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.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:

Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer, Plan International
Email: kirsty.cameron@plan-international.org
Mobile: + 44 (0) 788 580 7503
Skype: kirstymcameron

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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.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact  

Kirsty Cameron, Global Press Officer, Plan International
Email: kirsty.cameron@plan-international.org
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.”

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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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
Mobile: + 44 (0) 7885807503
Skype: kirstymcameron

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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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Spokespeople are available.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Kirsty Cameron
Global Press Officer
M: 07922041109
E: kirsty.cameron@plan-international.org

 

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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.”

ENDS

Spokespeople are available.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Kirsty Cameron
Global Press Officer
M: 07922041109
E: kirsty.cameron@plan-international.org

 

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