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.

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© 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.”

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

This submission relates to the review of Guinea under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It focuses on the human rights implications of largescale mining and hydroelectric dams, forced relocation from land in Conakry, and the Safe Schools Declaration.

  1. Natural Resources (Articles 11, 12, 25)

Guinea possesses the world’s largest bauxite reserves, as well as large amounts of iron ore, gold, and diamonds.[1] Guinea’s bauxite sector has grown rapidly since 2015, with Guinea being the largest supplier of bauxite to China, the world’s largest aluminum producer.[2]

While Guinea’s bauxite boom provides much-needed tax revenue for the government and has created thousands of jobs, the government has failed to adequately regulate the industry and ensure companies respect the environment and the rights of local communities. Mining companies have expropriated ancestral farmlands without adequate compensation, threatening tens of thousands of people’s livelihoods.[3] Damage to water sources, as well as increased demand due to population migration to mining sites, has reduced communities’ access to water for drinking, washing, and cooking.[4] Dust produced by bauxite mining and transport has left families and health workers worried that reduced air quality threatens their health and environment.[5]

Guinea has also, since 2015, begun to more rapidly develop its enormous potential for hydroelectric power. Guinea opened the Kaleta dam in 2015, and is currently constructing at least three other hydropower dams, the most advanced of which, Souapiti, will be operational in 2020.[6] Hydropower projects have the potential to increase access to electricity in a country in desperate need of reliable power.[7] The Guinean government has so far failed, however, to adequately protect the rights of the thousands of people displaced by dams.

The more than 16,000 people to be displaced by Souapiti, for example, have received inadequate compensation or replacement land, leaving them struggling to feed their families, re-establish their livelihoods, and live with dignity.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of Guinea:

  • What steps is the government of Guinea taking to protect communities from the potentially negative impacts of bauxite and other forms of industrial mining?
  • What proportion of the electricity produced by new hydroelectric projects will be used for domestic consumption, including for essential services like schools and hospitals, and how much will be used by the mining industry or exported abroad?
  • What steps is the government of Guinea taking to ensure that communities displaced by hydroelectric dams are able to return to the standard of living they enjoyed prior to their displacement?

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

  • Enact detailed legislation to require that mining and hydroelectric companies provide fair compensation for land, including through replacement land where possible, to individuals and communities that lose land to natural resource exploitations;
  • Improve the access of affected communities and civil society organizations to environmental and social impact assessments, management plans, and other government and company data related to the human rights, social and environmental impacts of mining and other natural resource projects;
  • Ensure that government regulators investigate and sanction companies that violate Guinean laws regarding social and environmental management;
  • Adopt and fully implement the standards of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a multi-stakeholder initiative by governments, major multinational extractive companies, and NGOs that seek to address the risk of human rights abuses arising from security arrangements in the oil, gas and mining industries.
  1. Forced Evictions (Article 11)

Between February and May 2019, the Guinean government forcibly evicted more than 20,000 people from neighborhoods in Conakry in order to provide land for government ministries, foreign embassies, businesses, and other public works.[8] The government provided inadequate notice to the majority of those evicted and no alternative housing for demolished homes.

Although the government maintains that the evicted areas were state land, many people said that they had documentary proof that their families had decades-old property rights over the land.[9] The government did not investigate the property claims of those affected before demolishing homes and has provided virtually no compensation or humanitarian assistance to those evicted.[10]

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

  • Halt any further evictions until it can guarantee respect for the rights of residents, including adequate notice, compensation, and resettlement prior to evictions;
  • Take immediate steps to provide assistance, including alternative accommodation and other remedies, to those affected by forced evictions;
  • Provide adequate compensation to all individuals forcibly evicted who have not received such compensation.

The Safe Schools Declaration (Article 13)

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;[11] 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.[12] As of January 2020, 101 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, including 27 of Guinea’s fellow African Union members.

In November 2019, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child urged all African Union member states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, “realizing the dangers that the military use of schools poses.”[13] The African Union’s Peace and Security Council has also repeatedly urged all African Union member states to endorse the declaration.[14] Guinea, however, has yet to endorse this important declaration.[15]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of Guinea:

  • Are protections for schools from military use included in the pre-deployment training provided to Guinean troops participating in peacekeeping missions?
  • Do any Guinean laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?

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

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools, including those in peacekeeping operations, some of which Guinea is supporting, and including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.

[1] Ministry of Mines and Geology, “Bauxite: Become a Leader in Global Production,” (Undated) http://mines.gov.gn/ressources/bauxite/ (accessed May 22, 2018).

[2] “China Aluminum Capacity Cuts Boost Market Leader, Prices,” Reuters, August 3, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-metals-aluminium/china-aluminum... (accessed March 20, 2018); “Chinese bauxite imports in February down by 13.4% MOM,” Asian Metal, March 27, 2018.

[3] Human Rights Watch, “’What Do We Get Out of It?’: The Human Rights Impact of Bauxite Mining in Guinea,” October 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/10/04/what-do-we-get-out-it/human-rights... (accessed January 1, 2020).

[4] Αristeidis Mertzanis, "The opencast bauxite mining in N.E. Ghiona: Ecoenvironmental impacts and geomorphological changes (Central Greece)," Journal of Geography and Regional Planning, vol. 5 (2011), pp. 21-35; Noor Hisham Abdullah et. al, “Potential Health Impacts of Bauxite Mining in Kuantan,” The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 23 (2016), pp. 1-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934713/ (accessed March 26, 2018); Metro Mining Ltd, "Bauxite Hills Project: Initial Advice Statement," October 2015, https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/management/impact-assessment/eisprocesses/doc... (accessed March 26, 2018), pp. 3-58.

[5]  “Tackling the global clean air challenge,” World Health Organization press release, accessed July 21, 2017, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2011/air_pollution_20110926.... World Health Organization, “Health Effects of Particulate Matter,” 2013, http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/189051/Health-effect... (accessed July 21, 2017), p. 6.

[6] At least two other dams are under construction – the 300 megawatt Amaria dam and the 300 MW Koukoutamba dam. “Présidence – Energie : La convention de concession du barrage Amaria signée," Guinée News, May 2, 2019, https://www.guineenews.org/presidence-energie-la-convention-de-concessio... (accessed January 5, 2020). “Sinohydro to build the 294 MW Koukoutamba dam in Guinea,” The International Journal on Hydropower & Dams, March 13, 2019, https://www.hydropower-dams.com/news/sinohydro-to-build-the-294-mw-kouko... (accessed January 5, 2020).

[7] In 2017, Guinea had a rate of electricity access of about 29 percent, below that year’s average for sub-Sahara Africa of 43 percent. World Bank (International Development Association), Guinea Electricity Access Scale Up Project Proposal, January 25, 2019, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/869041550631657109/pdf/Guinea-..., paras 7-8 (accessed November 18, 2019).

[8] Human Rights Watch, “Guinea: Draconian Forced Evictions: Thousands of Homes Razed in Capital; Residents Denied Aid, Compensation,” June 18, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/18/guinea-draconian-forced-evictions

[9] Ibid.

[10] International and African human rights instruments protect individuals and communities, including those with customary land tenure, from arbitrary interference with their rights to property and land. The UN Basic Principles on Evictions state that, irrespective of whether people hold title to property, they are entitled to compensation for lost land as well as for material damage and loss of earnings. See UN Human Rights Committee, “Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement,” A/HRC/4/18, p. 13.

[11] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikl... (accessed December 20, 2019).

[12] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_... (accessed December 20, 2019).

[13] African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, “Outcome Statement for the Day of General Discussion on Children Affected by Armed Conflict,” November 26, 2019, https://www.acerwc.africa/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Outcome-Statement_-....

[14] African Union, Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the African Union’s 597th meeting on May 10, 2016: “Children in Armed Conflicts in Africa with particular focus on protecting schools from attacks during armed conflict;” Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the African Union’s 615th meeting on August 9,  2016: “Education of Refugees and Displaced Children in Africa;” Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the 692nd meeting on June 13, 2017, of the PSC dedicated to an Open Session on the theme: “Ending Child Marriages;” and Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the 706th meeting on July 26, 2017, of the PSC on the theme: “Child Soldiers/Out of School Children in Armed Conflict in Africa.”

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Florida state capitol building in Tallahassee 

© 2020 Getty Images

(Miami) – Florida legislators should reject a bill that would force adolescent girls to obtain parental consent for abortion, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee will hold a hearing on the bill at 10:15 a.m. on January 15, 2020.

Current state law requires girls under 18 to notify a parent or legal guardian before an abortion, but not to obtain their consent, or to seek a judicial waiver. Senate Bill 404 would require girls to obtain notarized written consent from a parent or legal guardian or to seek such a waiver. 

“Florida legislators have a clear interest in protecting adolescent girls’ health and well-being and supporting healthy family communication, but the forced parental consent bill will do the opposite,” said Zama Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Requiring girls who may not have parental support to plead their case before a judge is intimidating and delays or prevents their getting care.”

Human Rights Watch’s preliminary research in Florida indicates that some girls fear violence, being kicked out of the home, alienated from their families, or forced to continue a pregnancy against their wishes if they involve a parent in their decision. Others may not live with or be able to locate their parents. And some adolescent girls may be overwhelmed by the many steps required for judicial review.

Human Rights Watch interviewed three Florida-based medical professionals providing adolescent health care and six attorneys with experience representing adolescent girls seeking judicial waivers, and reviewed public health studies, legal documents, and other sources.

Most adolescent girls voluntarily involve a parent or another trusted adult in their abortion decisions, whether or not the law requires it, research shows. A Florida counselor told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority of adolescent girls seeking abortion care at the clinic where she works involve a parent. Counselors said they consistently encourage girls to seek parental advice and support when they can do so safely.

An attorney who represented a 17-year-old girl who sought a judicial waiver in 2019 explained why her client could not notify a parent: “Her stepfather had beaten her repeatedly over the years, and she was terrified [that] if she did anything that could be remotely considered problematic, that he would take it out on her in a way that was dangerous to her life.” 

An attorney who said she had represented nearly 200 adolescent girls seeking waivers said most of her clients feared their parents would “disown them and throw them out of the house” because they were pregnant or wanted an abortion.

Two attorneys said they had represented girls who were pregnant from rape or incest, had been removed from their parents’ care, and were under the care of the state Department of Children and Families. Under Florida law, the agency cannot satisfy the parental notification requirement. Forcing girls in these situations to appear before a judge to seek a waiver can be retraumatizing, attorneys said.

Seeking a waiver typically requires a girl to go to their county clerk’s office, find the appropriate division, request a court-appointed attorney if they do not have one, and demonstrate that they are sufficiently mature to make the decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or that involving their parents is not in their best interest.

The organization If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice recently found that only 11 of the state’s 67 counties were prepared or knowledgeable about the process.

Public health research has shown that mandated parental involvement can delay care, leading to riskier or more complicated abortions. Delays can be especially harmful to adolescent girls, as they often suspect pregnancy later than adults and take longer to confirm a pregnancy.

Leading United States health professional associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose mandated parental involvement in abortion decisions.

“Florida legislators should trust that attentive and loving parents will guide and support their adolescent daughters whatever the legal requirements, and that girls who are unable to involve their parents have good reasons for not doing so,” Neff said. “Legislators should be supporting greater access to health care, not adding barriers and hurdles that will delays girls from getting the services they need.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

January 14, 2020

Senator David Simmons
Chair, Committee on Judiciary
The Florida Senate
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Re: Senate Bill 404 threatens rights and dignity of adolescent girls

Dear Chair Simmons and Members of the Judiciary Committee,

We write to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch to urge you to vote against Senate Bill (SB) 404, which would force adolescent girls to obtain parental consent for abortion. We appreciate Florida legislators’ interests in protecting the health and well-being of adolescent girls and supporting healthy family communication. However, by changing Florida law from its current requirement that girls notify a parent or guardian before an abortion to requiring them to obtain parental consent, SB 404 will undermine those goals. Florida legislators committed to protecting the rights and dignity of adolescent girls should reject SB 404.

Human Rights Watch is a global human rights organization with offices throughout the world, including in Miami, Florida. We have extensively documented how laws and policies that restrict access to abortion threaten women’s and girls’ health and lives and drive abortion underground, making it less safe.[1]

We have examined the effects of laws requiring adolescent girls to obtain parental authorization for abortion in several US states, including Florida. In Florida, we sought to understand the human rights impacts of Florida Statutes §390.01114 (the Parental Notice of Abortion Act), requiring girls to notify a parent or legal guardian prior to an abortion, or obtain a judicial waiver.

We conducted in-depth phone interviews with three Florida-based medical professionals providing adolescent sexual and reproductive health care, and six attorneys with experience representing adolescent girls seeking judicial waivers for Florida’s parental notification requirement.[2] We also analyzed state, national, and international laws and policies and conducted a review of secondary sources, including public health studies, case law, reports by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health professional associations, and other sources.

Our findings indicate that changing Florida state law to mandate parental consent for abortion is unnecessary given the state’s existing parental notification requirement, and could seriously threaten the health and human rights of Florida’s adolescent girls.

Mandating Parental Involvement Can Hurt Adolescent Girls

Attentive and loving parents typically provide important guidance to their teenage children. Studies have shown that most adolescent girls voluntarily involve a parent or another trusted adult in their abortion decisions, whether or not the law requires parental authorization.[3] In particular, close and supportive family relationships facilitate parental involvement in adolescent girls’ abortion decisions.[4] A Florida counselor who has conducted reproductive health counseling with adolescent patients for 19 years told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority of adolescent girls seeking abortion care at the Florida clinic where she works involve a parent in their decision before learning about Florida’s parental notification requirement.[5] The counselors we interviewed said they consistently encourage girls to seek advice and support from their parents when they can do so safely.[6]

Florida attorneys and medical providers told Human Rights Watch that when girls are unable to involve a parent in their abortion decision, it is often because they fear violence, being kicked out of the home or alienated from their families, or being forced to continue a pregnancy against their wishes, or because their parents are not part of their lives. In some cases, girls are unable to involve a parent because they are pregnant from rape or incest and/or have been removed from their homes. Mandating parental consent under these circumstances would place girls at serious risk of harm.

Fear of Violence or Alienation

Adriane Isenberg, an attorney in Gainesville, estimated that during her legal career she has represented 50 to 60 adolescent girls seeking judicial waivers under Florida Statutes §390.01114(4) (the Parental Notice of Abortion Act). She said that she represented a 17-year-old girl in 2019 who sought a judicial waiver because she feared that if her stepfather learned she was pregnant, he would beat her. Isenberg said,

Her stepfather had beaten her repeatedly over the years, and she was terrified [that] if she did anything that could be remotely considered problematic, that he would take it out on her in a way that was dangerous to her life. And she felt like her mother was not either able or willing to intervene on her behalf. She felt totally unprotected and very likely to be victimized physically.[7]

Bernard Perlmutter, clinical professor and co-director of the Children and Youth Law Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, said he represented a 17-year-old girl who had faced abuse by her father for many years. “There was a long history [of violence],” he said. “She was tolerating” living in the home with him until she turned 18 and could live independently and pursue a college education. She sought a judicial waiver because she was “deathly afraid” that telling her father that she was pregnant and wanted an abortion would trigger “horrific retaliatory violence.”[8]

A counselor and advocate with a Florida abortion clinic said that she recently counseled a 14-year-old girl facing an unwanted pregnancy. When she informed the girl about Florida’s parental notification requirement, the girl “was very clear that her parents would either beat her or kick her out of the house” if they learned she was pregnant and wanted an abortion.[9]

Benjamin Stevenson, a Pensacola-based staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, an affiliate of the national ACLU, said he represented an adolescent girl who sought a judicial waiver because she had suffered physical violence by her parents before learning she was pregnant. He said that she was “in an abusive home setting and had experienced abuse before by the parents and was terrified that this [notifying her parents prior to an abortion] would simply bring on more abuse.” Stevenson estimated that he had represented 15 adolescent girls seeking judicial waivers during his legal career: “The fear that they had, by and large, was not only that their parents would possibly kick them out of the house and alienate them financially, but also alienate them emotionally. That it would cause a significant rift within the family structure.”[10]

Isenberg said the same fears drove many of her clients to seek judicial waivers: “A number of them felt like their parents would absolutely turn their backs on them, and they would be out on street.”[11]

A juvenile law attorney who estimated that she’d represented close to 200 adolescent girls seeking judicial waivers in her career had a similar observation, explaining that her clients feared their parents would “disown them and throw them out of the house.”[12]

Fear of Being Forced to Continue an Unwanted Pregnancy

Another attorney told Human Rights Watch that in her career she had represented about 50 adolescent girls seeking judicial waivers. While some feared being kicked out of the home or isolated financially, she said the majority sought judicial waivers because they feared that their parents would force them to continue an unwanted pregnancy against their wishes. “Almost all of them say, ‘[If I tell my parents], they’ll make me have the baby.’ And they don’t want to have the baby wherever they are in life.”[13]

A juvenile law attorney said that many clients she represented believed that their parents “would never permit them to have an abortion, disagree completely with their child’s decision to do that. And girls know they can’t raise this baby.”[14]

Stevenson of the ACLU of Florida said that clients told him that, “When they have a child, they want to be in a place where they can be the good mother they want to be.”[15]

Several attorneys said they represented adolescent girls who hoped to pursue a college education and felt that continuing a pregnancy and giving birth against their wishes would require them to alter their educational and career goals significantly.[16]

Parents Who are Not Involved in a Girl’s Life

Interviewees told Human Rights Watch about cases in which girls’ parents were not involved in their lives, making it impossible to notify a parent before an abortion. An obstetrician-gynecologist said:

I’ve seen a girl come in with her partner, she’s not living at home, they’ve run away, been kicked out, or moved out. She doesn’t have a relationship with her parents, one parent is dead and the other one is not involved…. [For her], parental consent was not even an option.[17]

One attorney said she represented a girl whose mother had kicked her out of the home. The girl’s father was in prison and she had no contact with him. Though she had other supportive adults in her life, she had to go before a judge to seek a judicial waiver of the state’s parental notification requirement.[18]  

A counselor said, “Some patients’ parents don’t live in this country. They’re here without parents and living with an aunt or something. They have to seek judicial bypass.”[19]

Bernard Perlmutter with the Children and Youth Law Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law estimated that he has represented 15 girls seeking judicial waivers since Florida’s Parental Notice of Abortion Act took effect, most of them in foster care. Perlmutter explained that Florida’s Department of Children and Families cannot act as a parent or legal guardian to satisfy the parental notification for abortion requirement, so if girls in foster care feel unable to notify their legal parent or guardian, or if the biological parents’ parental rights have been terminated, they must seek judicial waivers.[20]

Perlmutter said,

Not a single one of the foster care teenagers [I’ve represented for judicial waivers] had an ongoing healthy relationship with her parents. They come into the foster care system very traumatized. Some are victims of severe neglect. Some of them are victims of sexual predation, or victims of sex trafficking at one point or another. Their relationships with their [biological] parents are not wholesome and strong. That’s why they are in state custody.[21]

Consequences for Survivors of Sexual Violence

Notifying a parent before an abortion can be particularly difficult for girls pregnant from rape or incest. Two attorneys said they had represented girls who were pregnant from rape or incest and sought judicial waivers because they had been removed from their parents’ care and were under the care of the state Department of Children and Families. Even in these circumstances, the state is unable to act as a parent or legal guardian to satisfy the parental notification for abortion requirement, so girls are forced to seek judicial waivers.[22]

The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County[23] has represented girls in the delinquency or dependency system who sought judicial waivers for Florida’s parental notification for abortion requirement, including a 10-year-old survivor of human trafficking who was pregnant from rape. Kristen Flynn, an attorney with the organization’s Juvenile Advocacy Project, has represented girls who were pregnant from rape or incest and removed from their parents’ care. She said forcing girls in these situations to appear before a judge to seek a judicial waiver of the state’s parental notification requirement can be retraumatizing. She said that any child who has been removed from the home and placed in state care has a high risk of experiencing trauma-related psychological and emotional consequences, such as anxiety disorders. When a girl has been removed from the home due to a pregnancy from sexual violence, appearing in court to answer questions about why they cannot notify their parents can be extremely distressing. “For anyone who is a victim of assault, one of the most difficult things is to relive those moments [of violence],” Flynn said. “You take a child living through such strong trauma and expect them to answer questions [about abortion in front of a judge], … it’s adding insult to injury. We’re continually asking kids to relive the trauma.”[24]

Another attorney represented a 15-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped by an uncle. Her mother was not part of her life, and her father blamed her for the abuse she suffered. She was removed from her father’s home due to the abuse and forced to seek a judicial waiver in order to satisfy Florida’s parental notification for abortion requirement.[25]

Limits of the Judicial Bypass Process

For an adolescent girl, the judicial bypass process can be overwhelming, frightening, confusing, and time-consuming. Some may be unable to navigate it. “There are lots of hurdles,” one attorney said. “It’s a huge barrier.”[26]

To initiate the judicial bypass process, girls typically have to go in person to the office of their county’s Clerk of Court, find their way to the appropriate division handling these cases, request a court-appointed attorney if they do not already have one, and demonstrate to a judge that they are sufficiently mature to make the decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy without involving their parents, or that involving their parents is not in their best interest.[27] (In some circumstances, girls are able to find an attorney before approaching the clerk’s office, but attorneys interviewed by Human Rights Watch suggested this was rare.) When girls fear that parental involvement could trigger violence or alienation from their families, they have to find ways to initiate the process without their parents finding out, including securing transportation or arranging time away from school.[28]

Finding accurate information about judicial bypass in Florida is difficult. Stevenson of the ACLU of Florida said that a recent client recounted her struggle to find reliable information about seeking a judicial waiver. She searched the internet, sought information from a health clinic, and contacted the clerk’s office, but she was unable to access complete information from any of these sources. “There was no single place she could get information on what the process was, where to go, and how to go about this,” Stevenson said.[29]

The organization If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice recently evaluated the preparedness of Florida’s Clerks of Court to help adolescent girls navigate the judicial bypass process. Researchers called county courts and sought information regarding the judicial bypass process, including questions related to confidentiality, access to court-appointed counsel, and fees, and found that of the state’s 67 counties, only 11 were classified as prepared or knowledgeable about the process. Fifteen counties were classified as semi-prepared, 37 counties were unprepared, and 4 counties were completely unreachable.[30]

A family law attorney described how overwhelming and uncertain the process can be for adolescent girls:

It’s daunting. They don’t know how long it’s going to take. Will they be here an hour, or all day, or will they have to come back? They might be missing school. What if the school calls their parent and the parent asks why they were not at school? There are so many obstacles to figure out how to deal with before they even go before the judge.[31]

A juvenile law attorney described what her clients typically face:

They get there [to the courthouse] and sometimes they have to wait, and either they have to get back to school, or they’re going to be late for school, or they left school early. If the judge can’t see them, they have to come back the next day, and sometimes they can’t miss class again. Scheduling is a problem for them. And a couple of them are trying hard to make up excuses [to explain to their parents] why they’re not home on time from school.[32]

While the overwhelming majority of petitions by minors seeking abortions are granted, according to data from the Office of the State Courts Administrator,[33] adolescent girls may still find the process frightening and be deterred from going through it. The process of appearing before a judge to seek a judicial waiver can be intimidating for an adolescent girl, regardless of the professionalism and sensitivity of Florida’s judges, attorneys, clerks, and court staff. One attorney described the emotional state of her clients as “very anxious. Their overriding fear is that the judge is going to deny it [their petition].”[34]

The process can require adolescent girls to answer intimate and personal questions about their health and lives. “It’s a lot for anyone to be able to do, much less a child,” said Kristen Flynn of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County.[35] Other attorneys said that they believed their clients experienced stress, anxiety, or trauma around the judicial bypass process.[36]

Perlmutter from the University of Miami Children and Youth Law Clinic said his clients were distressed and nervous about the process: “They are terrified. Every single one of them. Even the girls who are used to going to dependency court, which is almost routine in the cases of kids in foster care…. Those [court appearances] are nothing compared to the invasion of privacy and intimate questioning” involved in a judicial hearing for abortion.[37]

Consequences of Mandating Parental Involvement

Public health research in the United States has shown that mandated parental involvement, whether through notification or consent, can push adolescents to delay accessing abortion care, leading to riskier or more complicated abortions. Delays in care can be especially harmful to adolescent girls, as they often suspect pregnancy later than adult women, and take longer to confirm a suspected pregnancy.[38] The problems accessing the current judicial bypass process, and the psychological and emotional impacts that process inflicts on adolescent girls, suggest that a judicial bypass system does not mitigate the harms caused by mandated parental involvement.

A recent study of the effects of a Massachusetts parental consent for abortion law found that girls who obtained parental consent had an abortion an average of 8.6 days after first calling to schedule an abortion, while girls who obtained judicial waivers had an abortion an average of 14.8 days after initial contact. Though legal induced abortion is very safe – and much safer than childbirth[39] – delaying abortion to later gestational stages can increase the risk of complications.[40] The study found “minors with judicial bypass also had higher odds of becoming ineligible for medication abortion between the day of first call and the day of procedure,” meaning their reproductive healthcare options were limited.[41] Many women and girls may prefer medication abortion, as it is noninvasive and can allow patients more flexibility and privacy.[42]

Analysis of statewide data in Texas before and after a parental notification law took effect in 2000 found that some girls required to obtain consent would, if possible, wait until they had turned 18 to have an abortion to avoid the requirement, even though later abortions are more complicated and often more expensive and difficult to access. The study found a 6 percent increase in abortions obtained at age 18 by adolescents who became pregnant at 17 years and 8 months, and a 13 percent increase in abortions obtained at 18 by those who became pregnant at 17 years and 9 months. The rate of second-trimester abortion in these groups increased by 21 percent, while there was no increase in second-trimester abortion among younger adolescents who would not have been able to delay abortion until age 18. The study concluded, “Some minors postpone abortion until the second or even third trimester of pregnancy to circumvent parental notification requirements.”[43]

International Human Rights Standards

Laws requiring parental authorization for abortion pose a barrier to adolescent girls’ access to abortion and may threaten or undermine several rights protected under international human rights law, including girls’ rights to life, highest attainable standard of health, privacy and medical confidentiality, freedom from discrimination and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as their rights to be heard and to decide the number and spacing of children.[44] United Nations treaty bodies and human rights experts have consistently called for the removal of barriers that deny women and girls access to safe and legal abortion and have commented specifically on parental authorization requirements posing a barrier to abortion care.[45] In particular, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has noted that “the risk of death and disease during the adolescent years is real, including from preventable causes such as … unsafe abortions,” and urged governments to “ensure that girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, review legislation with a view to guaranteeing the best interests of pregnant adolescents and ensure that their views are always heard and respected in abortion-related decisions.”[46]

Join Medical Experts in Rejecting Forced Parental Consent

Prominent health professionals’ organizations believe that adolescents should not be compelled or required to involve parents in their abortion decisions.[47] Even without a legal requirement, medical providers can encourage parental involvement when it is in a child’s best interests.

In a 2017 literature review and policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated:

Genuine concern for the best interests of minors argues strongly against mandatory parental consent and notification laws. Although the stated intent of mandatory parental consent laws is to enhance family communication and parental responsibility, there is no supporting evidence that the laws have these effects. No evidence exists that legislation mandating parental involvement against the adolescent’s wishes has any added benefit in improving productive family communication or affecting the outcome of the decision. There is evidence that such legislation may have an adverse impact on some families and that it increases the risk of medical and psychological harm to the adolescent. Judicial bypass provisions do not ameliorate the risk and may delay access to safe and appropriate care, making it a later, more complicated procedure.[48]

We respectfully urge you to consider the cases and evidence described above and the complicated and often dire circumstances that leave some adolescent girls unable to involve their parents in abortion decisions, and to vote “no” on SB 404. Given the onerous parental notification requirement already in effect in Florida, and the evidence that mandating parental involvement can be a serious barrier to timely health care, we urge you to reject forced parental consent and focus instead on enacting policies to facilitate greater access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services for adolescents.

Voting against SB 404 will affirm the rights and dignity of Florida’s adolescent girls.

We request that this statement be included in the record of the committee’s proceedings.

Sincerely,

Zama Neff
Executive Director
Children’s Rights Division
Human Rights Watch

Carine Chehab
Miami Director
Human Rights Watch


[1] See, Human Rights Watch, “Reproductive Rights and Abortion,” https://www.hrw.org/topic/womens-rights/reproductive-rights-and-abortion.

[2] Human Rights Watch has withheld names of interviewees who requested anonymity for their protection or that of their clients or patients.

[3] See, for example, Lauren Ralph, Heather Gould, Anne Baker, and Diana Greene Foster, “The Role of Parents and Partners in Minors’ Decisions to Have an Abortion and Anticipated Coping After Abortion,” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 54 (2014), pp. 428-434.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Human Rights Watch phone interview with counselor, January 6, 2020.

[6] Ibid.; Human Rights Watch phone interview with counselor and advocate, January 6, 2020.

[7] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with Adriane Isenberg, attorney, December 12 and 31, 2019.

[8] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Bernard Perlmutter, clinical professor and co-director, Children & Youth Law Clinic, University of Miami School of Law, January 10, 2020.

[9] Human Rights Watch phone interview with counselor and advocate, January 6, 2020.

[10] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney, ACLU of Florida, December 16, 2019.

[11] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with Adriane Isenberg, attorney, December 12 and 31, 2019.

[12] Human Rights Watch phone interview with juvenile law attorney, January 6, 2020.

[13] Human Rights Watch phone interview with family law attorney, December 16, 2019.

[14] Human Rights Watch phone interview with juvenile law attorney, January 6, 2020.

[15] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney, ACLU of Florida, December 16, 2019.

[16] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney, ACLU of Florida, December 16, 2019; family law attorney, December 16, 2019; juvenile law attorney, January 6, 2020.

[17] Human Rights Watch phone interview with obstetrician-gynecologist, December 19, 2019.

[18] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with Adriane Isenberg, attorney, December 12 and 31, 2019.

[19] Human Rights Watch phone interview with counselor, January 6, 2020.

[20] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Bernard Perlmutter, clinical professor and co-director, Children & Youth Law Clinic, University of Miami School of Law, January 10, 2020.

[21] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Bernard Perlmutter, clinical professor and co-director, Children & Youth Law Clinic, University of Miami School of Law, January 10, 2020.

[22] Ibid.; Human Rights Watch phone interview with Kristen Flynn, attorney, Juvenile Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, December 31, 2019.

[23] The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County does not have a position on abortion. Attorneys in the organization’s Juvenile Advocacy Project are appointed by the court to represent children under 18 involved in cases related to delinquency or dependency.

[24] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Kristen Flynn, attorney, Juvenile Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, December 31, 2019.

[25] Human Rights Watch phone interview with family law attorney, December 16, 2019.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Florida Statutes §390.01114, Parental Notice of Abortion Act, §4(c)-(d).

[28] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney, ACLU of Florida, December 16, 2019; Adriane Isenberg, attorney, December 12 and 31, 2019; family law attorney, December 16, 2019.

[29] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney, ACLU of Florida, December 16, 2019.

[30] If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, “The Judicial Waiver Process in Florida Courts: A Report,” 2019, https://www.ifwhenhow.org/resources/the-judicial-waiver-process-in-flori... (accessed January 11, 2020).

[31] Human Rights Watch phone interview with family law attorney, December 16, 2019.

[32] Human Rights Watch phone interview with juvenile law attorney, January 6, 2020.

[33] Office of the State Courts Administrator, “Parental Notice of Abortion Act, Petitions Filed and Disposed, By Circuit and County, January through December 2018,” 2019. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[34] Human Rights Watch phone interview with family law attorney, December 16, 2019.

[35] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Kristen Flynn, attorney, Juvenile Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, December 31, 2019.

[36] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney, ACLU of Florida, December 16, 2019; Adriane Isenberg, attorney, December 12 and 31, 2019; family law attorney, December 16, 2019.

[37] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Bernard Perlmutter, clinical professor and co-director, Children & Youth Law Clinic, University of Miami School of Law, January 10, 2020.

[38] Lawrence B. Finer, et al., “Timing of steps and reasons for delays in obtaining abortions in the United States,” Contraception, vol. 74 (2006), pp. 334-344.

[39] Elizabeth Raymond and David Grimes, “The Comparative Safety of Legal Induced Abortion and Childbirth in the United States,” Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol. 119, no. 2 (2012), pp. 215–219.

[40] Linda A. Bartlett, et al., “Risk Factors for Legal Induced Abortion–Related Mortality in the United States,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 103, no. 4 (2004), pp. 729-737.

[41] Elizabeth Janiak et al., “Massachusetts’ Parental Consent Law and Procedural Timing Among Adolescents Undergoing Abortion,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 133, no. 5 (2019), pp. 978-986.

[42] See, for example, Guttmacher Institute, “Medication Abortion,” November 2019, https://www.guttmacher.org/evidence-you-can-use/medication-abortion (accessed January 11, 2020).

[43] Silvie Colman and Ted Joyce, “Minors' Behavioral Responses to Parental Involvement Laws: Delaying Abortion Until Age 18, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, vol. 41, no. 2 (2009), pp. 119-126.

[44] See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N.GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, article. 2, 3, 6, 7, 17, 24 and 26; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force January 3, 1976, articles 2, 3 and 12.  The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992 and signed but not yet ratified the ICESCR.

[45] UN, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22 (2016) on the right to sexual and reproductive health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), May 2, 2016, E/C.12/GC/22, para. 41; Special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, “Report of the special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” April 4, 2016, A/HRC/32/32, para. 16.

[46] UN, Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20 on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/20 (2016), paras. 13 and 60.

[47] See, for example, American Medical Association, Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, “Mandatory parental consent to abortion,” JAMA, vol. 269, no. 1 (1993), pp. 82–86, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/402461; American Public Health Association, “Ensuring Minors’ Access to Confidential Abortion Services,” Policy No. 20115, November 2011, https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statemen....

[48] American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence, “Policy Statement: The Adolescent’s Right to Confidential Care When Considering Abortion,” Pediatrics, vol. 139, no. 2 (2017) https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/139/2/e2016386....

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 75th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women relating to Pakistan’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

  1. Girl’s Education (Article 10)

The Pakistan government is failing to educate a huge proportion of the country’s girls. Many girls simply have no access to education, including because of a shortage of government schools – especially for girls. According to United Nations statistics, thirty-two percent of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared with 21 percent of boys.[1]

Human Rights Watch documented barriers to education for girls in all four of Pakistan’s provinces.[2] Among the factors keeping girls out of school are the government’s under-investment in schools, lack of schools, prohibitive school fees and related costs, corporal punishment, and a failure to enforce compulsory education. Further issues include the poor quality of education in both government and low-cost private schools, a lack of government regulation of private schools, and corruption. In addition to these factors within the education system, girls are also blocked from attending school by external factors including child labor, gender discrimination, child marriage, sexual harassment, insecurity, and attacks on students, teachers, and schools.

Pakistan’s government has over many years invested far less in education than is recommended by international standards. In 2017, Pakistan was spending less than 2.8 percent of its gross domestic product on education–far below the 4 to 6 percent recommended by UNESCO - leaving the government’s education system severely under-funded.[3] Government schools are in such short supply that even in major cities, many children cannot reach a school on foot safely in a reasonable amount of time. The situation is far worse in rural areas. And there are many more schools for boys than for girls.

The situation worsens as children, especially girls, get older. Secondary schools are in shorter supply than primary schools, and colleges have even less capacity, especially for girls. Many girls who complete the top level at one school cannot attend a school where they could go on to the next level. In the absence of an adequate system of government schools, there has been a massive growth in the number of private schools, many of them low-cost. But poor families often cannot afford any tuition fees and the government’s near-total failure to regulate and monitor these schools means that many are of poor quality.[4]

We propose that the Committee pose the following questions:

  • Does the government have plans to improve the number and quality of schools, particularly for girls?
  • What plans does the government have to address the obstacles for girls’ participation in education?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Adopt measures to increase the number and quality of schools, especially for girls.  
  • Develop and implement a time-bound plan to achieve full gender parity on educational participation, from pre-primary through higher education.
  1. Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (Article 10)

Human Rights Watch has documented a significant number of attacks on students, teachers, and schools, and the use of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases. Attacks have often been directed at female students and their teachers and schools, blocking girls’ access to education.

Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools

According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, between 2013 and 2017, armed non-state groups and unknown parties reportedly attacked hundreds of schools, across every province, typically using explosive devices, killing several hundred students and teachers, and damaging and destroying infrastructure.[5] One-third of these attacks targeted girls and women and were “aimed at repressing or stopping the learning or teaching of girls and women.”[6]

The most lethal attack on education in recent years in Pakistan was the December 16, 2014 attack by armed militants on the Army Public School in Peshawar city, killing 145 people, nearly all of them children.[7]

In 2017 and 2018, just under half of all attacks on schools in Pakistan were committed against girls' schools.[8] For example, the United Nations  verified 42 attacks on educational facilities and students in 2017 and 2018, 18 of which targeted girl’s education.[9] In some cases, girls' schools received written or verbal threats or were attacked with improvised explosive devices or grenades. For example, on May 7 and 9, 2019, bombs reportedly planted by an armed group damaged two girls' middle schools in North Waziristan.[10] During the same time period, middle schools and tribal leaders in the area allegedly received pamphlets demanding authorities shut down girls’ schools in the area.[11] In addition, the UN reported that in August 2018, 14 girls’ schools were destroyed in a single day in Chilas, Gilgit-Baltistan.[12]

Impunity Following Attacks

Despite hundreds of attacks on teachers, students and educational institutions, the Pakistani government has rarely successfully prosecuted those responsible. This failure was highlighted in June 2015, when it was reported that eight out of the ten individuals arrested and charged for the attack on Malala Yousafzai were acquitted, even after they all confessed to their role in court.

Instead of conducting proper investigations and prosecuting those implicated, the Pakistani government constituted secret military courts after the 2014 Army Public School attack. Although there have been a number of convictions, the families of victims do not know if the actual perpetrators were punished since the trials were conducted in secret. Some of those convicted were executed.

In December 2015, four people found guilty by a military court of providing funds, transportation and other assistance to the Army Public School attackers were executed at a prison in Kohat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In December 2016, the army chief ratified the death sentences of four individuals found guilty by a military court of planning the attack on Bacha Khan University. The military also ratified the death sentence of another individual found guilty by a military court of being involved in attacks on security officials and “the destruction of an education institution” in December 2016, but the government did not provide more details about the educational institution that was allegedly destroyed.[13]

In 2013, this Committee recommended that at the national and provincial levels, coordinated and consistent measures be taken to ensure that perpetrators of violent attacks and threats against female students, teachers, and professors by various non-state actors, as well as the escalating number of attacks on educational institutions “are promptly investigated, prosecuted and punished,” and to “consider the establishment of a rapid response system whenever there are attacks on educational institutions, in order to promptly repair and rebuild them and replace educational materials so that women and girls can be reintegrated into schools/universities as soon as possible.”[14]

Military Use of Schools and Colleges, in Pakistan and Abroad

The Pakistan military offensive in 2009 forced the Taliban out of the Swat Valley, vacating many schools that the militants had used as bases, but the army then occupied many of these schools instead. Although most schools have now been vacated, the military was still using about 20 schools in Swat as of December 2016, when Human Rights Watch was last able to verify.[15]

An undergraduate college for women in the Swat town of Khwazakhela had been under army occupation since 2009. This college is one of the four undergraduate degree colleges in Swat. The space was being used as offices for senior military officials and the college building was heavily fortified. An alternate space had been allotted for the college and classes were continuing. However, a very high number of girls had dropped out because the new space was not as accessible. This was the situation until at least March 2017, when Human Rights Watch was last able to verify.[16]

In June 2017, Kamran Michael, Pakistan’s then-minister for human rights, conceded to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights during its review of Pakistan, that the Pakistani army had used schools as barracks.

Pakistani security forces use of schools for military purposes is not limited to incidents within Pakistan. In January 2017, Human Rights Watch found a school in the town of Mouruba, Ouaka province, Central African Republic, being used as base by Pakistani peacekeepers who were part of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The town’s residents had fled in December 2016, when a militia group took control of the town. One parent said: “When we came back the Pakistanis were in the school. They arrived sometime this month. We would like to restart the school, but now the Pakistanis are there and we would rather have MINUSCA in the town to protect us.” A 16-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch, “I hope that peace returns so the Pakistanis leave the school and we can reopen it. … I would like to be an intellectual. Without school I will have no future, so it is important to me.”[17]

This use of the school by the Pakistani peacekeepers was contrary to both a directive from the peacekeeping mission and regulations of the UN Department of Peacekeeping’s Infantry Battalion Manual.[18] Human Rights Watch informed MINUSCA authorities of the occupied schools in Mourouba and it was subsequently vacated. Pakistan has not endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental international commitment to protect education in armed conflict. As of December 2019, 101 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. The declaration includes a pledge to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Pakistan to “take measures to protect schools, in particular secular and girls’ schools, and prevent possible attacks, including those targeted at teachers, and the occupation of schools by armed groups.”[19] In 2017, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights urged Pakistan to “immediately and completely ban the use of schools by military forces,” and invited Pakistan “to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and commit to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.”[20]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any policies, rules, or trainings for Pakistan’s armed forces?
  • How many schools were either partially or wholly used for military purposes by government security forces during the reporting period, and for what time? How many of those were girls’ or coeducational schools?
  • What measures has the government taken in response to recommendations to respond to attacks on schools and prevent the military use of schools made by this committee in 2013, by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016, and by the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights in 2017?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, thereby committing to take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools by armed forces and armed groups, and to use as a minimum standard the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.
  • Develop a comprehensive policy for protecting students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack and military use, and this policy should include specific attention to the threats facing education for girls and women. Engage all concerned ministry staff at the central and local levels in implementing this strategy. Include short-term measures for prevention and response, as well as adopting conflict-sensitive education policies and programs to reduce the risk of future conflict.
  • Address and remedy the disproportionate harm to girls’ access to education as a result of hostilities and military use of schools. Adopt measures to assist girls who have been denied or risk losing access to education.
  • Issue clear, public orders to the security forces, including the military, police, and paramilitary forces, to curtail the military use of schools.
  • Immediately vacate all education institutions and hostels being partially used for military purposes whether in or outside conflict zones and restore such buildings to their intended users.
  • Immediately vacate all education institutions and hostels being completely occupied where feasible alternatives exist, and where they do not, urgently take steps to identify or create feasible alternatives.
  • Ensure that students deprived of educational facilities as a result of hostilities, the military use of their school, or the need for their school to be repaired or reconstructed, are promptly provided access to nearby alternative schools.
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute those individuals responsible for attacks on schools or damaging schools in violation of international law.
  • Ensure that troops deployed on UN peacekeeping missions are trained on the requirement that “schools shall not be used by the military in their operations,” and ensure that such troops are provided the necessary logistical support to accomplish their mission without using schools.
  1. Child Marriage (Article 16)

In Pakistan, 21 percent of girls are married by the age of 18, and 3 percent before 15.[21] Child marriage tends to occur in the country’s most marginalized and vulnerable communities and has devastating consequences. Girls who marry are more likely to drop out of school than other girls, they face greater pregnancy-related health risks than women, and their babies are more likely to have health problems. Married girls are more likely to face domestic violence than woman who marry later.

The current law sets the legal age of marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, which violates Pakistan’s obligations under international law by permitting marriage too early, and also by setting different marriage ages for girls and boys.[22]

In May 2019, the National Assembly of Pakistan opposed a bill that would set the minimum age for marriage at 18.[23]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps is the government taking to comply with the target of ending all child marriage before age 18 by 2030, as per Sustainable Development Goal target 5.3?
  • Is the government taking steps to reform the law to ban child marriage, in accordance with international law?  

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Raise the national minimum age of marriage to 18 with no exceptions and develop and implement a national action plan to end child marriage.
  1. Impunity for So-called “Honor Killings” and Violence (Article 2)

Violence against women and so-called “honor killings” are common in Pakistan, while convictions of those responsible are rare. Women are murdered, often by family members, and a loophole in the law allows the legal heirs of the victim to pardon those responsible.

Following the high-profile case in 2016 in which a well-known woman, Qandeel Baloch, was murdered by her brother in an “honor killing,” there was a widespread outcry in Pakistan. This led to legislative action and the promise of prompt prosecution. Parliament passed a law imposing harsher punishments for “honor killings” and partially eliminated the pardon loophole.

However, “honor killings” and pressure to pardon perpetrators seem to have continued unabated. There are no credible official figures on the number of “honor killings” because they often go unreported or are passed off as suicides or natural deaths by family members; yet there are an estimated 1,000 “honor killings” every year.[24]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Ensure prosecution of all murder and other violence attributed to “honor.”
  • Further reform the law to completely eliminate the loophole that allows the perpetrator to be pardoned by the victim’s family.
  • Increase access to emergency shelter and other services for women and girls at risk of violence from their family.
  1. Trafficking of “Brides” (Articles 15 and 16)

Reports beginning in 2019 document the trafficking of women and girls from Pakistan to China for sale as “brides.” This follows similar developments in other countries in Asia where Human Rights Watch has done extensive research on this topic.[25]

In China, the percentage of women has fallen steadily since 1987. Researchers estimate that China now has 30 to 40 million “missing women,” an imbalance caused by a preference for boys and exacerbated by the “one-child policy” in place from 1979 to 2015, and ongoing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. This gender gap has made it difficult for many Chinese men to find wives and fueled a demand for trafficked women from abroad.[26]

The Pakistan government has acknowledged that bride trafficking is occurring and pledged to work with China to combat the trade.[27] In spite of these promises there is evidence that the trade continues and that many hundreds of women and girls are affected.[28]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to prevent the trafficking of women and girls, recovering victims of trafficking, and assisting survivors?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Investigate all allegations of human trafficking and prosecute all perpetrators including brokers, traffickers, and buyers.
  • Urge the Chinese government to do more to recover Pakistani trafficking victims in China and investigate and prosecute perpetrators in China including brokers, traffickers, and buyers.
  • Raise awareness in vulnerable communities regarding the risk of trafficking.
  • Provide comprehensive services to trafficking survivors including medical, legal, psychosocial, and livelihoods assistance and shelter.
  1. Sexual Violence against Women Perpetrated by Police (Article 2)

There have been numerous recent incidents in which Pakistani police have been accused of committing sexual violence against women.

In September 2018, a police official was charged with raping a 6-year-old girl in Dera Ghazi Khan district, Punjab province.[29] In April 2019, an assistant sub-inspector of police was charged with raping a woman in Bahawalpur district, Punjab.[30] In May 2019, a 22-year-old woman in Rawalpindi district, Punjab, reported to police that four men had abducted her at gunpoint and raped her, alleging that three of the four assailants were police officers. The authorities have since arrested all four suspects and suspended three police officers as criminal investigations proceed.[31]

Sexual assault victims often fear pressing charges, concerned that they and their families may be subjected to harassment and intimidation by the police, due to harmful gender attitudes and pressure from perpetrators. Without proper witness protection, survivors can be intimidated into silence. These barriers reflect deeply entrenched gender inequality in society, including in state institutions like the police and judiciary.

Pakistan faces grave security challenges that require a rights-respecting, accountable police force able to protect the entire population. When police become perpetrators of sexual violence, the credibility of all police are damaged and victims are even less likely to seek their help.[32]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that police officers responsible for crimes are appropriately held to account including through prosecution.
  • Enact reforms to increase the recruitment, retention, and promotion of female police officers.
  • Provide comprehensive services for survivors of sexual violence including medical, legal, and psychosocial assistance.
 

[1] United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), “State of the World’s Children data,” December 2017.

[2] Human Rights Watch, “‘Shall I Feed My Daughter, or Educate Her’: Barriers to Girls’ Education in Pakistan,”

November 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/11/12/shall-i-feed-my-daughter-or-educate-her/barriers-girls-education-pakistan.

[3] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) et al., “Education 2030: Framework for Action,” December 2015, art. 105. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002456/245656e.pdf (accessed September 12, 2018).

[4] Human Rights Watch, “‘Shall I Feed My Daughter, or Educate Her’: Barriers to Girls’ Education in Pakistan.”

[5] GCPEA, “Education Under Attack 2018,” May 2018, http://eua2018.protectingeducation.org/, p. 33.

[6] Ibid., p. 49.

[7] Declan Walsh, “Taliban Besiege Pakistan School, Leaving 145 Dead,” New York Times, December 16, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/world/asia/taliban-attack-pakistani-school.html

[8] Information provided by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2019.

[9] UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict,” S/2019/509, July 30, 2019, para. 219.

[10] Pazir Gul, "Two girls’ schools hit by bomb explosions in North Waziristan," Dawn, May 10, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1406747/two-girls-schools-hit-by-bomb-explosio... (accessed June 27, 2018)

[11] Saroop Ijaz, “Rise in Militant Attacks on Schools in Pakistan Recent Violence Shows Grave Risks Pakistani Schoolgirls Face,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, May 14, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/14/rise-militant-attacks-schools-pakistan.

[12] United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, "Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General," A/72/865–S/2018/465, May 16, 2018, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2018/465&Lang=E&Area=U... (accessed January 9, 2019), para. 238.

[13] Human Rights Watch, “Dreams Turned into Nightmares: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan,” March 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/03/27/dreams-turned-nightmares/attacks-students-teachers-and-schools-pakistan

[14] Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Pakistan, adopted by the Committee at its fifty-fourth session, CEDAW/C/PAK/CO/4, March 27, 2013.

[15] Human Rights Watch, Pakistan - “Dreams Turned into Nightmares.”

[16] Ibid.

[17] Human Rights Watch, “No Class: When Armed Groups Use Schools in the Central African Republic,” 2017.

[18] “MINUSCA directive on the protection of schools and universities against military use,” Inter-Office Memorandum, December 24, 2015; Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, The United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, sec. 2.13 (“schools shall not be used by the military in their operations”).

[19] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report

of Pakistan” CRC/C/PAK/CO/5, July 11, 2016, para 61(g).

[20] Concluding observations on the initial report of Pakistan, E/C.12/PAK/CO/1, June 23, 2017, paras. 79-80.

[21] United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage,” 2012.

[22] Saroop Ijaz, “Time to End Child Marriage in Pakistan: Proposed Bill an Important Opportunity to Protect Children,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, November 9, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/09/time-end-child-marriage-pakistan.

[23] “Pakistani parliamentarians again oppose the child marriage prohibition bill,” Gulf News, May 1, 2019.

[24] Saroop Ijaz, “Pakistan Should Not Again Fail ‘Honor Killing’ Victim: End Impunity of Family Murders of Women,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, August 22, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/23/pakistan-should-not-again-fail-honor-killing-victim.

[25] Human Rights Watch, “‘Give Us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go’: Trafficking of Kachin ‘Brides’ from Myanmar to China,” 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/03/21/give-us-baby-and-well-let-you-go/trafficking-kachin-brides-myanmar-china.

[26] Sophie Richardson, “Pakistan Should Heed Alarm Bells Over ‘Bride’ Trafficking,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, April 26, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/26/pakistan-should-heed-alarm-bells-over-bride-trafficking.

[27] “Chinese men lure Pakistani girls with marriage to traffic them,” Siasat, April 18, 2019.

[28] “AP Exclusive: 629 Pakistani girls sold as brides to China,” AP, December 7, 2019.

[29] “Policeman 'rapes' 6-year-old girl in DG Khan,” Daily Pakistan, September 4, 2018.

[30] “ASI booked for raping woman in Bahawalpur,” Dawn, April 15, 2019.

[31] “3 policemen among four arrested in Rawalpindi rape case,” Dawn, May 18, 2019.

[32] Saroop Ijaz, “Rape Allegations Against Pakistan’s Police: Prosecute Officers Implicated, Enact Wider Reforms,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, May 23, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/23/rape-allegations-against-pakistans-police.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 75th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women relating to Afghanistan’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In its third periodic report to CEDAW (24 January 2019, CEDAW/C/AFG/3), the State party provides information on progress made in terms of increasing the contribution of women in the peace process in a meaningful manner, investigating and prosecuting all cases of violence against women under the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW), increasing the number of girls enrolled in school, instating beneficial and sustainable health practices, modernizing its Penal Code and developing a Family Law that sets the minimum age of marriage for male and female at 18 years old. Although some progress has been made since the Committee’s last review of Afghanistan, several obstacles remain to the realization of the rights of women and girls guaranteed under CEDAW. This submission will focus on obstacles affecting women’s participation in peace negotiations, elimination of violence against women, ensuring access to education for girls and protection of education in armed conflict, ending the harmful practice of “virginity exams” and the prosecution of “moral crimes”.

  1. Women’s Participation in the Peace Process (articles 7 and 8)

In September 2019, US-Taliban talks broke down, but they have since restarted. Given deep divisions in Afghan society particularly along ethnic lines, it cannot be assumed that a US withdrawal without a larger political settlement among Afghans will lead to peace. In addition, many Afghan women justifiably fear that a peace agreement may not mean peace for them—especially because of the struggle they have faced to be included in the discussion.

Under Taliban rule, Afghan women and girls suffered shocking rights violations, including denial of education and freedom of movement. Today, the armed group’s views on women have moderated slightly but remain highly repressive. For example, the Taliban now call for “education for all” but in areas currently under their control they generally prevent girls from studying beyond puberty.

Afghan women’s rights activists have long feared their rights could be a bargaining chip–and one easily surrendered–in peace negotiations with the Taliban. They have fought for years for a place at the table as negotiators–and been almost entirely rebuffed. And with the Afghan government and other Afghan opposition politicians so far excluded from US-Taliban talks, women’s participation has not advanced.

US-Taliban negotiations have focused on US troop withdrawal, and whether the Taliban will pledge not to provide a base for international terrorism, with little public discussion of any other aspects of a political settlement, including women’s rights. A US-Taliban deal is meant to be followed by an “intra-Afghan dialogue” where other issues would be discussed including, presumably, women’s rights. After years of pressure from—and exclusion of—women’s rights activists, the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani in November 2018 for the first time named women to the government’s delegation to peace negotiations. But it remains unclear what role, if any, that delegation would have in the “intra-Afghan dialogue,” and whether that dialogue would include other Afghan women leaders. Uncertainty over the results of the 2019 presidential elections has cast the future of those talks in further doubt.  

As the process moves forward, the Afghan government should be a strong defender of women’s rights to be full participants in the peace process and ensure that any peace deal fully protects women’s rights under international human rights law and the Afghan constitution.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • How is the Afghan government preparing to defend women’s rights in the context of peace negotiations?
  • What level of women’s participation is planned for the Afghan government’s delegation for the intra-Afghan dialogue and how will those women be chosen?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • The Afghan government’s delegation to the intra-Afghan dialogue and all other peace discussions and negotiations should ensure women’s equal participation.
  • The Afghan government should make protecting and improving on all aspects of the status of women’s rights the highest priority in negotiations.
  1. Failure to Enforce the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (article 15)

An estimated 87 percent of Afghan women experience abuse in their lifetimes.0F[1] In 2009, then-President Hamid Karzai signed legislation that dramatically expanded the list of abuses against women that constitute criminal offenses, and set tough new punishments. The Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), made assaulting a woman punishable by three to five years in prison. It made child marriage a crime for the first time, making those responsible for such marriages subject to two to five years’ imprisonment. But the government has not taken meaningful steps to enforce the law.1F[2] Research by the UN found that very few reported cases of violence against women were prosecuted. The vast majority of cases either resulted in no action or were resolved through mediation, sometimes without the victim’s consent and often offering her no meaningful relief.2F[3] The negative experiences women have in the justice system deter many other women and girls from reporting violence.

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women is meaningfully enforced to protect women from abuse and violence, including disciplining police, prosecutors and judges who fail to protect women and girls.
  • Track all reported cases of violence against women, including the disposition, means of resolving them, and outcomes, and publish this data annually, disaggregated by province and district.
  1. Girl’s Access to Education (article 10)

Afghan government and international donor efforts since 2001 to educate girls have significantly faltered in recent years. An estimated two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school.3F[4] As security in the country worsens and international donors disengage from Afghanistan, progress made toward getting girls into school has stalled.

Girls’ education is often highlighted as a success story by donors and the Afghan government, and millions more girls are in school today than were in school under Taliban rule. But the stated aim of getting all girls into school is far from realized, and the proportion of students who are girls is now falling in parts of the country. Around 3.5 million children are out of school, 85 percent of whom are girls. Only 37 percent of adolescent girls are literate, compared to 66 percent of adolescent boys.4F[5]

Afghanistan’s government provides many fewer schools for girls than boys at both the primary and secondary levels. In half the country’s provinces, fewer than 20 percent of teachers are female–a major barrier for girls whose families will not allow them to be taught by a man, especially as adolescents.5F[6] Many children live too far from a school to attend, which particularly affects girls. About 41 percent of schools have no physical buildings, and many lack boundary walls, water, and toilets – disproportionately affecting girls.6F[7]

Under Afghan law, education is compulsory through class nine, though in reality many children have no access to education to this level – or sometimes, to any level. Administrative barriers and corruption create additional obstacles, especially for displaced and poor families. Even when tuition is free, there are costs for sending children to school and many families cannot afford to send their children or choose under financial constraints to favor educating sons.7F[8] About a quarter of Afghan children work to help their families survive desperate poverty. Many girls weave, embroider, beg, or pick garbage rather than study.8F[9]

Donors have worked with the Afghan government to develop innovative models to allow girls to study during conflict, including “community-based education,” a network of classes, often held in homes, that allow children, particularly girls, to access education in communities far from a government school. But because these classes are funded solely by donors and implemented by nongovernmental organizations, they have no consistent connection with the government school system and come and go due to unreliable funding cycles.

According to UNESCO, governments should spend at least 15 to 20 percent of its total national budget, and 4 to 6 percent of GDP, on education. Least developed countries should reach or exceed the higher of these benchmarks. In 2016, Afghanistan spent 13 percent of its public expenditure, and 4 percent of GDP, on education.9F[10]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What progress is the government making on correcting the imbalance between the number of schools for girls versus for boys?
  • What progress is the government making on recruiting and retaining more female teachers?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the government of Afghanistan:

  • Increase girls’ access to education by institutionalizing and expanding education models that help girls study; and take concrete steps to meet the government’s international obligation to provide universal free and compulsory primary education and help make secondary education free and available to all.
  • Provide an equal number of schools and school places for girls and boys and ensure that conditions in these schools are equal in terms of adequacy of facilities, staffing, and supplies.
  • Ensure that all girls’ schools are staffed by female teachers.
  • Increase spending on education to meet international best practices.
  1. Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 10)

School districts across Afghanistan find themselves on the front lines of the country’s armed conflict. In areas under Taliban control, girls’ schooling is limited to only a few years, or they are banned from education altogether. In areas where the government and insurgents are fighting for control, girls seeking education face heightened security threats including sexual harassment, kidnapping, and acid attacks, as well as targeted attacks and threats against girls’ education.

Afghan armed forces and the Taliban also use schools for military purposes. In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the military use of several schools in Baghlan.10F[11]

When the Taliban first reappeared in the Postak Bazaar area in Dand-e Ghori in 2009, they took over the second story of Ghulam Jelani Jalali Middle School as a military base. The Taliban burned all the textbooks and teaching materials at the school that did not conform to their stringent Islamist doctrine. Government forces counterattacked while the school was in session, causing the students to flee in a panic; one student suffered shrapnel injuries. The Afghan Local Police (ALP) then deployed on the school’s second floor. Nonetheless, the school tried to function, moving some of the older girls to a different building, as many families had refused to send their girls to school because of the regular gunfire from ALP militia members. The Taliban had previously objected to male and female students and teachers studying together, which also played a part in the decision to relocate the female students.

In February 2016, the Afghan army conducted a clearance operation near the Qalai Khwaja High School in Dand-e Ghori. During the operation, the military carried out a controlled detonation of an improvised explosive device that the retreating Taliban had placed near the school, and the explosion rendered six of the classrooms unusable. An army contingent remained stationed in the school following the clearance operation until March when the Taliban recaptured the area.

In April 2016, the Khial Jan Shahid Primary School, located in Omarkhail village in Dand-e Shahabuddin, which enrolled about 350 boys and girls as of April 2016, was occupied by the Taliban. They used the school as a base for about five months. During a military operation in early 2016, government forces attacked Taliban fighters based at the primary school, shelling the building with mortars and raking it with gunfire. The military forced the Taliban fighters to abandon the school, but the intense battle left the school compound almost completely destroyed.11F[12]

Attacks on schools continue. Between January and June 2019, UNAMA documented 25 incidents impacting education. Sixteen incidents were attributed to Taliban, including six incidents of attacks by the Taliban targeting girls’ schools in Farah province. For instance, on April 14, Taliban detonated explosives that caused substantial damage to a high school, hampering education for about 1,000 students.12F[13]

Afghanistan was among the first countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, joining in May 2015. By endorsing the declaration, Afghanistan committed itself to a number of measures aimed at strengthening the prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, and schools, including by: collecting reliable data on attacks and military use of schools and universities, providing assistance to victims of attacks, investigating allegations of violations of national and international law and prosecuting perpetrators when appropriate, developing and promoting “conflict sensitive” approaches to education, and seeking to continue education during armed conflict. The have also committed to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

In April 2016, the education minister wrote to both the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the National Security Council requesting assistance in vacating schools being used for military purposes.13F[14] In 2018, the Afghan government stated that their “National Policy on Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm,” provides specific guidelines to be undertaken by security forces that “strictly prohibits … the utilization of civilian facilities, including schools, hospitals, and clinics, for military purposes.”14F[15]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Can the government share with the Committee a copy of the provisions in the National Policy on Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm strictly prohibiting the use of schools for military purposes?
  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any other policies, rules, or trainings for Afghanistan’s armed forces?
  • How many schools were either partially or wholly used for military purposes by government security forces during the reporting period, and for what time?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Congratulate the government of Afghanistan on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, and thereby committing to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.
  • Address and remedy the disproportionate harm to girls’ access to education as a result of hostilities and military use of schools.
  • Issue clear and public orders to all security forces to refrain from the military use of schools in line with the Safe Schools Declaration and using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict as a minimum standard.
  • Issue clear and public instructions to national and provincial authorities to monitor and report any use of schools by Afghan security forces.
  • Ensure that students deprived of educational facilities as a result of hostilities, the military use of their school, or the need for their school to be repaired or reconstructed, are promptly provided access to nearby alternative schools.
  • The ministries of interior and education should collect data on military use of schools by both Afghan security forces and non-state armed groups. Data should include the names and locations of the school being used; the purpose for which they are being used; the duration of the use; the specific security force unit or armed group making use of the school; the enrollment prior to use and attendance during use; impact on students unable to attend school; actions taken by the authorities to end military use of the school; and the damages sustained during the military use of the school. All data should be disaggregated by gender to capture any disproportionate impact on girls.
  • The ministries of defense and interior should establish and implement preventive measures, including advance planning and the provision of necessary logistics and equipment, through coordination with the security forces and the education ministry to avoid the military use of schools, and to vacate them expeditiously where armed forces are using them.
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute those individuals responsible for attacks on schools or damaging schools in violation of international law.
  • Continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the declaration’s commitments—including concrete measures to deter the military use of schools—with this Committee and other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.
  1. “Virginity Examinations” (article 12)

In July 2018, a new policy was announced by the Ministry of Public Health that promised to bar government health workers from engaging in the abusive practice of forcing women and girls to undergo invasive and medically meaningless vaginal and anal exams to determine whether they are “virgins.”

“Virginity examinations” are a routine part of criminal proceedings in Afghanistan. When women or girls are accused of “moral crimes” such as sex outside of marriage, police, prosecutors, and judges regularly send them to government doctors who conduct examinations of the genitals that purport to provide information about the individual’s sexual history. The reports from these examinations are treated as fact by courts and used at times to justify long prison sentences under Afghanistan’s harsh law against sex outside of marriage.

These examinations are invasive, scientifically invalid and conducted without meaningful – or sometimes any – consent.  Ending “virginity exams” should be part of broader reform regarding the treatment of women in the justice system.15F[16]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to ensure the new policy of barring government health workers from forcing women and girls to undergo invasive and medically meaningless vaginal and anal exams is being fully enforced?
  • What mechanism has the government put in place to facilitate awareness of the new policy, reporting of health workers who violate the policy, and disciplinary action against those health workers?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • End the harmful practice of “virginity exams” used on women and girls.
  • Decriminalize consensual sex between adults and ensure that the justice system distinguishes between consensual sex and rape.
  1. Child Marriage (article 16)

In Afghanistan a third of girls marry before the age of 18.16F[17] Under Afghan law, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 16, or 15 with the permission of the girl’s father or a judge. In practice, the law is rarely enforced, so even earlier marriages occur. The consequences of child marriage are deeply harmful, and include girls dropping out or being excluded from education. Other harms include serious health risks—including death—to girls and their babies due to early pregnancy. Girls who marry are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women who marry later.17F[18]

An education official told Human Rights Watch that the government is developing a pilot education program for girls in three districts in Nangarhar province that has both low girls’ education participation and high rates of child marriage.18F[19] In April 2017, the Afghan government launched a national plan to end child marriage.19F[20] But there has been little progress in implementing the plan. Given the government’s poor track record of implementing laws and policies designed to protect the rights of women and girls, there is reason for scepticism about the likely impact of these efforts.20F[21]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Fully implement the National Action Plan to end child marriage.
  • Strengthen the role of the province-level Child Protection Action Networks (CPANs). Ensure that educators, communities and local government officials work with the local CPAN to protect the most vulnerable children, children at risk of child marriage and provide them with access to child protection services.
  1.  “Moral crimes” (articles 15 and 16)

Human Rights Watch estimated in 2013 that half of all women in prison and about 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan were arrested on “moral crimes” charges.21F[22] These so-called crimes include “running away” from home, and committing or attempting to commit zina, or having sex outside of marriage. In most cases, the women and girls accused of these “crimes” were fleeing child or forced marriage or domestic violence. Women and girls who have been raped are often charged with zina, alongside their rapist.

Zina is a crime under the Afghan Penal Code and is punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison. “Running away” is not a crime under Afghan law, but police and prosecutors often treat it as a crime, sometimes bringing charges as “attempted zina.”22F[23]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Reform the Penal Code provisions on “moral crimes” to decriminalize all consensual sex between adults.
  • Reform the law to provide a clear and inclusive definition of sexual assault, incorporating rape and marital rape, and defining all non-consensual sex as sexual assault.
  • The government should also adopt clear law regarding the age at which a young person can consent to sex, set tough penalties for an adult who has sex with a child below the age of consent, and ensure that such children are treated as crime victims and not targeted for zina accusations.
  • Abolish “running away” charges as well as “attempted zina” charges.
  • Inform justice officials and the police of new rules on “running away” and rape cases, and ensure full compliance by distributing clear and compulsory guidance on these two issues to all police station and prosecution offices.

[1] CITE NEEDED

[2] Heather Barr, “A Law Ignored and Another Horror in Afghanistan,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, January 20, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/20/dispatches-law-ignored-and-another-horror-afghanistan.

[3] “Justice through the Eyes of Afghan Women: Cases of Violence against Women Addressed through Mediation and Court Adjudication,” UNAMA, April 2015,

https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/old_dnn/UNAMA/UNAMA-OHC....

[4] “Education” UNICEF Afghanistan, accessed December 12, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/afghanistan/education.

[5] United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and European Commission, “Afghanistan Gender Country Profile—final report: short version,” September 21, 2016, p. 9, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[6] “Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook: 2016-2017,” 2017, pp. 106-7.

[7] Ministry of Education, “Education in Afghanistan: At a Glance, From 2001 to 2016 and beyond,” undated, provided to Human Rights Watch in April 2017 by Deputy Minister of General Education Dr. Ibrahim Shinwari, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[8] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick: Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan,” 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/17/i-wont-be-doctor-and-one-day-youll-be-sick/girls-access-education-afghanistan

[9] Government of Afghanistan, Central Statistics Organization, “Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey,” p. 125.

[10] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) et al., “Education 2030: Framework for Action,” December 2015, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002456/245656E.pdf (accessed June 14, 2017), art. 105.

[11] Human Rights Watch, Education on the Front Lines: Military Use of Schools in Afghanistan’s Baghlan Province, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/08/17/education-front-lines/military-use-schools-afghanistans-baghlan-province.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Midyear Update on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 1 January to 30 June 2019,” UNAMA, July 30, 2019, https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/unama_poc_midyear_update_2019_-_30_july_2019_english.pdf

[14] Letter from Minister of Education to Ministry of Interior Affairs, number 311, April 2016 and Letter from Minister of Education to National Security Council, number 194-196, July 2016, both available in Human Rights Watch, Protecting Schools from Military Use: Law, Policy, and Military Doctrine, May 2019.

[15] Statement by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Protection of Civilians Annual Report, February 12, 2018.

[16] Heather Barr, “A Step Towards Ending 'Virginity Exams' in Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, July 10, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/10/step-toward-ending-virginity-exams-afghanistan.

[17] UNICEF, “State of the World’s Children 2016,” https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/.

[18] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick.”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Government of Afghanistan and UNFPA, “National Action Plan to End Early and Child Marriage in Afghanistan: 2017–2021,” July 2016, on file with Human Rights Watch, p. 10.

[21] Heather Barr, “Will Afghanistan Follow Through on Promise to End Child Marriage?: Up to One-Third of Afghan Girls Married Before Age 18,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, April 20, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/20/will-afghanistan-follow-through-promise-end-child-marriage.

[22] cite

[23] “Afghanistan: End ‘Moral Crimes’ Charges, ‘Virginity’ Tests: President Ghani Should Honor Pledge not to Arrest Women Fleeing Abuse,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 25, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/25/afghanistan-end-moral-crimes-charges-virginity-tests.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Students and teachers from around the world call for schools and universities to be protected from military use.

© 2015 Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch

Our children’s rights team at Human Rights Watch spends a lot of time focused on the abuses that children suffer around the world. But as we wrap up the year, we’d also like to recognize some of the positive things that have happened for children. Here are 10 good news stories for kids from 2019:

  1. Four countries – Georgia, South Africa, France, and Kosovo – banned all corporal punishment of children, bringing the global total to 58, up from 11 in 2000.
     
  2. Three armed groups in the Central African Republic, one in Syria, and one in Myanmar signed agreements to end the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.
     
  3. Government-allied militia forces in Nigeria released nearly 900 children from their ranks.
     
  4. Tanzania and Mozambique both made child marriage illegal.
     
  5. The president of Rwanda pardoned hundreds of women and girls who had been jailed for abortions.
     
  6. An additional 19 countries committed to protecting schools during armed conflict by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, bringing the total to 101 endorsers.

     

    Children need schools, not battlegrounds.

    101 countries agree!

    Who'll be next to endorse the #SafeSchoolsDeclaration?@EstoniaUN? @konotaromp? @Chelsville? @NamibiaUN? @MVPMNY? @Thilmeeza? @UrmasReinsalu? @MexOn? @KatalinBogyay? #childrights pic.twitter.com/w3UHWfzBv5

    — Bede Sheppard (@BedeOnKidRights) December 13, 2019

     

  7. Netherlands adopted a new law requiring companies doing business in the country to prevent child labor in their supply chains.
     
  8. The European Parliament passed a resolution calling on all member states to end medically unnecessary surgeries on children born with intersex traits.
     
  9. Ekiti State in southwest Nigeria adopted a policy to ban the expulsion of girls from school during and after pregnancy.
     
  10. The International Criminal Court upheld a ruling that former warlord Thomas Lubanga is liable for US$10 million in reparations to former child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many children will benefit from these actions, though millions are still out of school and suffer exploitation and abuse. We should take a moment to celebrate the progress of 2019, but we still have a lot of work to do.

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

(Top: Left to Right) Twin sisters with mobility disabilities making their way to school in China.© 2009 Private; Girls from the Kalokol Girls Primary School fetch water from a dry riverbed to carry back to their school, which does not have access to running water. © 2014 Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for Human Rights Watch; Abdulmajid, 11, (left) and his brother Mohammed, 9, in Mersin, southern Turkey. In February 2015, they fled Syria with their family and have not attended school since 2012. © 2015 Stephanie Gee/Human Rights Watch

(Bottom: Left to Right) A 13-year-old boy, who mines gold, attends classes in a small-scale mining area in Mbeya Region. © 2013 Justin Purefoy for Human Rights Watch; Damaged school in Nikishine Rebel fighters deployed inside the school between September 2014 and February 2015 and exchanged intense fire with Ukrainian forces. © 2015 Yulia Gorbunova/Human Rights Watch; Sifola, age 13, stands in the home she shares with her husband and in-laws. © 2015 Omi for Human Rights Watch

In 2020, you should be watching for the clock ticking on the 10-year countdown to get all children into education, and to end restrictive, discriminatory government policies that keep millions out of class.

These policies are rarely seen as what they are: human rights abuses on a vast scale, which perpetuate inequality and discrimination, and deprive school children of education – a right fundamental to their development and ability to demand their rights.

There’s just a decade to go for governments to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, with quality education for all one of its main pillars.

In 2019, more than 260 million children did not go to school, according to the UN, with conflict-affected areas particularly hard-hit: around 50 percent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in such areas, and 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills. Children with disabilities are frequently denied school, overlooked and uncounted. Girls are particularly vulnerable to dropping out due to sexual harassment, child marriage, and gender discrimination. Taliban acid attacks against girls who go to school aren’t even the tip of the iceberg.

Experts have warned about an education “crisis” for over a decade – with stalling quality and access to education, growing numbers of young people leaving schools without the skills they need, and large gaps in education funding. But the leadership needed to resolve it is lacking. Human Rights Watch reported on governments’ responsibility for an “education deficit” back in 2005.

To close the education deficit and fulfil the vision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that entered into force 30 years ago – enshrining every child’s right to an education and firmly enforcing non-discrimination – governments must be held accountable for discriminatory educational policies that deny children the chance to gain skills, break the poverty cycle, and fully participate – economically and socially – in their societies.

Girls are being pushed out of school by factors including the high prevalence of sexual violence and harassment in their communities and schools, gender discrimination, and child marriage. Girls confront multiple, daily obstacles to schooling – from school fees and costs to a lack of proper toilets and even fewer schools for girls than boys – that could be fixed if governments took action to address them at scale. Human Rights Watch found that schools in Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, and Sierra Leone have expelled tens of thousands of girls who marry or get pregnant, decimating their futures, with knock-on harms for their children.

Children with disabilities often cannot enroll at all – nearly 50 percent are out of school, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. Others are segregated into institutions that lack any mandate to educate them, as is still the case in countries including Armenia, Lebanon, Serbia, and Russia. While the CRC protects the right to education, the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities aims at equal and inclusive education system at all levels. 

From Central Europe to Central Asia, three-quarters of 5.1 million children with disabilities are excluded from quality, inclusive education, UNICEF found. In Kazakhstan and Iran, government-mandated bodies and medical tests can exclude children with disabilities from education altogether. Countries like Nepal have improved accessibility but still isolate children with disabilities in separate classrooms, with untrained teachers. South Africa claims to have achieved universal primary enrollment, but its failure to provide inclusive education is keeping close to 600,000 children with disabilities out of school. 

Children don’t only lose access to education during conflict, they do so long afterwards. In Syria, one-third of schools are damaged or destroyed, and many will remain so for years after. Iraq declared victory over the extremist group ISIS in 2017, but has since blocked tens of thousands of Iraqi children from going to school because their fathers are suspected ISIS supporters. Fewer than 15 percent of the thousands of asylum-seeking children contained by Greece on the Aegean islands can access formal education. Bangladesh opened its border in 2017 to Rohingya-minority refugees fleeing from horrific crimes in Myanmar, but has since barred nearly 400,000 children from any real education because it doesn’t want the Rohingya to stay. And in Afghanistan, the number of children – especially girls – attending school in some areas is falling due to worsening violence and donor disengagement.

States are obliged according to international law to use the maximum available resources to fulfill the fundamental right to education for all children. But some governments, including those with vast resources, such as Equatorial Guinea, treat the right to education dismissively, failing to invest or corruptly squandering resources needed for schooling. Pakistan’s under-investment in public education has left 22.5 million children out of school, and hits girls especially hard: 32 percent are not in primary school, compared with 21 percent of boys, and by Grade 9 (around 14-15 years old), only 13 percent of girls are still in school.

Lack of access to education is too often shunted aside as a “development” problem that can be fixed with campaigning, poverty reduction programs, and gradual improvements in quality. But none of that holds water when it comes to ending harmful and abusive policies.  

While most out-of-school children are in lower-income countries, there are huge and growing gaps in access and learning in middle- and higher-income countries too. The source of the problem is not always poverty, but entrenched discrimination and sustained exclusion, perpetuated by impunity for governments that negligently or intentionally keep children out of their education systems, including through under-investment in education.  

This year will be a watershed for the right to education. Getting all children into quality and accessible education by 2030 will mean holding governments to account for imposing discriminatory policies that block children’s right to quality education – committing human rights abuses on a massive scale as they do so. 

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

A boy stands next to a hole in the fence of the Moria camp following rainfall, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, November 22, 2019. 

© 2019 Elias Marcou/Reuters
(Athens) – Hundreds of unaccompanied children on the Greek island of Lesbos are exposed to inhuman and degrading living conditions, Human Rights Watch said today. Children, unable to secure a place in the overcrowded specialized accommodation for unaccompanied children, face unsanitary and insecure conditions sleeping rough, sometimes in the open, in other formal and informal parts of the camp on the island.

“Hundreds of lone children on Lesbos are left to fend for themselves, sleeping on mats and cardboard boxes, exposed to worsening and dangerous weather conditions,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Greek authorities need to urgently make sure these children are safe and cared for.”

On a visit to Lesbos from October 15 to 23, 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 22 unaccompanied children living in the Moria “hotspot,” some as young as 14, who described having little or no access to care, protection, or specialized services. Due to overcrowding in the sections of the Moria camp reserved for unaccompanied children, most of the children interviewed were living either in the camp’s general areas, mixed in with the general population, or in the adjacent overspill site known as the Olive Grove, a rocky hillside where people set up their own tents for shelter.

“Everything is dangerous here: the cold, the place I sleep, the fights. I don’t feel safe,” said Rachid R., a 14-year-old unaccompanied Afghan boy who arrived in Moria at the end of August. “We are around 50 people sleeping in the big tent. It smells really bad, there are rats and sometimes they die inside the tent and it smells bad. There are so many.” Lesbos, Greece, October 2019

© 2019 Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

“Everything is dangerous here – the cold, the place I sleep, the fights. I don’t feel safe,” said Rachid R., an unaccompanied 14-year-old Afghan boy who arrived in Moria at the end of August. “We are around 50 people sleeping in the big tent. It smells really bad, there are rats, and sometimes they die inside the tent and it smells bad. There are so many.”

Most of the children interviewed reported experiencing psychological distress, including symptoms such as anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia.

When Human Rights Watch visited in mid-October, 1,061 unaccompanied children were registered in Moria. Of that number, 587 were registered as living in a large tent (a Rubb Hall) designed to temporarily accommodate all new arrivals until they go through the registration and identification procedure. Since early November, a minimum of 600 children have been registered as living there. Unaccompanied children sleep in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions that put their physical and mental health at risk.

Children who cannot find space in the Rubb Hall are living in the open areas in the camp or outside the camp, where they are exposed to frequent fights and other violence. Human Rights Watch interviewed and observed children sleeping on the ground without shelter, or sharing tents with adult strangers. Some had been living in those conditions for almost three months. Other children had to purchase their own tents. Twelve children interviewed said that Moria camp officials told them they could not have tents because they should be housed in the section for unaccompanied children, even though that section was too full to accommodate them.

A makeshift gym created by asylum seekers living in Moria is located in the Olive Grove. Lesbos, Greece, October 2019. 

© 2019 Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

On November 29, a government representative denied in a phone conversation with Human Rights Watch that any child is refused a tent or special protections. But an aid worker in the camp subsequently contacted confirmed that the authorities still “do not give tents to the [unaccompanied] minors,” adding that understaffing in the camp means that “children fall through the cracks.”  

The situation on the islands has grown more acute due to a spike in arrivals since July leading to extreme overcrowding in the hotspots, compounded by the Greek authorities’ containment policy, which has blocked transfers to the mainland. As of November 30, an estimated 1,746 unaccompanied children were housed in the Reception and Identification Centers on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros. On November 20, the Greek authorities announced plans to relocate 20,000 asylum seekers to the mainland by early 2020 from 5 Greek islands currently hosting almost 40,000 asylum seekers and migrants, a positive move. However, the government also plans to turn the reception centers for identification, processing, and deportation, including Moria, into detention centers.

On November 24, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a plan to protect unaccompanied children, “No Child Alone,” which included creating more shelters. In October, Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis had sent a letter to all other European Union governments asking them to share responsibility by voluntarily relocating 2,500 unaccompanied children. On November 6, he told the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties that only one country had responded.

In keeping with the spirit of the No Child Alone plan, the authorities should urgently take steps to identify children living outside the dedicated sections in Moria and ensure that they have access to safe, humane accommodation where they can receive care, education, counseling, legal aid, guardianship, and other essential services, Human Rights Watch said.

EU states should share responsibility by relocating unaccompanied migrant children from Greece to their own countries and by facilitating family reunification.

“Unaccompanied children are among the most vulnerable people on the Greek islands, and they need Greece and other European countries to take care of them,” Cossé said. “The EU and its member states should demonstrate responsibility and care for kids who suffer there every day.”

For details about the law and accounts by unaccompanied children registered on Lesbos, please see below.

Greek and International Law

Under Greek law, registered unaccompanied children should be placed in safe accommodation, but there is a chronic shortage of shelter space. On the mainland, the authorities often detain unaccompanied migrant children in police stations and immigration detention facilities pending placement in a shelter. On the Aegean islands, Reception and Identification Centers such as Moria – commonly known as “hotspots” – have separate sections to provide secure shelter for unaccompanied children, but they are not large enough to accommodate all unaccompanied children waiting to be transferred to long-term accommodation.

Inside the large tent in Moria that authorities set up to temporarily accommodate all new arrivals until they go through the registration and identification procedure. Since early November, a minimum of 600 unaccompanied children are registered as living here. Lesbos, Greece, October 2019.

© 2019 Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

The separate protected area where children are accommodated in Moria provides a safer space for short-term stays than holding children in jail cells, which is unacceptable, Human Rights Watch said. Unlike police jails cells on the mainland, the protected area in Moria allows children to move in and out freely and provides some activities organized by nongovernmental organizations. But leaving children to fend for themselves in the open camps is akin to leaving them on the streets.

On December 5, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting that women and girls in Moria face relentless insecurity. Unaccompanied girls are housed in a “safe zone” that holds both unaccompanied boys under 14 and girls under 18, though they should be housed in separate, secure sections to mitigate the risk for gender-based violence.

Two unaccompanied sisters, 16 and 17, sitting at a table outside Moria. Unaccompanied girls are housed in a “safe zone” that holds both unaccompanied boys under 14 and girls under 18, though they should be housed in separate, secure sections to mitigate the risk for gender-based violence. Lesbos, Greece, October 2019.

© 2019 Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

Under Greek and international law, unaccompanied children are also entitled to special care and protection. Following a screening procedure, the authorities should identify unaccompanied children and refer them to appropriate support services and accommodation. However, a shortage of doctors, psychologists, and social workers to conduct vulnerability screenings in Moria has created a backlog. Unaccompanied children can wait months to be fully registered, in the meantime living in the open with unrelated adults and no arrangements for their care.

Delays in the registration process and the lack of representation and legal support for unaccompanied children in Moria undermine their ability to reunite with family members in other EU countries. A three-month deadline to submit a family reunification request is often not met because unaccompanied children are not identified during that period. Delays are compounded by the lack of legal support and the overstretched Asylum Service. EU countries should take into account the humanitarian emergency on the Greek islands when it comes to deadlines for submitting family reunification requests. For children who miss the deadline, the authorities should make use of the “discretionary clause” of the Dublin III Regulation.

The government’s No Child Alone plan includes a commitment to swiftly create new structures to provide long-term accommodation for 4,000 unaccompanied children. Under the plan, each new structure will provide housing, food, education, access to pharmaco-medical care, and psychological support for a small number of children. It will also provide the necessary legal services to unaccompanied children who have relatives in other European countries and who want to reunite with their families.

Accounts from Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Moria

All names have been changed to protect privacy and security.

Ali A., 15, and Reza R., 16, from Afghanistan, became friends soon after they arrived in Moria, about 2 months before Human Rights Watch interviewed them. Ali described his first days in Moria:

I came 10 days earlier than [Reza R.] did. When I arrived here, I spent one night in the ‘karantina’ [the Rubb Hall]. Then, they gave me a sleeping bag and said “Now you have to find a place to sleep.” Until now, I sleep with the sleeping bag, outside. They don’t give tents to the underage.

Reza R. added “We asked [those responsible for tent distribution in the camp] for some pallets and tents, but they said, ‘We can’t give them to you. You are underage.’ We tried to make a shelter by ourselves but they told us that they will call the police and destroy the place.”

Both boys were still sleeping on cardboard without shelter in the open area of Moria.

Jafar J., 16, from Afghanistan, photographed after he had been on Lesbos for 20 days. Before finding shelter in a large tent in the Moria camp, he slept outside for four days, and still does not have a proper bed: “They [authorities] never gave me a tent. I was sleeping outside. Totally outside. I don’t have a bed here, only a cardboard carton that I put on the floor and that’s where I sleep.” Lesbos, Greece, October 2019.

© 2019 Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

Jafar J., 16, from Afghanistan, has been on Lesbos for 20 days. Before finding shelter in the Rubb Hall, he slept outside for four days, and still does not have a proper bed:

They never gave me a tent. I was sleeping outside. Totally outside. I don’t have a bed here [in the Rubb Hall], only a cardboard carton that I put on the floor and that’s where I sleep…. You cannot count how many people there are in total. At night, you can see that it’s full. There’s no space at all.... We can’t sleep…. It’s mixed with a lot of people: four or five families, some people with health issues, single men that drink a lot of alcohol, and unaccompanied minors…. There is no control who will come and sleep in there…. The most difficult is that there’s no light in the tent at night because the lamps are broken. It’s terrifying because you don’t know who or what is moving inside the tent.

Hussein H., a 17-year-old Afghan boy sleeping in the Rubb Hall, said:

Conditions are really difficult … they don’t give tents to the underaged because they say they will transfer us to the section [for unaccompanied children]. But it takes months to be transferred to the section…. I’ve been three times to Eurorelief [the aid agency tasked with tent distribution] to ask for a tent. Not just one time. But they have told me, “We can’t do anything.”

Samir S., a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan, was living in a tent in the Olive Grove that he purchased with 3 friends, also unaccompanied children. He said that when he arrived on Lesbos six days earlier, the camp authorities told them that there was no space for minors and that they had to find a place to sleep:

They said “You are underage so we can’t give you a tent. You have to wait, they will take you to the doctor, check if you are underage, and if you are, they are going to transfer you to the section [for unaccompanied children].” But we know this can take up to two to three months…. They gave me a blanket, a used T-shirt, and this small mat and they told me to find a place to sleep.

Samir and his friends borrowed money from other Afghans in the camp to buy their tent.

Yunus Y., 14, from Afghanistan was living in the Olive Grove: “I asked for a tent, they didn’t give me one. I asked for at least a sleeping bag, they didn’t give me one either. They told me to find people who could accept me in their tent. I found two [unrelated] single men. They agreed and took me in their tent. Then they left to live somewhere else and gave me their tent.” Lesbos, Greece, October 2019.

© 2019 Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

Yunus Y., 14, from Afghanistan, was living in the Olive Grove, next to Samir S.’s tent:

I asked for a tent, they didn’t give me one. I asked for at least a sleeping bag, they didn’t give me one either. They told me to find people who could accept me in their tent. I found two [unrelated] single men. They agreed and took me in their tent. Then they left to live somewhere else and gave me their tent.

Saleh S., a 16-year-old boy from Somalia, said he had been sleeping outside on the ground since his arrival, 10 days before the interview:

I sleep on the street. I and some other guys my age. There are drunk people at night and we are very scared. We don’t have a container or a tent. We just live outside, on the street, inside the camp. When we sleep on the ground, at night it’s wet and cold. We have a small carpet like the one Muslims pray on that we sleep on. And I have something to cover myself but it’s very thin, it’s not enough…. I have been told that I am a minor and can’t stay in a tent. I need to be in the place for minors.

Javet J., 15, from Afghanistan, described the symptoms of psychosocial distress he’s experienced since he arrived: “I forget a lot of things. In the last few days I have headaches and I forget a lot. It’s very bad here…. I spend most of my day inside the tent or in the line for food.”

Ahmed A., 16, also from Afghanistan, said:

Everywhere you need to go, you have to wait in line. To take food, to go to the toilet, to go to the doctor. It’s making you feel that you are losing hope. I am feeling lost. Only to see a doctor to tell you your age, you have to wait for two months. This is exhausting.

Makeshift tents in the Olive Grove, a rocky hillside outside Moria where people set up their own tents for shelter. Lesbos, Greece, October 2019

© 2019 Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

Habib H., 16, from Afghanistan, lives outside the official camp, in the Olive Grove, sleeping in a sleeping bag near a family he knows. He described the dangers in the camp:

There are no rules here in Moria. After 9 p.m. you cannot walk around because people will start drinking alcohol. If I have to go to the toilet, I will wake up the family I know and we usually go three to four people together.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Posters inside a “learning center” in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, February 2019. Aid groups established learning centers but are barred by the Bangladesh government from providing formal education. © 2019 Human Rights Watch/ Bill Van Esveld

“Azida” is a 12-year-old girl, born in Myanmar, but now growing up in neighboring Bangladesh. Forced out of her home at age 10 by a military campaign of ethnic cleansing, she now lives in the sprawling Cox’s Bazar refugee camps on the southern coast of Bangladesh. Among the many stark changes in her new life is the fact that there are no formal schools. In Myanmar, Azida had reached class 5. She should be attending class 7 now, but instead can only take informal classes at a small learning center. When asked about her new life, she voiced a common complaint: “I wish I could move on.”

Like Azida, almost 400,000 school-age Rohingya refugee children in Cox’s Bazar are being denied their right to formal education. The EU should be concerned, and wonder why some of the $51.3 million it has provided to alleviate the Rohingya Refugee Crisis between 2017 and 2019 is being undermined by regressive policies (the lack of detailed, timely, and transparent information about funding makes the exact figures hard to track). Every day that Rohingya children are deliberately denied an education is a human rights violation with long-term consequences.

The Bangladesh government did the right thing in 2017 by opening its doors to more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in a matter of months, but now it not only prohibits Rohingya children from enrolling in schools outside the camps, it also bars aid groups working in the camps from providing any accredited or formal education. Only an informal learning program aimed at beginner-elementary school children is permitted. Further restrictions include a ban on teaching the Bengali language and the Bangladesh curriculum. Meanwhile, the Myanmar government has also refused to approve the use of its curriculum in the camps.

Bangladesh insists that Myanmar should take back the people it viciously drove out. It has undertaken two attempts at repatriating the Rohingya – both opposed by the refugees. Myanmar is yet to create conditions for safe and voluntary returns. Villages where Rohingya lived have been demolished, 128,000 Rohingya still in Myanmar are interned in camps, and citizenship is still denied broadly to Rohingya. There has been no attempt to ensure accountability for the crimes against humanity that forced the Rohingya out.

Bangladesh is operating on the misguided fear that allowing children their basic right to education will somehow encourage them to stay. But virtually every Rohingya refugee that Human Rights Watch met in the camps said they want to return if citizenship, freedom of movement, and other protections are ensured. This fallacy is deliberately depriving children of education, exacerbating a human rights crisis.

The informal education program taught at Azida’s learning center was devised by UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, in a careful attempt to avoid the Bangladesh government’s red lines. Yet it took the Bangladesh government a year to approve the first two “levels” of the UNICEF curriculum, equivalent to preschool and the beginning of primary school. The three upper levels still await approval. While the informal program is a step up, refugee parents consistently told us that they want their children to study the Myanmar curriculum.

Quality education could help Rohingya children recover from the brutalities they suffered or witnessed and regain a sense of purpose. It would also prepare them to be self-sufficient. The ban on formal education risks forcing Rohingya into dependency on humanitarian donations, exploitation in hazardous jobs, or child marriage. Some children denied education and despairing for a better future have been preyed on by criminal trafficking networks.

The EU needs a common position on this to promote quality education, without discrimination. It is well-placed to press for allowing all children in Bangladesh access to formal, accredited education from pre-primary through secondary school. It is also important to show that international aid for Rohingya children is a win-win for Bangladesh, by meeting its funding commitments for the Rohingya and for Bangladeshi children in Cox’s Bazar, who have some of the worst dropout rates and student-teacher ratios in the country. The EU is in a unique position to speak up for children like Azida, as well as the countless others who are being denied a fair chance at a new life.

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

This submission focuses on the impact of lead pollution on children’s rights, and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict. It relates to article 24, 28 and, 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Impact of Lead Pollution on Children’s Rights (article 24 and 31)

Lead exposure around the former lead and zinc mine in Kabwe, which operated from 1904 to 1994, is having disastrous effects on children’s health. More than one-third of the population of Kabwe, Zambia— over 76,000 people—live in lead-contaminated townships. Studies estimate that half of the children in these areas have elevated blood lead levels that warrant medical treatment.

At present, children living in nearby townships continue to be exposed to high levels of toxic lead in soil and dust in their homes, backyards, schools, play areas, and other public spaces. The Zambian government’s efforts to address the environmental and health consequences of the widespread lead contamination have not thus far been sufficient, and parents struggle to protect their children.

Children are especially at risk because they are more likely to ingest lead dust when playing in the soil, their brains and bodies are still developing, and they absorb four to five times as much lead as adults. The consequences for children who are exposed to high levels of lead and are not treated include reading and learning barriers or disabilities; behavioral problems; impaired growth; anemia; brain, liver, kidney, nerve, and stomach damage; coma and convulsions; and death. After prolonged exposure, the effects are irreversible. Lead also increases the risk of miscarriage and can be transmitted through both the placenta and breastmilk.

Human Rights Watch conducted three field research missions to Zambia between June 2018 and April 2019 and found that government efforts to address lead pollution have been far from adequate. Human Rights Watch also found that government-run health facilities in Kabwe currently have no chelation medicine for treating lead poisoning or lead test kits in stock, and no health database has been established to track cases of children who died or were hospitalized because of high lead levels.

In December 2016, the government began a five-year World Bank-funded project to clean up lead-contaminated neighborhoods and conduct new rounds of testing and treatment. Government officials and World Bank representatives told Human Rights Watch that the government intended to start the remediation and health components later in 2019. The project is intended to carry out remediation to reduce lead exposure in at least three townships and includes plans for testing and treating at least 10,000 children, pregnant women, mothers, and other individuals.

In recent months, several activities have started, such as health worker training, the procurement of chelation medicine, and greater information-sharing about the project with the community and the public. The government also recently announced it would also include 10 schools in the project.

Human Rights Watch welcomes this project, but is concerned about the serious delays in implementation: Three years after the launch, the project is just starting to get off the ground. Community leaders and groups in Kabwe have expressed frustration about the process and told Human Rights Watch that they had been left in the dark.

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch is concerned that that the project will not address the full scope of lead poisoning and contamination. In particular, the project does not address the source of the contamination, the mining waste. More than six million tons of mining waste are out in the open, and dust blows over nearby residential areas. If the source of the contamination is not addressed, the project risks not being sustainable.

Small-scale mining, that is mining with little or no machinery, is also a major issue and is now the main activity at the former Kabwe mine. Small-scale mining for lead is extremely hazardous, as residents risk getting exposed further to lead when adult family members work at the mine and return home with lead on their body, clothes, tools, or shoes. While the government has issued some licenses for mining, there are also unlicensed, illegal mining operations.

The government has also granted a large-scale mining license for much of the former mine area to the Berkeley Mineral Resources company. This company, together with its South African business partner Jubilee Metals, is planning to recover zinc, lead, copper, as well as the highly valuable metal vanadium. Jubilee Metals has bought a refinery right next to the former Kabwe mine for zinc processing, and has said it anticipates producing during 2020. Waste processing carries the risk of creating further problems by generating additional dust and polluting the water.[1]

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

  • Develop a program for sustainable, comprehensive lead remediation, testing, and treatment in Kabwe. The program should be developed in conjunction with relevant ministries, affected communities, civil society groups, youth groups, and other relevant stakeholders. In particular:

Remediation

  • Develop a remediation plan that will allow for long-term containment or removal of lead waste.
  • Ensure that private operations for reprocessing minerals are part of this plan and carefully scrutinized and monitored by the government for human rights and environmental impacts, including through environmental and social impact assessments.
  • Ensure that small-scale mining operations are licensed and regularly monitored for compliance with national laws and regulations.
  • Invite all households in contaminated townships to participate in the voluntary remediation program to clean both yards and home interiors.
  • Remediate all contaminated schools, play areas, health centers, and other public areas.
  • Pave roads in contaminated townships to reduce dust.
  • Conduct regular monitoring of soil and air lead levels in Kabwe, and publish the results.

Health and Education

  • Ensure that all children in Kabwe are given access to free testing and, as appropriate, free treatment for lead poisoning. Make sure that the initial round of testing and treatment reaches all children under the age of 5 as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women; and that children previously tested and found to have elevated lead levels are given access to follow-up testing and treatment.
  • Track lead poisoning in the Health Management Information System (HMIS) or develop a separate database for Kabwe to track cases of lead poisoning, including lead-related hospitalization and mortality.
  • Ensure children with disabilities and learning barriers in affected areas are tested for lead.
  • Provide accommodations and individual learning support for children with learning barriers.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 28)

Zambia was among the first countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, joining in May 2015.[2]

As of October 2019, Zambia is contributing 1007 troops to United Nations peacekeeping forces. 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.”  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 personnel shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes.”

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any policies, rules, or trainings for Zambia’s armed forces?

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

  • Congratulate the government of Zambia on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, thereby committing to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.

[1] Human Rights Watch, We Have to Be Worried: The Impact of Lead Contamination on Children’s Rights in Kabwe, Zambia,(New York: Human Rights Watch, 2019) https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/08/23/we-have-be-worried/impact-lead-contamination-childrens-rights-kabwe-zambia

[2] 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;  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. See Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Safe Schools Declaration, http://www.protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/safe_schools_declaration-final.pdf.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

December 10, 2019

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Re: Senate bill S5343

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I write to you as the executive director of Human Rights Watch and a longstanding resident of New York state to urge you to sign Senate bill S5343, legislation that would ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos statewide. The bill is essential to protect New York’s children, farmworkers, and environment.

Human Rights Watch is a global human rights organization. Among our specialized teams are ones dedicated both to children’s rights and to the environment and human rights. We have documented exposure of children and workers to toxic substances in a range of countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and the United States.

In addition, we have reported on working conditions for farmworker women and children in various parts of the United States.[i] Under both federal and New York State labor laws, children as young as 12 can legally work as hired farmworkers.[ii] Our research has shown that child farmworkers are often exposed to toxic pesticides while they work.

Our 2014 report on hazardous child labor in US tobacco farming found more than half of the child farmworkers interviewed had been exposed to unknown pesticides while they worked. Many reported having suffered acute health effects immediately afterward including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, burning of the eyes and nose, skin irritation, and redness and swelling of the mouth.[iii]

Pesticide exposure is harmful for farmworkers of all ages, but children are uniquely vulnerable to the adverse effects of toxic exposures because their bodies are still developing, and they consume more water and food, and breathe more air, pound for pound, than adults.[iv]

Research has shown chlorpyrifos to be a particularly harmful to human health, especially when pregnant women or young children are exposed. Prenatal exposure has been linked to autism spectrum disorder, reduced IQ, and a range of disabilities in learning, memory, and attention in children.[v]

International human rights treaties affirm that all people have a right to the best possible standard of health. They also impose on governments the responsibility for safeguarding health, especially for children, and ensuring that workers are protected from exposure to harmful chemicals. That’s why banning chlorpyrifos is a human rights imperative.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on governments to ban chlorpyrifos, given the strong evidence of its dangers to public health and the environment. We welcomed recent action by the European Union to ban use of the pesticide. We denounced the Trump administration’s decision not to ban chlorpyrifos. Given that absence of federal regulation, state laws are essential for curbing use of this hazardous chemical.

We understand that some lobbying groups have opposed the bill, calling instead for regulation of chlorpyrifos through the Department of Environmental Conservation.[vi] A regulatory approach could take years, be challenged by industry in court, and leave some chlorpyrifos in use.

By signing the bill to ban chlorpyrifos, you have an opportunity to protect New Yorkers now and for generations to come. I urge you to show your commitment to public health, human rights, and the environment by signing the bill to ban chlorpyrifos.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Roth

Executive Director, Human Rights Watch


[i] Human Rights Watch, Fingers To the Bone: United States Failure to Protect Child Farmworkers, June 2000, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/frmwrk006.pdf; Human Rights Watch, Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture, May 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/05/05/fields-peril/child-labor-us-agricu... Human Rights Watch, Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, May 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/05/15/cultivating-fear/vulnerability-imm... Human Rights Watch, Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming, May 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/05/13/tobaccos-hidden-children/hazardous... Human Rights Watch, Teens of the Tobacco Fields: Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming, December 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/09/teens-tobacco-fields/child-labor-u....

[ii] US Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, “State Child Labor Laws Applicable to Agricultural Employment,” January 1, 2019, https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/agriemp2.htm#NewYork.

[iv] Catherine Karr, “Children's Environmental Health in Agricultural Settings,” Journal of Agromedicine, vol. 17, no. 2, (2012), p. 128.

[v] See, for example, Irva Hertz-Picciotto et al., “Organophosphate exposures during pregnancy and child neurodevelopment: Recommendations for essential policy reforms,” PLoS Medicine, vol. 15, no. 10 (2018), https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1....

[vi] Dean Casey, “Viewpoint: Pesticide ban will hurt state's farming industry,” Times Union, November 21, 2019, https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Viewpoint-Pesticide-ban-will-....

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am