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Leave no child behind
by Evelyne Opondo
Center for Reproductive Rights, agencies
June 2018
The African child is the African future, therefore, when we leave her behind, we leave our future behind.
Raheema''s entire life was interrupted when she became pregnant at age 16 and was forced to leave school. Like so many children and young adults in Tanzania and indeed, in many African countries, Raheema did not receive any sexuality education in school. She and millions of adolescent girls like her had no idea how to prevent a pregnancy.
Furthermore, schoolgirls in Tanzania are subject to forced pregnancy testing, which if the result is positive, can prohibit them from continuing their education. After she gave birth, Raheema wanted to return to her public school, but she was denied re-entry, and her family lacked the resources for private school.
Failure to address the reproductive rights of adolescents is not only detrimental to Africa’s development efforts but is also a direct violation of human rights, which are protected in these countries constitutions and under various international and regional instruments, such as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Maputo Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.
On this Day of the African Child, we remember Raheema’s story, and the stories of others whose fates were decided for them. This year’s theme – “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development” – was selected to ensure that those who are not benefiting from Africa’s growth and development are taken into consideration when governments implement the various development commitments they have adopted.
Every year, thousands of adolescent girls in Africa are denied their right to education due to pregnancy. Some have even been arrested for being pregnant while in school. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that young persons aged between 10 and 24 years account for 30% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa. Today''s children are tomorrow''s adults, and their participation will be essential in helping Africa to achieve its development goals.
Preventing adolescent girls from going to school negatively impacts economic, social and political opportunities and prevents equal participation- a key element to development efforts. No child, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized, should be excluded from development policies and programs.
Although many countries in Africa have some policy mandating comprehensive sexuality education, integration and implementation of science-based information is still insufficient. This lack of information deprives adolescents of the ability to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.
Research published in 2010 by the Guttmacher Institute revealed that 68% of sexually active unmarried adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa have an unmet need for modern contraception, while 67% of married adolescent girls who want to avoid pregnancy for at least two years are not using any method of contraception. Girls cannot prevent unplanned and unwanted pregnancies if they don''t know how.
Adolescents encounter many challenges in accessing reproductive health services, including restrictive laws and policies, inadequate availability of services, and limited access to contraceptives and safe abortion care. These obstacles are magnified in countries where girls are at high risk of sexual violence, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo – where 53% of adolescents experience physical or sexual partner violence – or in countries with high rates of early pregnancies like Uganda, where 57% of girls give birth before 20 years of age.
Today, Raheema works as a cook, and she lives with her parents. Had she been allowed to finish secondary school, it’s very possible that she would have had greater job options, and the ability to make an even greater contribution to the development of her country. However, the reality is that Raheema, and so many others like her, continue to be left behind.
If Africa is to meet its development goals, it must do so by respecting and fulfilling the needs and rights of adolescent girls. The African child is the African future, therefore, when we leave her behind, we leave our future behind.
* Evelyne Opondo, is Senior Regional Director for Africa, Center for Reproductive Rights, this story was featured by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
* Human Rights Watch special report - Leave No Girl Behind in Africa
The African continent has the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, according to the United Nations. Every year, thousands of girls become pregnant at the time when they should be learning history, algebra, and life skills. Adolescent girls who have early and unintended pregnancies face many social and financial barriers to continuing with formal education.
All girls have a right to education regardless of their pregnancy, marital or motherhood status. This report provides information on the status of laws, policies, and practices that block or support pregnant or married girls’ access to education. It also provides recommendations for much-needed reforms:

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Prominent advocates for women’s rights jailed
by UN News, Amnesty International, agencies
Iran, Saudi Arabia
13 June 2018
Leading Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh arrested
A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, who had defended women protesting against having to wear the Islamic headscarf, has been detained and told she will serve five years in prison, according to her family.
Nasrin Sotoudeh was taken from her home in Tehran on Wednesday, according to her husband, Reza Khandan, who said she managed to call him after she was detained. He said she was told she would be serving a five-year sentence at Evin prison, Tehran, after being convicted in absentia. “I have no idea what the sentence was related to,” said Khandan.
Sotoudeh is an outspoken critic of the country’s judiciary, which is dominated by hardliners. She had recently objected to its decision to limit the number of lawyers allowed to defend clients in in ''so-called'' security-related cases, calling the move a “farewell” to the right of defence.
The judiciary had released a list of only 20 lawyers, out of 60,000 licensed attorneys, who would be allowed to defend such cases. After widespread objections, the judiciary said it would expand the list.
Sotoudeh, mother to two children, has also worked as a lawyer for women detained for refusing to cover their hair in public. Since December 2017, dozens of women have been violently attacked and arrested for peacefully protesting against compulsory veiling. She has represented prominent opposition activists, and previously served a three-year prison term, from 2010 to 2013, after being convicted on security-related charges. She was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the EU in 2012.
June 2018
UN experts push for prompt release of women human rights defenders. (UN News)
A ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia may have officially ended at the weekend, but on Wednesday, nine United Nations experts called for the immediate release of a number of women’s rights defenders who were imprisoned following a government crackdown which began in mid-May.
“In stark contrast with this celebrated moment of liberation for Saudi women, women’s human rights defenders have been arrested and detained on a wide scale across the country, which is truly worrying and perhaps a better indication of the Government’s approach to women’s human rights,” said UN Human Rights experts in a joint statement.
“We call for the urgent release of all of those detained while pursuing their legitimate activities in the promotion and protection of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia,” added the Special Rapporteurs and experts.
The crackdown began on 15 May with a spate of prominent women’s rights defenders’ arrests. Over the following three weeks, some 12 other human rights defenders, including both women and men, were also arrested.
The majority of detainees were advocating for lifting the driving ban and for improvements in women’s rights within Saudi Arabia. Many of those detained face extremely serious charges, such as 20 years in prison, according to reports.
Although charges have not been confirmed, the experts’ statement said that some of those imprisoned have been reportedly accused of undermining national security, and of acting against religious and national foundations inside Saudi Arabia.
“Women human rights defenders face compounded stigma, not only because of their work,” added the statement, “but also because of discrimination on gender grounds.”
While noting that Saudi Arabia has won acclaim for its recent programme of modernization under Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the experts said that “these arrests portray a contradictory stance in policy regarding women’s rights.”
“We reiterate our long-time concern over others detained in Saudi Arabia on the basis of their activism and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression as well as their right to freedom of association,” the experts stated, urging the Government to improve its human rights record, “especially with regards to women’s rights.”
“The first step in demonstrating such commitment is to free the human rights defenders who remain in prison solely as a result of working to advance the enjoyment of rights for all,” the experts concluded.
25 May 2018
The driving ban and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia
Women and girls face entrenched discrimination in law and practice in Saudi Arabia. The ban on driving is only one example of the many areas of life where women in Saudi Arabia have their human rights denied. Women are still unable to travel, engage in paid work or higher education, or marry without the permission of a male guardian.
Women in Saudi Arabia have publicly campaigned to lift the ban on them driving since 1990, when around 40 women drove their cars down a main street in Riyadh, the capital. They were stopped by police and a number of them were suspended from work.
Since then, these protests have been sustained. In 2007, campaigners sent a petition to the late King Abdullah, while the following year campaigner Wajeha al-Huwaider filmed herself driving and posted the video on YouTube to mark International Women''s Day.
Saudi women again used YouTube to post videos of themselves behind the wheel to protest against the ban in 2011. Some were arrested and others were forced to sign pledges to desist from driving. At least one woman was tried and sentenced to 10 lashes.
In 2013, women’s rights activists launched a similar initiative in an attempt to overturn the ban on 26 October 2013. One of the activists, Loujain al-Hathloul, officially announced the launch of the campaign in a video posted online. Soon after the announcement, some of the women activists received repeated threats from the authorities to pressure them to stop the campaign. On 24 October, the Ministry of Interior said that it would respond “firmly and with force” should the campaign take place, and on 25 October, the campaign’s website was hacked.
Despite the threats and the intimidation, scores of women filmed themselves as they drove their cars and posted the videos online. Some were arrested, most of whom were released after a short period of time.
Following last year''s royal decree to lift the driving ban, women who had campaigned against the ban reported receiving telephone calls warning them against publicly commenting on the news.
This latest crackdown on women’s rights activists, which has seen at least five activists detained in the past week, comes despite Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman presenting himself as a ''reformer''.
His international public relations campaign contrasts sharply with an intensifying crackdown on dissenting voices, including those campaigning for equal rights for women.
On 19 May, the Saudi Arabian authorities and government-aligned media launched a public smear campaign to try to discredit five prominent detained women’s rights defenders as “traitors” following their arrest.
Official statements in state media accused the activists and other individuals of forming a “cell” and posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric”.
The names of the three prominent female and two male human rights defenders have not been publicly announced by state media, but local state-affiliated media outlets revealed their names the following day in a chilling smear campaign, labelling them as "traitors". Among them is Loujain al-Hathloul, the well known campaigner against the ban on women drivers.
Al-Hathloul has been the victim of long-term persecution. She was detained for 73 days after she famously defied the ban by trying to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates on 30 November 2014. Security officers in al-Batha, a border city in eastern Saudi Arabia, confiscated her passport and forced her to stay overnight in her car.
Al-Hathloul filmed her attempt to cross the border, with a YouTube video of her experiences viewed hundreds of thousands of times. She also documented her experience on Twitter, where her name trended internationally.
She went on to stand for election in November 2015, the first time women were allowed to vote and stand in elections in the country’s consultative Shura Council. Despite being recognized as a candidate, her name was never added to the ballot. She was arrested again in June 2017 and denied access to lawyers and her family. She was eventually released four days later. The conditions of her release remained unknown.
Others imprisoned this month include Iman al-Nafjan, a human rights defender and blogger; Aziza al-Yousef, a fellow campaigner for the right to drive; Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, a lawyer and women''s rights advocate and youth activist Mohammad al-Rabea.
The ban on women driving is due to be lifted in June with licences being issued from 24 June. Amnesty International has welcomed the move as a "long overdue small step in the right direction". Amnesty international is also calling for an end to all forms of discrimination against women, including the guardianship system.

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