Protection of Rohingya children must be top priority, says Plan International

The needs of vulnerable Rohingya children arriving in Bangladesh must be prioritised by the international community, says child rights and humanitarian organisation Plan International.

According to the organisation, adolescent girls in particular must be protected, as they are one of the groups most at-risk of gender-based violence within the camps.

With many new arrivals having already suffered extreme violence – including sexual mutilation and gang rape, according to the UN – it is essential that funds are made available to provide appropriate care and support for survivors, the organisation says.

Speaking ahead of the UN’s pledging conference on the Rohingya crisis, Orla Murphy – Plan International’s Country Director in Bangladesh – said:

“The majority of those arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar are women and children. They have reached Cox’s Bazar in severe distress and complete and utter exhaustion. Many are orphaned and unaccompanied children, many are child mothers, many are about to give birth, and many are still nursing their very young infants.

“On top of landmine injuries and gunshot wounds, many have experienced horrific sexual violence. All are in desperate need of help and it is imperative that funding becomes available so that vital psychosocial support and life-saving interventions can be scaled up and we are able to assist those most in need.”

Plan International is urging the international community to treat child protection, including prevention and response activities aimed at gender-based violence, with the same urgency as the provision of food, shelter, and water, sanitation and hygiene services.

The organisation is already working in Balukhali settlement in Cox’s Bazar building latrines and providing essential hygiene kits, but is deeply concerned about the urgent needs and protection concerns of orphaned and unaccompanied children arriving at the camps.

Along with other humanitarian agencies, the organisation is urging the Government of Bangladesh to facilitate and secure the full and unhindered access of humanitarian actors so that its child protection response can be scaled up.

“For unaccompanied children – particularly girls – there is a very real risk of sexual violence,” says Murphy. “This is partly because the informal settlements that are being built fail to meet basic safety standards. The camps are overcrowded, there is no privacy, anyone from outside can wander in off the streets, and the shelters that are being constructed have no doors or locks.

“These things could easily be addressed if funding was not so limited and there was better humanitarian access. We are already working with the Government of Bangladesh and UNICEF to register unaccompanied children, but there is a huge funding gap that needs to be filled. We need to act swiftly to ensure there is enough capacity to deal with the already high numbers of vulnerable children in the camps, and to ensure that the rapid increase in the numbers of children arriving does not overstretch the limited services that are currently available.”

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Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer, Plan International
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India Supreme Court rules sex with a child bride is now rape

Child rights organisation Plan International welcomes the announcement from India’s Supreme Court that sex with a child bride is no longer permissible under the law.

However, it cautions that this is only one of many steps that must be taken to protect girls from sexual abuse.

Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director of Plan India, said:

“Rape is an act of horrific violence for which there is no excuse. It causes severe physical, emotional and psychological harm, which can last a lifetime. There is no question that it is a crime.

“Although the legal age of marriage in India is 18 for girls, many are still married off before that age. The decision by India’s Supreme Court to recognise that sex with a child bride is rape means that girls who are married off before the age of 18 are now further protected by the law, and we commend the Supreme Court for taking this decision.

“However, ensuring that the law is properly implemented is absolutely imperative if we are to fully protect children, and it will be a huge challenge to enforce this law in the communities where child marriage is still rampant. To eradicate child marriage, we need a wholesale change in attitudes, and the overturning of the patriarchal norms and traditions.

“Nonetheless, this is a landmark judgement and a milestone in the movement towards protecting child rights and achieving gender equality.”

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Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer, Plan International
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Mobile: + 44 (0) 788 580 7503
Skype: kirstymcameron
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“Historic” fourth child marriage ban in Latin America

Guatemala made history on Thursday 17 August, when it became the fourth country in Latin American to enforce an outright ban on child marriage in a single year.

According to child rights organisation Plan International, this level of action on girls’ rights is unprecedented in a region where machismo is deeply entrenched within society and levels of violence against women and girls are among the highest in the world.

Although Guatemala outlawed child marriage in 2015, a loophole in its Civil Code remained, which made it possible for children aged 16 and 17 to get married if a judge considered the union to be in the “best interests” of the child.

These “best interests” were undefined and were at the discrepancy of a judge, but could lead to a 16-year-old girl being forced to marry a man three times her age – a clear violation of her rights, as Emma Puig de la Bella Casa, Plan International’s Head of Gender Equality in Latin America, explains:

“Child marriage has a devastating impact on the lives of children – particularly girls. A girl who is married before the age of 18 is more likely to drop out of school, to become a child mother, to die during pregnancy or childbirth, and to be trapped in a lifetime of poverty.

“Her hopes and dreams are limited by the practice, and she is also more likely to face domestic and sexual violence. It is a gross violation of her fundamental human rights, and there are absolutely no circumstances under which it should be acceptable.”

In rural Guatemala, 53 per cent of women aged 20-24 are married by the age of 18. Although the 2015 ban was intended to reduce this figure, because of the loophole, child marriages continued to be registered right up until the ban came into force last week.

The announcement was made moments after El Salvador also updated its child marriage law, joining Honduras and the Dominican Republic (pending approval by the Senate) who had taken similar action on the issue earlier in the year.

According to Puig de la Bella Casa, the momentum that is spreading across the region is down to the fact that girls themselves have been at the heart of the campaign.

“A wave of optimism is spreading across Latin America, where we are steadily moving girls’ rights up the international agenda,” she says. “Too often, their needs and rights are just added on as an afterthought – if they are acknowledged at all – but Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and now Guatemala have all sat up and taken notice, and it is our firm belief that it is now only a matter of time before other countries in the region follow suit and start putting girls first.

“As we’ve seen with movements such as #niunamenos, the women of Latin America have had enough. For too long, the region has dragged its feet over issues related to violence against women and harmful practices such as child marriage. It’s been a long fight, but we’re beginning to make some headway and, through our hard work, governments and policy makers are slowly but surely realising that the laws and practices currently in place are limiting, rather than protecting, the lives of the next generation.”

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For media enquiries please contact:

Plan International Headquarters (London)
Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer
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India bans “triple talaq” – a game changer for girls’ rights

The Supreme Court of India’s decision on Tuesday (August 22) to ban the practice of “triple talaq” is a game changer for girls’ rights, says child rights organisation Plan International.

Triple talaq, also known as instant divorce, made it possible for a husband to divorce his wife simply by saying the word “talaq” three times.

Many women – particularly those from poor communities – were left destitute by triple talaq and, although the legal age of marriage in India is 18, the rates of child marriage are as high as 69 per cent in some parts of the country, meaning that young girls were also affected by the practice.

Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director of Plan India, welcomed the ruling from India’s top court that the practice was unconstitutional.

“The banning of triple talaq, as a way of annulling marriage, is great news for girls and women, and we welcome the judgement from the Supreme Court of India. Too many women have had their lives destroyed by this practice, which is skewed in the favour of men’s desires and pays little heed to the needs and rights of women and girls. Triple talaq is a prime example of how unequal power relations perpetuate gender inequality, and the pronouncement by the Supreme Court of India reinforces that the Constitution is supreme; thus we are one step closer to achieving a more equal and gender just society.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:

Plan International Headquarters (London)
Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer
Email: kirsty.cameron@plan-international.org
Mobile: + 44 (0) 7885807503
Skype: kirstymcameron

 

 

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Child marriage banned in El Salvador – a victory for girls’ rights

The decision by El Salvador’s parliament to close a loophole in its child marriage law today (August 17) is an exciting step forward in the fight for girls’ rights, says Plan International.

Although marriage below the age of 18 is illegal in El Salvador, Article 14 of the country’s family code made it possible for girls to be married off before this age under certain circumstances.

These circumstances meant that if a girl became pregnant at 13, for example, she could be forced to marry a man twice her age at the request of her parents or a judge – her consent would not be required, despite the fact that the decision would change her life forever.

Carmen Elena Aleman, Country Director for Plan International in El Salvador welcomed today’s announcement, saying:

“The closure of the loophole in El Salvador’s family code is a hugely important step forward in the fight for girls’ rights. Child marriage is a deeply harmful practice that we know affects the lives of millions of girls here in El Salvador and we have campaigned long and hard to achieve the outcome announced today.

“However, there is still much to do. It will take time to change the practices and beliefs that are so deeply entrenched within our society, so we must now redouble our efforts to raise awareness of the damage this practice does to girls’ lives in the communities where we work.”

Child marriage and early unions are both serious problems in El Salvador. In a report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Minister of Health and the National Council of Childhood and Adolescents in 2016, it was revealed that nine out of 10 girls and adolescents were already in an informal union by the age of 18 – five out of 10 had been forced into such a union.

These findings played a key role in bringing about the change in the law that was announced today. All 76 legislators voted in favour of closing the loophole and banning child marriage completely. There were no votes against the motion, and no abstentions.

“Child marriage impacts on girls’ lives in a multitude of detrimental ways,” continues Aleman. “It robs them not only of their rights, but also of their childhoods. A girl who is married before the age of 18 is more likely to drop out of school, to become a mother, to die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and to be trapped in a lifetime of poverty. Her hopes and dreams are limited by this practice, and she is also more likely to face domestic and sexual violence.

“All of these things have a deep effect on girls’ mental as well as physical health, and their possibilities of economic autonomy and their ability to make decisions about their own bodies are taken away from them. It is therefore a violation of a girl’s fundamental human rights to health, education, wellbeing and opportunity, and there are absolutely no circumstances under which it should be acceptable.

“We are therefore calling for the full backing of the judicial system, the Attorney General’s Office, and mayors to ensure this law is properly implemented by identifying and preventing child marriage so that we can properly protect girls, eradicate this practice and enable them to take control of their lives and their futures.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:

Plan International Headquarters (London)
Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer
Email: kirsty.cameron@plan-international.org
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A victory for girls’ human rights as Lebanon abolishes ‘rape law’

Lebanon has today (August 17) made a historic amendment to its penal code by abolishing Article 522 – also known as Lebanon’s “rape law” – which allowed rapists to avoid prosecution if they married their victims.

The decision by Lebanon’s parliament came after a strong campaign led by local advocacy organisation ABAAD, and other supporting NGOs – including child rights organisation Plan International.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen – CEO of Plan International – welcomed today’s announcement, saying:

“Rape is an act of horrific violence for which there is no excuse. Rape is a crime. We welcome the Lebanese Parliament’s decision to abolish the statute that allowed rapists to walk free if they married their victims. Credit for this should go to Lebanese NGOs, particularly ABAAD.”

While welcoming this step forward in the fight for girls’ and women’s rights, Albrectsen cautioned that for those trapped within a forced marriage of this kind already – including some children – the nightmare is far from over.

“Rape causes severe physical, emotional and psychological harm, which can last a lifetime. Forcing a girl to get married to anyone before the age of 18 – let alone to the man who raped her – not only robs her of her childhood, but also violates her rights to health, education and opportunity. Despite this knowledge, when rape occurs within a marriage – including to children – it is often ignored by the authorities. For this reason not only laws, but also patriarchal norms and traditions need to be overturned to achieve true gender equality.”

Plan International is urging countries where similar laws still exist to follow Lebanon’s example.

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Nepal criminalises “horrific” chhaupadi tradition

On Wednesday 9 August, the Nepalese parliament successfully passed a law that criminalises chhaupadi – a harmful traditional practice that sees girls and women banished from their homes during menstruation.

Child rights organisation Plan International welcomes the parliament’s decision to outlaw this discriminatory practice, but cautions that there is still a long way to go to eradicate it completely.

Sven Coppens, Plan International’s Country Director in Nepal, said:

“The Nepalese parliament’s decision to criminalise the horrific practice of chhaupadi – a serious human rights violation which discriminates against girls and women during menstruation – is great news for girls in Nepal. What they eat, where they can go, what they can touch and who they can interact with are all severely restricted when girls have their period – and this has a hugely negative impact on their lives. It not only causes them to miss out on school, but also makes them feel ashamed and unclean, puts them at an increased risk of abuse, increases their vulnerability to illnesses and sexual violence and also limits them in what they believe they can achieve in life.

“As an organisation working to advance children’s rights and equality for girls, we warmly welcome this announcement from the government as, over time, it will have the ability to change girls’ lives. However, changing the minds of those who enforce this practice will not happen overnight, so although this law change is a step in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to do before we will make it truly possible for girls in Nepal to get the same chance in life as boys.”

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A victory for girls’ rights in Jordan

On 1 August 2017, the Jordanian parliament took the historic decision to repeal Article 308 of its penal code, which allowed rapists to avoid prosecution if they married their victims.

Activists had long campaigned for the abolition of this controversial ‘rape law’ and Tuesday’s announcement was the result of decades of hard work.

Child rights organisation Plan International welcomes the decision as an important milestone towards achieving gender equality.

Muna Abbas, Head of Mission for Plan International in Jordan, said:

“The announcement by parliament to repeal its controversial rape law is a huge step forward for the women’s rights movement in Jordan. Rape is a crime – a violation of girls’ and women’s rights that should never go unpunished, and we applaud the fantastic efforts of those who worked so hard to get this archaic piece of legislation scrapped.

“However, we must not forget that there is still a long way to go. Girls face terrible stigma in their communities if they are raped, so although this law change is a historic achievement, the next challenge will be to change public opinion so that families and communities no longer cast girls aside, but rather support them to cope with what has happened to them, and help them rebuild their lives.”

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Child marriage loophole deleted from Dominican law

The Dominican Republic’s decision to close a loophole in its child marriage law – which allowed girls to be married off before the age of 18 – is a massive step forward in the fight for girls’ rights, says child rights organisation Plan International.

The country’s parliament voted for the change in law today (Tuesday 30 May) following a period of review that saw a girls-led nationwide campaign supported by Plan International.

The law change will now have to be approved by the country’s Senate, where a decision is expected imminently.

Although the minimum age for marriage in the Dominican Republic is 18, the loophole meant that – with parental and judicial permission – a 13-year-old girl could be forced to marry a man twice, or even three times, her age.

The circumstances under which such a union could be granted were up to a local judge. Consent from the child – whose life would be changed forever by this decision – was not required.

Aracelis De Los Santos, Acting Country Director for Plan International in the Dominican Republic, said:

“It is a momentous day for girls’ rights in the Dominican Republic. The decision is a bold step to end child marriage and will help save the lives and futures of hundreds of thousands of girls.”

Child marriage is a serious problem in the Dominican Republic. The country’s national statistics reveal that 37 per cent of women aged 20 to 49 were married before the age of 18. However, recent research by Plan International reveals that this figure reaches as high as 50 per cent in rural areas such as the El Valle and Enriquillo regions.

These findings were published by Plan International in March, and played a key role in bringing about the change in the law that was announced today.

“Child marriage is a harmful practice: if a girl gets married before the age of 18 she is more likely to drop out of school, more likely to become pregnant and more likely to become a victim of domestic and sexual abuse,” said Ms De Los Santos.

“On top of this, she has limited opportunities to earn a living for her family and is likely to be trapped in poverty for a lifetime. It is therefore a violation of a girl’s fundamental human rights to health, education, wellbeing and opportunity, and there are absolutely no circumstances under which it should be acceptable.”

Ms De Los Santos said with the law in place, efforts must be redoubled to end child marriage.

“Although today’s news is cause for celebration, it is only the first of many steps to come. It is one thing to get the law changed, but it is quite another to eliminate the practice from society where we know from our own research and experience that it is deeply entrenched,” she said.

Plan International’s experience of working in local communities shows that many parents place less value on girls and view child marriage as a means of reducing the financial burden on the family, especially if they are poor.

In addition, there are situations where girls themselves see marriage as a means of escape. “If girls experience domestic violence at home, they believe that life will be better if they get married – when in reality they often just move from one violent domestic situation to another,” said Ms De Los Santos.

“So there is a lot for us still to do to help girls realise their rights here in the Dominican Republic. The reform announced today must be accompanied by a comprehensive public policy and a budget aimed at eradicating child marriage. Our next steps as an organisation will be to ensure that child marriage is included in the penal code and to continue with our public awareness campaign to strengthen child protection networks and help people understand that child marriage is a crime.

“Most importantly, however, we will continue working with girls themselves to help them realise their true worth and to understand that they have the potential to achieve great things.”

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For media enquiries please contact:

Plan International Headquarters (London)
Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer
Email: Kirsty.Cameron@plan-international.org
Mobile: + 44 (0) 7885807503
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Universities might be selecting the wrong people to become nurses

Robin Ion

Universities might be selecting the wrong types of people to become nurses, a radical new article in the journal Nurse Education Today suggests.

This idea is just one of many the article highlights as it draws attention to the compassion deficit debate and urges those involved in nurse education – as well as both professional and student nurses – to think about the role they can play in preventing care failures such as those detailed at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust from ever happening again.

Written by academics from five leading nurse education institutions – the Universities of Abertay, Edinburgh, Stirling, and Edinburgh Napier, as well as Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust – this is the first time so many nurse educators have come together in an attempt to bring coherence to the ongoing debate and to move it forward.

Dr Rosie Stenhouse – lead author of the article – explains:

“There is no question that, in most cases, the care provided by nurses is very good. Compassion is at the heart of what we do. But we can’t ignore the fact that poor care does exist. As nurse educators, we are duty bound to acknowledge this and to work out how we can equip nurses with the skills and knowledge to prevent anything similar to the Mid Staffs scandal from ever happening again.

“People often blame the system, but in this article we go deeper than that and discuss some fairly radical views, including the idea that there might be a fundamental lack of compassion in some of the individuals who become nurses. Nursing is seen in many ways as being untouchable – that everyone who does it is an angel – but the evidence suggests that this isn’t always the case.

“We also discuss the possibility that it might not be the health care system that is the problem, but the way we are teaching nurses. If we are unable to produce nurses who are capable of providing compassionate care, then perhaps we need to rethink how we are delivering our nurse education.”

She continues:

“These issues are extremely complex and it is important to recognise that there is not going to be one single solution. The ones we highlight in this article are many and varied and must be seen in terms of the complex interplay that exists between individual and organisational factors.

“With this in mind, our aim in highlighting all these points is to get practitioners and students to reflect upon the impact that their actions as individuals can have on improving patients’ overall experience of care. These actions, no matter how small, will begin to improve the system right now, while wider organisational changes are discussed, decided upon and implemented over the coming years.”

In addition to the role of institutions, the article discusses a number of other thought-provoking ideas, including a paper suggesting that the ‘compassion deficit’ of the prominent Nazi Adolf Eichmann may explain how large numbers of people can become complicit in morally reprehensible activities.

Written by Robin Ion from Abertay University, who is co-author of the wider Nurse Education Today article, the paper draws upon the work of the political theorist Hannah Arendt, who uses Eichmann’s trial as a paradigmatic case for how large numbers of people can become complicit in morally reprehensible activities.

In her landmark book – ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’ – Arendt suggests that what leads people to collectively carry out such heinous acts is not just an inherent malevolence or wickedness but, quite simply, the ‘inability to think’.

It is this ‘inability to think’ – think through, critically reflect upon and question what they were doing – which Ion believes is pertinent to the events that took place at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Robin explains:

“Over recent years, reports such as that of Robert Francis QC have dented the reputation of nursing, by questioning the traditional view of the nurse as a compassionate and caring professional.

“There has been incredulity at – and, quite rightly, widespread condemnation of – the ‘morally reprehensible’ activities of healthcare professionals, but in order to properly understand how such systemic neglect could have occurred, we need to look deeper than to simply take the traditional view and say it was down to the actions of a few bad individuals.

“When Arendt used Eichmann’s trial as a paradigmatic case for how large numbers of people can become complicit in morally reprehensible activities, she said that he possessed ‘the inability to think’.

“By this she didn’t mean that he was stupid. And she certainly wasn’t seeking to trivialise the gravity of his acts. Rather, she was proposing that the downfall of those who possess this ‘inability to think’ comes from their failure to think through, reflect upon and question what they are doing.”

However, he points out that although Eichmann was highly intelligent, it was by focusing solely on finding the most efficient way to carry out his orders – without thinking through, or thinking about, the effects of what he was doing on his fellow human beings – that he became one of the chief orchestrators of the Holocaust.

He believes something similar occurred at Mid Staff:

“At Mid Staffs, there was a single-minded focus on reaching targets and meeting goals cost-efficiently, which meant that those in their care were left out of the equation and only considered as an after-thought, or – more often than not – forgotten about completely.

“Although Arendt’s theory remains a challenging and controversial one, it is only by attempting to properly understand how something so morally reprehensible could have happened that health care education providers – who are responsible for training the nurses of the future – will be able to prevent such widespread and systemic ‘moral catastrophes’ from happening again.

“Of course, nursing staff need to be efficient in order to ensure the effective running of our hospitals, but this cannot be at the expense of caring for their patients.

“As education providers, we need to be aware of what can happen when this type of ‘habituated thoughtlessness’ – as Arendt put it – prevails, and balance the need to help students develop the problem solving skills they need to carry out procedures effectively, with the equally important ability to ‘stop and think’, ask questions of, and challenge the nature of these systems themselves.”

The article – Exploring the compassion deficit debate – is published in Nurse Education Today and can be viewed online.

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For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

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