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11163Fwd: Amnesty International: Sexual and reproductive rights under threat worldwide

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  • Thiagarajan Arunachalam
    Mar 6, 2014

      Narendra Ch


      Embargoed for 00.01GMT 6 March 2014
      Sexual and reproductive rights under threat worldwide
      • 150 million girls today under the age of 18 have been sexually assaulted
      • 142 million girls are likely to marry as children between 2011 and 2020
      • 14 million adolescent girls give birth every year, mainly as a result of coerced sex and unwanted pregnancy
      • 215 million women cannot access contraception, even though they want to stop or delay having children
      • Same-sex sexual activity is currently illegal in at least 76 countries, 36 of which are in Africa 
      The health and lives of millions of people across the globe are being threatened by government failures to guarantee their sexual and reproductive rights, Amnesty International said today as it launched a global campaign on this issue.
      “It is unbelievable that in the twenty-first century some countries are condoning child marriage and marital rape while others are outlawing abortion, sex outside marriage and same-sex sexual activity – even punishable by death,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
      “States need to take positive action – not just by getting rid of oppressive laws but also promoting and protecting sexual and reproductive rights, providing information, education, services and ending impunity for sexual violence.”
      Amnesty International’s new campaign My Body My Rights is about people being empowered to enjoy their sexuality. 
      A briefing published by Amnesty International highlights the increasing repression of sexual and reproductive rights in many countries around the world that prioritise repressive policies over human rights and basic freedoms.  
      The briefing points to research findings and statistics that signal a perilous future for the next generation should the world continue to turn a blind eye to the repression of sexual and reproductive rights.
      The My Body My Rights campaign encourages young people around the world to know and demand their right to make decisions about their health, body, sexuality and reproduction without state control, fear, coercion or discrimination. It also seeks to remind world leaders of their obligations to take positive action, including through access to health services.
      Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty marked the launch by meeting women in rural communities in Nepal - where manygirls are forced to marry as children and more than half a million women suffer from a debilitating condition known as uterine prolapse, or fallen womb, as a result of continuous pregnancy and hard labour.
      Khumeni lives in one such community in Nepal. She was 15 when her parents decided it was time for her to get married. She has had 10 pregnancies and was banished to the family’s cowshed each time she gave birth. She had to carry heavy loads while pregnant, and sometimes only had a week to rest after giving birth. As a result of all this, she suffered a uterine prolapse - or “fallen womb” - but was left without surgical treatment for eight years.
      In the course of the two-year campaign, Amnesty International will publish a series of reports on a number of countries where sexual and reproductive rights are denied.
      This includes girls forced to marry their rapists in the Maghreb; women and girls denied abortion despite the threat of ill health and even death in El Salvador and other countries; and girls forced into childbirth at a young age in Burkina Faso.
      • In Morocco, 16-year-old Amina killed herself after being forced to marry the man who raped her. At the time, Moroccan law allowed her attacker to escape prosecution for his crime if he married her.
      • In Burkina Faso talking openly about sex is taboo. Contraception is not widely available and unplanned pregnancy is widespread. Hassatou was just 13 when she became pregnant. She had no idea that sex would lead to childbirth. After the baby was born, her family threw them out onto the streets.
      • In El Salvador abortion is illegal, even in cases of rape or when a woman or girl’s life or health is at risk, and violence against women and girls remains widespread.
      • In Ireland, women and girls face up to 14 years in prison for having an abortion other than when their life is at risk.
      Amnesty International believes that everyone should be free to make decisions about if, when and with whom they have sex, whether or when they marry or have children and how to best protect themselves from sexual ill-health and HIV.
      “With My Body My Rights, we want to help the next generation realise and claim their sexual and reproductive rights. Together we want tosend a clear and unequivocal message to governments that this kind of over-reaching control violates human rights and is simply unacceptable,” said Salil Shetty.

      Embargoed for 00.01GMT 6 March
      My Body My Rights 
      Country stories
      11 years old, forced into marriage, abused for resisting sexual exploitation 
      Sahar Gul told Amnesty International she was just 11 years old when her family sold her as a child bride to a 30 year-old man. Her husband, Ghulam Saki, was a soldier serving in the Afghan national army. He bought her for some 260,000 AFN (about $4,600 USD), and took her to the house he lived in with his family.
      “I was married when I was just 11 years old. I was very little I didn’t know how married life is and what happens after the wedding. When I saw women coming to our home to take me I cried and I didn’t want to go, but no one really cared about my tears and no one was listening. I didn’t want to go and live in another place with other people, it was frightening.”
      Shortly after the marriage, Sahar disappeared for several months. Eventually her family reported her disappearance to local police. Officers discovered her barely conscious, covered in bruises and unable to speak or stand.
      She had been locked in the dark, wet cellar of her in-laws’ house, and they had beaten and abused her when she resisted being forced to have sex with other men.
      Sahar later told Amnesty International that her in-laws repeatedly beat her, burned her with cigarettes and an iron, and pulled out her fingernails and hair. This went on for six months.
      After she had told neighbours about the abuse, her husband’s family locked her in the cellar. They  barely gave her any food and water. Although neighbours informed the police, officials did not immediately step in to protect her, but left her with the abusive in-laws.
      Sahar’s husband and brother-in-law fled when police finally arrived at their home. They are still at large. Her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and father-in-law were arrested, found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. 
      Although their convictions were upheld on an initial appeal, the Kabul Appeal court later overturned them, and her in-laws were released from prison after one and a half years behind bars. After a further appeal, they were given a five year sentence.
      Stories like Sahar Gul’s are widespread in Afghanistan, where authorities usually dismiss reports of domestic abuse as a family matter and often refuse to intervene to protect the victims. 
      Now aged 16, Sahar is living in a women’s shelter and studying at a local school. She is determined to stop other girls suffering the same experience and has ambitions to become a politician in Afghanistan. 
      “My aim is to become a women rights activist, open shelters for women at risk in Afghanistan and help women who suffered from violence. I want to protect other women. I think about how I could have been killed by my in-laws and there was no one to protect me. I want to end violence in Afghanistan… I don’t want to see other women suffer the same way I did or in any other way.”
      Three years behind bars for a gay text
      In 2011 Roger Jean-Claude Mbede texted someone to tell them he loved them. 
      Because he was texting in Cameroon, and because it was to another man, Roger was arrested. The police interrogated him for days, stripping him naked and beating him.
      After a trial where he was denied legal representation, Roger was jailed for three years on charges of ‘homosexuality and attempted homosexuality’. He was locked away in an overcrowded prison where he was sexually assaulted, refused vital medical treatment and beaten by prison guards.
      Amnesty International supported Roger’s case, adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, encouraged people around the world to stand beside Roger and ask Cameroon’s authorities to release him immediately. 
      He was released from prison in summer last year on medical grounds; according to his lawyer, the family who’d rejected him also rejected his medical treatment plan. Roger died last month.  
      Whatever the cause of his death at the age of 34, the vilification Roger experienced at the hands of the police, prison authorities, neighbours, and his own family led to him being denied the treatment he desperately needed, in prison and at home.
      The cost of confusion
      In 2012 Savita Halappanavar was hospitalized with a threatened miscarriage. She asked for an abortion, but it was denied. Savita went into sepsis and died a few days later. 
      While an investigation found Savita’s death was primarily caused by medical failure to recognize her condition was deteriorating to the point where her life was at risk, the case again threw Ireland’s restrictive anti-abortion laws under the spotlight. 
      Abortion is illegal in Ireland, except in cases where there is a “real and substantial” risk to the life – rather than the health – of the woman. This exception was established in 1992 by a Supreme Court ruling on the case of a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant as a result of rape, and was suicidal.
      But abortion is still illegal for women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest, where their health is at risk or in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Women face up to 14 years in prison for having an unlawful termination.  
      As a result more than 150,000 women travelled to the UK for a termination from Ireland between 1980 and 2012; an average of 12 a day. In 2012 alone, 3,982 women travelled to the UK for an abortion.

      Raped, pressured into abortion
      Kopila’s husband beats her and forces her to have sex with him. She lives in a rural community, and they were married when she was 17. She had her first child a year later. Kopila is from a poor family in rural Nepal and she never went to school.
      Three of her four children were born at home and one was born in hospital. Kopila told Amnesty International that she was only able to take between 10 and 12 days rest after giving birth before she had to start working again. 
      If Kopila is feeling unwell, her husband decides whether she can go to the health post. Kopila told Amnesty International she had other pregnancies but her husband decided she should end those pregnancies through abortion. 
      The family has a small amount of land so Kopila works in the fields and looks after the cattle. She does all the household work and takes care of her four children. In her family the practice is that Kopila feeds the children first, then her husband eats, finally she eats. 
      She had to carry heavy loads, including wood, grass and cow dung throughout her pregnancies and soon after giving birth. 
      As a result, Kopila first experienced uterine prolapse when she was 24. She told Amnesty International “Twelve days after the birth, I was cutting wood with an axe. My husband asked for water and we had an argument. He beat me hard. I don’t know whether my uterus came out during the time I was cutting wood or after I was beaten. It was the same day that I first got the problem. That was six years ago. 
      “After that I started feeling back pain and stomach pain and I couldn’t stand straight or sit or do work. I feel pain in my lower abdomen and generally I have back pain when I work hard.” Kopila said her husband forces her to have sex when she doesn’t want to. And when she tries to refuse, he beats her. 
      The only time Kopila was able to seek medical assistance for uterine prolapse was shortly after she first experienced the condition. Her husband had gone away and she asked her brother to accompany her to see a doctor. 
      “The doctor told me to rest but I can't because I have a lot of work to do - work in the field, look after the cattle, take care of the children, heavy work. I didn’t go back when my uterus came out again”. 
      Kopila explained that previously when she had sought medical help for a different condition while her husband was away, he found out and beat her so badly that she was frightened to go back to the doctor.