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Coronavirus despair forces girls across Asia into child marriage | News

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Tens of thousands of girls across Asia are being forced into child marriage by desperate families plunged into poverty because of the coronavirus pandemic, as campaigners warn that years of progress tackling the practice is being undone.

Child marriage has long been practised as part of tradition in communities from the Indonesian archipelago to India, Pakistan and Vietnam, but numbers had been decreasing as numerous initiatives worked to spread awareness of its dangers and encouraged access to education and women’s health services.

These improvements are being eroded as the impact of the virus causes mass job losses, leaving parents struggling to feed their families, experts say.

“All of the gains we’ve made in the past decade are really going to suffer,” explains Shipra Jha, head of Asia engagement at NGO Girls Not Brides.

“Child marriage is firmly rooted in gender inequality and patriarchal structures. What’s happened is that it’s become compounded in the COVID era,” she adds.

Women peer through the wall separating men from women during the wedding of Farmina Begum, 16, to 18-year-old Hashimullah, in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. An IOM investigation recently uncovered accounts of Rohingya girls as young as 11 getting married and families forcing girls to marry early to reduce the number of mouths to feed [Allison Joyce/Getty Images]

Poverty, lack of education, and insecurity drive child marriage even in stable times, so periods of crises exacerbate the problem, the NGO says.

Worldwide, an estimated 12 million girls are wed every year before the age of 18, according to the UN.

Girls Not Brides warns that unless urgent action is taken to tackle the economic and social impact of the virus – an additional 13 million child marriages will take place in the next decade.

In Asia, organisations are reporting that the forced unions have already begun, estimating tens of thousands are already affected – though hard data is yet to be collated.

“There has been an increase in child marriages during this lockdown period. There is rampant unemployment, job loss. Families are barely able to make ends meet, so they think it’s best to get their young daughters married off,” says Rolee Singh who runs India’s “1 Step 2 Stop Child Marriage” campaign.

“We have also seen children get married because the other party offers money or some kind of assistance in return. These families don’t understand the concept of trafficking – it’s a worrisome trend,” says activist Singh.

‘COVID-19 generation’

Fifteen-year-old Muskaan says she is being forced to marry the 21-year-old next door by her mother and father, street cleaners in the Indian city of Varanasi who have six other children to feed.

“My parents are poor, what else could they have done? I fought as much as I could but eventually had to give in,” the teenager explains, in tears.

Save the Children has already warned that violence against girls and the risk of forced unions, particularly among minors, “could become more of a threat than the virus itself”.

And while education has been hailed as the central tenet in the battle against child marriage, activists warn that with lockdowns forcing hundreds of millions out of school, girls in the poorest parts of the world will be worst affected.

Earlier this month, 275 former global leaders, education experts, and economists urged governments and organisations such as the World Bank to ensure that the fallout of the coronavirus does not create a “COVID generation… robbed of their education and a fair chance in life.”

“Many of these children are adolescent girls for whom being in school is the best defence against forced marriage and the best hope for a life of expanded opportunity,” said an open letter signed by dignitaries including former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, and former prime ministers including Pakistan’s Shaukat Aziz, and the UK’s Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Baby boom

Jha, who is based in Delhi, agrees economic pressure is part of the problem but insists that child marriage is complex, particularly in Asia where there are fears that lockdown school closures mean idle teenagers will turn to each other and damage family reputations.

“The biggest fear that families have is that (teen girls) may become close to a boy, start exploring their sexuality, or become pregnant. Honour is closely linked to this situation…That’s a huge thing,” she adds.

CHILD MARRIAGE

In this April 17, 2017, photograph, a child bride, who is only 14 years old, right, performs rituals with the groom after getting married at a Hindu temple near Rajgarh, India [Prakash Hatvalne/AP Photo]

She adds the problem has been aggravated as governments shift resources from key development areas such as education, family planning and reproductive health to battle the virus.

Indonesia’s family planning agency has warned that the nation, already home to 270 million people, could see a huge baby boom early next year due to school closures and dwindling access to contraception.

At 18, Lia has already been married twice. Her first union was forced on her after she was seen alone with the man – who was not a relative – taboo in the conservative region of West Sulawesi in Indonesia where she lives.

The community insisted she wed the man despite a three-decade age gap.

She escaped that unhappy situation and found love, but her dreams of a career have been put on hold once more.

With little access to family planning advice, she became pregnant during lockdown. Her family insisted she marry the 21-year-old father.

“I used to dream of becoming a flight attendant,” recalls the teen, who asked that her real name not be used.

“But she failed and ended up in the kitchen,” interrupts her new husband Randi, who has not declared their nuptials to authorities.

Shattered dreams

Indonesia, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world according to UNICEF, last year raised the legal age for wedlock from 16 to 19 for both sexes in a bid to tackle the problem.

But there are loopholes – local religious courts can approve underage unions.

Indonesia’s Islamic authorities officially permitted more than 33,000 child marriages between January and June of this year, compared with a total of 22,000 for the whole of 2019, according to the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection.

Indian leader Narendra Modi has also said the country will raise its marriage age, from 18 to 21, but Girls Not Brides says such moves are tough to enforce and do not address the root causes.

In Vietnam, the legal age to wed is 18, but UNICEF says one in 10 girls are married before. Among ethnic groups, the figure is almost double that.

Local charity Blue Dragon say they have seen girls as young as 14 get married and child unions increase since schools closed due to the pandemic.

May, 15, who is from the northern Hmong hill tribes, married her 25-year-old construction worker boyfriend in June after getting pregnant as the virus swept the country.

Her parents could not afford to keep her and the baby, so she moved six hours away to her husband’s family farm.

“They’re farmers and they could not earn enough for us,” she explains.

Now, instead of homework, she does housework and helps harvest the crops.

“I don’t think much about my future,” she admits.

UNICEF says ending child marriage will help break intergenerational cycles of poverty.

It states: “Empowered and educated girls are better able to nourish and care for their children, leading to healthier, smaller families. When girls are allowed to be girls, everybody wins.”



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Opposition sidelined as Benin votes in presidential election | Elections News

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With most rivals in exile or sidelined, Benin’s President Patrice Talon looks set to win a second term in office.

Voters in Benin are set to cast their ballots in a presidential election on Sunday, days after deadly protests against President Patrice Talon, who is heavily favoured to win a second term.

Talon, a cotton magnate first elected in 2016, faces off against two little-known rivals, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.

Opponents accuse the 62-year-old Talon of undermining Benin’s vibrant multi-party democracy by sidelining most of his main opponents.

Protests in several cities last week turned violent. At least two people died in the central city of Save when troops on Thursday fired tear gas and live rounds to break up protesters who had blocked a major highway. Five others were wounded.

In the commercial capital Cotonou, several people said they feared violence on election day.

“The events of these last days scare me,” said Christophe Dossou, a student. “I prefer to remain cautious.”

Benin’s President Patrice Talon denies targeting his opponents [File: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Among the protesters’ complaints are Talon’s U-turn on a pledge he made as a candidate in 2016 to serve only one term, and changes he pushed through to election laws that he said were aimed at streamlining unwieldy government institutions. In practice, those reforms resulted in total control of parliament by Talon’s supporters and the exclusion of leading opponents from the presidential race.

One opposition leader Reckya Madougou was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the election, a charge her lawyer says is fabricated.

A judge from a special economic crimes court created by Talon also fled the country last week after denouncing political pressure to make rulings against the president’s critics, including the decision to detain Madougou.

Meanwhile, businessman Sebastien Ajavon, who came third in the 2016 presidential poll, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while another potential rival, ex-finance minister Komi Koutche, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. Ajavon lives in exile in France, while Koutche lives in Washington, DC.

Talon denies targeting his opponents.

He has campaigned on his economic record, which includes improvements to key infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies.

Soldiers stand in line to block supporters of the incumbent president during an electoral campaign rally at Abomey-Calavi, on April 9, 2021 [Pius Utomi Ekpei/ AFP]

Benin, a country of about 12 million people, became Africa’s top cotton exporter in 2018 and recorded average annual gross domestic product growth of over 5 percent before the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we did was not easy,” Talon said at one of his final campaign rallies on Friday. “We are strong and we know how to get it done.”

He said he expects a “knock-out victory” for which there would be no need for a runoff vote.

The United States, German, French and Dutch embassies as well as the European Union delegation in Benin all called on Friday for calm and for the vote to go ahead in a free and transparent manner.

“We urge all parties to express their perspectives peacefully,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We urge the electoral institutions and courts overseeing these processes and verifying these results to ensure these elections are conducted freely, fairly, and transparently.”

Results are expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort

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Government of Southern Sudan has agreed to provide full military security and safety to all road users including Ugandan cargo truck drivers plying Juba – Nimule highway starting this week.

This was reached during a meeting between South Sudan government and Ugandan authorities on Friday at Elegu One-stop Border point in Amuru district, Northern Uganda.

High level security officials from both countries met to deliberate on the deteriorating security along major highways in South Sudan in which eight Ugandan truck drivers have been shot dead by armed men in the past weeks.

The Sudanese high-level delegation was led by the country’s Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Johnson Juma, Inspector General of Police, Gen. Majak Akech, and Director-General of Internal Security, Gen. Akol Khor.

The Deputy Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority, Hon. Africano Mande was also present and four East African Ambassadors.

On the other side, Uganda’s delegation was led by Police Operations Director AIGP Edward Ochom, Director Crime Intelligence Col. Damulira among others high ranking officers.

“We have successively concluded our two days meetings with Ugandan authorities including the drivers who later agreed to resume the normal operation,” said South Sudan authorities.

“And as government, we assure them of full security on the major highways in the Republic of South Sudan and removal of the illegal road blocks and check-points for easy movement of trucks to Juba and others towns within the country.”

Last week, truck drivers from across the East African region protested the increasing insecurity in South Sudan, illegal taxes and also demanded for compensation of their deceased colleagues.

They parked their trucks at Elegu border and demanded for both governments to intervene before the situation deteriorates further.

In regards to compensation, Sudanese authorities agreed to pay for the victims but said that the process will be discussed through the foreign ministries of the two countries.

Although traders had also requested Ugandan authorities and in this case the UPDF to escort their goods to South Sudan, Lt.Col Deo Akiki said that “this can’t be a decision of UPDF. South Sudan is a sovereign State, therefore anything done on its territory at the moment has to be a bilateral matter beyond the two forces. It’s a government to government affair.”

ChimpReports understands that some trucks on Saturday left Elegu border for Juba under full security escort.

The post Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort first appeared on ChimpReports.



Source – chimpreports.com

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21 workers trapped in flooded mine in China’s Xinjiang | China News

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CCTV says rescuers have located 12 of the 21 trapped miners.

Eight miners have been rescued and 21 remain trapped in a coal mine in China’s Xinjiang region after flooding cut power underground and disrupted communications, according to state media.

The accident happened in Fengyuan coal mine in Hutubi County on Saturday evening, when staff were upgrading the site, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Rescuers had located 12 of the 21 trapped miners, broadcaster CCTV said, but it was unclear if they were all together.

Rescue personnel were trying to pump water from the flooded shaft and have been piping air into the mine.

Pipes were being laid but the pumping operation was going to be challenging, CCTV said.

Mining accidents are common in China, where the industry has a poor safety record and enforcement of regulations is often lax.

In January, 22 workers were trapped in a mine in east China’s Shandong province after an explosion damaged the entrance, leaving workers stuck underground for about two weeks.

Eleven men were pulled out alive, 10 died and one miner remained unaccounted for.

In December, 23 miners died after being trapped underground in the southwest city of Chongqing – just months after 16 others died from carbon monoxide poisoning at another coal mine in the city.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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