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“We still lack the air force which is the back-bone of an army” says Afghanistan’s Politician Jamil Karzai

Jamil Karzai – Politician and Parliamentarian of Afghanistan


“A growing voice of Afghan’s Youth and Democracy, who has set his mark in the young & religiously cultural rooted society of Afghanistan in this new era of politics and progress.”

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Honorable Mr. Jamil Karzai, ‘The Oslo Times’ welcomes you to an exclusive interview with its Chief Editor and Editorial Board panel. It is indeed a privilege to be with you and exchange views with you on a range of important national & regional issues…

TOT: After 2014 the Coalition Army will leave Afghanistan. This means that the Afghan Army will have to take charge of national security. Do you think that Afghan security forces are capable and efficient enough to handle the growing threats and challenges within the country and outside its borders that make Afghanistan more vulnerable?

Jamil Karzai: First of all thanks for having me here and it’s my pleasure. Coming back to your key question, Afghanistan has been at war for more than three decades, during which, we suffered a lot and all of our institutions and infrastructures were destroyed. One of the key institutions was our “Army”.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Afghanistan had one of the strongest army personnel in the region. This was deemed to be a sort of threat against our neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan with whom we have a border dispute for more than 100 years.

Thus, one of our neigbouring country’s policy was, by any means, to reduce the overwhelmingly strength of our Army, This, together with the arrival of Mujahidin (Western and Pakistani backed groups) and the first Islamic state during 1990s, resulted in the substitution of a well-trained and disciplined army with guerrilla militias, who were mainly trained by the intelligence services of Pakistan.

After 9/11 and during the interim and transitional administrations, we had to start everything from scratch. For me, this was the source of problem. During this period, only a handful of former Soviet-trained army personnel were recruited to the Afghan National Army, the rest were told to go home. Now, after spending billions of Donors’ dollars, still we have not been capable of forming a strong army that could respond to any threats posed by the insurgents or neighboring countries. The Afghan government, along with its international partners, has put huge efforts in forming the new army, rather than re-forming the cadres that we already had.

During the past 11 years, though billions of dollars are spent, the outcome is not acceptable to our people. The process of training is very slow, the equipment is not satisfactory, we still lack the air force which is the back-bone of an army. More than that, the penetration of Anti-Governmental Elements in the army is high.

Therefore, considering all these challenges, one can simply conclude that after the withdrawal of the coalition forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the Afghan Army will undoubtedly, face so many challenges, particularly when the insurgents have sanctuaries on the other side of border with Pakistan, and they enjoy the full support and facilitation of the Pakistani army and related intelligence services.

I do not underestimate the high moral of our brave army personnel. Through history, they have shown their bravery to the Afghans, but practically, there still is a long way to go. Parallel to that, the Afghan National Police has suffered the most during the fight against terrorism, and now needs to be more focused on maintaining law and order, rather than fighting against the insurgents which is unprecedented in other countries with a similar situation to Afghanistan.

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TOT: How will you define the role played by the media in Afghanistan? Is the role negative or positive? Give reasons…

Jamil Karzai: One can claim that of the biggest achievement of the Afghan Government since 9/11 is the freedom of speech and freedom of the media.

During the past decade, Afghan media played an important role of awareness and access to information and there has been a significant development in this field. Changing of analog to digital technology is a good example of these developments.

Now coming to your question that whether the media plays a positive or negative role in Afghanistan; there is no doubt that media played a positive role in Afghanistan, though there are several radios/TVs and publications that are run by some people who either represent a particular ethnicity or belong to some of the past war factions and, who in the eyes of many Afghans, are notorious and unpopular.

In particular, these people receive funds from foreign countries which in several cases are not transparent. That‘s one of the concerns Afghans have.

Cultural wise, there is also a dominance and monopoly of foreign media products in Afghanistan, specially the neighboring countries. I feel relying too much on foreign countries’ products will not only kill the sense of creativity among the Afghan media owners, but also avails an indirect, but massive opportunity for interference in our culture.

We need to be more aware of that, and we need to reduce the importing of foreign media products to Afghanistan, and instead, use this opportunity for our own initiatives.

On the other hand, the government needs to draft some clear policies towards the Media, particularly those which are funded from abroad and to make them more transparent.
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TOT: Since the start of the American War on Terror in Afghanistan, the nation suffers from serious violations of human rights, which undermine its position and progress on the international platform. How do you look into such a situation?

Jamil Karzai: Well, I think it’s a very important question. Since the Start of the coalition war in Afghanistan, the Anti Governmental Elements, the international military forces,particulary the coalition forces, the Warlords within the Afghan government structures ( in different capacity) were all responsible and accused of serious violations of human rights in Afghanistan. The night raids and bombardments, arbitrary house arrests and searchers that were carried out by the international military forces in Afghanistan are unforgettable and unforgivable by the people of Afghanistan.

There have been some serious violation of human rights and a breach of international humanitarian law (IHL). When the major violators are the international forces, how can one say that this will undermine Afghanistan’s position and progress on the international platform?

Yes, I also believe that the Afghan government is equally responsible for the current dire human rights situation in the country. The warlords enjoy full power and impunity in the Afghan government. Most of the human rights violators are among the top officials of the current government. So in Afghan public eyes, both the Afghan government and the international community are accountable.

The most recent and up to date examples of human right violation is being committed through the Afghan Local Police (ALP)  that consists of former war lords and criminal commanders who are unpopular in their areas. This was initiated by and is being funded by the US forces in the Afghanistan, which has now become a big threat to the local communities in Afghanistan.

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TOT: There has been talk of making peace through the peace commission in Afghanistan, to allow the dialogue process between the opposing parties /groups, , and by encouraging mutual partnerships of cooperation between the various factions of the Afghan politics and society to bring stability to our country.

How will you define the peace commission’s role in Afghan society in terms of promoting real peace and how will you rate its success so far in this regard?

Jamil Karzai: It’s always good to see talks and diplomacy going on parallel to military action.
But the important question would be how honest the Afghan leadership is to bring peace and stability to the area.
Since the establishment of APRP commission, there has been little done on the ground.

In my view there should have been several approaches in the process of peace and reintegration:

1.    Top-down approach: The Afghan government needs to open talks and dialogue with the leadership of all insurgent groups.  Once they agreed, the middle and low level of insurgents’ commanders will, undoubtedly, put down their weapons and join the process.

2.  Talks on the regional bases: The Afghan government needs to talk with its allies and international partners to pressure Pakistan to stop supporting and funding the insurgents and make them to talk with the Afghan government.

3.    Public should not be kept in dark: The people of Afghanistan are interested to see the transparency in this process. I think we do have the right to know who is talking with whom? Where? And on what conditions and bases? The Secret talks will lead us to nowhere.

The current APRT commission has failed to deliver its promises and has been unsuccessful. Maybe it’s time to revise all components of this commission and bring on board those who have a ‘WILL’ for peace. As the former late president of Afghanistan, Shahid Dr. Najibullah once said: “Love and support for peace are not enough, one must struggle for achieving it.” So, as long as there is no struggle for achieving it, forming the commissions will not be a remedy for the pain.

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TOT: How will you define the level of progress made by the civil society in Afghanistan?

Jamil Karzai: The civil societies in Afghanistan are on the right track. They have been very useful to pressure the Afghan government or to bring many matters to the attention of the government.

Meanwhile, the civil societies were given good representation role in many international conferences on Afghanistan to discuss the current affairs in Afghanistan, particularly the status of civil societies.

That is a green light, but there is more that needs to be done. First for the civil societies to be more harmonized and coordinated among themselves and for the government, to fully support them in their activities.

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TOT: What is your stand on the strategic cooperation agreement signed with USA? Many people view this strategic agreement as a negative development which, as they say, seeks to keep the people away from the control of the national government.

Jamil Karzai: Well honestly, let’s look into this matter from two different angles. First pre and than post 9/11: this country was the hub of all national and international terrorists. We were disconnected from the rest of the world. All the national infrastructures were destroyed.

Our neighboring country, Pakistan was deeming Afghanistan as their fifth province. The Durand line and other borders were out of control. Afghanistan was going through many economic and unemployment crisis. And we were the FORGOTTEN NATION.

After the 9/11 everything changed. We regained our lost identity. Now during the past decade there have been some significant developments in various walks of life in Afghanistan which cannot be ignored. Yes I do agree that we could have done a lot, but still a tremendous change in comparison to the 1990s. From my current view, we do need to support our long strategic agreement not only with the United States, but also other regional powers. We are still suffering from terrorism.

There are still threats for the territorial integrity of Afghanistan. Thus, we do support such agreements only if it’s based on the mutual interests of two states. We want a long term support for our security institutions. We need especially to back up them with providing training and equipments.

On the other hand, our borders need to be fortified from any neighboring ill-intentions against the sovereignty our country.
Additionally, the Afghan government needs to consider the balance within its relations with regional powers. In other words, getting close to US shall not end with distancing ourselves from Russia, China and others…

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TOT: The relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have always remained thawed and with recent shelling reportedly being done by the Pakistan Army against extremist groups in response to the growing cross border threats, it has now become a new bone of contention between the two states. So how do you look into the future of the relations between the two countries and what would be the consequences if these proxy challenges continued between the two?

Jamil Karzai: Afghanistan and Pakistan have never enjoyed good relations ships throughout the history. Since the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, when Afghanistan cast its vote against the creation of Pakistan at UN assembly, none of the Afghan regimes (with the exception of the Taliban Regime) enjoyed good ties with Pakistan. Our animosity even goes beyond that. Afghans never recognizes the Durand Line which separates two States.

Because it’s based on the policy of “Divide and Rule” inherited from the British emperors. Pakistan has always wanted to have a puppet regime in Afghanistan. The current issue of border shelling is not a new phenomenon. There were several failed attempts of forwarding the border lines in our southern and south eastern regions. By doing so, Pakistan has two ill-intensions:

1.    By shelling toward the Afghan soil, the Pakistani Army and ISI want to clear the area for their backed-up terrorist groups in Afghan soil, as there is a huge pressure on Pakistan by the international community to take action against the insurgents in Pakistan, including the Haqqani Network.

2.    They want to put pressure on the Afghan government to give them an upper hand in talks with the Taliban who already enjoy immunity in Pakistan. The Afghan government won’t do that.

3.    The consequences of this breach will have dire results. Afghan nation is united in defence of their land with the cost of their blood. We have shown a unique patience regarding this matter so far. We still believe in diplomacy and trust our diplomatic machinery to engage Pakistan into a dialogue about this, or else the people will stand and take the matters in their own hands.

We believe in peaceful neighborhood and always want to have good ties with our neighboring countries. If not so, then we also ask for a reciprocal act. If they continue their interference, we will do the same. We have a proud nation and we know how give the intruders a historical lesson.

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TOT: Recently; there have been reports on the mistreatment of US soldiers in Daud Hospital and of human rights abuse incidents which took place in several hospitals, due to the corruption which exists in Afghanistan, which even now the foreign signatories to Afghanistan are worried about.

What do you have to say on this?  Has the government taken significant steps to control this mess which has made the Afghan nation more vulnerable and unstable?

Jamil Karzai: There is no doubt that the corruption in different Afghan institutions is at  its peak and the international community, particularly the PRT, military contractors, are equally responsible.

The Shahid Sardar Daud Military hospital is one of the best hospitals Afghanistan has.
For the first time, I did hear about this scandal from media. Honestly I don’t know about the details of  this “Million Dollars” allegation, but one thing I can confirm is that the patients have always been treated properly and based on the resources the hospital has.

I may not agree with the allegation that some of the patients were starving to death and there was no food for them. Or they have to buy the food and other stuff needed. But I am happy that there is a commission looking at this allegation, particularly if the previous management of the hospital was involved in corruption or money embezzlement.

Meanwhile, the US congress is also interested in this issue and willing to investigate further. So let’s wait for the   outputs and findings of these commissions.

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TOT: How will you define the role played by Iran in Afghanistan as the former is an important and one of the most active countries at large in Afghanistan?

Jamil Karzai: I would not see a much different approach of Iran in comparison to Pakistan. We see both states in one eye. But with a little difference that Iran is naturally not happy with the presence of US in Afghanistan and see it a big threat. The Afghan government raised its concern several times that Iran is fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan by supporting and equipping the insurgents.

In many occasions, the weapons confiscated from the insurgents in Afghanistan, had the Iranian Mark. On the other hand, Iran wants to support some of the Shia-belonged political parties and make a disturbance for the Afghan government whenever needed. On the other hand, the forceful expulsion of Afghan refugees from Iran, the ban on their children’s education, and mistreatment, are all the bitter truth that will definitely affect the relations between the two nations.

TOT: There were recent intelligence reports that claimed Iran is supporting and financing extremism in the country specifically the Taliban and its leaders. Even the local media is reportedly being brought under a greater influence of Iran. Please, your comments on this, and explain your own point of view?

Jamil Karzai: I have no doubt about it and have tried to explain it in the earlier question.

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TOT: How you will rate the progress of the current ruling by the Government of Afghanistan in terms of welfare and development of the country and society? What are the steps that have been taken so far for the development of the judicial and civilian administrative systems in the country?

Jamil Karzai: It will not be fair if we say there hasn’t been any progress in term of welfare and development in the country. We have hundreds of schools, clinics, and other welfare institutions build. Thousand Kms of road has been asphalted.

Free access to health and education has been promoted throughout the country. The foreign investments have been increased and thousand of employment opportunities have been created. But despite that, we could do a lot and achieve a lot.

The volatility of security situation in different parts of the county affected the local communities to have full access to the basic facilities of life. On the other hand, the deterioration of security situation limited the Afghan administration to deliver its services to the remote parts of the country.

In the civil administration section, there have been lots of challenges. No doubt that there have been lots of positives changes and developments seen. The civil service and reform commission has tried to make all the civil administrative recruitments more transparent, based on merit and open competition, but still the nepotism and recommendations of well connected powers, have a significant role in recruitment process.

On the other hand, corruption within the civilian body of the government hampers all the efforts made to reform the administration. So gradually, people’s hope for a transparent administration was fading away.

The judicial section is one of the most corrupted pillars of the Afghan state. To the extent that most of the people have no tendency to take their case to the Afghan courts, rather they prefer to settle any dispute through local mechanism and Elders’ Shura. In some parts of the country, the Taliban courts are functional and much speedier than the official courts.

People living under the Taliban governed areas believe that in Afghan courts, justice delayed is justice denied, while in Taliban courts not only justice is not denied , but also not delayed.

Despite all these challenges, the afghan government has struggled to fight with the corruption first and trial some of the judges who took bribes during their duty. On other hand, there were many training activities for the judges to upgrade their capacity. I think there is a strong need for a massive reform in our judicial system.

Read more on: http://www.theoslotimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6540:qaa-qwe-still-lack-the-air-force-which-is-the-back-bone-of-an-armyq-says-afghanistans-politician-jamil-karzai&catid=168:ex-interviews&Itemid=714

Ashes to ashes, dust to garbage;The Dover Air Force Base mortuary scandal

Washington Post wrote and revealed not long ago about how workers at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary had dumped the ashes of at least 274 fallen soldiers into a Virginia landfill between the years 2004 and 2008 and the Air Force also had no intention of notifying the families of those whose remains had been dumped. Well, the scandal didn’t end there; as more information came out that a number of 1,762 unidentified remains had been collected from the battlefield and disposed in the same way.  The number of fragments dumped reached 2,700.

The owner of the landfill; Waste Management Inc. stated that they were uninformed about the procedure, same goes for the family members of the troops. What had happened was that basically the remains had been collected from battlefields, cremated and dumped. The Air Force claims that these remains and fragments could not been tested for DNA as they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The scandal turned into national disgrace when federal investigations triggered by whistleblower complaints revealed serious mismanagements. Body parts recovered from explosions were stacked up in morgues’ coolers for months or years before they were identified and disposed.

The dumping in the landfill was never formally authorized according to military policies and neither were they disclosed to senior Pentagon officials. Well, I don’t think so. Nothing happens without “someone’s” signature. I don’t believe that some worker in the mortuary came up with this idea to cut the budgets.

This has shown that some people’s moral compass is broken and as they don’t have respect neither for the living or the dead.

These human remains that were sent to the landfill had been sealed in boxes and MedTrace Inc. whose employees picked up the boxes didn’t ask questions or look inside the boxes as long as they were properly handled and sealed.

The owner of the landfill; Waste Management Inc. stated that they were uninformed about the procedure, same goes for the family members of the troops. What had happened was that basically the remains had been collected from battlefields, cremated and dumped. The Air Force claims that these remains and fragments could not been tested for DNA as they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The scandal turned into national disgrace when federal investigations triggered by whistleblower complaints revealed serious mismanagements. Body parts recovered from explosions were stacked up in morgues’ coolers for months or years before they were identified and disposed.

The dumping in the landfill was never formally authorized according to military policies and neither were they disclosed to senior Pentagon officials. Well, I don’t think so. Nothing happens without “someone’s” signature. I don’t believe that some worker in the mortuary came up with this idea to cut the budgets.

This has shown that some people’s moral compass is broken and as they don’t have respect neither for the living or the dead. These soldiers were serving overseas and died for their country and the resting place became a landfill. The cremated remains could have been handled differently. They could have been buried or at least given to the families. There have been spent millions already, why couldn’t the officials finish the job in a decent way.

Air Force and Pentagon officials said first that they would have to search through the records of more than 6,300 soldiers whose remains had passed through the mortuary since year 2001. Later on, they revealed that 976 fragments from 274 military personnel were cremated and taken to the landfill between the years 2004 and 2008.

These human remains that were sent to the landfill had been sealed in boxes and MedTrace Inc. whose employees picked up the boxes didn’t ask questions or look inside the boxes as long as they were properly handled and sealed.

The Air Force said mortuary managers had decided to end the practice in May 2008 because they had found “a better way to do it. The military now cremates unclaimed and unidentified body parts and buries the ashes at sea…

Source of info and pictures; Washington post

Virgin suicides

“My family attacked my personality, and I felt I had committed the biggest sin in the world. I felt I had no right to dishonor my family, that I have no right to be alive. So I decided to respect my family’s desire and die.” Derya, 17 years old. Turkey.

The order to kill herself came from her uncle in a text message to her cell phone. “You have blackened our name, kill yourself and clean our shame or we will kill you first,” it said. Derya’s crime was to fall in love with a boy she had met at school. She knew it was dangerous because her aunt had been killed by her grandfather for speaking with a boy.

When news of the love affair spread to her family, her mother warned her that her father would kill her but she refused to listen. Her brothers and uncle sent her text messages every day threatening her. Filled with shame and afraid, Derya decided to commit suicide. First she jumped into the Tigris River, but survived. Then she tried to hang herself but another uncle cut her down. Last she tried to slash her wrists with a kitchen knife.

Elif, another young girl received her death sentence when she declined the offer of an arranged marriage with an older man. Her wish was to continue on her education. The disobedience brought shame on her whole family and the only way out was death. She managed to escape.

These honor suicides in Turkey has reached new heights as they have turned into honor suicides. This phenomenon emerged after the new reforms to Turkey’s penal code in 2005. Before, killers could receive reduced sentences claiming provocation but after the reforms, the government introduced mandatory life sentences for honor killings. Soon after the law was passed, honor suicides increased in numbers. Batman, a city in the south east with a population of 250,000 has got the nickname “suicide city” because of the high number of suicides among girls. The city was also featured in the novel by Turkish writer and Nobel literature winner in 2006 Orhan Pamuk’s “snow”. The story was about a journalist’s investigation of a suicide epidemic among teenage girls. Between 2001 and 2006, there were 1,806 murders in Turkey that fell under the definition of honor killings, according to the State Minister for Women and Family Affairs Nimet Çubukçu. Meanwhile, during the same period, 5,375 women committed suicide.

 A man showing pic of his 14 year old daughter who committed suicide

A majority of the murders happens in the Kurdish regions where people have been segregated from the rest of the society. Education usually ends in an early age and ignorance seems to transfer from generations to generations. These rural communities are ruled under a strict patriarchal system and decisions are usually made by a “family council” when the extended family meets to discuss honor. They discuss everything from how the victim should be killed and if it isn’t a forced suicide, a killer is chosen. The youngest member of the family is often chosen in hope that they will receive a shorter sentence. The families have the choice between sacrificing a son to a life in prison or forcing the daughter to finish the job herself.

23-year-old Yildiz A. from Turkey was stabbed in the stomach six or seven times and her nose and ears and part of her lip cut off, then she was dumped in a field. She managed to crawl to the side of the road where a passing motorist took her to hospital.

13 year old Rojda was raped and as punishment for “allowing” herself to be raped, her nose was cut off

There are many honor killers in the prisons and oddly enough, they are treated with huge respect among the other inmates and even some prison guards. In the recent years, many Kurds have fled their hometowns and settled to other cities across the country because of the fighting’s between Turkey’s government and the rebels PKK. With the migration, the honor killings and suicides are spreading as well.

Turkey has the highest proportion of female professors in Europe, at 27% and the lifestyle has developed into modern and secular. Families who move to bigger cities and face a modern secular lifestyle have a hard time adjusting and the clash of culture makes it hard on the females who are forced to behave conservatively when there are more temptations around.

Almost every week, a young female tries to commit suicide in Batman or in the nearby areas which are commonly poor and rural with deeply rooted tribal traditions. Others have been stoned to death, strangled, shot or buried alive. Their crime was everything from looking at a boy, wearing a short skirt, declining an arranged marriage, wanting to go out with friends, being raped or engaged in sexual relations out of wedlock. Once the shame has spread to the family, the only way it can be restored is through death. Some women’s group have reported that the girls are being locked up in a room for days with a gun, rat poison, rope etc. they are constantly reminded on that their disgrace is punished by death.

In an effort to help these girls, Ka-Mer, a local women’s group has created a hot line for women who fear that their life might be at risk. They help the girls find shelter and to apply to the courts for restraining orders against their relatives. Ayten Tekar, a caseworker for Ka-Mer in Diyarbakir stated that half of the 104 women, who called the hot line, were uneducated and illiterate. Some had also told that the families hadn’t wanted to kill them but the social pressure and the village gossip had driven them to commit suicide.  “We have to bring these killings out from the shadows and teach women about their rights. The laws have been changed, but the culture here will not change overnight,” she said.

A worldwide epidemic

According to the United Nations, about 5,000 honor killings take place each year, most of them in the Middle East. Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders. But honor crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations.These killings have spread throughout Europe and reached to the US during the last 10 years as migrants have settled down. Police authorities across Europe who wasn’t familiar with the problem met in 2006 to discuss the reasons and preventions. Denmark was the first country out in a European court to sentence several family members for honor killing instead of just the triggerman. It can now be found in USA, Germany, Sweden, France, Netherlands and United Kingdom.

Ghazala Kahn, a Pakistani 18 year old, had an intimate relationship with her future husband, Emal Khan 3 years before her murder. She kept the relationship secret but eventually revealed her feelings to her mother, who became outraged and beat her, joined by Ghazala’s older brother, Akhtar Abbas, the same man who would later shoot her. After this, Ghazala was locked up inside the house and “frozen out” by the rest of her family, all of whom refused to speak to her or eat with her. Finally, on 5 September 2005 she managed to escape and lived with Emal. In the period up until her murder they lived with various friends in Denmark. They repeatedly contacted the police for protection, but were denied help. On 21 September they married and two days later, the family, pretending to want to come to a peaceful reconciliation, convinced the newlywed couple to arrange a meeting at the railway station where Ghazala’s brother shot both Ghazala and Emal Khan. Ghazala was killed instantly while Emal, shot twice survived.

The family was upset so they persuaded Ghazala’s brother to shoot her. The court however convicted 9 members of the family, including her father who conceived the murder and received a life sentence. Her brother received 16 years in prison and an aunt will spend 14 years in prison for luring Ghazala to what she believed would be a family gathering.

Migrants have lived in Europe for many years, so why haven’t they managed to integrate to the society? The problem goes way longer than a couple of years. After World War 2, Europe, especially Germany was left war stricken and the country needed guest workers to rebuild its cities. A huge amount of immigrants, mostly Turkish and Kurds migrated to West Europe and most of them were poor and uneducated. The mistake Germany commit was to allow separate schools for over 20 years and special housing for the guest workers where only their native language was spoken. This led to closed communities where Western culture and values were disregarded making room for ghettoes. Today, there are still classes at public schools where the native language is spoken and in the afternoon the children go home where the parents doesn’t speak German.

Iraq

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has regularly highlighted “honour” killings of Kurdish women as being among the country’s most severe problems. Most of these crimes are reported as deaths caused by accidental fires in the home. 12,500 women were murdered or had committed suicide between 1991 and 2007 for “honour” reasons in Iraq’s 3 major Kurdish provinces. Authorities have admitted that they feel powerless when it comes to preventing the honor killings and honor suicides following by an increase of 70%. On reason can be that there is almost no conviction. Few years ago, 81 women were reported murdered and the authorities had made only 5 convictions. The police release the killers shortly after the arrest and does little attempt to track them down.

Rand Abdel-Qader was killed after her family discovered that she had formed a friendship with a 22-year-old infantryman whom she knew as Paul. She was suffocated by her father then hacked at with a knife. Abdel-Qader Ali was arrested and shortly after released without charge. Rand’s mother, Leila Hussein, who divorced her husband after the killing, went into hiding but was tracked down weeks later and assassinated by an unknown gunman. Her husband had told The Observer that police had congratulated him for killing his daughter. The father has left Basra. He was held by police in connection with his daughter’s murder for only two hours and a local businessman who described the actions of Rand’s father as ‘courageous’ was believed to have given a huge amount of money to him and his two sons, who disowned their mother after she objected to Rand’s killing.

An Iraqi lawyer said that some fathers had started to hire professional hitmen to carry out ‘honour killings.’ “The life of these women isn’t higher than $100. You can find a killer standing in any coffee shop of Basra, discussing prices of a life as if he was buying a piece of meat,” he said.

Mariam Ayub Sattar, an activist in Basra, said that any woman caught speaking to a man in public who was not her husband or a relative was considered a prostitute and punished. Three women were burned with acid while walking through a market in Basra after stopping to speak to a male friend, Sattar also told. This shows how narrow minded the Iraqi’s are and how much they try to isolate the women while the men have enormous freedom. A blow to the face was when The Women’s Rights Association in Basra was forced to close down after receiving death threats following the murder of Rand’s mother. Two women from a voluntary organization who had been helping her to hide from her husband were also injured.

Besides the murder, hundreds of women commit suicide every year by setting themselves on fire. In the first half of 2010, 80 suicides were reported in the Kurdish city of Suleimania according to a human rights activist named Suaad al-Khazraji. These suicides are actually not suicide but murder since they are forced by family members to restore the family honor. Looking at the numbers in Suleimania that is regarded to be the most open and modern city, the numbers are probably in thousands in the more conservative provinces like Baghdad, Basra, Arbil and Dahouk.

I don’t think that the elder generations will change their opinion about honor killings and suicides. For them, this is the only right thing to do and honor goes before everything. What the government should do is to target the younger generations in the rural areas. Education is number one solution to everything. When they know their rights, know how to read and write, then they also can escape this horrible practice. We cannot afford to lose more daughters, sisters and wife’s.

“In my village and in my father’s tribe, boys are in the sky while girls are treated as if they are under the earth. As long as families do not trust their daughters, bad things will continue to happen.”Derya, 17 years.

Child Marriages – Robbing them of their innocence

Throughout the world, the problem of early, forced marriages of children is considered to be a violation of basic human rights. Child marriage is defined by when a child who is below the legal age (usually below the age 15) is married to an adult. Usually it’s almost a Young girl married to an older man. The second form of marriage is an arranged marriage where the parents of the child(ren) and the other person arrange a future marriage. Here, the two individuals who are promised to each other, does not often meet until the wedding ceremony which happens when they both are considered to be of a marriageable age.

Occurrence

It has been estimated that 49 countries around the world has a significant child bride problem, but the numbers are estimated to be higher because of the unregistered and unofficial marriages. UNICEF survey results of 100 countries shows that in developing countries, over than 60 million women aged between 20 and 24 was married before the age of 18. In the countries of Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, more than 60% were found to have been married before 18. Despite sanctions on child marriage, more than 100 million children were expected to marry between 2005-2015.

Article 16.1 of United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979 (CEDAW http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm)states that;

a) Men and women have the same right to enter into marriage.

b) The same right to freely choose a spouse and enter that marriage with their free and full consent.

Article 16.2 states: The betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage. CEDAW has not been ratified by seven UN member-states; the United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.

Although this practice is banned by many countries, there are still many children who are victims of practice. It is combined with culture and has many purposes. Some cultures use child marriage among different tribes, villages and families to secure political and other ties between them to prevent themselves from being assimilated. Other families use child marriage to gain financial ties with wealthier people to ensure their success. Every women and girl has the right to a healthy and just life but when violence of any kind occurs, the international community has the supreme responsibility to respond and transform norms and behavior that condones these human right violations.

How does child marriage affect girl’s futures?

No matter where child marriage occurs, it is regarded as violation towards the children with tiny voices. Parents choose to marry off their daughters early for a number of reasons. Poor families may regard a young girl as an economic burden and her marriage as a necessary survival strategy for her family and some see no value in girls compared to a boy. Others are concerned of their daughters might lose their virginity or get pregnant before marriage. Changing these views requires education and the right to refuse marriage. The parents think that marrying away the daughters protects them from the risk and danger of sexual assault and the husband cares of her as a male guardian.

In the rural villages of these countries many young girls are rarely allowed out of their homes unless it is to work in the fields or to get married. These uneducated girls are often married off at the young age of 11. Some families allow girls who are only 7 years old to marry. It is very unusual for a girl to reach the age of 16 and not be married.

Child marriage by region

Click at the image for a larger picture.

Europe

In France, 11% of girls are married before the age of 18.

Africa

Because of poverty, culture, tradition and conflicts makes child marriages widespread all over Africa. In many tribal systems, the groom has to pay a bride price to the bride’s family in order to marry her. In many parts of Africa, this payment happens in cash, cattle or other valuables but the amount decreases as the girl gets older. That’s why, the family’s wishes to marry the girl as early as possible, most of the times before puberty. Over half of the girls are sent away for marriage as the parents needs the bride price to clothe, feed and educate the rest of the family while a boy can gain education, employment and get married later.

According to many UN related reports made in Sub-Saharan countries, the incident of child marriages under the age of 15 is very high. This has resulted in health problems such as obstetric fistulae, prematurely, stillbirth, sexually transmitted diseases (STD), cervical cancer and malaria. In parts of Ethiopia and Nigeria, 50% of the girls are married as young as the age of 7. In parts of Mali, 39% of the girls are married before the age of 15 and in Niger and Chad; over 70% of girls are married before the age of 18.

Asia and South Asia

India

The status of the woman has been lower than the men for centuries and she has been regarded as the disrespected element of the society in many places. Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh tops list of child marriages by accounting 40% of these incidents a year. A total of 104 cases of child marriage were reported across the country in 2008, which is an 8.3% increase over the previous year’s figure.

The child marriage restraint Act, 1929 was passed during the British rule in pre-partition India that forbade a male younger than 21 and a female younger than 18 to get married. As South-Asia has the highest rate of child marriages in the world, India stands for 40% of the world’s child marriages according to UNICEF’s ”State of the World’s Children -2009”. In an effort to handle this problem, the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, laws has been made and passed to register all marriages in order to make them valid. According to”National Plan of Action for Children 2005,” (published by the Department of Women and Child development of India) a goal was set out to eliminate child marriages by 2010. As for the child restrain act, a child is a person who, if a male, has not completed 21 years of age and if a female, has not completed 18 years of age. In case of such incident, the parent or guardian concerned may be punished with a simple imprisonment which may extend to three months and a fine. Those who solemnize and give consent to the wedding ceremony face the same punishment. A male above 18 years and below 21, entering into wedlock with a child, shall be punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to 15 days or with fine which may extend to Rs1,000 or both. A male above 21 years marrying a child shall be punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to three months and shall also be liable to fine.

Afghanistan

It is believed that between 60 and 80% of marriages are forced marriages and occurs mostly in the rural areas. This deprives the girls from education and isolates them further.

Pakistan

Even though the minimum age for marriage is 18 for men and 16 for girls, child marriages are still widespread and still practiced.

Bangladesh

According to the”State of the World’s Children-2009” report, 63% of all women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has been and still is making progress to increase women and girl’s education and employment opportunities. To reach out to those in rural areas, an attempt to speak with the religious leaders and cooperate with them has shown results and is hoped to decrease the practice.

Middel East

In April 2007, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) published a new study on child marriage in the world, “New Insights on Preventing Child Marriage: A Global Analysis of Factors and Programs.” The study included the latest ranking of the countries with the world’s highest incidence of child marriage. The chart included 68 countries and the country first on the list was Niger where 76.6% of women were found to have married before age 18, followed by Chad, at 71.5%. The proportion of child brides was above 60% in Bangladesh, Mali and Guinea and above 50% in Nepal, Mozambique, Uganda, Burkina Faso and India. Afghanistan does not appear on the list only because reliable facts are not available from that country. However, the incidence of child marriage in Afghanistan is believed to be quite high.

Yemen

49% of girls are married by the age of 18.

Saudi Arabia

Several human rights groups have documented high number of child marriages in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi clerics have justified marriage of girls as young as the age of 9 and there is no laws defining the minimum age of marriage. The Saudi Ministry of Health on their side issued an official statement expressing its rejection of the marriage of minors, warning of repercussions, including adverse health and psychological effects on young girls. The statement gave details of related reproductive problems, increased incidences of early osteoporosis, in addition to a higher probability of high blood pressure, possibly leading to kidney failure, emergence of distortions of pelvic bones, also accounting for mental illnesses caused by emotional deprivation suffered by young girls after being taken away from parents, such as hysteria, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and may even lead to addiction as a means of escape, as well as negative effects on children of minors, including delayed mental development.

United States

Laws regarding child marriage vary throughout the United States, though generally children 16 and over may marry with parental consent. Fewer than 16 generally require a court order in addition to the parental consent. The awareness of early forced marriage and sexual abuse of young girls in the United States was increased by the April 2008 rescue of numerous children living on a ranch owned by a polygamist sect in Texas. Children can also be married under the age of 18 with permission from their parents. In Texas, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah, girls can marry at the age of 14, in New Hampshire at 13, in Massachusetts and Kansas, as early as 12.

Until 2008, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints practiced child marriage through the concept ‘spiritual (religious only) marriages,’ as soon as girls are ready to bear children, as part of its polygamy practice and laws have raised the age of legal marriage in response to criticism of the practice. In 2008, the Church changed its policy in the United States to no longer marry individuals younger than the local legal age as the Church leader Warren Jeffs was convicted of being an accomplice to statutory rape of a minor due to arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man in 2007. The state of Texas removed all 468 children from the ranch and placed them into temporary state custody. FLDS denied the charges. The charges were eventually dropped in court as there was no solid evidence in support of this, and it was determined that the state entered the ranch illegally.

South America

It is estimated that 29% of women aged between 15-24 were married before the age of 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean with Guatemala and El Salvador with the highest rates at 41% and 38%.

According to a report issued by the United Nations, these early marriage unions violate the basic human rights of these girls by putting them into a life of isolation, service, lack of education, health problems, and abuse. The UNICEF paper also states: “UNICEF believes that, because marriage under the age of 18 may threaten a child’s human rights (including the right to education, leisure, good health, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination), the best way to ensure the protection of children’s rights is to set a minimum age limit of 18 for marriage.

Negative effects on child marriages

Poverty

Girls living in the poorest 20% of households are more likely to get married at an early age than those living in the wealthiest 20%.

Education

Women with primary education are significantly less likely to be married or in union as children than those who received no education. In Zimbabwe for example, 48% of women who had attended primary school had been married by the age of 18, compared to 87% of those who had not attended school. Furthermore, once entering a marriage or union, women are much less likely to receive further education or get divorce.

Health

Premature pregnancies are common with young brides, and these cause higher rates of maternal and infant mortality.

Since many married adolescents are pulled out of school at an early age, they may be unfamiliar with basic reproductive health issues. Despite the large number of married girls, policies and programs often fail to address their vulnerability to HIV, sexual transmitted diseases (STD) or other reproductive health needs. Furthermore, while parents may see early marriage as a way to help keep their daughters from becoming infected with HIV, data indicates that 17-22 percent of 15-19 year old girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV/AIDS as opposed to 3-7% for their male counterparts.

Poor health, early death and lack of education lead the list of major problems related to child marriages. Child brides have a double pregnancy death rate rather than women in their 20s because of their young age. Besides from having children in young age, girls are also exposed for damages and rupture in their reproductive organs and their children will end up being sicker and weaker ending in an early death. These young girls are also at an increased risk of chronic anemia and obesity. Other problems are listed as:

  • Limited social support due to social isolation.
  • Limited educational opportunities or no schooling options.
  • Intense pressure to become pregnant.
  • An increased risk of maternal and infant mortality.
  • Restricted freedom of movement and social mobility.
  • Early marriage that creates a lifetime of poverty
  • Statistically, child brides have a higher risk of becoming victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and murder.

Abuse

Abuse is common in child marriages. Women who get married in a young age are more likely to be beaten or threatened, and more likely to believe that a husband might sometimes be justified in beating his wife. Some women end up being murdered as well for different reasons. In addition, children who refuse to marry or who choose a marriage partner against the wishes of their parents are often punished or even killed by their families in so-called ‘honour’ killings.

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