The Day of the African Child (DAC), Kenya Edition

by Grace Ndanu

A parade of people hold a giant banner celebrating the Day of the African Child
Source: the author

Africa is not just full of wealth, but there is raw talent and resources that are boundless.  In my opinion, Africa is by far the wealthiest continent in the world. Besides exotic plants, sandy beaches, fascinating wildlife, the breath-taking landscape, precious stones, and the children, who are the most precious possession. This is where they are supposed to be assisted and directed to build their future. So where do we go wrong? Is it hunger for power? Greed? Corruption? Every one cares for themselves and forgets about children.  Parents treat their girls like bread, where they are usually eager waiting until the girl will reach puberty so that they can marry them off, just to be given two blankets, two kg of sugar, and a number of cows. I call that selling and buying of bread.

Children from Soweto, South Africa protested against education injustices, and inequality in the apartheid regime. Instead of being heard, they were massacred back in 1976. Here we are later forty six years later, the African child is still afflicted with education unfairness, inequality, and harmful practices across most of Africa.

As I honored those children massacred in Soweto, I took a glimpse into the life of an African child. I will use the life of the Kenyan children since I was once one. A Kenyan child is playful. He or she is always exited to interact with family and friends, also she plays all made up games that children do. A Kenyan child is smart, and she learns many skills, including farming, animal rearing, and learning two to three languages to communicate effectively with whomever they encounter. This is on top of formal school education. A Kenyan child is strong. Challenges, obstacles, and hardships are an expectation, and she knows she must work hard. If she falls, she must get up because she is like any other child who is in a better country and therefore she must dream because her dreams are just as vibrant as any other child.

Kenyan children continue to suffer the effects of dangerous practices despite the existence of laws and policies that are supposed to protect their rights and well-being. Harmful practices that the Kenyan children go through include female genital mutilation, early marriage, corporal punishment, recruitment in wars, preference of boy child, discrimination of children with disabilities, and infanticide, to mention but a few. Following what the Kenyan child is going through, this year’s theme was “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on policy and practices since 2013.” I believe the theme was calling upon member states of the African Union to adopt stronger measures to protect the children from harmful practices that continue to violate their rights.

The main event was held in Elungata Wuas Primary School, which is in the interior of Kajiado County. Honestly I felt like I was in a different world, starting with the weather. I think it is the hottest, the location was the furthest end of the world. I am pretty sure the Elungata Wuas Primary School pupils spent a week before the ceremony cleaning up, mowing the grass on the compound and scrubbing the walls, as it is part of Kenyan culture to ensure that everything is perfect before the visitors arrive. (My opinion, we overdo.) The day started with very hot weather. The energy of the children was full of excitement as there were pupils from other schools and children homes that were invited. They were dressed up in their uniforms and others provided t-shirts with this year’s theme logo. The event attracted local and international organizations (UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children, US-AID, Plan International, and Red Cross among others).

A group of children gather outside of an African school
Source: the author

The event started with a 1km walk with all of the children shouting,”Haki yetu, haki yetu haki yetu.” Meaning “our right, our right, our right.” They were also singing songs of victory and crying this year’s banner for the International Day of the African Child celebration. The children made a grand entry into the Elungata Wuas Primary school, where three huge tents and chairs were set up for them. There were several speakers lined up for the event in addition to wonderful performances ranging from songs, music, poems, and dances from different schools and children’s homes.

The speeches that were made revolved around early marriage and female genital mutilation. Beside the children being told to work hard and help their communities out of poverty, the parents were also warned about forcing their girls into marriages and circumcision. The parents were told that the children don’t belong to them but to the government, and therefore anyone who will be found going against the law will be taken to court. Girls are not the only ones at risk from dangerous practices because in Kajiado County, boys face the challenge of early work, such as construction, as they are forced to provide for their families and leave school. All the parties involved in child welfare were called to work together to protect children from harm and to ensure their welfare.The Gender officer talked about government’s commitment to ensuring children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect by putting in place laws and policies that safeguard the rights and welfare of the children.

After the speeches, the ceremony ended with a word of prayer, which was followed by a group photo. The children were released to go and have their lunch. The invited guests and children were allowed to leave at their own pleasure after lunch which made the day a success, and again I was in my longest journey from the furthest end of the world.

Anti-Trafficking Day on November 18

It has been estimated that each year 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders. November 18 was established as Anti-trafficking day by the European parliament. This day is used as an opportunity to spread and raise awareness to prevent and combat human trafficking. Human trafficking is a “crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services or to engage in commercial sex acts.” Any person can be a victim of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a “global problem and one of the world’s most shameful crimes.” It affects the lives of millions while also “robbing them of their dignity.” The most known form of trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but many other victims are trafficked for the purpose of forced labor, domestic slavery, child begging, or the removal of their organs. Every country is affected by human trafficking, it is important to understand why and how this happens, and the ways to prevent it or recognize the signs.

What is Human Trafficking?

There is no single profile or defining characteristics of a trafficking victim. Victims include men, women, and children from any age and any background. Traffickers are known to often prey on individuals that come from low socioeconomic statuses. They target victims who are poor, vulnerable, in search for a better life, or are living in an unsafe or unstable situation. Trafficking victims are misled by “false promises of love, a good job, or a stable life.” They are forced into scenarios where they are forced to work under terrible conditions with little to no pay. In Birmingham, Alabama, human trafficking is a major issue. The interstate I-20 is the “most heavily trafficked stretch of interstate in the U.S.” The 140-mile road between Birmingham and Atlanta is been known as the ‘sex trafficking superhighway.’ Additionally, the intersection of I-20, I-59, and I-65 makes the city of Birmingham a central exchange for trafficking activity.

Graphic explaining what human trafficking is in the United States
Yahoo Images

Traffickers use different methods and resources to get their victims. Physical force, threats, psychological manipulation are mostly used. Newsome Law points out that there are two general ways traffickers are able to attain victims. First, victims are lured in. Traffickers will go to the lengths to “put up a ruse that their intended victim buys into.” They will make false promises, present desired relationships, large paycheck, or another prize that will seem worthwhile. These prizes are fake, they are just used to gain attraction and attention. In some cases, it’s found that the trafficker will play along to make it believable until they have the victim with them. Secondly, another way victims are recruited is through force and coercion. Some traffickers will use threats of physical harm or actually use physical violence to get their victims. They will use weapons of physical restraints to grab the victim off the street. Tactics of threats, violence, drugging are very commonly used with either method whether they are trying to capture the victim or when they already have the victim.

Who is most at risk?

Human trafficking is important for an array of reasons. First, in the United States, some of the most vulnerable populations include people within marginalized groups. These include “American Indian/Alaska Native communities, LGBTQ+ individuals, individuals with disabilities, undocumented migrants, runaway and homeless youth, temporary guest-workers, and low-income individuals.” These conditions make these communities and individuals more at risk than they already are.

As pointed out, there is not a clear picture of who and what type of person is most at risk. Human trafficking can happen to anyone, but there are some who are more vulnerable than others.

An article by BhamNow suggested several risk factors:

  • Those involved in the DHR system
  • Those placed in foster or group homes
  • Those with limited adult supervision
  • Those with a history of trauma (including being taken from your own home which is traumatic)
  • Those with a history of sexual and/or physical abuse
  • Runaways / homeless youth
  • Those suffering from substance abuse or with a family history of substance abuse
  • Young women who learn that their body is something they can use for money
  • Young men who are taught not to talk about abuse
  • Queer and trans youth are also vulnerable because they often experience rejection by their families, churches, schools, and communities
A woman being trafficked
Yahoo Images

What is being done to limit it

With human trafficking being a global problem, many countries and organizations have been developing tactics to prevent and protect victims from being trafficked, while also prosecuting those who traffic. In 2017, the Department of State and Labor and the U.S. Agency for International Development handles a total of 120 international counter-human-trafficking projects among 40 countries. Their projects had three goals: to prevent, protect, and prosecute. They prevented trafficking through public awareness, outreach, education, and advocacy campaigns. They protected and assisted victims “by providing shelters as well as health, psychological, legal, and vocational services. Lastly, they prosecuted human trafficking by providing resources such as training and technical assistance for police, prosecutors, and judges.

Other organizations such as the United Nations (UN) uses similar tactics to prevent, protect, and prosecute when trying to limit human trafficking. The UN started a global project called Start Freedom. This project aims to “engage and raise awareness among young people.” It empowers young people to know the signs of human trafficking and how they can prevent it from happening to them. Both projects have a common conclusion that the best way to avoid being trafficked is through education and knowing the signs.

What can we do?

It is vital to spread awareness and learn about all the risks involving human trafficking and what to do if you are being trafficked or have reason to believe someone is being trafficked.

Signs of Human Trafficking:

The National Human Trafficking Hotline provides a list to recognize if you are being trafficked or if you believe someone else is being trafficked.

How traffickers Lure people in:

  • A would-be employer refuses to give workers a signed contract or asks them to sign a contract in a language they can’t read.
  • A would-be employer collects fees from a potential worker for the “opportunity” to work in a particular job.
  • A friend, family member, co-worker, or student is newly showered with gifts or money or otherwise becomes involved in an overwhelming, fast-moving, and asymmetric (e.g., large difference in age or financial status) romantic relationship.
  • A friend, family member, or student is a frequent runaway and maybe staying with someone who is not their parent or guardian.
  • A family member, friend, co-worker, or student is developing a relationship that seems too close with someone they know solely on social media.
  • A family member, friend, or student lives with a parent or guardian and shows signs of abuse.
  • A family member, friend, or co-worker is offered a job opportunity that seems too good to be true.
  • A family member, friend, or co-worker is recruited for an opportunity that requires them to move far away, but their recruiter or prospective employer avoids answering their questions or is reluctant to provide detailed information about the job.

Recognizing Labor Trafficking:

  • Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave
  • Owe money to an employer or recruiter or are not being paid what they were promised or are owed
  • Do not have control of their passport or other identity documents
  • Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interaction with others or support systems
  • Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others
  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm
  • Are working in dangerous conditions without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks, or other protections
  • Are living in dangerous, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions provided by an employer

Recognizing Sex Trafficking:

  • Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation.
  • Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it.
  • Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
  • Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive.
  • Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.
  • Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business.
  • Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications.
young protestors show their support for stopping human trafficking.
November 07, 2019 – Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: Yahoo Images

People to contact:

If you think someone is being trafficked contact:

The National Human Traffic

king Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733

Call 911

U.S. Government Trafficking-Related Links:

OFFICE OF REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT TRAFFICKING EFFORTS
http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/programs/anti_trafficking.htm

OFFICE FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME TRAFFICKING EFFORTS
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/help/tip.htm

Justice for ISIS Child Suspects

What is happening in Iraq
An infographic displays the treatment of children by the authorities. Source: Yahoo Images.

The Human Rights Watch collected evidence in between January and June 2020 that closely reviewed the trial cases of 75 alleged child offenders who were recruited by the Islamic State (ISIS). The cases had led to the misconstrued holding of the children, but upon review, the Human Rights Watch ordered the release of the children, using reasons like a lack of evidence and preventing double jeopardy, as well as provisions of Iraq’s amnesty law. The 2016 Iraq Amnesty Law offers amnesty to persons who can show that they joined ISIS or another terrorist group against their will and did not commit a serious offense prior to joining the group.For years, Iraqi and Kurdistan judicial authorities have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged ISIS affiliation. Several of the charges have been based on the dubious accusations and forced confessions of these children, regardless of the extent of their involvement with ISIS, if any. Such behavior from authorities has led to an international norm that children recruited by armed groups should be treated as victims, first and foremost, not as criminals.

In January 2020, a committee formed under the Nineveh Federal Court of Appeal and Bar Association, consisting of a judge, a general prosecutor, and a social worker. This committee adjudicated the cases of suspects who were children at the time of their alleged alliance with ISIS. The approach taken by this committee was one of compassion and complied very well with acknowledging the human rights of these child suspects. In June 2020, Iraqi judicial authorities dissolved the committee, saying it had reviewed all the pending cases, but another committee in Nineveh, Iraq, continued adjudicating such cases. In August 2020, an anonymous source close to the Nineveh Bar Association told the Human Rights Watch that the committee had reviewed 300 case files before being disbanded in June. They convicted 202 people, dropped charges against and released 31, and pardoned and released 44 under Iraq’s 2016 Amnesty Law. Three cases were dropped because the defendant had already served a sentence for the same crime, so to not invoke double jeopardy, the committee permanently ceased proceedings against the three people.

Arrested child suspects line a corridor, awaiting response from the police
Arrested child suspects line a corridor, awaiting response from the police. Source: Yahoo Images.

The committee, unlike other Iraqi courts, attempted to review individual cases more fairly and better apply international standards. By doing so, it was able to convict the guilty and release the innocent, which Iraqi courts do not have the best record for. In the Iraqi-Kurdistan regions, children have been tried in Kurdistan and re-tried for the same crime in Baghdad-controlled territory, with courts ignoring whether or not the child had been acquitted or convicted and already served a sentence in Kurdistan.

This has been the case since the advent of ISIS in Iraq: hundreds of children have been charged with crimes of terror, and such convictions have been justified under Iraq’s 1983 Juvenile Welfare Act. The Act states that the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 9 in Iraq and 11 in the Kurdistan region. Children that are under 18 at the time of the alleged crime are sent to a “youth rehabilitation school” which is designed to provide social rehabilitation and reintegration via educational or vocational training. However, a source within the Tal Kayf prison said that “the cells are identical to those for adult detainees, with no access to any reading or studying materials besides the Quran.”

What needs to be done?

The Nineveh committee is the first step towards attaining a more efficient and fair judicial system in Iraq where ISIS affiliation does not automatically translate to imprisonment. Children should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period, in compliance with international law. Countries should provide proper assistance for children illegally recruited by armed groups and/or forces, including assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration. The Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional government should amend their counterterrorism laws to end the detention and prosecution of children solely for participating in ISIS training or membership with recognition of international law that prohibits recruiting children into armed groups. And the High Judicial Council should permit committees to delve into more counterterrorism cases to avoid the trend of double jeopardy, while instructing judges across Iraq to release all children who have not committed crimes and ensure their proper rehabilitation and reintegration.

In the first half of 2020, Iraq has taken an essential step towards protecting the rights of children rather than trampling them. But this progress is at risk of Iraqi officials do not implement such steps elsewhere.

Prisoners of Conscience

Recently, upon landing at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, avowed critic of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, Alexei Navalny, was arrested for allegedly violating the terms of a suspended sentence related to a 2014 embezzlement charge. The European Court of Human Rights later ruled that that trial had been politically motivated and resulted in an unfair conviction. The arrest came as no surprise; Navalny had made clear that he expected to be arrested when he returned home to Russia. Still, the Russian government’s blatant repression of one of their loudest critics inspired outrage and disappointment from around the world.

Photo of Alexei Navalny
Navalny in 2014. Evgeny Feldman / Novaya Gazeta. Wikimedia commons.

Navalny had been taken to hospital in Germany in after he became very ill aboard a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20th and nearly died. He was in a coma for over two weeks before making a remarkable recovery. The German government in September determined with “unequivocal proof” from toxicology tests that Navalny had been poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. In December, investigations by The Insider and Bellingcat with CNN and Der Spiegel implicated Russia’s Federal Security Service in the attempt on Navalny’s life. Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has been a target for criticism by Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation for years, called media reports that he had ordered Navalny’s poisoning a U.S. backed plot to discredit him. Putin suggested that Navalny was not important enough to be poisoned, adding “[i]f someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off.”

Amnesty International last week added Navalny to its list of prisoners of conscience as a result of his arrest. Commenting on his detention, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office director, said, “Aleksei Navalny’s arrest is further evidence that Russian authorities are seeking to silence him. His detention only highlights the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels.”

Protests in response to Navalny’s arrest and the widespread corruption amongst Russian political leaders erupted January 22nd. As of when this was written, over three-thousand our-hundred protestors had been arrested, including Navalny’s wife, lawyers, and more than twenty-five known associates. Most are being held without charge. In Moscow, more than fifteen-thousand protestors gathered and endured temperatures as low as negative fifty-eight degrees Fahrenheit.

Protestors in St. Petersburg, Russia
Protestors in St. Petersburg, Russia. Associated Press / AP Photo / Dmitri Lovetsky. Fair use.

Prisoners of conscience are those who are imprisoned because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, or political views, as well as those under persecution for the nonviolent expression of conscientiously held beliefs. The term was coined in 1961 in an article The Forgotten Prisoners by Peter Benenson, a lawyer and activist who founded Amnesty International. Today, Amnesty International is actively campaigning for the release of around one-hundred fifty documented prisoners of conscience, although the number of people who meet the definition is certainly much higher than that. Amnesty International figures that there are “likely thousands more”. Currently, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Iran, and Belarus have the highest number of known, documented prisoners of conscience, although information about political prisoners is sometimes heavily restricted, particularly in China and North Korea. It is likely that there are dozens, if not hundreds more prisoners of conscience in these countries alone.

Last year, Amnesty prisoner of conscience Rubén González was released after being held since 2018 on charges that he had “insulted” the armed forces in Venezuela. González had been acquitted in 2014 after a five year trial for organizing a strike. While he was imprisoned, he was the only civilian prisoner in the military wing of the La Pica prison in Monagas. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, criticized González’ conviction and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention characterized his imprisonment as arbitrary. Amnesty International’s campaign for González’ release is representative of their work across the globe, showing that international condemnation is an effective tool against the incarceration of prisoners of conscience.

In Iran, Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer who has twice been arrested for her campaigns both for opposition candidates and for women’s rights. In 2010, Sotoudeh was charged with spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. The Washington Post characterized the arrest as emblematic of “an intensifying crackdown on lawyers who defend influential opposition politicians, activists, and journalists.” During her first imprisonment, Sotoudeh staged three hunger strikes, with two of them lasting four weeks and seven weeks respectively. In 2018, Nasrin was arrested again, and charged with espionage, dissemination of propaganda, and disparaging the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. For this, she was sentenced to five years.

Accurate information about prisoners of conscience can be hard to come by, because the states that are more commonly imprisoning people for ‘thought crimes’ are also the states more likely to be highly suppressive of reports about their human rights abuses. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience range from absolutely none, reported by the Ministry of Interior, to thirty-thousand reported by the Islamic Human Rights Commission and the BBC. In addition to their arbitrary detention of political activists, Saudi Arabia has also been heavily criticized by human rights bodies for their prolific use of capital punishment, including against people who were children when they were accused of crimes. In 2016, Ali Sa’eed al-Ribh was executed, despite the government admitting during trial that he was under the age of eighteen at the time of his alleged crimes. Because Saudi Arabia is party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, they are legally required to ensure that no one under the age of eighteen at the time of a crime is sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release. Currently, several young Saudis are awaiting execution, including Ali al-Nimr, who was seventeen, Abdullah al-Zaher, who was sixteen, and Dawood al-Marhoon, who was seventeen when they were arrested. In addition, in 2017, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj’s death sentence was upheld on appeal for crimes committed when he was sixteen. All of their crimes relate to anti-government protests.

Photo of Loujain al-Hathloul
Loujain al-Hathloul. Creative Commons.

In 2018 and 2019, Saudi Arabia came down heavily on feminist activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been imprisoned since May 2018. al-Hathloul is known for her campaigns against the driving ban, and has been detained many times previously for offenses such as driving a car and appearing on camera with her face and hair uncovered. For the first several months of her detention, she was not allowed to contact her family or lawyer. al-Hathloul was subjected to beatings, waterboarding, electric shocks, and sexual abuse. During her first trial in March of 2019, she was charged with “promoting women’s rights, calling for the end of the male guardianship system, and contacting international organizations and foreign media.” Saudi Arabia has, over the last decade or so, made some purely performative and milquetoast changes to their repressive policies. In 2017, King Salman decreed that women be allowed access to some government services without the consent of a male guardian. The case of al-Hathloul and others show without a doubt that nothing substantive has changed. Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the most repressive powers in the world — for women, for activists, for critics of the regime. All of this from a country that we, in the United States, continue to support economically and diplomatically. And, for the last four years, have only become closer with.

The plight of prisoners of conscience around the world should be a priority for any freedom loving people and all freedom loving states. Amnesty International continues to do important work to bring awareness to and win freedom for political and ideological prisoners. Hopefully, governments that believe in liberty will start to hold each other accountable and unite against states who do not. Until the last prisoner of conscience is freed.

Further reading:

Who Are Prisoners of Conscience?

List of Designated Prisoners of Conscience