Impact of Covid-19 in Conflict Zones

A photo of 3 medical professionals in masks and white suits carrying testing machines in war-torn Syria
Medical professionals in war-torn Syria fear the worst after first case reported. Source: Yahoo Images

“Wash your hands.” “Avoid close contact with others.” “Stay home.” These are the CDC’s recommendations for protecting yourself against the coronavirus and the disease that it causes, COVID-19. For those of us fortunate enough to have clean water and soap and space and a home, that is helpful advice and easy enough to follow, even if it is somewhat of a disruption to our normal lives. Unfortunately, these recommendations are completely irrelevant to the millions of people across the globe who live in conflict zones and refugee camps where fresh water is scarce, sanitary facilities are lacking, and the healthcare infrastructure has been decimated by war and continuous violence. In places where day to day survival is already a key concern, the novel coronavirus poses a new kind of threat, one that the struggling healthcare systems in these countries is not prepared to take on. 

While the U.S. government and media have focused on individual vulnerabilities, such as age and underlying respiratory conditions, very little has been done to address social and structural vulnerabilities, including limited access to basic services, health care, safe water, sanitation, and hygiene, in some of the most dangerous places in the world. Overcrowded refugee camps are a virus’ dream – they provide conditions in which the virus can spread rapidly and easily. Individuals living in these places are already prone to respiratory problems due to air pollution and living in close quarters. Unsanitary conditions and lack of housing, food, and clean water exacerbate the risk of contracting an infectious disease, and the lack of access to basic health care makes fighting any kind of infection difficult. The coronavirus is highly contagious and has a very high global mortality rate, even in places where social distancing and healthcare are accessible, and this rate will likely be significantly higher in conflict zones where large numbers of displaced people live. Preventing the virus from entering these spaces is the only hope, but as Dr. Esperanza Martinez, head of health for the International Committee of the Red Cross, has said, “this is uncharted territory,” and it is unclear how effective containment strategies will be in reality (or if they are even possible in certain places).

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 126 million people around the world are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 70 million who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, mostly due to violence. COVID-19 is adding a new layer of uncertainty and fear to the already precarious and vulnerable status of these individuals and families. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration have suspended refugee resettlement programs, and many governments worldwide have stopped the intake of refugees who are fleeing violence and food insecurity. Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in war-torn areas in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, and Ninevah, a displaced persons camp in Iraq, as well as in several African countries, including war-torn Libya, Cameroon, and the Congo. This post considers how this global pandemic will likely impact people living in three particularly dangerous and vulnerable countries in the Middle East and West Africa: Syria, Yemen, and Burkina Faso. 

Syria

Nine years into the seemingly endless civil war in Syria, more than 380,000 people have died, dozens of towns and cities razed to the ground and half of the country’s entire population displaced. Targeted attacks have left Syria’s once thriving public health care system in shambles. Hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or damaged to the point of not functioning. Medicine and medical supplies are limited, healthcare workers are few, and travel to the still-operational clinics and hospitals is out of the question for many of the sick and suffering. Of particular concern is the refugee camp in Idlib, a town in the northwestern province near Turkey, where many displaced individuals now live. The conditions of the camp are dire – there is limited access to soap and water and overcrowding makes social distancing impossible – so self-protecting is a major challenge.

Syria reported its first case of coronavirus a few days ago, from a woman who had recently traveled to Iran, a country that is backing the Syrian government in the civil war and where Shia pilgrims frequently travel. There are now five confirmed cases (the actual number is suspected to be much higher), and there is growing fear that the virus is spreading unimpeded throughout the northwest, where there is limited capacity to test and monitor the situation, but experts have warned that “if the disease starts, it will spread massively.” Jan Egeland, director general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, has warned that COVID-19 could “decimate refugee communities.” Containment is the only hope, but the shortage of supplies, including test kits, makes this unlikely. 

A young Yemeni man sits atop the rubble with his face in his palm grieving the destruction of his home
Source: Yahoo Images

Yemen

The United Nations has labeled the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed yet in Yemen, but the country is bracing for a devastating catastrophe if and when the virus arrives. Since the U.S.-backed war in Yemen began five years ago, Saudi and Emirati coalitions have leveled 120 attacks on medical facilities throughout the country. These attacks, including airstrikes, ground-launched mortar and rockets, and attempts to occupy hospitals and clinics, have led to widespread disruptions in access and service to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including displaced women, children, and persons with disability. With a mere 51% of the country’s health centers operational, there is a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment. Even if people in this area can get to a hospital, many hospitals don’t have electricity, rendering a ventilator — a potentially life-saving device for people suffering the most severe symptoms of COVID-19 — out of the question. The decimated healthcare infrastructure is unable to control preventable disease (there was a cholera outbreak a few years ago) and is completely ill-equipped to handle a pandemic. Both the Houthi rebel group (aligned with Iran) and the government recognize the threat the virus poses and are implementing precautionary measures, such as closing schools and halting flights into the area. However, both sides are amping up their rhetoric and are posed to blame the other if and when cases of COVID-19 are confirmed. The United States, for its part, has cut off emergency aid to Yemen, citing the Houthi’s interference in the distribution of supplies and services to starving Yemenis (likely a Saudi-directed approach), but humanitarian officials have warned that this decision will create major funding gaps in efforts to provide hand soap and medicine to clinics and to staff health centers with trained healthcare workers. Yemen’s basic healthcare programs are heavily reliant on foreign aid – about 8 out of 10 Yeminis rely on some form of aid. Eliminating this source of funding could mean suffering and death for millions of displaced persons in Yemen. 

Burkina Faso

On March 18, Burkina Faso, the impoverished West African country of 20 million people, registered its first confirmed case of COVID-19. A week and a half later, that number leapt to146 cases, with hundreds more suspected, making it the hardest hit West African country so far. This tiny, conflict-scarred country is no stranger to hardships, including poverty, drought, rampant hunger, and militia-led coups. In 2019, clashes between government forces and militia groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda led to more than 2,000 deaths in Burkina Faso and forced more than 700,000 people to flee their homes. This escalation of violence has led to the closure of 135 health centers in the country, and an additional 140 have reduced their services, leaving 1.5 million Burkinabe in dire need of humanitarian health assistance. With a healthcare system that has been ravaged by war, a mere three facilities in the country are able to carry out the tests, and only a few hundred test kits have been provided. As part of the government’s response, Malian refugees once displaced into Burkina Faso are being forced back into Mali, where ongoing violence inhibits humanitarian and medical access to affected populations. COVID-19 will exacerbate an already dire situation — it is feared that an outbreak would see fatality rates of ten times higher than the global average. “These populations are already very vulnerable to diseases that are otherwise easy to treat,” says Alexandra Lamarche, senior advocate for West and Central Africa at Refugees International, “but that’s not the case when they have no access to water or proper sanitation or health care.” She adds, “We could watch entire populations vanish.”

Bumper sticker that says "All people are created equal members of One Human Family"
Source: Yahoo Images

Against a common enemy?

Rarely does a disaster – natural or otherwise – affect the entire world. The coronavirus is a different story, unlike anything we have witnessed in the modern age. It is exposing the fragility of even the most advanced economic, technological, social and medical systems, and it poses a grave threat to humans the world over. The virus doesn’t discriminate on the basis of status or religion or skin color or any of the other things that divide us or give us cause to fight each other. It travels across borders and between enemies, and the more people it infects, the greater the risk for everyone. Just like the virus, the distribution of basic human rights must not be qualified on the basis of anything other than humanity. Turning a blind eye to the suffering and inadequate conditions of the world’s most vulnerable populations only facilitates the spread of the virus. In a practical sense, limiting the spread of the virus in refugee camps and conflict zones in Yemen and Syria and West Africa is just as important as it is in wealthy countries if the goal is to eliminate the virus and end this global pandemic. That requires distributing resources and investing in large-scale infrastructure improvements in places where people are not able to follow the protocols for containment under the current conditions. As we scramble to make enough surgical-grade masks for healthcare workers in the United States to wear, we need to be concerned with sending as many as possible to medical facilities in places around the world that are under-served and over-taxed, including displaced persons camps. We cannot hope to protect ourselves if we refuse to protect our fellow humans, no matter the distance or cultural difference between us. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called this “the true fight of our lives,” insisting that we put aside our differences, which now seem small and inconsequential, and turn our aggression toward a common enemy. “That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.”

A Time to Recognize and Safeguard The Rights That Connect Us

by Peter Verbeek, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Program Director MA Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights)

A picture of a girl with a surgical mask covering her mouth and nose
Source: Yahoo Images

On March 6, 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, issued a statement calling for an holistic human rights based approach to combat COVID-19. She wrote, “As a medical doctor, I understand the need for a range of steps to combat COVID-19, and as a former head of government, I understand the often difficult balancing act when hard decisions need to be taken.” However our efforts to combat this virus won’t work unless we approach it holistically, which means taking great care to protect the most vulnerable and neglected people in society, both medically and economically.” She added, “COVID-19 is a test for our societies, and we are all learning and adapting as we respond to the virus. Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre in that effort, not an afterthought.” 

To heed Dr. Bachelet’s call we must remind ourselves of the fact that human rights are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. We also must recognize that the essence of human rights is human dignity. All human rights arise from it and all human beings are born with it and posses it throughout their life span. Human dignity is not measured on a sliding scale. To illustrate, there is no difference in human dignity between that of the office holder of the Presidency of the United States and the migrant at the US Southern border. The accused in the court proceeding has the same human dignity as the judge presiding over her case. The convict and the prison guard do not differ in their human dignity. The human dignity of the disabled veteran is the same as that of the person pushing her wheelchair. And the human dignity of the COVID-19 patient in the isolation ward is the same as that of the health-care worker taking care of him. 

The recognition of our shared human dignity and the safeguarding of the rights that arise from it is a powerful unifier in troubled times. Now that we are faced with a near global outbreak of an until recently unidentified corona virus we can stand united in the recognition that every person on this Earth has an irrevocable right to health care and security in the case of illness (UDHR, Article 25). With rights come responsibilities, and the unifying power of universal human rights is the way that each of us in accordance with our specific context and abilities has a role to play in safeguarding access to appropriate preventive and interventional health care and personal security regarding COVID-19. Our individual roles are necessarily varied, from driving a neighbor without proper means of transportation to a health care facility, to following “doctor’s orders” concerning personal hygiene or social distancing. If infected or taken ill we have a right to receive the best available care and the responsibility to follow the guidelines in place so as to minimize the risk of infecting others. Each of us has a responsibility to listen to the relevant and evolving science as communicated by medical experts, and each of us has the responsibility to comply with the local and national guidelines that are based on this science. 

Some of those taken ill with COVID-19 will die in spite of our best efforts to care for them and protect them. If the fight to save their life is at the cusp of being lost we have the responsibility to see to it that their death reflects the human dignity that they possess. Medical science does not yet have the answer to the question of how to protect oneself conclusively against viral infections such as the current corona virus. That realization, while sobering, should not keep us from doing all we can in terms of what we do know about prevention. There is much that we can do to limit the risk of infection, provided we follow the relevant science. The human rights motto is that any infection, or worse, any death, linked to insufficient preventive measures is one too many, and we all stand united in this through the human dignity that each of us possesses. 

The Drive for Quality Education in Kenya Faces Massive Challenges

by Grace Ndanu

A teacher looks on as a young African girl does her school work.
Source: Yahoo Images

When everyone gets to know and understand the importance of education, they are interested to be part of it, and parents or guardians (those who understand the need to have a learned child) try to fight for them so that they can be educated. There is a very big knowledge gap and also the quality of education between the advanced areas and the areas that are trying to come up. I will name it a crisis.

In Kenya we had a curricula that really didn’t consider every kind of person. I think everyone is intelligent on their own way, but this curricula focused on children who sit down, listen to a teacher and are able to solve a mathematics equations. It didn’t consider the capability of every child. Thank God the curricula was changed and it was effective as early as last year so that at least now there are classes that can help children discover what they like and most of it all, what they can do best. But still, it is tiresome. The kids need to be in school as early as 6am and they are off school at 6pm.

Every year there are children who needs to join high school, but you know what, those who make it are children who come from the wealthy backgrounds, and we developed a saying that said ‘education is for the rich.’ I believe there are funds that are kept aside by the government to educate the needy students. But the ones who are in charge of issuing the funds to them are guilty of using the money for their own benefit. I have heard of two cases this year.

One, there is a boy who scored very high marks in primary school, and what his mother could afford are two bars of soap. The poor mother took his boy to school with two bars of soap with no school fees nor shopping. Another incident was about a disabled boy who was abandoned by his mother and since he has been living with his grandmother. The boy also had scored high and he absolutely qualified to join high school. The grandmother was old, so the boy had to walk to the school, which started at 8:00AM. Keep in mind that he had nothing with him. These are the cases that we know of because the media reported them. I know there are still those who suffer in silence maybe they really don’t know what to do. All this happens because there are people somewhere who are using money that is meant to help the needy. And I will add that this also happens in employment. And with this we have another saying, ‘if you have no connections stay with your mum.’ This is because you will find almost the whole family in good paying jobs.

Another big challenge, is about teachers being so serious which to an extent I may call it being harsh. There are teachers who beat the children, and as a result, children lose interest in school or even completely hate everything about school. Recently somewhere in Kenya, 14 children died and 39 injured in a stampede. The pupils reportedly started running out of the classrooms after a bell rung to go home. Some pupils said a teacher, who was carrying a stick behind them, ordered them to leave quickly and they started running down the stairs. The pupils in front stumbled and fell and those behind also tripped. And that’s how the children met their death. With this you may find some parents may fear their children attending class in the name of keeping their children safe.

Among the disadvantaged families there are also girls who don’t attend classes due to lack of sanitary towels. They are forced to stay back home for at least a week so that they can get through their menses. This makes some of the girls fail their exams because they have missed several lessons and as a result they may end up dropping out of school due to their low self-esteem, which probably developed due to poor results. At the end, men remain on top of women in everything. There is a lot of gender-based violence, and the affected are the women, while the top positions in every sector are for the most part held by men. Hopefully we will get out of this because the government and some NGOs are trying to distribute sanitary towels to school. Thanks to them.

Young African girls in the classroom
Source: Yahoo Images

In the map, among the countries that borders Kenya are Somalia and Sudan. These countries war still exists, note that it is not a one time thing. The fate of school children trapped in conflict areas deserves even more agent attention. According to my research, there are many attacks staged on Kenyan schools that are around the boarder.in ¾ of those, troops and rebel forces turned classrooms into military posts. Hundreds of children are recruited to fight, sometimes made to serve as suicide bombers, or forced to endure direct attacks. The learning environment is not be at peace if learning continues because of the gun-shots, gangs, and unruly youths and by sexual predators on school premises. This is another reason why parents won’t let their children go to school, and of course, girls are the most affected.

In every society there is what they believe which may be considered not to be true. There are some communities that are tied to culture. In the Samburu, Masaai, Pokot, to mention but a few, believe that girls are meant to be wives and not to be educated. Boys are taken to school and even they are lucky enough to attend university while the girls are forced to stay with their mothers at home so that they can be taught how to be the best wife.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 says, ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning.’ Despite the considerable progress on education access and participation, there are children and youth who are still out of school. For us to reach the goal, they should fix the learning crisis. Maybe the following should be considered: Promote gender equality, social mobility, and intercultural understanding. Safeguard that persons with disability are included in the education. Respond to those learning challenges caused by conflict. Align school curricula and work needs for competencies and skills. And most of all fight corruption.

I believe that education has the power to shape the world. A quality experience in the classroom helps promote mutual respect and understanding between people. It can help change behaviour and perceptions, thereby fighting unsustainable practices. Above all education does not choose because it empowers everyone, meaning that it protects both men and women from exploitation in the labour market, and the empowering of women enables them to make choices. Everyone needs freedom, and education sets us free.

Do Resolutions Really Work?

by Grace NdanuJanuary

a list of tasks with check marks
Source: Yahoo Images

At the end of every year until the beginning of a new year, I have always been listening to the same message which is said by everyone. Everybody talks about how they are going to do great things in the coming year and that they are going to do what they never did during the year that just ended. At the beginning of every year people write resolutions; that is, the list of what they would like to have accomplished at the end of the year. And now allow me to take this on a higher notch. Do people include humanity points in their list? Is there a point that says, “feed some street families, foster a kid for a few weeks, volunteer in an orphanage and also involve in a activism movement”? This gets me so motivated, and I run to my diary to put down my resolutions.

Now I don’t have to tell you the shock that I find every December when I get back to my diary to see whether that which I put down on paper at the beginning of the year has come to pass. It really pains me that each time I go back to revisit my resolutions, I am still on the same page as the year started. As I listen or read news in the newspaper, there are cases that involve people that need to be shown some love. This is what motivates us to write some resolutions at the beginning of every year. But what really matters is…did we get to know someone or make someone smile as we promised ourselves we would?

It always go back to procrastination and we all know it’s a thief of time…getting to actually commit to your resolutions is really hard. The excitement makes us think that we can actually do what we have written down in a jiffy. I have had some little meetings with myself several times, and I came to a conclusion that resolutions are like trying to change my life for the better and at the same time make someone forget their sorrows and at least smile for a while. But change is not easy, and we should actually try to define resolution as change. Taking a step to a better you will require a willing mind, a willing heart, commitment and sacrifices.

Do we really need to share out the resolutions that we come up with at the start of the year with our confidants? No, I don’t think so! I really don’t understand who else should have a look at my diary or have the information that is inside my diary apart from me who I own it. I strongly feel that I am the one to work on what I really want just like any other person who has visions and as a result every one wrote their resolutions and should work towards accomplishing their resolutions.

As the year goes by and February sets in, reality also sets in. I wrote what I wanted that year but is there is no a hint of progress. This really hits me so hard and start thinking maybe I should go back to the list and may be do some changes on what I had written, or I should at least wait a little bit longer to see what happens or maybe I should just terminate the list and just go by the flow with an excuse of, I am busy and I will do it whenever I get some time. Others have an excuse of not forcing things and just wait for that time to come and they precise it to be magical, for me I feel like it is luck of commitment and sometime I may call it selfishness.

As I said earlier, the news is everywhere. There are cases that makes us sad. It hurts me so much when I recall of a certain girl who was recently raped, killed and dumped by a known politician. When the story was aired in all forms of media, everyone was very angry because of the incidence, the politician was caught and taken to court. After a week everyone forgot what had just happened and they were back to their businesses. Up until now I still don’t get how it just went. Because the politician was set free. Where is everybody who thinks that they are advocates against Gender Based Violence? There are only 16 days that are set for activism. Why shouldn’t these days be everyday instead of just writing things that we will never take seriously?

Allow me to challenge those who are in charge of spearheading Human Rights in Kenya. I do appreciate the Human Rights authorities who have their five year strategic plan that is 2018-2022. They have passed their first test. However what are some of their accomplishments for the two years that have gone by? Have they been able to implement that which they had discussed or the plans are just good on paper and nothing is been done about it. For instance the Kenya National commission on Human Rights had promised to put measures that are going to prevent abuses, improve on their investigations and put those who infringe on other people’s rights behind bars. I really don’t know how to put this across and tell you that there are so many people out here who go scot free after they have done heinous acts. Men and women who are fond of raping young boys and girls are still not locked up. When you ask the reason behind this, you will be told that there was no enough evidence to prove the rape case and even when there is enough evidence to lock up them, the judges get bribed and the story is swept under the carpet.

a group of young children help push a man in a wheelchair up a dirt road
Source: Yahoo Images

Do you even believe in resolutions? Do you even write something at the beginning of every year? If you do does the year end when you are satisfied? If nothing came to pass is it the same list that you are going to use in the following year, or are you going to change your list to something that you think is easy for you to accomplish? Nothing comes easy, there must be a struggle in order to archive what you really fill is important and more of helping others.

What Will It Take to End Child Marriage in Your Country?

by Grace Ndanu

The silhouette of a young girl with her head hanging low in her lap
Source: Pixabay

Justice is coming! As I continue growing old I keep asking myself, why child marriage? Is it really necessary? And if not, what do I or we have to do about it? I understand that child marriage is a result of male dominance at large. I think it’s best if we bring men on board first. Working with men can be very effective in reducing child marriage if not ending it. It will help to change ideas and behaviors, especially dealing with patriarchal attitudes. Once men are on board, they can use their influence to pave the way for positive change.

Adults have groups where they get to share what they are going through. Children also need safe spaces in schools. This will help them build their confidence and trust amongst themselves and also with their teachers. I’m sure there are girls who wouldn’t have gone through early marriage if they had a chance to escape. But they didn’t. Simply they didn’t have anyone to tell regarding what their parents were planning for them. This is why they need that space, it’s the window to their success.

Corruption has deep roots in my country, Kenya. For example, I would like to know where funds meant for educating less fortunate girls go. Culture is not the only reason for early marriage, but also poverty. There are girls who sacrifice themselves to go get married in an effort to reduce a burden on their parents. It has come to my notice that the leaders or people responsible for the education funds tend to accuse these girls of bad behaviour, but they are trying their level best to do what is right. Can’t the funds holders use the funds to educate the girls instead of them using the funds for their own benefits?

Not all problems are solved through fighting. Why shouldn’t we mingle? As they explain why early marriage we have a chance to convince them how early marriage is harmful and the advantages of not doing it. At some point there will be some girls listening, them knowing the advantages of not being married off, they will always want to go for their success and thus they will always report whatever harmful plan is made for them.

I don’t know who is with me! I consider myself as the second doubting Thomas. If am not sure of what am told I will ask for a success story if not stories. The girls who escaped the scandal of early marriage should be advised to go back to their communities and villages. The parents will be so proud until they will shout for the whole community to hear and come and see. Other parents would want their daughters to come home successful and hence they may change their attitudes towards early marriage. On the other hand there will be role models for little girls and the whole society.

Juvenile Justice Reform Helps Kids Be Kids

by Pamela Zuber

A pair of young hands gripping a prison fence
Source: Pixabay

While people in many places in the United States and around the world are experiencing human rights violations, the news is not entirely bleak. There are also positive developments. One is in juvenile justice.

How has juvenile justice progressed?

On October 1, 2019, four U.S. states allowed people seventeen years old and under to be tried automatically as adults: Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Members of Michigan’s state House of Representatives and state Senate took steps to change that statistic. They passed legislation in October 2019 that would:

  • Define adults as people eighteen years old and older.
  • Place seventeen-year-olds in family court, not adult criminal court.
  • Assign alternatives such as counseling and monitoring instead of incarceration or help accused youth avoid traditional court procedures entirely.
  • Give prosecutors the option to try people under the age of seventeen as adults if they are accused of violent crimes such as murder or rape if they have court approval.
  • Prevent seventeen-year-olds from being incarcerated in the same facilities as adults.
  • Not apply to seventeen-year-olds who have been previously sentenced as adults.

Legislators previously had trouble reaching agreement on the Michigan bill because of a dispute over funding for juveniles in the state’s justice system. The state of Michigan and the state’s counties currently share such funding responsibilities, but under the 2019 bill, the state would fund the first few years of the new program. The funding arrangement could help ease financial burdens for counties struggling to fund programs relating to health and wellness, law enforcement, and other services.

Known as a raise the age bill, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer signed this bill, Senate Bill 84, into law on October 31, 2019. The provisions in the bill will take effect in 2021.

What are the advantages of charging people as juveniles?

A young man skating along a road on a skateboard
Source: Pixabay

Charging people who are seventeen years old or younger as juveniles instead of adults may produce many benefits. On a short-term basis, it may be safer if accused young people are housed with other young people instead of adults. Young people treated as adults may be incarcerated with people accused of or convicted of violent crimes. The safety of juveniles could be at stake.

Designating people as juveniles also may produce more long-term benefits. For one, it could save money. A 2011 report published by the Vera Institute of Justice stated that raising the age of adult prosecution from sixteen to eighteen could provide millions of dollars in benefits for youth, victims, and taxpayers in the state of North Carolina. Such changes could initially cost money because they would require changes to the youth justice system, but in the long run, they could save money by not engaging the adult justice system.

Proponents of prosecuting children as adults have said that this prosecution could scare youths straight. They claim it could prevent young people from committing serious crimes because they are frightened of the consequences. But studies have shown that such harsh penalties do not deter young people from committing serious crimes.

Judicial system changes may help reconcile what we’re learning about the biology of young people. “Researchers focused on brain development have found that 18- to 24-year-olds—also referred to as young adults — stand out as a distinct developmental group with heightened impulsive behavior, risk taking, and poor decision making,” wrote scholars at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in 2015.

Teens’ impulsiveness, judgment problems, and desire to experiment may thus make them liable to try alcohol and drugs and engage in other dangerous practices. They could be using such substances to rebel against their parents and other caretakers. After they use drugs or alcohol, the substances may alter their still-developing brains, creating life-altering consequences. Similarly, teens who engage in illegal behavior may face legal consequences. If they’re tried as adults, they may spend years behind bars or face other repercussions that could haunt them for their entire lives.

Who else advocates for juvenile justice reform?

Michigan legislators aren’t the only people and organizations advocating for changes to the justice system for juveniles. Organizations such as the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) are working to stop the prosecution of children under the age of eighteen as adults and end youths’ incarceration in adult facilities. The CFYJ says that this advocacy is necessary. It claims that 95,000 U.S. children are housed in adult prisons and jails every year and that several states and the District of Columbia allow children as young as seven years old to be prosecuted as adults.

Efforts from the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) are also trying to change the juvenile justice system. Like the Campaign for Youth Justice, it wants to end the prosecution of children as adults. The JLC is also working to end harsh conditions and solitary confinement at juvenile correctional facilities. It seeks to stop sentencing youth to serve their entire lives in prison without parole and end economic practices such as fines and fees that keep poor children confined more than more affluent ones. In addition, it also wants prisons and jails to provide educational opportunities for youth that can help them build better lives that prevent them from committing additional crimes and re-entering the correctional system.

On the websites for both organizations, there are sections that allow people to donate to their causes. Both sites also offer updates to keep people informed. The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) site also allows people to share their stories and give testimonials. It provides instructions on how people can contribute to the organization’s initiatives.

Prosecuting teenagers as youths allows people to face the consequences of their actions, but it doesn’t condemn them to serving lifetimes in prison for minor crimes that they committed when they were still growing physically and mentally. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re young. Sensible justice sentencing for juveniles acknowledges mistakes and gives people the time and opportunity to learn from them.

 

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor interested in many topics, such as human rights, addiction and recovery, history, business, and science.

 

Gender Studies – Not a “Girl Thing”

by Grace Ndanu

A girl in front of a laptop in a college classroom
“Student in class” by UGA CAES/Extension, Source: Creative Commons

I was admitted in the university to specialise in Gender Studies, others call it social studies. The propaganda now comes in when other people call it women studies. I knew it was a good course, but I never knew what it entailed. The first week on campus I went through orientation where I came to meet people from different courses and most of them didn’t know what inspired them to take the courses they were taking, and it was there that I remembered one of my high school teachers once saying that some people don’t end up becoming what they dreamed of becoming when they were small. An example being me, I wanted to be a doctor and now I am aspiring to be a Gender CEO.

I find it unique, all the programmes that are running inside the university have departments and faculties except the gender programme where the department and the faculty are all in one package that is the Institute. We call it The Institute of Gender And Development Studies. In the programme we have the units that help us be better persons where by it molds us to be of good character and to be of service to the people. Talking of functions that the institute holds, I can say it suits all individuals in the campus where by you will find majority if not all students attending the Gender awareness day, cultural week and relationship forums. This now brings to the question, “Why women’s studies if all are the beneficiaries?”

It turns out that the Institute is weakly or never represented. In terms of staff board meetings, the staff from the institute are the last ones to receive the memo and sometimes never receive it at all. In the graduation booklet other programs come first; for example, engineering, agriculture and education…then lastly Gender studies. When classes began we were 49 in total and all of a sudden we are now 44. Thirty four girls and ten boys. And a lecturer came in and said that five boys have done interfaculty; that is, they changed their course from Gender to where they thought was best for them. But why?

In the middle of the semester I came to meet with one of the boys who left the programme, we had a chat. He said that Gender studies is a girl thing. In his words, “Don’t expect me to study what my wife is supposed to be studying right now. I know you people are taught how to take care of the husband at home, I am the husband here, so which husband am I supposed to take care off?” He also assumed that the programme trains the students how to beat men. He asked me a question which left me in a deep thought and a desire to ask him for more of his time so that we can discuss this issue of beating up men. I wanted to make him understand that we women are not into a fight, we are trying to negotiate so that we can have equal opportunities to resources and benefits. I insisted that we need to have our own money and freedom that we have been denied for so long.

The males being few in my course, I decided to talk to one of them, so that I can know what inspired him to do the course and what is still inspiring him to stay grounded to the course. He continued and started by saying that he was sponsored by the government to do the course, which he knew nothing about. His parents were not comfortable with him taking the course, and so they agreed with the parents that he will do an interfaculty, which he didn’t. “When I attended the first gender class I felt I was supposed to be there because I realised what we are being taught is all about all of us, starting with who we are as individuals and how to interact with each other”. He continued and said that the course has moulded him to be a better person and he is not regretting his decision to stay in the course.

Speaking to a girl who does gender is another good thing that I think I did. We as girls we always talk of our rights, and that’s exactly what she started with. She continued and said how she feels that her being taking gender has made her know that no one can live like an Island and that we need each other for survival that is men and women, boys and girls. And she added a quote from the Bible, “All people are equal in the eyes of God.” This brought a little argument between us because its true that we are equal before his eyes but still we need equity to reach equality. A girl needs sanitary towel for her to have equal time with a boy in class, which I now call equality. And finally we came to an agreement.

I insist that gender or social studies should be recognised in all the learning institutions. Starting with my school with the help of Dean of students and the institute should increase the counselling posts around the school. Increasing of these posts will help students visit there any time without being wait for long so that they can be attended to. Apart from Gender Awareness Day the university should hold functions that will communicate to students that gender studies is not a girl thing at all.

On the other side the government should increase the number of university offering the Gender and Development as a programme. Adding on the same, it should increase the number of students during the enrolment in the university to pursue the course. Increasing the number of university offering the programme and also the students will increase the confidence of students and now there will be a fair debate because we will be many against many unlike right now it’s like fighting one against many and definitely the many will win. And I believe that apart from gender based violence reducing, we will come to a conclusion that Gender or social studies is not a girl thing, seconding the motion, ”Gender is not between the legs but between your ears. “

Providing Equal Justice for All

By Pamela Zuber

“We have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.” – Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy

Inside of a jail, a dark hallway with green jail cells on either side
Source: Pixabay

Money can’t buy happiness, but does it buy justice? Or, more accurately, does it help people avoid justice? Does money provide unfair advantages?

Athlete and actor O. J. Simpson famously assembled a team of some of the most prominent lawyers in the United States to defend him after he was accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend. Dubbed a legal dream team, these defenders helped Simpson win acquittal on criminal charges in 1995, although he was convicted of civil charges in 1997.

Wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein could have been convicted of federal sex crimes involving teenagers in 2008 but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a Florida state court. During his sentence, he was allowed to leave prison for up to twelve hours every day for six days a week. Epstein also had private security and his own psychologist while staying in a private wing of a Miami prison.

After serving thirteen months, Epstein traveled frequently to New York and the Virgin Islands while he was on probation. Epstein committed suicide in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. The trafficking trial continued after his death.

Did Simpson and Epstein’s money, power, and connections help them avoid justice? If so, what does that mean for the average person and can we do anything to change it?

Understanding poverty and imprisonment

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy … the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution

“If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you.”
– Description of Miranda warnings issued to suspects

According to the U.S. Constitution and the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Miranda v. Arizona, people accused of crimes have the right to obtain an attorney for their defense. Wealthier people have the financial resources and social connections that allow them to hire experienced private attorneys. If people cannot afford such legal assistance, they may defend themselves or receive the help of court-appointed attorneys.

Although court-appointed attorneys are sorely needed, the system that employs them has experienced major problems. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “[p]oor people in most jurisdictions do not get adequate legal representation. Only 24 states have public defender systems, and even the best of those are hampered by lack of funding and crippling case loads.”

Even if they secure representation at trials, poor people often cannot afford attorneys to represent them at appeals and other legal system procedures. Well-heeled suspects, meanwhile, can often better afford experienced representation throughout the judicial process and other benefits of such representation.

“People in prison and jail are disproportionately poor compared to the overall U.S. population,” noted the Prison Policy Initiative. “Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration; it is also frequently the outcome, as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates debt, and decimates job opportunities.” Even after poor people leave prison, their punishment continues. Poor people who are convicted of crimes often find it difficult to find jobs, housing, and other opportunities after they serve their sentences.

Much of this prosecution and imprisonment relates to drugs. “Over 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year on a drug law violation,” reported the Drug Policy Alliance.

While some people turn to selling drugs when they feel they have few other economic opportunities, that is not the case for many people arrested for drug violations. People may face severe penalties just for possessing drugs for their own personal use. If they’re poor, they’re less likely to have access to effective addiction treatment, so they have a greater chance of staying addicted. There is a greater likelihood that the police will catch them with drugs in their possession.

Once arrested, poor people face medical and psychological problems relating to their addiction. They face criminal and financial problems due to their arrest, incarceration, defense, and trial. Such problems often make poor people even poorer.

Making the legal system fairer

Picture of a judge's gavel
Source: Pixabay

Some areas are looking for ways to make justice fair for all, not just the more financially secure. Writing for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Wisconsin Public Radio, Emily Hamer and Sheila Cohen stated that “[t]he Wisconsin Constitution states cash bail can be used only as a means of making sure the accused appears for the next court hearing — meaning judges are not supposed to consider public safety when making decisions about bail.”

Similarly, in 2018, former California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 10, a measure that would have abolished cash bail in the state. The state’s bail bonds industry struck back. It collected enough signatures to make this measure a 2020 ballot referendum so voters could determine its validity. Between the 2018 bill signing and the 2020 referendum, some California courts and reformers worked to promote changes to California bail practices and courts.

Representation may be becoming fairer as well. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) investigated legal representation in the state of Michigan and found it wanting. In response, the state created the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission in 2013. The commission pays for staff members and training for cases and creates standards for court-appointed attorneys.

Michigan’s commission also includes a useful FAQ section on its website to help people understand and navigate the court-appointed attorney process. It describes how court-appointed attorneys must visit clients who have been jailed within three days, for example, and explains other rights of the accused.

Investigating laws and how they impact people

U.S. states are also investigating laws to determine if they’re fair to all of their residents. Many states have mandatory minimums, which are mandatory minimum sentences that people must serve if they’ve been convicted of certain crimes. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, during the 2016 fiscal year, African American and Hispanic people were more likely to be convicted of offenses that garner mandatory minimums.

The conviction rates of these groups don’t match their overall representation in the U.S. population. While Hispanic or Latino people accounted for 40.4 percent of the people convicted of mandatory minimum crimes in 2016, U.S. Census estimates from 2018 placed the Hispanic or Latino population of the United States at 18.3 percent. The U.S. census estimated the African American or black population as 13.4 percent in 2018, but people in this group accounted for 29.7 percent of mandatory minimum crime convictions.

Black and Latinx people traditionally have made less money than white people and continue to do so. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2017, the median average income for households who identified as white and not Hispanic was $68,145. For Hispanic households, the median income was $50,486, while the median income for black households was $40,258.

Lower incomes have traditionally meant that people were less likely to afford adequate legal assistance. They were forced to turn to overworked, underfunded legal defense programs for assistance, assistance that may have not had the time or financial resources to investigate and defend their cases. If their legal representation faced better financed opposition, accused people may have been more likely to lose their cases, serve lengthy prison sentences, and endure unbreakable cycles of poverty after their releases.

Changes such as bail reforms in Wisconsin and California and the creation of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission hope to end such unfair outcomes. They strive to make legal representation accessible to all. They aim to make justice truly just.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about various topics, including human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

Gender Based Violence

by Grace Ndanu

A photo of a woman crying. Her face is bruised.
Source: UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Creative Commons

It is believed that Gender Based Violence existed from long time ago as a result of male dominance and power, meaning women were left inferior. Generally GBV stops girls from reaching their potential, where by there is a lot of working to transform attitudes towards girls and women that perpetuate violence against them. That is why women are trying to negotiate with the men that they can be equal, but men want to maintain their dominance, which causes an increase in GBV cases.

GBV occurs almost everywhere now, and the girls and women are the victims. Stating at home, children’s vulnerabilities to violence stem from the fact that they depend on their parents or caregivers for their development health and wellbeing. Girls and young women often experience violence at home, from physical punishment to sexual, emotional or psychological violence. Acceptance of violence as a private affair often prevents others from intervening and prohibits girls and young women from reporting in the name of keeping the family name clean.

In primary and high school the violence rate is low unlike in the college and universities. This is because there are strict rules and supervision, which is not the case in colleges and universities around the world. While in college a girl is considered to be an adult. Also, her parents are far away, so anyone she has the freedom to do whatever she wants, including engage in sexual relationships. In these relationships the boys often want to take charge of girl’s life. At this point most of the girls already know their rights and hence they will never accept to be dominated. Unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to gender based violence because the boys will still fight to maintain the “man’s “position in a girl’s life.

In the work place the top positions are designed for men, including the managers, directors and supervisors, while women are secretaries and cleaners. Gender based violence is likely in situations where a qualified female is expected to perform sexual favors to management in order to get a promotion.

Gender based virulence is also a rising issue in online spaces with girls and young women reporting harassment and abuse. For many girls, there is a pressure to leave online platforms. I am opposed to this because these are the places where most girls and young women get to know their capabilities and strengths through interaction with different types of people. But girls need to be careful in these spaces.

Gender based violence occurs in all parts of the world, but the risk is higher where violence is normalized and where rigid concepts of gender exist. In many cultures, especially the developing countries, violence towards girls and young women is accepted as a social norm. Here comes a saying of an African woman who is strongly tied to culture “a husband who does not beat his wife does not love her”. And the woman herself will ask her husband to beat her. This must be challenged as a matter of urgency, the blame, shame and stigma faced by victims must be eliminated.

Violence should never be a private matter and everyone should be aware of this starting from the youngest to the oldest. So that it can be challenged. Ending GBV will involve action at all levels; strengthening legislation and criminalizing the violence, challenging social norms that condone violence and prosecuting the perpetrators.

Children should learn about gender equality at school, just as it is important to promote integrational dialogue on violence against children. Community dialogue can challenge dominance that brings about gender based violence.

Everybody has a responsibility to promote and strengthen values that support nonviolent, respectful, positive gender equitable relationships for all children and adolescents, including the most vulnerable and excluded.

Young girls and women are encouraged to speak up about the issues they face which embolden them to speak up for change. On the other side young men are encouraged to identity and challenge harmful and negative masculinities that perpetuate discrimination and violence.

Honoring Our Responsibilities to People and Other Animals

by Pamela Zuber

Dog's teeth through a knothole in a fence
Image: Pixabay

On August 19, 2019, nine-year-old Emma Hernandez died in Detroit, Michigan. She died from injuries she sustained after three dogs mauled her.

Hernandez’s death comes after her family and others issued multiple complaints and filed police reports about the dogs roaming free in the neighborhood and their owner’s inability to contain them. Neighbors tried to stop the mauling by attacking the pit bulls, but the girl suffered a fractured cervical spine and several other injuries. Writing in the Detroit News, Sarah Rahal noted that “[t]he attack was so horrific that counseling services were offered to emergency responders.”

While the death of any nine-year-old is a tragedy, Emma Hernandez’s death is especially tragic because it was so violent and so avoidable. We should not allow dangerous and potentially domestic animals to travel freely. Taking the effort to contain such animals with secure fencing and other restraints protects people’s rights to safety and security.

Not possessing such animals in the first place also prevents such tragedies. Training animals to be vicious or adopting particularly vicious animals can create disasters like Hernandez’s death. People may argue that vicious animals are security measures to prevent crime, but actually, they’re like the guns that people buy for personal security. Violent animals and guns may produce more violence than prevent it. “Access to a gun triples the risk of suicide death,” according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

What about the rights of pet owners?

(For the purposes of this article, we refer to pet owners as people who adopt animals.) Authorities have charged Pierre Cleveland, the dogs’ owner, with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and owning dangerous animals that led to Hernandez’s death. People previously filed police about roaming dogs from his house. Detroit Animal Care and Control, part of the city’s health department, visited his house in March, 2018 after receiving reports that two dogs from the house were loose. It is unclear whether the department found the animals dangerous or if they were the same dogs involved in the fatal 2019 mauling.

Clearly, improprieties involving dogs occurred in southwest Detroit in 2018 and 2019. Detroit’s home state of Michigan has clear definitions and determinations about dangerous animals, conditions that determine dangerous animal ownership, guidelines for euthanizing dangerous animals, and penalties for people who possess dangerous animals that cause harm.

Owning a dangerous pet is similar to owning a dangerous weapon. Both may inflict a great deal of harm on innocent people. Guns are inanimate objects. While dangerous animals do have brains, they do not have the reasoning abilities that people have. Dogs cannot build enclosures or make laws to corral themselves physically. It is therefore incumbent on people to control creatures and weapons. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):

In order for dogs to live harmoniously with people and with other companion animals, it is critical to hold guardians responsible for the proper supervision of their dogs and for any actions on their part that either create or encourage aggressive behavior.

Responsibly owning pets is a societal obligation. We have responsibilities to others and expect that others will behave in similar ways. While we are allowed to own pets (within limits), we have to do so responsibly to live with others safely and harmoniously.

What about the rights of others?

Emma Hernandez lived next door to vicious dogs. She probably faced their barking, snarling, and aggression frequently, if not daily, during her young life. They may have been the last things she ever saw. Can you imagine living and dying with such fear?

Living with anxiety, with the constant threat of danger, may be harmful to one’s mental health. It may drive some people to drink too much or use drugs to try to escape their fear and anxiety. It could cause other symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia, stomach problems, uneasiness, and other unpleasant side effects. We don’t know what Emma Hernandez experienced and we can’t ask her.

Safety is a fundamental right. We have entire systems to provide different kinds of safety. We have police departments and legal systems to prevent crime or prosecute it if it occurs. We have health departments that work to prevent or minimizes illnesses or injuries. These entities failed Emma Hernandez and her family.

“Everyone has the right to live, to be free, and to feel safe” is Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. Did Emma feel free and safe? Or, did human negligence lead to an egregious attack on her human rights?

How do we prevent such tragedies?

Mean-looking dog
Image: Pixabay

What happened in August 2019 in Detroit was preventable. If workers from animal control visited the house to investigate the pit bulls involved in the attack, they should have taken steps to reign in the animals and actually practice the animal control that is part of the department’s name.

When authorities are called to homes with potentially violent animals, they should remove the animals until their owners make their homes safer by building or reinforcing fences, gates, or doors or taking other safety precautions. If owners cannot afford such modifications, maybe authorities could pay for the changes and garnish pet owners’ paychecks or other sources of income.

If people do not have the income to secure their animals or repay authorities for providing such safety measures, maybe they shouldn’t own animals at all. Pet ownership is a privilege, not a right.

We could compare adopting a pet to owning a car. Owning a car requires paying for fuel, maintenance, insurance, and other charges. People are required to invest money and be diligent to make sure that their cars run properly and don’t pose hazards to others. To receive driver’s licenses, they must learn how to operate them safely.

Similarly, maybe people need training about how to handle animals. After this training, they could receive licenses to adopt pets. If their pets cause harm, people could have their licenses revoked and face further penalties, such as not being able to adopt additional pets.

Maybe law enforcement agencies and other bodies should institute a two-strike rule as well. If authorities return animals to a home and the animals provoke additional formal complaints, the authorities should remove the animals from the owners. If this provision was in place, authorities could have removed the dogs who caused the 2019 fatal mauling.

Every day, we do things to try to protect our safety and the safety of others. We drive our cars at speed limits, we cannot cross the street at any time at any place, we can only smoke tobacco in designated areas. We are allowed to do things that are potentially dangerous, but within limits.

Owning a pet comes with similar parameters. We can own animals, but not dangerous ones. If we do something that jeopardizes our safety or the safety of others, we should face repercussions. While there are ongoing repercussions to the 2019 mauling, they are unfortunately too late to help Emma Hernandez. Maybe these measures and other proposals will help people in the future before similar tragedies strike.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who writes about human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.