Thank you for being a champion for Equality Now’s Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF)!
Because of donors like you, Equality Now is supporting the efforts of courageous women like Jaha and 45 young girls from the Pokot and Narok district in Kenya that fled their homes to prevent being mutilated.
Jaha experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) as an infant in Gambia. FGM is a harmful cultural tradition performed in many countries, in some cultures to keep girls “marriageable.” However, no one told Jaha the reason she had been mutilated was to guarantee her virginity before marriage. She learned this in a Manhattan doctor’s office at age 15 when she was forced into a marriage to a 45-year-old man. Jaha then had to go through a re-opening process, which felt like undergoing FGM again.
There are millions of girls like Jaha, whose young bodies have been permanently altered without their permission and often against their will. The devastating effects can last a lifetime. Now 24 and living in Atlanta, Jaha with the support of Equality Now has launched a campaign with an online petition, asking Congress to fund the necessary studies to determine how many girls are at risk of FGM in the United States so that the 2013 law protecting girls and signed by President Obama can be enforced.
Egypt - FGM: As you may know from previous reports, our Middle East consultant traveled to Egypt and met with lawyers from our partner organizations, the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) and the Egyptian Coalition for Children's Rights (ECCR) to work with them on the case of 13-year-old Soheir, who died after a doctor performed female genital mutilation (FGM) on her at the behest of her father in a clinic in Cairo. Soheir's death highlights the immediate need for effective implementation of the 2008 FGM law in Egypt with 72% of procedures being performed by doctors in private clinics.
The doctor was interrogated and released on bail pending an investigation. In July 2013, in collaboration with our partners, we issued an Action supporting their call for the father and doctor to be prosecuted for FGM and manslaughter. After issuing an Action Update in December 2013 (accessible here), urging the government to live up to its national and international obligations, the Ministry of Health and Population closed the doctor's clinic on February 5, 2014 pending further investigation by the Attorney General. The Egyptian Medical Syndicate will also conduct a professional ethics investigation into the doctor's actions.
Equality Now will continue to work with our local Egyptian partners to monitor these investigations to ensure that they are properly conducted and that those responsible for Soheir's mutilation and death are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As medicalization of FGM is on the rise in Egypt, please continue to keep the pressure on officials to effectively enforce Egypt's anti-FGM law and full prosecute all violators.
Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations
Building on the body of Equality Now's work for the protection of girls' and women's rights, Equality Now's report (accessible here) illustrates the impact of child marriage on a girl's young life through case studies of Jamila married at age 10 and Sahar married at age 12 in Afghanistan; Perpetua married off at birth in Cameroon; Leila and Adriana both married at 14 in Guatemala; Asman in India married at 15; Rawan married at 16 in Jordan, Evelyn in Kenya who escaped marriage at 14 years old; Beatrice married at 14 in Malawi, Mariam married in 14 in Mali; Khadijetou married at 8 and Minetou married at 12 in Mauritania; Dewan in Papua New Guinea who barely escaped marriage, Hind from Syria married at 14; and Lulu married at 14 in Tanzania. These were provided by our local partners who also made recommendations to their governments on critical steps to tackle the issue. Issued on February 18, 2014, the report calls on all governments to support a comprehensive response to end child marriage and ensure a girl is healthy, safe, educated and empowered and her rights are protected.
"Child marriage directly affects approximately 14 million girls a year. It legitimizes human rights violations and the abuse of girls under the guise of culture, honor, tradition, and religion. It is part of a sequence of discrimination that begins at a girl's birth and continues throughout her entire life. Furthermore, when child bride gives birth, the vicious cycle of poverty, poor health, curtailed education, violence, instability, disregard for the rule of law and legal and other discrimination often continues into the next generation, especially for any daughters she may have," said Jacqui Hunt, London Director, Equality Now.
Brazil - Sex Tourism: We continue to work with a pro bono law firm on the civil case filed on behalf of several Brazilian girls who were sexually exploited by clients of a U.S. fishing tour company that ran sex tours to the Amazon. Employees of the company are alleged to have lured minors from nearby communities onto the fishing tour boats, where the girls were subsequently raped by clients of the fishing tours. Oral argument on the defendant's appeal of the decision lifting the stay in the U.S. civil case took place in early January. We hope to hear a positive decision saying that the case can move forward from the appeal court soon,
There has been significant attention in Amazonas recently regarding the significant delays in cases of child sexual exploitation in the Amazonas courts, including the criminal case against the defendant in our civil case. Local and federal politicians are looking into this matter, and the Brazilian National Council of Justice has investigated these delays. Our partner in Manaus, IACAS, has led efforts to call attention to this issue. We have supported their efforts by sending a letter to Brazilian officials calling for them to immediately address the delays in these cases.
Thank you for your support of the AGLDF program, and thank you for your belief in the importance of our work.
Update on AGLDF campaigns
Yemen – child marriage: Equality Now and partners in Yemen have been pushing for a child marriage law in Yemen since 2009 . In a promising development Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour in September 2013 requested the reintroduction of a parliamentary bill that would effectively ban child marriages in the country. Equality Now and our partner YWU support the Minister in her efforts and we issued an update highlighting a number of child marriage cases and supporting the efforts of the Yemeni Human Rights Minister in calling for renewed discussion of the child marriage legislation. We are hopeful that a draft bill setting a minimum age of marriage will soon be considered and passed.
You can read commentary on this development from Equality Now’s Suad Abu-Dayyeh: http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/11/20/yemen-to-finally-ban-child-marriage.html
Egypt - FGM: We would also like to share details of a new campaign we have undertaken on FGM in Egypt. In June of this year, 13-year-old Soheir died after a doctor performed female genital mutilation (FGM) on her at the behest of her father in a clinic in Cairo. The doctor who performed the procedure was interrogated by prosecutors and released on bail pending investigation. Soheir’s death highlights the immediate need for effective implementation of the 2008 FGM law in Egypt with 72% of procedures being performed by doctors in private clinics.
Our Middle East consultant traveled to Egypt and met with lawyers from both the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) and the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights (ECCR) who are pushing for both the father and doctor to be prosecuted for FGM and manslaughter. We are working with them on pushing this case forward and we issued an Action on the case in July 2013. Progress has been slow due to the political situation in Egypt but we have recently learned that the medical report has been released and are strategizing with partners on next steps in the case.
Brazil – Sex tourism: We continue to work with a pro bono law firm on the civil case filed on behalf of a number of girls in Brazil who were exploited in prostitution by a “fishing tour” company that brought American sex tourists to the Amazon. The stay in the civil case against the sex tour operator was lifted in November 2012 and although the defendant is appealing, his lawyers have reached out to us about a possible settlement. Our NY Director and the pro bono attorney in the case traveled to Manaus at the end of February 2013 and again in October 2013 to meet with the plaintiffs and our partner, IACAS. During the October trip, the plaintiffs were interested in settling the case, as this will bring about a quicker resolution, and the pro bono lawyer will continue negotiation with the defendant’s attorney to arrive at an agreed figure. A mandatory mediation has been ordered by the U.S. court for early December 2013 to encourage settlement negotiations before the case potentially goes to trial.
The 4 plaintiffs are still dealing with the trauma from their exploitation and Equality Now has arranged for them to receive weekly counseling sessions with assistance from our NGO partner and a consultant. As a result of awareness created by the Brazil case a recent public hearing was held in Manaus about commercial sexual exploitation of children at which posters and leaflets on the issue were handed out. In addition a law was recently passed that requires fishing guides (some of whom were luring girls onto boats to be exploited) to register and take a course on children’s rights and accountability. We also recently learned that Nick Kristof’s Half the Sky initiative is exploring taking a trip to Brazil to possibly include this story in a second book.
Thanks for your support!
October 11 is International Day of the Girl Child, a day of advocacy and action by and for girls. Leading up to this year’s celebration, Equality Now is getting ready to launch a new report on early marriage, which excludes girls from decisions regarding the timing of marriage, choice of spouse and participation in sexual relations and often leads to a life of constant violence and discrimination. This report provides recommendations on the legal provisions necessary to challenge child marriage based on a study of marital laws and their enforcement in 16 countries. We will share this report when it is available in a later update.In the meantime, we are excited to share with our GlobalGiving supporters a recent success in our efforts to Defend the Rights of Adolescent Girls. Following the successfully divorce of Fatima in Saudi Arabia, who was sold into marriage at the age of 12, the Saudi Ministry of Justice proposed new regulations on the marriage of girls, setting 16 as the minimum age of marriage. Once approved by the Saudi parliament, the proposed law on a minimum age of marriage will leave Yemen as the only country in the world without a codified minimum age of marriage. Equality Now is currently working with the Yemen Women Union to push for a minimum age of marriage law. Although it doesn’t reach the internationally recognized standard of 18, this proposed law in Saudi Arabia is a start and helps girls like Fatima and countless others around the world to finally access the basic freedom to live meaningful and empowered. You can read commentary on this development from Equality Now’s Suad Abu-Dayyeh on CNN.com: http://bit.ly/115ta1RMeanwhile, in Zambia, following the landmark decision by the High Court in R.M.’s case, the Ministry of Education has drafted the mandated school guidelines on sexual violence. Once adopted, these guidelines will ensure that the Zambian legal and educational systems properly handle cases of rape in educational institutions and particularly by teachers. We are in the final stages of our project with the Tisunga Ana AthuaAkazi (“Lets Protect Our Girl Children”) coalition to set up “safe spaces” to give girls a system of referrals and empowerment, as well as boys’ networks that address gender stereotypes and violence against girls. The most recent evaluation of the project found that it had heightened public awareness of the issue, increased knowledge among girls of their rights, and created an enabling environment of response and engagement of a range of stakeholders to act in synergy towards a common goal.Read more about Equality Now over the past 20 years in our latest Annual Report: http://bit.ly/164RgMHThanks for your support and let us know how you are planning to celebrate International Day of the Girl Child!
Uganda--Rape of disabled girl: As mentioned in a previous update the government chemist finally released the DNAresults in Sanyu’s case, which pointed to the likelihood that the one brother who had not been tested was the perpetrator and the father of Sanyu’s child. Unfortunately that brother was found dead two months ago. Our partner LAPD has requested to have the body exhumed to conduct DNA testing but the police are not responsive. We are now considering finding a pro bono attorney to take the case on and possibly sue the government for failing to properly investigate the case.
Pakistan--Rape by police: As we pointed out in the previous update, the High Court found there was no evidence of rape and remanded the case to the lower court. In February, the lower court dismissed all the charges in Uzma’s case. Uzma was offered a job by the police which she has accepted. Our partners are trying to get the job transferred to Islamabad as the situation remains dangerous for her in her hometown.
Brazil--Sex tourism: Our NY Director Lauren, and the pro bono attorney in the case traveled to Manaus at the end of February to meet with the plaintiffs and our partner, IACAS. Equality Now will be providing more victim support to the women for psychological counseling and education and we will also be writing a letter on behalf of the girls to the local social welfare office to help the girls receive better housing and other needed support from the government. In the meantime, the prosecutors in the Brazilian criminal case will be sending their evidence to help us build our civil case and we have also partnered with a Brazilian law firm in order to help push the Brazil criminal case.Additionally, the Brazilian Senate finished its own inquiry into the sex tourism allegations against the man who ran the fishing company as part of a larger inquiry into human trafficking in general and has completed a report. Weare reviewing the report and its recommendations, which are in Portuguese, and will then determine where to focus our advocacy efforts.
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Program Officer for Sexual Violence, Trafficking and FGM