric hospital ambulance when a 17-year-old boy tried repeatedly to run away. The boy was sent to the psychiatric hospital for over 40 days, the medical worker said.

She said that if the psychiatrist decides a child needs medication, for example, because he hits himself, they prescribe a sedative for up to two or three months, then there is a break. “We only give shots at the moment [the child] acts up,” she said.

Use of Sedatives, Isolation Cells to Punish Adults

Children who were transferred to adult institutions upon turning 18 said they faced similar abuse there.

Amir, a 24-year-old who grew up in state care, said his time in the adult institution “was horrible”:

They [the staff] had a habit of beating us if we didn’t want to help or if we didn’t listen to them. They would also give us shots. Shots and shots of aminazine, to make us sleep. They break it open, jab it in you and that’s it. Or, they’d take a tablet, crush it up in their hand and make me drink it.

Svetlana, also 24, lived in the same adult institution. She said that institution staff “would give shots to anyone who wouldn’t listen. The shots would make people sleep a lot… People would sleep for a long time, feel very weak. You want to drink a lot, [but] your appetite falls away.”

Both also said they were put in isolation as punishment. Amir said that one night orderlies beat him and insulted him, then they put him in an isolation room overnight:

“It was so cold. They opened the window. It was so cold. They would give me the shot and then close me in the cage. It was so cold. They took all of our clothes off. We were totally without anything… No bed, nothing, just a bare floor. I just had to lie on the floor. There was nothing. It was so cold.”

Anara, 30, said that in state institutions where she lived as an adult, “[If] you behave poorly, they give you shots or pills, or put you behind bars. When they punish you, they lock you up. They can keep you there until the morning. There is a metal bed, mattress. [When you’re locked up] they don’t give you food.”

Physical Restraints

Like chemical restraints, the use of physical restraints such as tying or strait jackets to control children’s behavior is unacceptable, and may amount to torture and ill-treatment, even if used only for a short time.

A young girl whose arms were tied and affixed behind her back in a closed children's institution.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch observed that staff in one institution had bound the arms of a girl who was about 10 years old, wrapping them around her torso and fixing them down using a piece of clothing tied behind her back, similar to a strait jacket. A staff member attending to the girl said that the management of the institution does not allow her to keep the girl tied up for more than half an hour at a time.

Another staff member in the same institution said that they sometimes use physical restraints on children if they “really act up.” In those cases, she said, they restrain the child for 20 or 30 minutes, “but we don’t tie young ones, only children 10 and above.”

In March 2018, a 7-year-old boy who lived in a children’s institution in Talgar, a town in southern Kazakhstan, died of asphyxiation after his caregiver reportedly tied him to his bed because he would not sleep and was disturbing other children in the same room. The caregiver was convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years in prison, but no other institution staff appear to have been held accountable for the child’s death.

Physical Violence

Young adults interviewed said that some staff had beaten them in the children’s institutions where they grew up.

Boris, 23, said that some staff members made him mop floors at night and also beat him and his friend:

There was one caregiver who made us clean the floors and the toilet. She would swear at us. She heard us complaining [about something] and she beat us with a crutch. I had a welt [after that].

Boris described other violence he experienced in the children’s institution:

They beat my head against a wall. I got a concussion. Three caregivers would beat me, they drank [alcohol] and beat everyone. They didn’t feed us and swore at us. If someone [defecated] in his pants, they would beat him with a stick.

When asked if he reported the abuse to anyone, Boris said, “I didn’t complain because that would just make it worse.” He also did not know to whom he could complain. “You can’t just go see the director,” he said.

Anara, now 30, described the violence she experienced in the children’s institution where she grew up: “[Staff] beat us up in there. They beat us with a mop. You’re not supposed to beat children with a mop!” She understood that staff beat her as punishment, if “for instance, [we] didn’t listen to them.” Anara said that, “It felt like they didn’t consider [us] people, but dogs or animals.”

Lack of Personalized Attention, Nurturing

In each of the three special children’s centers, rooms for children were organized by age, type of disability, or both, as well as by gender. Most rooms had between eight and 16 children, and about three staff members attending to them.

Under such circumstances, even the most dedicated staff face challenges providing the individualized attention and care that each child needs. This is especially true with respect to young children or children with high support needs, where children are given little or no opportunity or support for physical, emotional, or intellectual growth.

Studies have shown that a child’s healthy development depends on their ability to form emotional attachments to a caregiver. In his reporting on children deprived of their liberty, the UN special rapporteur on torture has noted that children “require emotional companionship and attention to flourish.” Human Rights Watch found that due to the grouping of large numbers of children, children’s special centers do not provide sufficient individualized care and nurturing.

Older Children Forced to Care for Younger Children

Current and former residents in multiple children’s institutions said that they were forced to assist caregivers, carrying out such tasks as feeding, changing diapers, bathing, and dressing younger children.

When Aiym lived in a closed children’s institution, she “had to help take care of other kids. It was hard. It was sad to see these children. One girl had a tube coming out of her stomach. It was hard.”

Nurbek, now 21, said: “In [the institution] I had to help with the children who don’t speak, who are lying down. I would help feed them, change their diapers. There were also kids in wheelchairs. Sometimes I had to carry them. I got mad because I was tired of doing this.”

Another former resident, Boris, 23, said: “[I was forced to] bathe and brush the teeth of other children. The staff would sit there and give us orders. Other kids also performed work. Even Serezha [not his real name] in a wheelchair was forced to work, to mop the floor.”

Three other young people described similar work. Nurgul, who lives in a special children’s center, said: “I always help out and support them. I dress [the young ones], put on their shoes, and wash them.”

Galym said that he “helped the caregivers to take care of the lying-down children. I mopped the floor, changed diapers.” For his assistance, Galym said that the caregivers sometimes gave him money or home-cooked food.

Denial of Education

Children and young adults who had lived in special children’s centers said that they received little or no education. Senior staff at the institutions Human Rights Watch visited confirmed that the vast majority of children living there did not go to school. They said some children attended “correctional” classes in the institutions. In correspondence with Human Rights Watch about education for children in closed children’s institutions, the Labor and Social Protection Ministry said that “children with psychiatric-neurological pathologies… have difficulty learning in special classes in special educational institutions” and are thus under the care of the social services system.

Lack of Play, Recreation

The children in the institutions visited lacked access to sufficient play and recreation, particularly children confined to their beds. All children in institutions follow a strict daily schedule, with defined meal and nap times, and spend the majority of their day indoors. Irina, 23, said that in the children’s institution where she had lived, “everywhere there were only bars. We were always within four walls. We never went anywhere on our own.”

Bakhyt, a 24-year-old who grew up in an institution, said, “They don’t let us walk around. I like to do things myself, but it’s not so easy. [If they’d let me] I would go to the movies. It’s interesting.”

Institution directors said that some of the center’s children leave the institutions for day outings, or particular events such as to attend a concert. It was not clear how frequently children participate in these activities, as the institutions have buses that can accommodate only 20 or 30 children, whereas more than 100 children lived in each of the institutions at the time.

Children Transferred to Adult Institutions Without Consent

By law, special children’s centers are intended for children ages 3 to 18. Staff at the Karaganda center said that 68 adults continued to live there because there was no room for them in the nearby adult institution. Young adults up to age 24 were living in the same rooms as young children.

Many of the young adults said that institution staff had arranged for their transfer to adult state residential institutions without their consent when or after they turned 18. Aigul Shakibaeva, a human rights activist and disabilities rights expert who has carried out research on the treatment of children and young adults with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, said that the vast majority of children transferred to adult institutions are deprived of their legal capacity, or the right to make decisions for themselves, without their knowledge.

A childhood spent in an institution can have serious negative consequences for the person institutionalized. Thinking back to her time in a children’s institution, Dilnaz, now in her 30s, said, “I wish they wouldn’t give shots or pills [in the institution]. I wish everything was good and fair. Sometimes it’s hard for me [still]. I sit at home and cry.”

Recommendations

The Kazakh government should:

  • Establish a time-bound plan to end the use of closed residential institutions for children with disabilities. Children should only be placed in any residential institution under the supervision of an independent judicial body, in emergency cases or to prevent the separation of siblings, and for a limited duration. Planned family reunification or placement in family-based alternative care should be the ultimate outcome for the child;
  • Systematically monitor institutions, prevent and remedy human rights abuses, including violence, the use of sedatives and physical restraints for punishment, control, or for staff convenience; and other abuses;
  • Develop quality, accessible community-based services for people with disabilities and families of children with disabilities;
  • Examine ways to reallocate government funds and programming from institutions to increase support for people with disabilities to live independently in their communities and for families to raise children with disabilities at home;
  • Pending phasing out these institutions, ensure that children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities living in state institutions have regular access to their families, ideally through home visits and access to inclusive education, adequate health care, rehabilitation, and play.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

School-age children in Lebanon.

Top photos, bottom left photo: © 2017 Amanda Bailly for Human Rights Watch. Bottom center and right photos: © 2017 Sam Koplewicz for Human Rights Watch

People with disabilities in Lebanon have the right to education without discrimination. However, nearly 19 years after that right was guaranteed under Law 220, the government has still not taken the necessary steps to fully put it into practice. Lebanon’s new budget proposal, approved by Cabinet on May 27 and sent to Parliament’s general assembly on July 9, risks backsliding even more. Parliament should revise the budget to ensure basic rights for children with disabilities, not entrench their marginalization.

Children with disabilities have the basic human right to be free from discrimination, and that includes attending mainstream schools. But  Human Rights Watch  has  found that Lebanon’s public education system discriminates against children with disabilities, often denying them  admission to schools because of their disability. The minority who do enroll don’t get the quality education they deserve, as schools often lack reasonable accommodations, such as modifications to the classroom environment and physically accessible buildings. 

Many children with disabilities in Lebanon aren’t in school at all or attend segregated institutions funded by the Social Affairs Ministry that are not mandated to provide an education. We found that the educational resources at many of these institutions are of poor quality, and a lack of monitoring, poor evaluation systems, and a lack of formal accreditation raised serious concerns about whether these institutions fulfill children’s right to an education.

The United Nations expert body on disability rights underscored that “inclusive education is incompatible with institutionalization.” But Instead of boosting funding to make public schools more inclusive, the proposed budget would slash these funds, while increasing funds to the institutions that segregate children with disabilities from their communities and don’t provide the education they need.

We analyzed the draft 2019 state budget that the Cabinet  endorsed  and that was leaked to the media  before the Finance and Budget subcommittee amended it. We found that the Education Ministry’s budget lines for equipping primary and secondary schools with technical and other equipment for people with disabilities would be cut by $138,000 – 30 percent less than for 2018. The budget for constructing primary school buildings accessible for children with disabilities would be cut by 25 percent. It is unclear whether the Finance and Budget Committee, which made some amendments to the budget, revised those numbers.

Sylvana Lakkis, president of the Lebanese Union for People with Physical Disabilities, an advocacy and support group, told us that accessibility is one of the main obstacles to an inclusive education. She maintained that although Law 220 obligated the state to make its public buildings physically accessible, the government has not yet allocated a budget line dedicated for this purpose, and that very few of the schools  are accessible for people with physical disabilities.  

A 2009 survey by the Union found that only 5 of 997 public schools observed in Beirut and Mount Lebanon met all of Lebanon’s physical accessibility standards for public buildings. According to a 2013 UNESCO report, the Education Ministry had made only five public schools in the entire country accessible. Our research in  2018 found that the situation has not improved.

Lakkis said that the government had not made adequate accommodations for students with disabilities to take the state exams in June. She is aware of at least three cases in which students had registered their disability with the relevant body beforehand, as required, but found on the day of the exam that no accommodations had been made for them.

Meanwhile, the proposed 2019 budget increases the funding allocated for programs run by the Social Affairs Ministry by around 39 percent. According to the ministry’s website, some of these programs channel students with disabilities into segregated institutions. Such segregation often entrenches discrimination against these students. However, the Social Affairs Ministry has historically reneged on funding commitments to these institutions, causing some to close or significantly decrease their programming.

While it is important for the Social Affairs ministry to provide the necessary support services to meet the developmental needs of children with disabilities, it is the Education Ministry’s primary responsibility to ensure the right of children with disabilities to inclusive education. The Social Affairs Ministry’s services need to be coupled with a deinstitutionalization policy that includes educating children with disabilities in mainstream schools.

Children with disabilities should be guaranteed meaningful choices and opportunities to be enrolled in mainstream schools if they choose, and to receive quality education on an equal basis with, and alongside, children without disabilities. Greater interaction between children with and without disabilities can decrease the marginalization that children with disabilities face in Lebanese society today and begin to dismantle the cultural stigma around disability, creating a more enriching educational experience for all students.

Parliament should carefully review the provisions in the budget related to the inclusion of people with disabilities, and they should prioritize putting Law 220 fully into operation. They should ensure that that sufficient resources are directed toward making public buildings, like schools, more accessible for persons with disabilities.  And they should ensure that the schools have adequate services for children with disabilities when they get there.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Children pan for gold along the mercury-contaminated Bosigon River in Malaya, Camarines Norte.

© 2015 Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch

(London) A major jewelry industry group has made significant improvements to its process for certifying its members when it comes to ensuring human rights risks are addressed in supply chains, 27 civil society groups said today in an open letter to the industry group. But the organizations highlighted serious concerns with how the certification process will be carried out and urged the industry group, the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), to address them.

The Responsible Jewellery Council includes over 1,100 member companies along the jewelry supply chain. In April 2019, the RJC published a new version of its certification standard, the “Code of Practices,” following consultation and input from industry and civil society groups. All RJC members are required to comply with the standard and are audited against it two years after joining.

“It is good news for human rights protection that the Responsible Jewellery Council will now require member companies to put into practice the international norm on responsible sourcing,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch. “But it is a source of concern that the Responsible Jewellery Council has put implementation for the diamond industry on a slower track, risking coming across as soft on that part of the industry.”

The revised standard now requires Responsible Jewellery Council members to exercise due diligence over their supply chains in accordance with the leading international norm on responsible mineral sourcing, the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Under the OECD guidance, companies must take the following five steps: set up management systems for due diligence; identify human rights risks in their supply chains; respond to the risks found; carry out an independent, third-party audit; and report publicly about the steps taken.

The RJC’s current phase-in plan for carrying out the new certification standard foresees that diamond and colored gemstone companies’ existing practices will not be fully assessed against the standard until April 2021 at the earliest. Certification can be granted for up to three years, meaning that some members may not be fully checked for compliance until 2024.

Furthermore, a review of the standard and its assessment process is scheduled for after April 2021, creating additional uncertainty over whether and when diamond and gemstone companies will be checked for full compliance. Companies in other jewelry supply chains only have a transition period of one year, until April 2020.

Other concerns highlighted by the groups include what they consider to be inconsistent reporting requirements under the new standard. One provision calls for public reporting, while another one provides for reporting solely to stakeholders. The groups also expressed concern that the certification process remains opaque and “could allow member companies to pursue irresponsible business practices.”

The groups recommended requiring companies to publish audit summaries, including information on all facilities visited, areas of non-compliance, a description of any identified risks, and the specific measures taken to assess and mitigate risks. They also said that the Responsible Jewellery Council should ensure that all members up for certification beginning in April 2020 are audited against the new Code of Practices, including the full five-step framework required by the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance.

“The Responsible Jewellery Council should make its audit program stronger and more transparent,” Kippenberg said. “It is essential for consumers to understand what steps have been taken to ensure that the jewelry they buy wasn’t made at the expense of the workers’ human rights and safety.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrant families cross the Rio Grande to get across the border into the United States, to turn themselves in to authorities and ask for asylum, next to the Paso del Norte international bridge, near El Paso, Texas, Friday, May 31, 2019. © 2019 Christian Torrez/AP Photo

© 2019 Christian Torrez / AP Photo
 
(Washington, DC) – United States officials are separating migrant children from their families at the border, causing severe and lasting harm, Human Rights Watch said today. The US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold hearings on the government’s family separation policy on July 12, 2019.
 
Human Rights Watch interviews and analysis of court filings found that children are regularly separated from adult relatives other than parents. This means that children are often removed from the care of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and adult siblings even when they show guardianship documents or written authorization from parents. Parents have also been forcibly separated from their children in some cases, such as when a parent has a criminal record, even for a minor offense that has no bearing on their ability as caregivers. As a result, in cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, children as young as 5 have been held in Border Patrol holding facilities without their adult caregivers.
 
“Congressional hearings are the first step in accounting for and addressing the enormous harms inflicted on children and their families in holding cells at the border,” said Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Senior immigration officials should take this opportunity to acknowledge these serious concerns and announce an immediate end to family separation.”
 
A 5-year-old Honduran boy held in the Clint Border Patrol Station in Texas told lawyers that when he and his father were apprehended at the border, “the immigration agents separated me from my father right away. I was very frightened and scared. I cried. I have not seen my father again.” He did not know how long he had been separated from his father: “I am frightened, scared, and sad.” In another case, an 8-year-old Honduran boy detained in Clint with his 6-year-old sister said, “They took us from our grandmother and now we are all alone.” He did not know how long they had been apart from their grandmother: “We have been here a long time.”
 
Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 children and adults, and reviewed an additional 55 sworn declarations filed in court and taken from children and adults placed in holding cells at the Texas border between June 10 and 20, 2019. Human Rights Watch identified 22 cases in which one or more children described forced separation from a family member, usually within the first few hours after apprehension. Three Human Rights Watch lawyers took part in the teams that collected these declarations to make sure conditions were in compliance with a settlement agreement. The agreement sets the standards for conditions in which migrant children are held.
 
No federal law or regulation requires children to be systematically separated from extended family members upon apprehension at the border, and there is no requirement to separate a child from a parent unless the parent poses a threat to the child.
 
US border officials are required to identify children who are victims of trafficking – such as children who are transported for the purpose of exploitation – and to take steps to protect them, but all of the cases of family separation reviewed by Human Rights Watch involved children travelling with relatives to seek asylum, join other family members, or both, with no indication that they were trafficked.
 
In June 2018, the Trump administration announced an end to the government’s forcible family separation policy after images of children in cages, leaked recordings of border agents mocking crying children, and other news of the extent and impact of the administration’s policy prompted a public outcry.
 
The cases that Human Rights Watch reviewed demonstrate that forcible family separation is continuing. For relatives other than parents, forcible separation appears to be a routine practice, and for many children, separation from relatives who have served as primary caregivers can be as traumatic as separation from a parent.
 
Between July 2018 and February 2019, US border officials separated at least 200 children from parents. They often failed to give a clear reason for the separation, a New York Times review found; in some cases, agents separated families because of minor or very old criminal convictions.
 
Immigration authorities have never disclosed the number of relatives other than parents forcibly separated from children at the border.
 
Forcible separation is traumatic for children and adults alike. Separated children interviewed by Human Rights Watch described sleepless nights, difficulties in concentrating, sudden mood shifts, and constant anxiety, conditions they said began after immigration agents forcibly separated them from their family members.
 
Most separated children we interviewed reported having parents or other relatives in the US, but family members with whom Human Rights Watch spoke said border agents made no attempt to contact them.
 
To prevent harm to children and uphold the principle of family unity, Human Rights Watch urges that:
  • The acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection should direct immigration agents to keep families together unless an adult presents a clear threat to a child or separation is otherwise in a child’s best interests. That determination should be made by a licensed child welfare professional, such as a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist with training and competence to work with children.
  • The inspector general’s office of the Department of Homeland Security should systematically review all instances of family separation, including of family members other than parents, to determine whether separation was in the child’s best interests.
  • Congress should prohibit the separation of families, including of children and their siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins, except when separation is in an individual child’s best interests.

“The border agency needs clear direction from the administration to end forcible family separation and other abusive practices,” Bochenek said. “And it’s up to Congress to provide the oversight to make sure the border agency complies.”

“Zero Tolerance” and Systematic Family Separation

In May 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy under which parents – including those seeking asylum – would be prosecuted for illegal entry, and their children forcibly removed from their parents’ custody and reclassified as “unaccompanied.” White House chief of staff John Kelly told National Public Radio that month: “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought a court case to compel the US government to disclose how many children were separated from their parents under the policy. Authorities struggled to provide this information, eventually telling the court that more than 2,700 children had been forcibly separated from their parents in May and June 2018. On June 20, 2018, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that he said ended his administration’s forcible family separation policy.

A government report published in January 2019 found that “thousands” more children had been forcibly separated from their parents, and beginning much earlier, than the administration had previously acknowledged. A leaked draft policy document confirmed administration officials were discussing a family separation policy as of late 2017.

The government has acknowledged that forcible family separations continued after the executive order. In a court filing this February, it reported at least 245 separations between June 26, 2018, and February 5, 2019. By late May, the number had risen to 700, the ACLU reported. In some cases these were triggered by minor, nonviolent offenses – a 20-year-old nonviolent robbery conviction in one case and possession of a small amount of marijuana in another, in cases reviewed by the New York Times. Most of these cases did not list detailed reasons for the separation.

These figures do not include the number of children who were forcibly separated from relatives other than parents.

Children Distraught Without Their Parents

Children described days of not knowing where their parents had been taken and when, if ever, they would be reunited. For example, a 17-year-old boy from El Salvador, interviewed in Clint, said that he and his mother had crossed an international bridge 16 days before. He said:

We presented ourselves to border patrol agents, who then separated us. They refused to explain why they were doing so. Since that moment, I have not known where my mother is. I have not known if my mother was in the United States or elsewhere, or even if she was alive. I have been extremely worried about her.

Children Taken from Grandmothers, Aunts, and Uncles

A 12-year-old girl who travelled to the US with her grandmother and 8 and 4-year-old sisters said that border agents woke them up at 3 a.m. two days before she spoke with lawyers:

[T]he officers told us that our grandmother would be taken away. My grandmother tried to show the officers a paper signed by my parents saying that my grandmother had been entrusted to take care of us. The officers rejected the paperwork, saying that it had to be signed by a judge. Then the officers took my dear grandmother away. We have not seen her since that moment. . . . Thinking about this makes me cry at times. . . . My sisters are still upset because they love her so much and want to be with her.

In another case, a woman who had raised her niece said border agents told her the notarized guardianship papers she showed them were “no good in the United States.” Agents told her she should expect to be separated from her niece once they were transferred from the Ursula Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, the facility frequently called the perrera, meaning “dog kennel,” because of its chain-link-fence holding pens.

An 11-year-old boy who travelled to the US with his 3-year-old brother and their 18-year-old uncle to escape gang violence in Honduras said that border agents separated him and his brother from their uncle when they were apprehended, about three weeks before Human Rights Watch spoke to him in Clint:

The border agents made us sit in a circle, then we were placed on trucks and transported. I don’t know to where. My uncle identified himself as our uncle. The agents told us we would be separated. This was so sad for me. I don’t know where they sent my uncle. We were not allowed to say goodbye to each other.

Human Rights Watch identified many other such cases in our own interviews and the declarations we reviewed. For instance:

  • A 12-year-old girl from Guatemala said that border agents separated her from her aunt and cousin when the three entered the United States at the beginning of June, 15 days before she spoke with lawyers while in the Clint border station.
  • An 8-year-old boy told lawyers he came to the United States with his aunt, who had been taking care of him back home in Guatemala. He said that after border agents separated him from his aunt three days earlier, “I cried and they did not tell me where I was going.”
  • A 12-year-old girl from El Salvador said she and her 7-year-old sister were separated from their grandmother the previous day, after they crossed into the United States and reported to Border Patrol officers.

Siblings Forced Apart

A 17-year-old girl from El Salvador told lawyers she entered the United States with her 8-month-old son and her older sister. Border agents “separated [my sister and me] shortly after we arrived in the US about three weeks ago and I have not been allowed to speak with her ever since.”

A 16-year-old girl from El Salvador, interviewed in Clint, said that she and her 5-month-old daughter were separated from her 20-year-old sister and her sister’s 3-year-old son when they were apprehended three days before she spoke to lawyers in Clint. Border agents later told her that her sister and nephew had been released and sent to live with family members.

A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said that immediately after she and her 18-year-old sister crossed the river to enter the United States – she was not sure how long ago – border agents “lined us up and checked our skin and our hair. That is when they took my sister away from me and now I’m very worried about her. I don’t know where she is or if she is ok.”

Adult Caregivers Returned to Mexico Without Children

Human Rights Watch has previously identified family separations occurring in the context of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which tens of thousands of primarily Latin American asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait while their claims are pending in the United States. In the context of the MPP, agents separate families who had been traveling together at the border. Children, including some with mental health concerns, were separated from non-parental guardians by Border Patrol, classified as “unaccompanied alien children,” and detained alone. Meanwhile, their adult family members were sent to Mexico for the duration of their asylum cases, which can take months or years. Staying in contact is especially difficult for families separated under the MPP, since those forced to wait in Mexico may not have access to a cell phone or landline.

Families Split Up During Their Time in Border Holding Cells

If both parents are travelling together, fathers are frequently split from the rest of the family. For example, a 23-year-old Honduran man said he, his wife, and their two children were all in the same border station: “I was separated from my family almost immediately. I have only seen my wife and children one time in the three days that I have been here.” A 5-year-old girl told lawyers her father was separated from her and her mother when they were held in McAllen.

Teenagers who are held in the same border station as their parents often stated that they were separated if they and their parents are different genders. In such cases, even though they and their parents are in the same facility, they recounted having little or no contact with their parents. For example:

  • A 15-year-old girl from Honduras said that she was separated from her father in the two holding cells where they were detained. “I’m in a mixed unit with fathers and their children, so I’m not sure why I can’t be with my dad,” she told lawyers.
  • “I was separated from my mother for five days and I was very frightened because I didn’t know what was happening to me or my mother,” a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy said.
  • A 16-year-old Honduran girl said that she and her father were held in separate cells without any contact for two days. “I did not see my father again until . . . they called us out to be fingerprinted and photographed. We were not allowed to see each other before then even though my father repeatedly requested to see me,” the girl said.

Border agents sometimes split children between parents, assigning one or more to each parent during their time in a holding cell. “Our family is kept in separate cells, one son with me and one son with my wife,” a 29-year-old Guatemalan man said. A Honduran woman, also 29, said that when she, her husband, and their two children were apprehended, “[m]y daughter and I were separated from my husband and son almost immediately. I’ve only seen my husband and son one time since we arrived three days ago.”

Some of the children held in border stations have children themselves, and some have travelled to the United States with spouses or long-term partners. 

In one such case, a 16-year-old girl said that after she and her fiancé, along with their one-year-old daughter, fled gang violence in El Salvador, border agents separated her fiancé from her and her daughter. She told lawyers:

We were all very upset. Our baby was crying. I was crying. My fiancé was crying. We asked the guards why they were taking our family apart, and they yelled at us. They were very ugly and mean to us. They yelled at him in front of everyone to sit down and stop asking questions. We have not seen him since.

In another case, a 15-year-old girl who fled Guatemala with her husband and their 8-month-old son said that they requested asylum at the border crossing: “We told them we were travelling as a family and wanted to [remain] together. However, [my husband] was separated from us, and I do not know where he is now. I have not heard from him and I am worried about him.”

Trauma of Forcible Separation

A 15-year-old Guatemalan boy told Human Rights Watch he felt “really desperate and heartbroken and worried” after he was forcibly separated from his father after border agents apprehended them. He described the two months he had been apart from his father:

It is really difficult to be apart from my dad. I don’t know when I will be able to see him, and it makes me really sad. Because I am thinking about my dad and being apart from him, I have difficulty concentrating in class. It’s hard for me to pay attention to what I should be doing. I feel anxious and worried a lot. There are days I don’t have any appetite. I never had a problem eating before, and I think if I weren’t so sad about being apart from my dad I wouldn’t have a problem with eating now. . . . When I start thinking about what happened, I feel sad and I start to cry. This never happened before. . . . This is new. It’s caused by the stress I’m under now.

Family separation causes severe and long-lasting harm. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted: “highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

“This kind of stress makes children susceptible to acute and chronic conditions such as extreme anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension and heart disease,” two pediatricians wrote in the Houston Chronicle last year.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Relatives of disappeared persons participate in a silent protest, demanding an investigation into the disappearances of people in Kashmir. 

© 2019 AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
(New York) – India and Pakistan should act on the recommendations of the United Nations human rights office to protect basic rights in the contested region of Kashmir, Human Rights Watch said today.

The 43-page report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released on July 8, 2019, raises serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan-held parts of Kashmir. The Indian government dismissed the report as a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.” Pakistan welcomed the report but requested that sections be removed or amended in which the information was “not specific to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir but were general human rights concerns affecting all of Pakistan.”

“India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Authorities in both countries should use the opportunity created by the UN report to change course and hold accountable those who’ve committed serious abuses.”

India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

The OHCHR said both India and Pakistan had failed to take any clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in its June 2018 report, the office’s first-ever on human rights in Kashmir. The latest report comes after a deadly attack in February by a Pakistan-based armed group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, that targeted a security forces convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 Indian soldiers. Military escalation between India and Pakistan ensued, including cross-border shelling at the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto international border in disputed Kashmir.

The Srinagar-based Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society reported that conflict-related casualties were the highest in 2018 since 2008, with 586 people killed, including 267 members of armed groups, 159 security forces personnel, and 160 civilians. The Indian government asserted that 238 militants, 86 security forces personnel, and 37 civilians were killed.

The OHCHR found that Indian security forces often used excessive force to respond to violent protests that began in July 2016, including continued use of pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon even though they have caused a large number of civilian deaths and injuries. The Indian government should review its crowd control techniques and rules of engagement, and publicly order the security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The report also decried the lack of justice for past abuses such as killing and forced displacement of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and alleged sexual violence by Indian security forces personnel. It expressed concern over excessive use of force during cordon and search operations, resulting in civilian deaths as well as new allegations of torture and deaths in custody.

The OHCHR noted that India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “remains a key obstacle to accountability,” because it provides effective immunity for serious human rights violations. Since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.

The UN human rights office also said that India should amend its Public Safety Act, an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years. The law has often been used to detain protesters, political dissidents, and other activists on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards.

In July 2018, the Indian state government of Jammu and Kashmir amended section 10 of the Public Safety Act, removing the prohibition on detaining permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir outside the state. At least 40 people, mainly separatist political leaders, were transferred to prisons outside the state in 2018, the OHCHR said. It said that transferring detainees outside the state makes it harder for family members to visit and for legal counsel to meet with them. It also noted that prisons outside the state were considered hostile for Kashmiri Muslim detainees, especially separatist leaders.

The UN human rights office said that armed groups were responsible for human rights abuses including kidnappings, killings of civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of children for armed combat, and attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in Jammu and Kashmir. It cited the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors money laundering and terrorist financing, which has called on Pakistan to address its “strategic deficiencies.” India has long accused Pakistan of providing material support, arms, and training to the militant groups. Attacks in Kashmir have resulted in more than 50,000 deaths since 1989.

The OHCHR also found that human rights violations in Pakistan-held Kashmir included restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and association, institutional discrimination against minority groups, and misuse of anti-terrorism laws to target political opponents and activists. It noted threats against journalists for doing their work. The UN human rights office also expressed concern over enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-held Kashmir, noting that victim groups alleged that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances.

“The Indian government’s rejection of the latest UN report on human rights in Kashmir shows that it’s unwilling to confront its own human rights failures,” Ganguly said. “Both India and Pakistan should accept the findings of the report and invite an independent investigation to help end serious abuses in Kashmir.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to articles 28, 32 and 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and focuses on child labor and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict.

The Situation of Child Labor (article 32)

Human Rights Watch research in Cambodia exposed one of the human rights perils of unauthorized subcontracting in the supply chains of global apparel companies. Our research carried out between April 2018 and January 2019, and published in March 2015, documented instances of child labor in violation of local and international labor laws in at least 11 garment factories, most of which were tiny unauthorized subcontractor factories.[1]

Child workers reported working excessively long hours. Some children reported being paid less than minimum wage. Factory work came at the expense of children’s education. All of these were contrary to Cambodian labor law.

In December 2014, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) signed an agreement with ILO-Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) to address child labor. Under this agreement, workers under age 15 will be given access to suitable vocational training institutes and paid the equivalent of their average monthly factory pay until they reach age 15. GMAC has undertaken to ensure financial support for age confirmation and remediation costs from its member factories.[2]

Illegal child labor, driven largely by unauthorized subcontracting, is a shifting phenomenon. It is not static and does not constantly present itself in the same factory or even in the same brand’s supply chain. In understanding the drivers of illegal child labor, Human Rights Watch’s recent research showed how brands’ unfair purchasing practices can themselves contribute to the risks of unauthorized subcontractors and the risks of illegal child labor. These include low manufacturing prices, last minute changes to orders, setting unrealistic production times, and hefty and unfair financial penalties for factories that miss production deadlines.[3] Any lasting solutions aimed at tackling child labor in global supply chains and in factories should be combined with calls for better human rights due diligence on purchasing practices by brands sourcing from Cambodia. Further, these should be combined with calls to protect workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining, and civil society.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Cambodia:

·         What steps has the government undertaken to publicly map its factories list and also indicate which factories have registered unions and collective bargaining agreements?

·         What steps has the government taken to indicate the progress from GMAC’s intervention to prevent and respond to child labor?

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it call upon the government of Cambodia to:

·         Work with the Ministry of Labor, ILO, GMAC, nongovernmental organizations, and trade unions to publicly map all factories, including subcontractors, and indicate which ones have registered trade unions and collective bargaining agreements.

·         Publicly and periodically report on the impact of its interventions to prevent and respond to illegal child labor in garment factories and other sectors.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (articles 28 and 38)

Cambodia, once host to the United Nations Transnational Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) from 1991 to 1993, has since 2005 contributed itself to UN peacekeeping operations. As of March 2019, Cambodia has sent 5,783 troops, including 277 women, to assist in UN peacekeeping missions and thus is the third largest contributor of UN peacekeeping forces in the ASEAN region behind Indonesia and Malaysia.[4] Cambodia’s peacekeeping troops are deployed in the Central African Republic to support MINURCAT, South Sudan to support UNMISS, Lebanon to support UNIFIL, Syria to support UNSMIS, and Mali to support MINUSMA. South Sudan, Mali and Central African Republic are all countries where attacks on students and schools, and the military use of schools have been documented.[5] According to Cambodia’s “2006 Defense White Paper,” Cambodia’s rationale for providing UN peacekeepers – to build “prestige in the international arena” for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces[6] – should be reflected in its commitment to promote and protect international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Peacekeeping troops are required to comply with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations “UN Infantry Battalion Manual” (2012), which includes the provision that “schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”[7]

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict[8]; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[9] As of June 2019, 91 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. Cambodia has yet to endorse this important declaration.[10] 

Moreover, the 2017 Child Protection Policy of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, and Department of Political Affairs notes:

United Nations peace operations should refrain from all actions that impede children's access to education, including the use of school premises. This applies particularly to uniformed personnel. Furthermore … United Nations peace operations personnel shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes.[11]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Cambodia:

·         Are protections for schools from military use included in the pre-deployment training provided to Cambodian troops participating in peacekeeping missions?

·         Do any Cambodian laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it call upon the government of Cambodia to:

·         Endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration to deter the military use of schools, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.


[1] Human Rights Watch, Cambodia-Work Faster or Get Out: Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry, March 2015.

[2] “ILO-BFC and GMAC Working hand-in-hand to Eradicate Child Labour in Cambodia’s Garment Industry,” December 16, 2014, http://betterfactories.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Joint-Press-Releas... (accessed June 19, 2019).

[3] Human Rights Watch, Paying for a Bus Ticket and Expecting to Fly How Apparel Brand Purchasing Practices Drive Labor Abuses, April 23, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/04/23/paying-bus-ticket-and-expecting-fly/how-apparel-brand-purchasing-practices-drive

[5] Education Under Attack: 2018, The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2018, http://www.protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/eua_201...

[7] United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, section 2.13, “Schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”

[8] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikling/safe_schools_declaration.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

[9] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

[10] “Safe School Declaration Endorsements,” Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, accessed June 29, 2019, http://www.protectingeducation.org/guidelines/support

[11] UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support and Department of Political Affairs, “Child Protection in UN Peace Operations (Policy),” June 2017.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission focuses on the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict and immigration detention of children.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 28)

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict[1]; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[2] Switzerland endorsed the declaration in May 2015.

The Swiss Armed Forces recently finalized an addition to their manual on the legal principles applicable in military operations (“Rechtliche Grundlagen für das Verhalten im Einsatz”), that incorporates new explicit protections for schools and universities from military use, reflecting their commitments upon endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration. The revision entered into force on May 1, 2019.

In the chapter on the law of armed conflict, the manual now states:

Particular caution is required regarding educational institutions. Their destruction can bring particularly serious disadvantages for a people and the future of a country. Schools are also home to many children who are to be protected because of their vulnerability, while universities and other higher education establishments regularly house or display significant cultural assets. Educational institutions must therefore be accorded special importance in the context of precautionary measures and proportionality. Their military use is to be avoided.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

·         Congratulate Switzerland on their recent addition to the Swiss Armed Forces manual recognizing the importance of protecting educational institutions during armed conflicts, including from their use for military purposes.

·         Encourage Switzerland to share their good practices with other countries or any top humanitarian aid or development assistance recipients who have endorsed the declaration.

Immigration Detention of Children (article 37)

In Switzerland, youths between 15 and 18 years of age can be detained under the provisions of the law on foreign nationals as is specified in the Foreign Nationals Act.

Terre Des Hommes published a report in 2016 that found that while Swiss federal law forbids immigration detention of children under the age of 15, the detention of children between the ages of 15 to 18 years for migration-related reasons appears to be widespread across the Swiss Confederation, with 142 children of these ages reportedly detained in 2015.[3] Further, according to a report from June 2018 by the National Council Control Committee (CC-N), even youths who are not yet 15 are detained for migration-related reasons in some cantons.[4]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

·         Call on the Swiss Confederation to amend the Foreign Nationals Act to provide that no children under the age of 18 are detained because of their migration status, in line with the guidance of this Committee and the Committee on Migrant Workers in their Joint General Comment No. 4/23.

 

[1] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikling/safe_schools_declaration.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

[2] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

[3] “Illegal detention of migrant children in Switzerland: a status report,” Terre De Hommes, June 2016, https://www.tdh.ch/sites/default/files/tdh_plaidoyer-ch_en_web_0.pdf

[4] “Administrativhaft im Asylbereich Bericht der Geschäftsprüfungskommission des Nationalrates,” 26. Juni 2018, https://www.parlament.ch/centers/documents/de/bericht-gpk-n-admin-haft-asylbereich-2018-06-26-d.pdf

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (articles 28 and 38)

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict[1]; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[2] As of June 2019, 91 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.[3]

The African Union Peace and Security Council has urged all of its member states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and so far, 23 of Eswatini’s fellow African Union members have done so. This includes seven fellow members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Eswatini has contributed troops to the United Nations-approved African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In Somalia, attacks on students and schools, and the military use of schools has long been documented as a problem.

In addition, 17 of Eswatini’s fellow Commonwealth countries have endorsed the declaration. According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack’s flagship report, “Education Under Attack 2018,” a pattern of attacks on education have been documented as occurring in six Commonwealth countries.

Human Rights Watch believes that endorsing the declaration sends an important message about the importance of protecting children in armed conflict and deterring the military use of schools.

Eswatini participated recently in the Third International Conference on Safe Schools in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, in May 2019.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

·         Congratulate Eswatini for participating in the latest International Safe Schools Conference, and encourage Eswatini to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.


[1] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikling/safe_schools_declaration.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

[2] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

[3] “Safe School Declaration Endorsements,” Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, accessed June 29, 2019, http://www.protectingeducation.org/guidelines/support

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am