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.”

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

Asylum Seeker Registration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consequences of Suspended Registration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nowhere to Turn for Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

European Union Remains Silent

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

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

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

Video

Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Three girls play the game isolo on the ground in the lead-affected township of Waya in Kabwe. Soil is the main source of lead exposure in Kabwe.

© 2018 Zama Neff/Human Rights Watch

I met “David” and his brothers in the dusty township of Chowa in Kabwe. David, eight years old, is thin and small for his age. Sitting in their yard, his grandfather described his worries about David.

He has problems in school, finding it hard to retain information. He also has stomach aches and can’t see very well, possible lead poisoning symptoms.

A few years ago, David was found to have extremely high amounts of lead in his blood – high enough to warrant immediate treatment. But he never received any medical care.

Kabwe’s mine dates to the colonial period: a British company opened the lead mine in 1904. The South African company Anglo American took over in 1925 and remained in charge for nearly half a century.

Early on, doctors’ certificates revealed that lead smelter workers suffered health effects, but the company continued to mine, smelt, and poison the environment.

Zambia later nationalised the mine, then closed it in 1994. But there was no comprehensive clean-up.

And so, 25 years later, homes, schools, and play areas are contaminated with lead dust. Medical studies confirm that children living nearby have extremely high lead levels in their blood. Five micrograms of lead per decilitre (µg/dL) are considered elevated, and treatment is advised for severe lead poisoning cases of 45 µg/dL.

In Kabwe’s affected areas, about half the children have 45 µg/dL or more and need medical treatment. Lead can cause stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, organ damage, coma, convulsions, and even death. Children are particularly vulnerable.

When Human Rights Watch visited Kabwe in 2018, public health facilities had no lead testing kits or medicine. Many residents said they felt fearful and helpless.

The Zambian government has recently begun the initial steps of a World Bank-funded programme to clean up neighbourhoods and provide health care for lead exposure in Kabwe. But the clean-up is so limited in scope that it risks being a failure. 
The government has trained a group of health workers, and procured medicine.  It says that 10, 000 children and pregnant women will soon be tested and treated, and that homes and 10 schools in areas near the mine will be cleaned up. These measures could bring some relief to David’s family.

But the road ahead is long. The programme to tackle lead pollution in Kabwe officially started in December 2016, nearly three years ago. It got off to a very slow start.

Many local residents and community leaders feel left in the dark and are sceptical that the situation will improve. The Zambian government is also haunted by the failures of a previous programme a decade ago. In the coming months, it will need to deliver.

The government also needs to do a better job of informing the local population. When I spoke to residents and community leaders in Kabwe’s lead-polluted areas in November 2018, they said they had no information about the World Bank-funded effort. It is encouraging that in recent weeks, the government has finally started to provide some.

The biggest problem may be that the government will not pave the dirt roads that spread the dust in affected areas, nor  clean up the source of the contamination, the former mine itself.

More than six million tons of mining waste are out in the open, and dust blows over nearby residential areas. The most visible is known as the “Black Mountain” – schoolboys go there to slide down the hill for fun, unaware of the risks.

The Ministry of Mines has issued mining licences for the former mine area, rather than conducting a proper land restoration effort. Ongoing small-scale mining poses serious health risks for workers and the community.

In addition, the South African company Jubilee Metals is planning to reprocess the waste to recover more minerals, such as lead, zinc, and vanadium.

Their plans need to undergo stringent government oversight to avoid further harm to people and the environment, including a requirement for a sound environmental and social impact assessment before starting operations.

Indeed, such a process will be a litmus test for the government’s self-declared goal of enhancing environmental governance and compliance.

For children like David and thousands of others, the neighbourhood clean-up needs to be lasting and comprehensive – which means that it needs to include the roads and the former mine.

To save children in Kabwe from further lead poisoning, the government needs to ramp up its efforts – and donors should provide additional support.

International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which starts on October 20, is an excellent moment to come together around this goal.

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

Building owned by the Marseille Church, where about 320 migrants currently live, including families and about 170 unaccompanied migrant children, Marseille, France, October 2019. 

© 2019 Collectif 59 Saint-Just

In Marseille, France, unaccompanied migrant children whom child protection authorities failed to provide a living place for have been squatting in an unoccupied building owned by the Catholic church. Now, even though it’s the Bouches-du-Rhône department that has failed to protect them, the authorities are prosecuting the children for illegal occupation of this building.

This perverse situation illustrates the French authorities’ shortcomings in protecting these children. About 170 unaccompanied children live in the building, according to the Collectif 59 St-Just and Réseau éducation sans frontières (Education Without Borders), groups working with youth.

The squat is overcrowded and infested with bed bugs, and is wholly inappropriate for children. But because the child protection system didn’t find them a place to live as it should have, the children view the squat as their only solution.|

Some of the youth being brought to court have been legally recognized as children and should be taken into care by child protection services. Others are in the process of having their age assessed, which sometimes takes weeks, and should be placed in shelters. According to local groups, as of yesterday, 36 children who had received a placement order from a judge, and should legally have been taken into care, were still living in the squat.

Age assessment in France has not always been fair, and Human Rights Watch has documented inappropriate age assessment procedures in Paris and the Hautes-Alpes. However, in Marseille, even some who were recognized as children after these procedures are left in the streets.

On October 11, in a case brought before Marseille’s administrative court on behalf of a migrant child, the court acknowledged that the squat’s living conditions are not acceptable for unaccompanied migrant children. It ordered the department to provide appropriate accommodation, as well as to take the child into care.

Even though the authorities’ failings have forced the children to live in precarious conditions, it is the children, because of the eviction proceedings, who have had to appear before a court. This is wrong. It’s past time for authorities to assume responsibility for these children, including those awaiting an age assessment, and find them a safe place to live and give them the care to which they are entitled.

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

A girl stands in the annex of al-Hol camp in northeast Syria, where more than 11,000 women and children from nearly 50 nationalities are confined as family members of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects. The Kurdish-led coalition controlling northern Syria wants home countries to take the women and children back. But most governments have only repatriated small numbers of their citizens.

© 2019 Sam Tarling

“They won’t shoot us, my darling. Mummy is right here with you, don’t worry.”

The German mother’s words, spoken in almost a whisper, did not stop her young son’s whimpers.

Desperate text and voice messages have been furtively emerging from al-Hol, a desolate camp holding about 70,000 women and children related to Islamic State suspects in northeastern Syria, a de facto autonomous region controlled by a Kurdish-led coalition until Turkey invaded from the north on October 9.

The women locked up without charge in the open-air camp spoke of armed, masked guards from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — who, as of Monday, still controlled al-Hol — snatching sons over age 12 from their tents during the night. They wrote that the medical clinic inside an annex that holds 11,000 foreigners from four dozen countries has been shut for days — a fact confirmed by aid workers. They described overflowing latrines and dwindling food and water supplies. They begged to be brought home even if prison awaited them, writing that they were terrified of being transferred to Syrian prisons, notorious for mass deaths and torture, under a deal announced Sunday in which Kurdish authorities agreed to let the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad advance into northeastern Syria to stave off the Turkish assault.

But none of the texts or voice messages I have received conveyed the women’s despair as palpably as the exchange between the mother and son. The woman’s voice and the boy’s cries sounded muffled and frozen with fear, as though the fighting would sweep into the desert camp at any moment, like the dust storms that leave babies in al-Hol coated in grimy sand.

For months, Human Rights Watch and a host of other human rights defenders, including the United Nations human rights commissioner and the UN special rapporteur on countering terrorism, have issued largely unheeded appeals for governments to bring home their nationals detained in al-Hol and in two smaller camps in northeastern Syria used to house family members of ISIS suspects.

More than two-thirds of detainees in the camps are young children who never chose to be dragged to or born in the so-called caliphate. Between December 2018 and September, nearly 340 children died in al-Hol — most from preventable diseases such as severe diarrhea or malnutrition, according to the International Rescue Committee.

I have been unable to reach the camps since Turkey’s military offensive began and cannot verify all the women’s latest stories. But during three visits to al-Hol in late June, conditions were dire. Almost every child I saw was bone thin with a swollen belly, a deep cough and a shell-shocked gaze. Many dragged jugs of water larger than their own slight frames under a blistering sun. A boy and a girl struggled up gravelly paths on crutches, each with a leg amputated above the knee. Infants lay listless on the floors of tattered tents, flies on their faces.

One sunburned boy with a shock of blond hair, who looked about 5, stood alone by a mound of stinking garbage, clad in a soiled yellow shirt with the words, “Who Am I?” The answer is clear: these children are victims, not only of ISIS but of their current conditions of captivity.

The embattled Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria that, until Turkey’s incursion, governed the region, has repeatedly called on all other countries with nationals inside the camps to repatriate them. In many countries, grandparents and other family members are begging their governments to let them take in and care for women and children stuck in the camps.

But most governments, including those of Western Europe, argue that most of these nationals are not their responsibility unless they can, by some miracle, leave their locked camps and cross conflict zones and borders to reach consulates often hundreds of kilometers away. These governments also balk at taking responsibility for their nationals who are ISIS suspects, including boys as young as 12, whom the SDF is holding in inhumanely overcrowded, makeshift prisons. These governments insist that security concerns and logistical difficulties preclude swift returns except, occasionally, of a few orphans.

Perversely, the refusal of Western governments to take responsibility for their nationals may result in ISIS criminals and camp members breaking free, as the SDF diverts its forces to fighting the Turkish military. Already in recent days, several Syrian ISIS suspects reportedly escaped an SDF-controlled prison and hundreds of women and children escaped Ain Issa, another camp for family members of ISIS suspects, after both were struck by Turkish artillery.

A few foreign governments, including those of Kazakhstan and Kosovo, have taken back citizens held in northeastern Syria, and in some cases, male prisoners by the planeload, demonstrating that where there is political will to bring citizens home for rehabilitation and reintegration, there is a way. The Kurdish-led coalition has also worked with local authorities in Syria to return many Syrian women and children, who make up about half of the camp’s detainees, as well as Syrian men and boys they have imprisoned separately or prosecuted, to their communities.

Once back home, former detainees can be investigated and, if appropriate, monitored or prosecuted in line with international fair-trial standards. Children should only be prosecuted in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort.

Helping these women and children come home advances two basic legal obligations: ensuring everyone’s right to return to their home country, without their home state throwing up direct or indirect barriers, and ensuring justice for serious crimes committed by ISIS through fair trials for those most responsible.

As the battle rages in northeastern Syria, the need is greater than ever for countries to respond to the plight of their citizens trapped in camps and detention centers, including young children too scared to cry instead of whimper.

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

A hard-hitting BBC television documentary, Sex for Grades, has uncovered rampant sexual abuse, harassment, and bullying of students at two prestigious universities in Nigeria and Ghana, and launched what will hopefully be a new movement.  

In #SexforGrades – which saw female journalists work undercover – the BBC reported on disturbing behaviors by professors that put girls and young women at risk of sexual exploitation and harassment. It highlighted abusive, coercive, and utterly unprofessional conduct.

But this is not just a problem in universities: school-related sexual violence is common in education systems in many other places. Human Rights Watch has documented hundreds of cases of sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse of students in schools elsewhere.

I have interviewed scores of teenage girls and young women in countries including Senegal, Tanzania and Ecuador who were sexually abused at school. In Senegal, and other countries in West Africa, “sex for grades” in secondary schools, and particularly in universities, is so normalized that the practice is often called “Sexually Transmitted Grades.”

Current estimates of the scale of sexual violence in schools suggest that millions of students could be affected.

Meanwhile, the global #MeToo and other movements – like #Nopiwouma in Senegal – have uncovered how women and girls face sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse in many spaces – not only in education. The #MeToo movement has helped give young women the courage and the platform to speak out, as #SexForGrades is now poised to do too.

But we do know that teenage girls are often still unable to speak out when these abuses happen, usually because the teachers and school staff who sexually exploit them normalize their actions. They also pressure girls into silence. Many girls know that they will be blamed for their teachers’ crimes, and that their grades or participation in secondary school will be affected. Our research shows that even if students become pregnant after being raped or coerced into sex by their teachers, officials usually deny the abuse. Additionally, there are few safe avenues or procedures for students to confidentially report these crimes.

Governments cannot continue to do nothing as girls and young women’s lives and education are undermined or brought to a halt. Preventing school-related sexual violence – from secondary education through university – is the state’s responsibility. Ending it should be imperative.

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

Three girls play the game isolo on the ground in the lead-affected township of Waya in Kabwe. Soil is the main source of lead exposure in Kabwe.

© 2018 Zama Neff/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch appreciates the opportunity to provide a submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on children’s right to a healthy environment, in advance of its 2020 annual full-day meeting on the same topic.

The impact of environmental degradation and pollution on children’s rights (question 1)

For over a decade, Human Rights Watch has documented how governments have failed to protect children from environmental harm.

Exposure to toxic substances

Human Rights Watch has documented children’s exposure to hazardous substances in many contexts. Around the world, children are exposed to hazardous substances while playing, bathing, going to school, eating, drinking, or working. Many hazardous substances have particularly harmful consequences for children, whose developing bodies absorb them more readily than those of adults and are especially vulnerable to certain toxins, leading in some cases to irreversible long-term damage, disability, or even death.

Children’s exposure as result of business activity

Business activity has been the source of significant environmental damage that harms children through pollution of air, soil or water, and other pathways of exposure. Governments often fail to regulate companies sufficiently. For example, children living near or working in leather tanneries in Bangladesh have been exposed to chemicals that flowed off tannery floors into open gutters of nearby streets, and had severe health problems as a result. Smelters or battery factories have caused lead poisoning in children in China and Kenya; yet, protests by parents have sometimes been met with government repression. In agriculture, children have been exposed to harmful fertilizers and pesticides in Brazil, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, the United States, and Israel/Palestine.

Children’s health has also been severely affected by exposure to chemicals from large-scale and small-scale mining operations. In Zambia and Kosovo, children living near former industrial lead mines have suffered from lead poisoning as a result, and in some cases died. In small-scale gold mining regions in Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, the Philippines, and elsewhere, children have been exposed to toxic mercury used to process gold, and in some cases developed symptoms that are consistent with mercury poisoning. And in one of the worst environmental health disasters in recent years, over 400 children died in Nigeria in 2010 from exposure to lead-contaminated dust produced inadvertently during artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

Hazardous substances in water supply systems

In several countries that Human Rights Watch investigated, governments have failed to protect children from hazardous chemicals in the soil, groundwater, or water supply system. In Bangladesh, millions of children have been exposed to harmful arsenic via well water. In Canada, Indigenous communities have been exposed to water containing naturally occurring uranium, E.coli, or coliform, as a result of systemic water and wastewater challenges facing First Nations, including lack of regulations to protect drinking water on reserves. In Harare, Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch found that children were at risk of contracting dangerous waterborne diarrheal diseases as they were drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that are contaminated with sewage. In Basra, Iraq, government failure to ensure sufficient safe drinking water has resulted in an acute water crisis that sent at least 118,000 people to the hospital in 2018, and that has not been solved. 

Climate change

Human Rights Watch has documented government failures to address climate change, its impact on the realization of children’s rights, as well as human rights violations in the context of coal mining and deforestation—two drivers of climate change.

Child rights impacts of climate change

Government inaction on climate change impacts children’s rights to life, water, food, and health. Children from Indigenous communities are often particularly vulnerable to climatic changes because their culture and livelihood is tied to their land, and such marginalized groups typically lack the resources and government support to adapt to climate change impacts.

In Kenya, Human Rights Watch found that climate change has limited local Indigenous communities’ access to food and clean water and contributed to children’s ill-health. Girls often have to walk long distances to find water, exposing them to dangers along the route and leaving them with less time to attend school or rest. In Bangladesh, families have arranged child marriages for their daughters under 18 in part because of extreme poverty, compounded by natural disasters that are linked to climate change. In Brazil, where climate change is likely to increase the spread of mosquitos carrying vector-borne diseases, the government has responded inadequately to the outbreak of the Zika virus. 

Coal mining and deforestation

Children have suffered serious human rights violations in the context of coal mining and deforestation. In the United States, the government has failed to mitigate health risks associated with mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining, by protecting streams from mining pollution. In South Africa, coal mines and coal-fired power plants have contributed to air pollution that threatens the health of local communities, particularly children. In Malawi, residents living near coal mines have faced forced resettlement and harmful impacts on their livelihood; health information about coal mines has been kept secret. In Brazil, the government has largely failed to act against criminal networks responsible for deforestation, including forest fires. Deforestation robs Indigenous peoples and local communities of their livelihood and the forest fires can cause serious health issues among children. In Indonesia, Indigenous peoples have lost ancestral forests to oil palm plantations, resulting in violations of their rights to livelihood, food, water, and culture.

Inadequate regulation of the coal industry and the failure to prevent deforestation risk undermining government commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby further threatening the realization of children’s rights.

Examples of good practice towards ensuring children’s rights to a healthy environment, including child participation (questions 2 and 5)

Human Rights Watch has come across initiatives that appear promising. Here are some examples:

  • The recent youth movement for climate activism has managed to shift the debate over climate change in many countries. For example, in Germany, it helped push the government to decide upon a series of mitigation measures.
  • In the Philippines, the government launched an initiative to withdraw child laborers between the ages of 15 and 17 from small-scale gold mining and offered them vocational training in the tourism sector. The government, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) partner also set up a mercury-free and child labor-free gold mining operation called “Compassionate Gold.”  
  • In Zambia, a local NGO supported the creation of youth groups and school youth clubs that inform residents about environmental risks and have participated in a home remediation program that served as pilot for a larger World Bank program. The youth group is also regularly on the radio and has engaged with local officials over pollution concerns.

Laws and other measures to ensure companies do not harm the environment or contribute to child rights abuse—as well as challenges in this regard (questions 3 and 4)

 

  • Due diligence laws: France has adopted a law requiring companies to conduct human rights due diligence in their global supply chains, including children’s environmental health rights. The Netherlands in 2019 passed a law for child labor due diligence, which has the potential to protect children from child labor-related toxic exposures.
  • Challenge: Most countries do not have mandatory human rights due diligence laws
  • Access to information laws: In 2017, Malawi adopted a law that enables people to request and obtain vital information such as water-quality testing results. In the Philippines, a newspaper has used a freedom of information law to obtain publication of a government report on mercury poisoning of local communities at a former mercury mine site.
  • Challenge: Some countries lack functioning freedom of information laws; some do not have any such laws altogether.
  • Court action: In a Chile court case over air pollution, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration had neglected the health and well-being of the region’s residents for years, resulting in violations of people’s rights to life, health, and a pollution-free environment. A court in Thailand has ruled that the company responsible for lead pollution in Klity Creek has to pay for its cleanup. The country’s Supreme Administrative Court has also ordered the government’s Pollution Control Department to pay approximately US$125,000 in compensation to plaintiffs affected by the toxic legacy.
  • Challenge: Some court rulings remain unenforced.
  • Government regulation of businesses: Laws in the United States require high-risk industries to provide financial assurances to ensure they have the resources to clean up potential pollution. Brazil has prohibited all work by children in tobacco, largely because of the risk of exposure to hazardous substances, and established penalties for farmers and companies purchasing the tobacco, creating an incentive for the tobacco industry to ensure that children are not working on farms in their supply chains.
  • Challenge: Government regulation is very lax in many countries and sectors. One example is that the US default body weight for regulating drinking water contaminant levels is 80 kilograms, the mean adult weight. Regulations should be set to ensure drinking water is safe for babies.
  • Close coordination of institutions dealing with child rights, labor rights, environment, health, and business when formulating policies: A recent ILO project on child labor in small-scale gold mining brought actors from these different spheres together and facilitated coordination this way.
  • Challenge: There is frequently a lack of coordination among UN agencies dealing with environment or child rights, as well as among agencies and ministries on the national level. As a result, laws and policies on the environment do not always consider child rights, and vice versa.

Monitoring of environmental risks to children (question 6)

In the countries where Human Rights Watch has done research, we found that environmental risks to children are being poorly monitored at the national level. This is particularly concerning because health effects may not be manifest for years after exposure, or exposure to carcinogens or climate change occurs slowly. Accountability can also be hampered by the lack of solid data.

Recommendations to States:

  • States should review their environmental laws, standards, policies and programs to determine if they reflect their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and take into account the ways in which children are more susceptible to environmental harm, and amend (if necessary), implement and enforce them.
  • States should strengthen childhood exposure-monitoring efforts, particularly for those living in extreme poverty or in low-income, minority, indigenous, stateless, migrant, or refugee communities. States should also establish population-based surveillance systems for adverse health impacts linked to the environment and strengthen regulatory agencies and ministries responsible for the oversight of standards relevant to children’s rights, such as health, consumer protection, education, environment, food, and labor. (See similar recommendations by the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights.)
  • States should publish and disseminate disaggregated information on the result of monitoring and surveillance, and develop tailored environmental education and information programs.
  • States should ensure that businesses respect the rights of the child in the environmental context and comply with the General Comment 16 by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

States should make the necessary arrangements to facilitate public participation in decision-making on the environment, with a particular emphasis on ensuring meaningful participation of children.            

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Detention is fundamentally harmful to children, yet many countries use it as their first response to difficult circumstances, rather than the last. Governments should invest in alternatives that not only protect children’s rights but produce much better outcomes for children, families, and society overall.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 74th session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) relating to Iraq’s compliance with the convention. This submission addresses issues related to articles 2, 3, 10, 15 and 16 of the convention.

  1. Yezidi Women and Girls Subject to Abuses by ISIS (CEDAW articles 2, 3 and 16)

Human Rights Watch and other organizations documented a system of organized rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by Islamic State (also known as ISIS) forces of Yezidi women and girls.[1] However, in our research we found no case where an ISIS member has been prosecuted or convicted for those specific crimes. Moreover, the crimes committed against Yezidi women and girls amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity or genocide against the Yezidis. However, Iraq does not criminalize war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. ISIS suspects are instead charged with violating provision 4 of the counterterrorism law, primarily for ISIS membership, support, sympathy, or assistance.[2]  

However, this approach makes it less likely that the process will establish a more comprehensive judicial record of the crimes committed, and gather the evidence of these crimes from witnesses and victims. The overreliance on counterterrorism laws also makes it less likely that the process will prioritize and punish the most serious offenses committed by ISIS.

Iraqi judges have told Human Rights Watch that provision 4 is all-encompassing and indirectly includes crimes such as rape and other crimes committed by ISIS members.[3] They have also justified not bringing additional charges by stating that victims don’t come forward to file complaints and the courts lack the capacity to identify victims.1 This is despite large amounts of documentation by various organizations of crimes against victims including interviews and forensic tests undertaken for instance by the Committee of Gathering Evidence of ISIS’s crimes (Genocide Committee). Even in cases in which defendants have admitted to subjecting Yezidi women to sexual slavery, prosecutors have still neglected to charge them with rape, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years.  Moreover, victims of ISIS abuse, including Yezidis, have not been able to participate in court proceedings.

In June 2017, a Judicial Investigation Board for Crimes Against the Yezidis was reportedly established to investigate crimes committed against them by ISIS. However, key Yezidi groups say they have never heard of the work of this body.

Yezidi victims have also had serious violations against their privacy and in some cases have been interrogated by security forces instead.[4] There is some limited psycho-social assistance, and initiatives for survivors the means to earn their livelihoods, for Yezidi survivors of violence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, but this could be strengthened.

While the Yezidi community leaders have welcomed back women and girl victims of ISIS, there has been more reluctance of accepting children born of rape. Some families have told women to leave such children, forcing women to either abandon their children during escape or to remain with their children and unable to return to their families or communities.

On April 7, 2019, the President submitted the draft Law on Support to Yazidi Women Survivors (Draft Law) to parliament. The draft, which was shared with Human Rights Watch, aims to rehabilitate, reintegrate and provide economic empowerment to Yezidi female survivors, as well as to provide symbolic recognition of genocide committed against Yezidis.  However, there are a number of shortcomings including that the definition of survivors relates only to Yezidi women who were kidnapped by ISIS and then released. It does not include men and boys, girl survivors or victims from other communities also attacked and kidnapped by ISIS.

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Iraqi government:

  • Incorporate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide into the criminal code;
  • Develop a national strategy for ISIS prosecutions and a range of other initiatives, including truth-telling and reparations, to address ISIS crimes;
    • urgently develop a coordinated strategy to prioritize the prosecution of those who committed the most serious crimes by bringing charges for the full range of crimes committed including sexual violence and sexual slavery, and with a clear role for victim engagement;
  • Consult with survivors and civil society on the draft Law on Support to Yazidi Women Survivors including broadening the scope of other survivors of ISIS, ensuring confidentiality of information and data, providing that reparations are in line with international human rights law including programs to deal with stigma against victims and children born of rape, as well as specific guidelines on children born to women survivors.
  1. Detention of Non-Iraqi Female Relatives of ISIS Members (CEDAW articles 2, 15 and 16)

Women and children who are foreign nationals and accused of affiliation with ISIS have been subjected to rushed proceedings, lack of due process, and unfair convictions and sentences. Most of the foreign women and children held in Iraq belong to a group of more than 1,300 foreigners detained by Iraqi forces in August 2017 during the battle for the ISIS stronghold of Tal Afar in the northwest of Iraq. A security source told AFP news agency that the group was composed of 509 women and 813 children, though the overall number of foreign women and children in detention is believed to be higher based on information from sources close to the penitentiary system in Baghdad.[5] Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated in an interview with Associated Press News in September 2017 that most of the women and children were not guilty of a crime, and his government was in the process of returning the detainees to their home countries. However, in January 2018, the Iraqi government proceeded to prosecute women and children ages 9 and up.[6]

Foreign national children under age 3 are usually kept in jail with their mothers in often overcrowded cells. Those between 3 and 9 are usually separated from their detained mothers and put in foster institutions run by the Iraqi state. Those between 9 and 18 are held in juvenile detention facilities, a lawyer following the cases told Human Rights Watch. Foreign orphans are kept in local orphanages. Some foreign children have been transferred to their home countries while many others are still waiting to be transferred, likely because of delays on the Iraqi and home countries’ sides.[7]

In cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, defence lawyers assigned to detainees by Iraqi law rarely provide an adequate defense, and families with perceived ties to ISIS suspects are generally left without access to legal services.[8] They rarely had access to their clients before hearings and translators were seldom granted to detainees. In addition, Iraqi judges appeared to dismiss, without consideration, defendants’ claims of not officially supporting ISIS and coercion. The lack of robust investigation into the detainees’ individual contributions to ISIS abuses indicate a further denial of due process and justice.

Trials that occurred before proceeding to the standard three-judge panel in Iraqi criminal proceedings, as witnessed by Human Rights Watch, only lasted several minutes with presiding judges asking the detainees general questions regarding their entry into Iraq, money received from ISIS, their husbands’ locations, and conviction to ISIS ideology. On the same day as the trials, life (20 years) and death penalty sentences were issued in almost all cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch.

Some women have told judges that they were coerced into coming to Iraq, but as far as Human Rights Watch has observed, judges have ignored and refused to investigate such claims.[9]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Iraqi government:

  • Ensure that the defendants have a fair trial including that they and their representatives are able to prepare and present all evidence in their defense, including the individual circumstances through which women ended up in Iraq and examine what their contribution was – if any – to ISIS abuses.
  • Prioritize prosecuting those responsible for the most serious crimes while seeking alternatives to prosecution for those who may have travelled to join or live under ISIS under constraint or who did not cause harm to anyone in Iraq. Alternatives might include reparation, community service or participation in national truth-telling processes.
  • Ensure that sentences are proportionate to the crimes committed, and defendants are not sentenced to death.
  1. Collective Punishment of Iraqi Families with Perceived Isis-Affiliation (CEDAW articles 2, 15 and 16)

Despite fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS subsiding, an estimated 1.8 million people remain displaced—450,000 of them across 109 camps and another 1.2 million in private or informal housing arrangements. They are uniquely vulnerable to abuse. Some are being forced to return home to unsafe conditions, where they risk landmines, revenge attacks from neighbors, or forced recruitment into local armed groups. Some are being prevented from returning home and are effectively detained in camps.

In 2019, humanitarian workers in Iraq identified 242 distinct areas in Iraq where families have not been able to return even though the fighting ended, because areas have yet to be cleared of landmines, explosives, and booby-trapping of homes by ISIS; and because in 94 of the areas, there is de facto ban on returns. An Interior Ministry official estimated that 250,000 people from families with perceived ISIS affiliation could not return home because of objections by federal or local authorities or communities.

This is partly because Iraqis need “security clearance” to replace any missing civil documentation. Based on estimates by aid groups, in early 2019 at least 156,000 displaced people are missing at least some of their essential civil documentation. ISIS authorities, during the rule between 2014-2017, regularly confiscated official documentation and issued their own, which the Iraqi authorities do not recognize. In addition, state security forces confiscated some families’ documents as they fled fighting or when they arrived at camps for displaced people.

To obtain security clearance, officers will run their names through a database of people flagged as “wanted” for their suspected links to ISIS. If their relative is on one of those lists, officers will deny them clearance, tear up the application, and destroy even their expired documents – in some cases even arrest them.

Without security clearance and documents an Iraqi is not allowed to freely move within the country, as there are thousands of checkpoints along every main road and throughout all towns and villages and at the entrances and exits to camps.

In addition, people missing documentation cannot get a job or health care or apply for welfare benefits in Iraq. They cannot get birth certificates for new-born children or children born under ISIS control. Children denied birth certificates are not allowed to enroll in school and are at risk of statelessness. Women unable to obtain death certificates for their spouses are unable to inherit property or remarry for several years.[10]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Iraqi government:

  • Ensure that areas are safe for displaced people and families to return to.
  • Abolish the requirement for obtaining security clearance to replace any missing civil documentation.
  • Assist people missing documentation so they are able to get a job, access health care or apply for welfare benefits. Allow birth certificates for all new-born children or children born under ISIS control. All women to obtain death certificates for their spouses so they are able to inherit property or remarry.
  • Suspend the requirement for children to present their civil documentation in order to enroll in school until civil documentation obstacles are resolved.
  1. Violence Against Women Including Domestic Violence and Honor Killings (CEDAW articles 2, 3, and 16)

Domestic violence remains a serious problem in Iraq. A 2012 Ministry of Planning study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23 percent to verbal abuse, 6 percent to physical violence, and 9 percent to sexual violence.[11]

While the Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” only the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a law on domestic violence.[12] Iraq’s Anti-Violence against Women Strategy (2013-2017), adopted in March 2013, and the National Strategy on Advancement of Women in Iraq, adopted in 2014, both called for legislation on domestic violence/violence against women. Iraq’s criminal code does not criminalize domestic violence and only general provisions relating to assault could apply in such instances. However, several provisions in the criminal code enable impunity for violence against women including domestic violence.

Article 41(1) of the Penal Code provides that “the punishment of a wife by her husband, the disciplining by parents and teachers of children under their authority within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom” is the exercise of a legal right and as such, is not a crime. In addition, the Penal Code also provides for mitigated sentences for violent acts including murder for so-called “honorable motives” or if catching his wife or female relative in the act of adultery/sex outside of marriage.[13] The Penal Code also allows perpetrators of rape or sexual assault to escape prosecution or have their sentences quashed if they marry their victim.[14]

The draft anti-Domestic Violence law, originally introduced in the Iraqi parliament in 2015 and further amended in 2016, remains pending despite renewed efforts for its passage in the fall of 2019. The strengths of the draft bill, as seen by Human Rights Watch in 2017, include provisions for services for domestic violence survivors, protection orders (restraining orders), and penalties for their breach, and the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence.[15]

However, the bill has several gaps and provisions that would undermine its effectiveness. One of the major problems with the draft law is that it prioritizes reconciliation over protection and justice for abused victims.[16]  The draft law calls for the parties to be referred to family reconciliation committees and for prosecutions of abusers to be dropped if reconciliation is reached.[17] But women in Iraq are often under tremendous social and economic pressure to prioritize the family unit over their own protection from violence.

While the draft law defines domestic violence as a crime, it fails to set penalties. It also does not repeal provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code that condone domestic violence.

Furthermore, the draft law, does not refer to police officers or outline concrete duties for police officers in responding to cases of violence against women, other than the Department of Family Protection (which sits in many police stations).

The draft law does provide for protection orders: an important mechanism in the fight against

domestic violence. However, the draft law does not distinguish between short-term emergency protection orders and longer-term protection orders.[18] Article 18(1) of the draft law allows investigative judges on domestic violence to issue a protection order which offers victims up to 30 days of “protection” from the suspected perpetrator, and which can be renewed. This means that women will be required to repeatedly seek orders for protection which may cause undue delays in receiving protection.

According to a 2014 UNAMI Human Rights Office report, there are very few working shelters and many victims of domestic violence are often sent to temporarily stay in female prisons.[19] A proposed amendment to the draft law would provide for the establishment of government shelters in coordination with local women’s rights organizations but it is silent about privately-run shelters for survivors of domestic violence. Existing women’s rights organizations with such shelters have often been physically attacked and threatened and faced hostility from some government officials.

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Iraqi government:

  • Pass the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law, in line with international human rights standards, with the following amendments:
    • Remove all references to “reconciliation.”
    • Set penalties for the crime of domestic violence.
    • Repeal provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code including articles 41(1), 128(1), 398 and 409 that condone violence against women.
    • Set out specific duties for the police and specialized police officers in responding to domestic violence.
    • Distinguish between short-term emergency orders and longer-term protection orders, including making clear that short-term orders can be issued without all parties present on the basis of a victim’s testimony, whereas a longer-term order would allow for a full hearing and review of evidence.
    • Ensure that women’s rights organizations can administer, provide training, and operate the government shelters as to be established under the draft law, and permit the establishment and operation of privately-run shelters for survivors of domestic violence.
  1. Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (CEDAW article 10)

Iraq endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in December 2015.[20]  (In our pre-sessional submission we incorrectly stated that Iraq was yet to endorse. In April 2019, Norway announced Iraq’s endorsement.) Further information regarding attacks on education can be found in our pre-sessional submission. We encourage the Committee to congratulate Iraq for endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration and pose the following questions to the Iraqi government:

  • What steps has Iraq taken in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2143 (2014) and 2225 (2015) to deter the military use of schools?
  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any policies or trainings for Iraq’s security forces?
  • What specific steps have been taken in order to protect girls right to education?

 


[1] “Iraq: Forced Marriage, Conversion for Yezidis,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/11/iraq-forced-marriage-conversion-yezi... “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape, Yezidi Survivors in Need of Urgent Care,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/14/iraq-isis-escapees-describe-systemat... Sarah Margon (Human Rights Watch), “ISIL’s Reign of Terror: Confronting the Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq and Syria” testimony, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, December 9, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/12/09/isils-reign-terror-confronting-growi... “Iraq: Protect Mass Graves, Evidence of Possible ISIS Genocide Endangered,” Human Rights Watch news release January 30, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/30/iraq-protect-mass-graves; and Rothna Begum and Samer Muscati (Human Rights Watch), “Interview: These Yezidi Girls Escaped ISIS. Now What?”, April 15, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/15/interview-these-yezidi-girls-escaped....

[2] Iraqi Counterterrorism Law, No. 13 of 2005.

[3] Human Rights Watch report, Flawed Justice: Accountability for ISIS Crimes in Iraq, December 2017,  https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/12/05/flawed-justice/accountability-isis-crimes-iraq#.

[4] See for instance, “Yezidi Girl’s Freedom Opens Door to Justice in Iraq: Prosecute ISIS Members for Specific Crimes,” Human Rights Watch Dispatches by Belkis Wille, April 2, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/02/yezidi-girls-freedom-opens-door-justice-iraq.

[5] “Iraq PM: Half of IS families detained near Mosul are Turkish,” Associated Press News, September 16, 2017, https://apnews.com/e15b0221b00b419fbba4f1f3a15d9d3f (accessed on March 1, 2019).

[6] “Iraq: Change Approach to Foreign Women, Children in ISIS-Linked Trials,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 21, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/21/iraq-change-approach-foreign-women-children-isis-linked-trials.

[7] “Iraq: Change Approach to Foreign Women, Children in ISIS-Linked Trials,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 21, 2018.

[8] Iraq: Officials Threatening, Arresting Lawyers,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 18, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/12/iraq-officials-threatening-arresting...

[9] “Iraq: Change Approach to Foreign Women, Children in ISIS-Linked Trials,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 21, 2018.

[10] Belkis Wille, “Iraq: Not a Homecoming,” commentary, Human Right Watch witness piece, June 14, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/14/iraq-not-homecoming

[11] Ministry of Planning Central Statistical Organization-CSO, “Iraq Women Integrated Social and Health Survey (I-WISH) Summary Report,” March 2012, pp. 47-48, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/IWISH%20Report%... (accessed March 6, 2017).

[12] Iraq Constitution, article 29; Domestic Law no. 8 Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

[13] Articles 128(1) and 409 of the Penal Code, Law No. 111 of 1969.

[14] Article 398 of the Penal Code, Law No. 111 of 1969.

[15] Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Strengthen Domestic Violence Bill,” March 19, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/19/iraq-strengthen-domestic-violence-bill.

[16] Article 3(2), draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law.

[17] Article 19, draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law.

[18] UN Women, “Handbook on Legislation on Violence against Women,” 2012, section 3.10.4 and section 3.10.5,

http://www2.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/librar... (accessed March 6, 2017).

[19] UNAMI Human Rights Office/OHCHR Baghdad, “Report on Human Rights in Iraq: January – June 2014,” August 2014, section 5.3, p. 14, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/IQ/HRO_Jan-Jun2014Report_en.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017).                         

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

1.5 Million Kids Locked Up Each Year Around the World

Detention is fundamentally harmful to children, yet many countries use it as their first response to difficult circumstances, rather than the last. Governments should invest in alternatives that not only protect children’s rights but produce much better outcomes for children, families, and society overall.

(New York) – A new global study on children deprived of their liberty should prompt United Nations member countries to take steps to dramatically decrease the number of children detained and confined, a group of 170 nongovernmental organizations said today.

Manfred Nowak, a UN independent expert, will present the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty to the UN General Assembly in New York on October 8, 2019. He found that approximately 1.5 million children are deprived of their liberty each year.

“Children are often detained illegally, unnecessarily, and at great cost to their health and future,” said Alex Kamarotos, director of Defence for Children International and co-chair of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. “The Global Study should prompt every country to adopt new policies and practices to dramatically decrease the number of children who are locked up.”

The study examined the situation of children – anyone under age 18 – detained in the administration of justice, in immigration detention, in orphanages and other institutions, living in prison with their caregivers, and detained in the context of armed conflict and national security. The Global Study’s estimate of at least 1.5 million children deprived of liberty is most likely a substantial undercount, due to uneven data collection and reporting.

Some of the Study’s key findings:

  • At least 410,000 children are held every year in jails and prisons, where violence is “endemic.” Many are charged with “status offenses” that are not criminal offenses for adults, including truancy, disobedience, and underage drinking;
  • Although UN experts have concluded that detention of children for migration-related reasons can never be in the best interests of a child, at least 330,000 children in 77 countries are held in immigration detention each year;
  • While between 430,000 and 680,000 children have been placed by judicial authorities in institutions that meet the legal definition of deprivation of liberty, the total number of children in institutions is estimated at 3.5 to 5.5 million;
  • Children with disabilities are significantly overrepresented in detention in the context of administration of justice and institutions; and
  • The number of children detained in the context of armed conflict and national security has increased sharply, driven by aggressive counterterrorism measures that include detention and prosecution of children for online activity, including posts to Facebook and Twitter.

The Study found that deprivation of liberty aggravates existing health conditions in children and can cause new ones to emerge, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress. Psychiatric disorders for children in detention can increase tenfold during detention, and detention is correlated with early death among children once released.

“Detention is fundamentally harmful to children, yet many countries use it as their first response to difficult circumstances, rather than the last,” said Jo Becker, child rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the NGO Panel. “Governments should invest in alternatives that not only protect children’s rights but produce much better outcomes for children, families, and society overall.”

Nowak found some areas of progress, including a reduction in some countries in the number of children in institutional care or detained in the criminal justice system. At least 21 governments said that they do not detain children for migration-related purposes. Some countries have adopted formal protocols to avoid detaining children in the context of armed conflict. The nongovernmental groups urged all countries to examine and adapt the good practices documented in the study.

Nowak recommended that states “most rigorously” apply the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that deprivation of liberty shall be applied only as a measure of last resort in exceptional cases. He urged countries to “make all efforts to significantly reduce the number of children held in places of detention and prevent deprivation of liberty before it occurs, including addressing the root causes and pathways leading to deprivation of liberty in a systemic and holistic manner.”

The study was initiated by a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2014. Its findings are based on 12 regional and thematic consultations, questionnaires requesting data from every UN member state, comprehensive reviews of literature on the subject, and additional research by expert groups. In addition, the Study consulted 274 children and young adults – 204 male and 70 female – between the ages of 10 to 24, and their views and perspectives inform the findings.

The NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty was established in 2013 and includes 170 local, national, and international nongovernmental organizations worldwide. The Panel participated in the study and coordinates efforts by nongovernmental groups to carry through on its findings

The members of the NGO Panel urged governments to carry out the Global Study’s recommendations. These include collecting reliable and systematic data on children deprived of liberty, and creating national action plans aimed at an overall reduction in the number of children in detention and/or the elimination of detention for children. The NGO Panel members also urged the General Assembly to formally designate a UN entity to lead follow-up efforts.

The full study can be found online here:
https://undocs.org/en/A/74/136

The independent expert’s presentation of the study to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on October 8 will be livestreamed here:
http://webtv.un.org/

A panel discussion including the UN independent expert and other experts will take place at 6:15 PM (EDT) on October 8 at the UNICEF House in New York.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Abuja) – The Nigerian army’s release on October 3, 2019, of 25 detained children is an important step toward rights-respecting treatment of children affected by the Boko Haram conflict in northeast Nigeria. The 23 boys and 2 girls had been detained at Giwa barracks, the main military detention facility in Maiduguri, Borno State, for suspected involvement with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram.

The children were released three weeks after Human Rights Watch published a report documenting the degrading and inhuman conditions in which children have been held at Giwa barracks. Human Rights Watch found that children were detained without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded cells. Children described beatings, overwhelming heat, and frequent hunger.

“The Nigerian army’s release of children from Giwa barracks signals important progress in the government’s willingness to abide by its human rights obligations,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “These children will now be able to reunite with their families and pursue their education, instead of languishing in prison.”

Since 2013, Nigerian armed forces have detained over 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls, for suspected involvement with non-state armed groups, according to the United Nations. During the same period, Nigerian authorities have released at least 2,200 children. According to UNICEF, the number of children released in 2019 is now 44.

In June 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 children and youth who had been detained as children at Giwa barracks for alleged involvement with Boko Haram. None of them said they had been taken before a judge or appeared in court, and none were aware of any charges against them. Some had been held for more than three years.

The 418 children detained for alleged association with armed groups in 2018 was a dramatic decrease from the 1,900 detained in 2017, according to the June report of the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict.

Nigerian authorities should release any remaining children in military detention and allow UN access to detention facilities for monitoring and verification, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should also sign and carry out a formal handover protocol in line with international standards to ensure the swift transfer of children apprehended by the military to child protection authorities for rehabilitation, family reunification, and community reintegration. Other countries in the region, including Chad, Mali, and Niger, have already signed such protocols.

“The Nigerian army’s release of 25 children frees them to pursue a meaningful future,” Becker said. “The government should take further action to free any remaining children wrongfully held and put a protocol in place to ensure that children affected by the Boko Haram conflict receive the help they need.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Breanna Small is the NYU School of Law Fellow at Human Rights Watch for 2019-2020. She works in the Children’s Rights Division. During law school, she interned with Asilo in Europa, a refugee policy NGO in Italy, and with the Center for Economic and Social Rights in New York. As a member of NYU Law’s International Organizations Clinic, she conducted research on social protection policies and global governance, and as a member of the law school’s inaugural UN Diplomacy Clinic, she served as Legal Adviser for the Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations. Over the last two years, Breanna has been an active volunteer with the New Sanctuary Coalition’s asylum clinic. She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law and a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Girl and women ride on a bus in Tehran

© Reuters

After more than a decade of women’s rights activism, Iran’s Guardian Council has finally approved an amendment that would grant Iranian citizenship to the children of Iranian women married to foreign men. The Guardian Council was the last body needed to approve this long overdue reform to Iran’s discriminatory citizenship law.

Previously, Iran’s civil code granted children and spouses of Iranian men citizenship automatically, while children born in Iran to Iranian women and foreign fathers must live in Iran at least until they are 19 before they can apply.

It is unclear how many children in Iran have Iranian mothers and foreign fathers. However, the issue has come to prominence in recent years because of tens of thousands of registered and unregistered marriages between Iranian women and Afghan men whose children are unable to obtain citizenship on an equal basis. Research in other countries has shown that such discrimination can harm children’s access to education, health care, housing, and employment when they become adults. 

The latest attempt to reform the law was inspired by Maryam Mirzakhani, a world-renowned Iranian mathematician and Fields Medal recipient who passed away from cancer in 2017. Because her husband is not Iranian, her daughter cannot obtain Iranian nationality. In May, Iran’s Parliament finally adopted the proposed reform, but it went back and forth from the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to determine whether it is in accordance with Iran’s Constitution and Sharia (Islamic law). They approved the amendment yesterday.

While this is a long-awaited victory for Iranian women, the newly-amended law does not equalize access to citizenship completely. Iranian women must apply for nationality for their children, while children of Iranian men are granted nationality automatically. Children who turn 18 can apply for nationality themselves. A security check is required in both cases.

Most concerning is that that the amended law requires the Intelligence Ministry and the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to certify that there is no “security problem” before approving citizenship in these specific applications. This vaguely defined provision can be used to arbitrarily disqualify applicants if they or their parents are seen as critical of the government, particularly in eastern and western border areas where cross-border marriages are more common and where authorities keep a tight grip over peaceful activism.

In a matter of weeks, Iran’s newly-amended law will finally see children of Iranian women able to apply for the same benefits that children of Iranian men have. But Iran should remove the remaining obstacles to ensure that children of Iranian citizens, whether men or women, are granted citizenship on an equal basis. They are all, after all, Iranian children.

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