Archive for September, 2006

Abuse of Older Women: Part 2

Posted in elderly abuse, feminism, gender violence, HIV, rape, sati, widow cleansing on September 22, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”:

“Deadly traditions

All over the world, women live longer than their partners. Some forms of violence against older women are based on cultural practices that specifically target widows, who are often regarded as insignificant without their husbands. While widows of all ages are subjected to mistreatment, older widows can be particularly vulnerable when their age lowers their status in the community and makes caring for themselves more difficult.

In many countries, including Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Ethiopia, India, Lithuania, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa and Sudan, over half of the women over age 60 are widowed. In 15 out of 16 countries listed in a 2002 report on the state of the world’s older people, between 5 percent and 25 percent of men over age 60 are widowers, whereas 35 percent to 65 percent of women over age 60 in the same countries are widowed, a huge discrepancy. The same is reflected throughout Asia: More than 50 percent of older women and only 13 percent of older men are widowed. The sati tradition in India, where women immolate themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres, dates back thousands of years. Early accounts describe tens of thousands of widow queens practicing group sati after the death of their king, while others recount individual acts of sati. Even though the custom was abolished officially in 1829, rare but reported incidents continue, and many shrines still exist to honour thousands of these widows.

There are different explanations for the motivation behind the custom, ranging from a widow’s desire to join her husband in the afterlife – since traditional Indian culture dictates that a woman without a man is incomplete – to her relatives’ desire to preserve family inheritance, as property is divided amongst male heirs after a widow has died. Recent reports suggest that not all widows who follow the tradition do so willingly: In 2002, a 65-year-old widow from Madhya Pradesh died from immolation on her husbands’ funeral pyre. Authorities suspected that the woman, who had separated from her husband, did not commit sati of her own free will because she “did not have good relations with her husband” and “the grown-up sons did not make any attempt to discourage their mother from sitting on their father’s pyre.

Today, in parts of India where popular sati shrines exist, communities may encourage widows to follow the practice, as they stand to earn money from donations by visitors to the shrines. Many people in India, however, are speaking out against the tradition. According to one activist, regardless of whether the motivation for a widow to commit sati is forced or voluntary, “no virtuosity of semantics can justify or condone such an act of nihilism. … It is totally unacceptable to distinguish between forced sati as being criminal and voluntary sati as being cultural tradition. There never was and never can be a cultural tradition that sanctifies the death of a human being.

The tradition of wife inheritance in parts of Africa is rationalized by some as being essential to keeping widows integrated in their communities. In many countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, a widow becomes the property of another man from her village, usually a brother or close male relative of her late husband. It has been argued that the custom benefits widows by offering them security, but because the practice is obligatory, it should be considered a form of gender-based discrimination that results in sexual abuse.

A deadly implication of wife inheritance is the degree to which the custom can transmit HIV. A widow who is HIV-negative faces the risk of contracting the virus from the man who inherits her. In other cases, a widow who has contracted HIV from her late husband – who may have died from an AIDS-related illness – will transmit the disease to her inheritor when she is forced to have sex with him. In the context of polygynous practices, this can set off a chain of events in which the man transmits the virus to his other wives, who may in turn infect others if they are widowed and inherited, and so on.

Notably, in Western Kenya, the tradition of wife inheritance is practiced by a number of communities – which not coincidentally also have the highest rate of HIV infection in the country. In 2000, the HIV-prevalence rate in Nyanza province, for example, was 22 percent, compared to the national HIV-infection rate, which was 13 percent. Despite the risks, the tradition of wife inheritance continues because most widows have no alternative. If they refuse, they risk rejection by their communities.

Widow cleansing is another custom that denies women their basic rights and increases their risk of HIV infection. According to the practice, a woman is required to have sex with a village cleanser after her husband dies in order to be reaccepted into her community. The tradition exists in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Ivory Coast, Congo and Nigeria, among other countries. Widow cleansing “dates back centuries and is rooted in the belief that a woman is haunted by spirits after her husband dies. She is also thought to be unholy and “disturbed” if she is unarried and abstains from sex.” Another traditional belief holds that a widow who has not been cleansed can cause the whole community to be haunted. In many instances a widow must undergo the ritual before she can be inherited.

A widow cleanser in Malawi explained that the “tradition dictates that he sleep with the widow, then with each of his own wives, and then again with the widow, all in one night.” He admitted that he never uses condoms and acknowledged that he may be infecting hundreds of women, or even himself. A Kenyan widow cleanser expressed equal disregard for condom use. He said that the widows “wouldn’t really be cleanses if the condom was there.”

Even women who are aware of the risk of HIV infection may submit to cleansing rituals because of community pressure. One woman from Malawi described her feelings of resignation and shame: “I was hiding my private parts. … You want to have a liking for a man to have sex, not to have someone force you. But I had no choice, knowing the whole village was against me.”
Another Malawian woman, Paulina Bubala, who is now the leader of a community group for people living with HIV/AIDS, first participated in an alternative rite but was ultimately forced to undergo a widow-cleansing ritual. For the first step of the cleansing rite, Paulina and her co-wife “covered themselves in mud for three days. Then they each bathed, stripped naked with their dead husband’s nephew and rubbed their bodies against his. Weeks later, the village headman told them this cleansing ritual would not suffice. Even the stools they sat on would be considered unclean, he warned, unless they had sex with the nephew. “We felt humiliated,” she said, “but there was nothing we could do to resist, because we wanted to be clean in the land of the headman.”

Witchcraft accusations also result in violence against older women in some African countries. In Tanzania, an estimated 500 older women are murdered each year because of witchcraft claims. In Mozambique, more than 90 older women were victims of violence in one month, the majority a result of witchcraft allegations. When communities cannot find logical explanations for events, “such as a death or crop failure,” they may accuse older women in their village of witchcraft.

Such accusations might be used to justify driving an older woman from her home, stealing her possessions or killing her for her property. Ntombama Mlalazi, a 62-year-old widow, was accused of being a witch in her village in Zimbabwe and ordered to submit to an exorcism by her local chief. “People were dying, and tsikamutanda [witch hunters] said I was responsible. They made me crouch over a bucket with boiling water and covered me with a blanket. When I cried out the the steam was hurting me I could hear the tsikamutanda saying the demon was leaving me.”

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Abuse of Older Women

Posted in elderly abuse, feminism, gender violence, rape on September 19, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

“Taboo and inconceivable

There has been slow but increasing awareness of elderly abuse over the past 20 years. As challenging as it is for the population at large to acknowledge, it is even harder for older people to admit that they have been victimized. As a result, statistical evidence on the extent of elderly abuse is scarce.

A 2002 World Health Organization (WHO) study on the abuse of older adults in Germany, France, Sweden, Thailand, Kenya and Columbia reinforced “how difficult elder abuse is for some older adults to discuss.” Even when research participants do acknowledge sexual abuse, they tend to deny its extent or impact. Older people are often reluctant to reveal incidents of sexual violence because discussion of any sexual activity is often deemed inappropriate, “rendering the disclosure of abusive situations even more taboo and inconceivable.”

The global proportion of people aged 60 years and older is projected to double between 2000 and 2050 from 10 percent to 21 percent. Because women make up the majority of older adults in almost all countries around the world – and because the proportion of women to men increases with age – it is important to understand the forms of violence against older women and the cultural traditions that place them in peril.

Older women are more vulnerable to abuse than older men and are burdened with a lifetime of experiences and beliefs that may increase their susceptibility. What holds true in youth remains so in age: In most instances, “Those who are victims are female; those who abuse are male.” Violence and abuse against older women can be sexual, physical or psychological and also can include material or financial abuse and neglect. It can occur in the home, in institutions or as a result of harmful cultural practices that specifically target older women.

Abuse in the home

Researchers have identified domestic violence as the most common form of abuse against elderly females, and many women who suffer at the hands of their partners when they are young continue to be abused in their old age. In a South Korean study 21.5 percent of elderly married couples admitted to experiencing intimate-partner violence. The research showed that older men with a history of domestic violence abused their wives throughout their relationships. In some cases, the abuse did not begin until later in the marriage, when a husband’s frustrations with domestic changes that accompany older age, such as retirement, caused him to act out physically against his wife. In a 2003 study in the United States, 38 older women between 55 years and 90 years of age discussed their experiences with domestic violence. Many of the women admitted that they had stayed in violent relationships because societal expectations at the time of their marriage required them to “submit to the physical and sexual wishes of their husbands.”

Older women without intimate partners may be particularly vulnerable to abuse by other family members. Sons, for example have been implicated as perpetrators of sexual violence against their mothers. In research in the Cape Flats township in South Africa, “Older people identified sexual abuse as the most common form of violence, including adult sons forcing their mothers to have sex with them.” One older woman explained the indignity of such abuse:

“When you are a mother…left behind with children who are boys, there is one amongst your children … he wants to sleep with you and wants that you must not talk about it … You are afraid because you do not have the strength. He does that thing as he pleases.”

In a British study, more than half of the older women who had been sexually assaulted were abused by their adult sons, and most of the abuse was vaginal rape. One theory suggests that adult sons who sexually assault their elderly mothers are assuming the roles of their abusive fathers. Another reason for this kind of abuse is the misconception in some communities that sex with older people can cur HIV/AIDS, a counterpart to the myth of the “virgin cure”.

Although studies have shown that sexual abuse at home usually is perpetrated by a relative, it also can be inflicted by unrelated domestic caregivers or by random assailants. While many people think that rape is a “sexually motivated crime” that affects only younger women, it is also, in fact, perpetrated against older women, whose perceived or actual vulnerability makes them likely victims. In one case in the United States, a 19-year-old male broke into the apartment of a 76-year-old women, “ripped off her clothing, raped her vaginally, then anally, and finally assaulted her vaginally with an umbrella lying nearby. He used a piece of glass from the broken window to cut her throat.” In another case, a 20-year-old offender assaulted and murdered a 77-year-old woman. He “repeatedly stabbed her in the face, chest, and vagina with a butcher knife.”

In Eastern Europe and Russia, older women are becoming more frequent targets for criminal attacks. In the Caribbean, where many older women have been sexually abused, one woman expressed her concern about being raped by youth gangs: “I am afraid to go out alone, even on the beach or for a little walk.” Latin America has been identified as a region with particular social conditions that exacerbate violence against the elderly, including civil war, crime and drug-related violence. In Zimbabwe, 30 percent of the respondents to a study on violence against the elderly said that the threat of being attacked was severe enough to prevent them from participating in their own communities.

Abuse in institutional settings

While institutions such as adult-care facilities and hospitals can provide elderly people with support and security, residents are still at risk of sexual abuse by staff, other residents and visitors. One study of sexual crimes against the elderly in the state of Virginia in the United States revealed that 71 percent of assaults against older people took place in nursing homes. Many incidents are difficult to investigate, however, because the age and health of the victim and/or perpetrator may compromise his or her ability to recollect important details of the assault.

There are no national or cross-national studies that focus specifically on sexual abuse in institutions, but the cases that are reported illustrate the types of crimes that are being perpetrated. For example, an 84-year-old male resident of a nursing home in the United States committed numerous abuses: “One aide saw him rubbing an elderly woman through her adult diaper, another caught him on top of a resident, her pajamas pushed up around her neck. He was found in one woman’s room as she cowered behind a chair, naked.” In another case, also in the United States, police found an elderly woman who had run away from her nursing home wandering near a major highway. She did not want to return: “I want to die. Please hit me with your car,” she begged. Several weeks later a nursing assistant walked into the woman’s room and found a frequent male visitor with his hands between the woman’s legs.”

While the number of older adults living in care facilities is low – between 4 percent and 7 percent in developed countries, between 1 percent and 4 percent in Latin America and even lower in other developing regions – lack of regulation or enforcement of rules at hospitals and nursing homes can create environments that are unsafe for older females. In developing countries, elderly patients are frequently mistreated in institutions, many of which lack the necessary structural capacity and personnel. In Kenya, for example, the head of one hospital admitted, “Older people are a big headache and a waste of scarce resources. The biggest favour you could do to me as an older people’s organization is to get them out of my hospital.”

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Sex Trafficking: Part 2

Posted in child abuse, child prostitution, feminism, gender violence, mail-order brides, Prostitution & Trafficking, rape, sex trafficking, slavery on September 18, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”:

“Health risks and consequences

As each trafficking incident unfolds, the victim experiences threats to her physical and mental health. These risks have been catalogued in detail in a multi-country study of trafficking covering Albania, Italy, the Netherlands, Thailand and the United Kingdom. From the pre-departure stage, to the travel, transit and destination stages, through to detention, deportation and integration or return and reintegration, women and girls may experience repeated physical, sexual and psychological abuse or torture, including forced or coerced use of drugs and alcohol, lack of adequate food, withholding of medical treatment, forced unprotected sex, threats or intimidation of their loved ones, denial or privacy, frequent relocation, public discrimination and social exclusion.

Acute and chronic physical and mental health problems are the frequent outcome. Beatings and/or rape initially may be used by traffickers to establish their authority, instill fear and discourage any attempts to escape. Victims’ failure to comply with traffickers’ demands may result in further violence. Physical and sexual assault also occur in encounters with clients. Because many young women and girls who are trafficked for prostitution are unlikely to be able to negotiate safer sex, they are also highly vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. In all forms of prostitution, the links to HIV vulnerability are high, especially when clients are violent and/or refuse to use condoms. In Nepal, HIV prevalence among prostitutes is estimated at 20 percent. In Cambodia, that figure climbs to 29 percent, and in Zambia to 31 percent. In South Africa, as many as 70 percent of prostitutes are infected with HIV.

Other potential consequences of the abuse and torture suffered by trafficked women and girls include forced and/or unsafe abortions, malnutrition, tuberculosis, hepatitis, depression, self-harm, addiction and, ultimately, death. “Neary” and “Svetlana” are among the incalculable number of women for whom trafficking proved fatal.

“Neary” grew up in Cambodia. Her parents died when she was a child, and – in an effort to give her a better life – her sister married her off when she was 17. Three months into the marriage, Neary went to a fishing village with her husband, who rented a room in what she thought was a guest house. But when she woke the next morning, her husband was gone. The owner of the house told her that she had been sold by her husband for $300 and that she was actually in a brothel. For five years, Neary was raped by five to seven men every day. In addition to brutal physical abuse, Neary was infected with HIV. The brothel owner threw her out when she became sick, and she eventually found her way to a local shelter. She died of HIV/AIDS at the age of 23.”

“Svetlana” was a young Belarusian looking for a job in Minskland when she met some Turksih men who promised her a well-paying job in Istanbul. Once Svetlana crossed the border, the men confiscated her passport, took away her money and imprisoned her. Svetlana and another foreign woman were sent to the apartment of two businessmen and forced into prostitution. In an attempt to escape, Svetlana jumped out of a window and fell six stories to the street below. According to Turkish court documents, the customers called the traffickers instead of taking her to a hospital. Svetlana died as a result of her injuries, and her body lay unclaimed in the morgue for two weeks until Turkish authorities learned her identity and sent her body to Belarus.

The supply side of the sex-trafficking equation

Some victims of sex-trafficking are simply abducted or relocated internally or transnational. Many others, however, choose to leave their homes in search of a brighter future. Deceived by traffickers’ promises of the good life, they have no idea that they will be forced into prostitution. Even the few victims who understand and accept that they will be working in the commercial sex industry cannot anticipate they extent to which they will forfeit control over their health and welfare. They may believe they are choosing the best of possible options.

The supply side of the trafficking equation is made up of the conditions that cause individual women and girls to be vulnerable to trafficking. Researchers have described a convergence of “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors for an individual woman or girl might include domestic violence, child sexual abuse, single parenthood or inducement by impoverished parents or criminal husbands. At the broader societal level, lack of education and employment opportunities, economic crises or war. HIV/AIDS is another push factor, to the extent that the pandemic is leaving an increasing number of the world’s children orphaned and vulnerable. Pull factors might include the hope of a higher standard of living, shifting and/or increased migratory flows and , for many women and girls, “the timing and apparent quality of the offer to depart.”

According to one expert, “Traffickers are extremely clever and full of a lot of common sense.” In other words, they choose their targets carefully. The particular vulnerabilities of women and girls that make them the preferred mark of traffickers are fundamentally linked to gender-based discrimination, oppression and violence. Where women have little power, rights or opportunities, they are at greater risk of being trafficked. As such, trafficking is as much a product of violence against women and girls as it is a source. In a remote village in Nepal, for example, girls traditionally are afforded very few rights within their families or society. Their disempowerment is a boon for those who control their fate:

“In Chautara, a Tamang village north of the Kathmandu Valley, Bhim Tamamang is a relatively wealthy man. His cottage is roofed with tin, and his son’s motorcycle is parked outside, next to the buffalo shed. Although he has no electricity, a television stands in the corner of the room, covered in cloth. “We will have electricity here in a few months,” he says. Bhim’s prosperity is a result of his fortune to have fathered four daughters. Three are working in the brothels in Mumbai. The fourht, age 12, will go next year. “Gurung and Magar families send their sons to the army. Their sons send money home. Why shouldn’t we send our daughters to help us?”

The demand side of the sex-trafficking equation

For many individuals operating at the local level, such as Bhim Tamang, poverty alleviation is a driving force for engaging in trafficking. In countries including India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal and Thailand, girls may be sold into prostitution to pay off money loaned to their parents. Further along the chain of exploiters, all the way up to the organized-crime networks, commercial profit is the primary incentive in the escalation of human traffic around the world. Established routes used by drugs and weapons racketeers, especially in southeastern Europe, facilitate the illegal trade in humans. Many of these routes pass through “transition countries”. In these countries, which often are marked by war or steep economic decline, the forced sex industry is 10 times for lucrative for exploiters that other forms of forced labour.

Regardless of the elements of poverty, greed and organized crime, no trafficker would be successful without market demand. The sex industry throughout the world is the most recognized source of demand for the trafficking of women and girls. In some settings, sex tourism further feeds the incentive for trafficking.

It is not just the sex industry itself, however, that promotes sex trafficking. Racial and social discrimination within the sex industry figure prominently in the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. According to one expert, “Research shows that historically and cross-culturally, a large percentage of clients seek prostitutes whose racial, ethnic, caste or national identities are different from their own. Thus we find that women and children in prostitution serving local demand are often migrants, and that men’s prostitute use increases when they are abroad.”

By importing and exploiting foreign prostitutes, traffickers are better able to meet demand criteria, and at reduced cost. Hence, a sign outside of a sex club in Hong Kong reads: “Young fresh Hong Kong girls, White, clean, Malaysian girls; Beijing women; Luxurious ghost girls from Russia.” Mitko, a pimp working in Bulgaria promises customers, “Ten minutes and I can get you a girl – any girl – blond, brown, black or white.”

Another perceived attraction of a trafficked woman or girl is her powerlessness. She is significantly less likely to have authority in the sex transaction than a voluntary commerical sex worker who is legally or otherwise empowered to exercise some measure of control over her working conditions. If she is young, the added promise of virginity attracts men seeking to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. Conversely, clients who already have sexually transmitted infections may believe, according to the myth of the “virgin cure”, that sex with a virgin will heal the disease. In a study conducted in 2003 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), three-quarters of the 185 clients surveyed expressed a preference for prostitutes under the age of 25, and 22 percent preferred those 18 years of age or under. For many of these clients, this predilection is related to the fact that younger women and girls will be more docile in the sex transaction.

Yet another source of demand for trafficking is men seeking brides, domestic workers or sex slaves. While consensually arranged marriages do not fall within the trafficking rubric, the conditions in which a young bride may find herself once she has entered the marriage may amount to trafficking. The mail-order bride industry has come under scrutiny by trafficking experts for this very reason. The largely unregulated trade of mail-order brides follows traditional trafficking patterns. Brides from impoverished countries within the former Soviet Union, Asia and Latin America are sent to paying clients in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. In the most extreme scenario, according to one expert, a mail-order bride client “may go so far as to undertake serial sponsorships or immigrant women to supply new recruits for prostitution rings. In this case, he will hold the bride in debt bondage because he paid for her to immigrate to North America, and then force her to participate in slavery-like practices in order to obtain her freedom.”

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Elizabeth’s Story

Posted in domestic violence, feminism, gender violence, intimate partner violence on September 17, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

“Elizabeth” is 17 and pregnant with her second child. She and her husband live with Elizabeth’s mother and have been married for eight months. Her husband hits her when he is drunk, and the beatings usually coincide with the arrival of his monthly paycheck. She is worried that he will kill her someday — he almost did the last time he attacked her.

“I came home from work, and my husband was drunk. Later that evening, he started to insult me. He hit me, and I asked him to respect my mother’s home. My husband said he didn’t care and continued to hit me — on my arms, not my face. Then he grabbed my shirt and punched me twice. I put his clothes in a box, left them outside, and told him he had to leave.

“He stabbed me and ran away. The neighbours caught him — the guy who did almost got stabbed as well. My mother was shouting, ‘He killed my daughter!’ There was a lot of blood — he had perforated my intestines and I had to hold my hand on the wound. When I walked out of the house, I fainted. They brought me to hospital in a pickup truck. I stayed in hospital for a week, and I lost an ovary. My husband knew that I was pregnant when he attacked me.

“I want the police to keep him under arrest for a while. There is going to be a trial. I feel threatened because if he didn’t kill me this time he will kill me the next time. I am worried he will come after the baby and me. We women are alone. There is no one to protect us.”

Elizabeth’s mother witnessed the attack, “Some of us women take these men to the police station. But then the men’s families try to convince us to stop the process.”

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Female Genital Mutilation

Posted in child abuse, female genital mutilation, feminism, gender violence, politics on September 15, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

“Defining FGM

Synonymously identified as female genital cutting or female genital circumcision, “Female genital mutilation” broadly encompasses “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.” Although many variations in procedures as well as terminology exist within and across the cultures where FGM is practiced, a standardized international classification for FGM was collaboratively developed in 1995 by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Fund for the Populations Assistance (UNFPA).

The first method within the classification, commonly referred to as “clitoridectomy”, involves holding the clitoris of a girl child between thumb and index finger, pulling it out and then partially or fully amputating it with a swift stroke of a razor, knife or other inner surface of the outer lips of the vagina (labia majora) is also cut. The wound is then fused together with thorns, dung or other poultices, or stitches – a process that may be reinforced by tying together the girl’s legs for a period of up to six weeks. The resulting scar tissue typically covers the urethra and part or most of the vagina. A small hole is retained for the discharge of urine and menstrual blood. A fourth, “unclassified” type of FGM uncludes a wide range of harmful practices, from piercing or incising the clitoris to burning, scraping or introducing corrosive substances into the vagina.

While it is estimated that 85 percent of all FGM practices worldwide fall within the first two types, approximately 80 to 90 percent of girls in Dijibouti, Somalia and Sudan, as well as small percentages of girls in Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria and Tanzania undergo infibulation.

International debate regarding the appropriate terminology to describe FGM is almost as controversial as the practice itself. All official United Nations documents currently use the term “mutilation” to emphasize its medically gratuitous and severe nature. Many working on the ground, however, maintain that the term “cutting” is a more value-neutral and therefore respectful articulation of a practice to which many cultures and individuals remain committed. Others working both internationally and locally have used the term “circumcision”. While still popular idiomatically, the use of this term is diminishing in international discourse because its association to male circumcision (removing the foreskin of the penis) minim sizes the nature and effects of most types of genital cutting performed on women. Comparable genital “circumcision” for men would involve the partial or complete removal of the penis, in addition to the foreskin.

Although male circumcision is considered by some advocates to b a fundamental violation of a boy’s right to bodily integrity, its health impacts are currently the subject of heated discussion. Those opposed to male circumcision argue that it has negative impacts on men’s health and sexuality. Evidence also suggests that when performed in unhygienic settings male circumcision can lead to infections, injuries and even death. A recent study conducted in South Africa, however, concluded that circumcision may have positive effects for males in terms of reducing their risk of contracting HIV.

For females, the evidence is not similarly equivocal. Even the most minimal form of FGM can affect a girl’s normal sexual function and put her at risk of a wide spectrum of negative health consequences.

The health effects of FGM

The immediate physical effects of FGM may include severe pain, shock and hemorrhaging. There is also high risk of local and systemic infections, including abscesses, ulcers, delayed healing, septicaemia, tetanus and gangrene. Long-term physical complications may include urine retention and associated urinary-tract infections, obstruction of menses and related reproductive-tract infections, infertility, painful intercourse and prolonged and obstructed labor. FGM also can facilitate the transmission of HIV, especially if infected infants and girls are cut in group ceremonies were circumcisers use the same instrument on all the initiates. Even after it has healed, the scarred or dry vulva of an excised or infibulated woman can be torn easily during sexual intercourse, increasing the likelihood of HIV transmission by an infected partner.

In addition to a host of physical effects, the psychological terror of FGM may also have a lasting impact, including a sense for some girls of no longer having control over their bodies – especially if they are ambushed and forced to submit to the procedure. One young girl from Burkina Faso recalled what she initially thought was a casual visit to a relative’s house:

“They asked us to go around for sweets and eggs. When we arrived, three women caught me, bundled me in to the toilet, pinned me down and undressed me. … I saw the knife and knew what was going to happen. I cried out, but I couldn’t find the words to speak.”

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Sex Trafficking in Women and Girls

Posted in child abuse, child prostitution, child rape, feminism, gender violence, politics, Prostitution & Trafficking, slavery on September 13, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

“Defining trafficking

In November 2000 the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, was added to the United Nations Conventions against Transnational Organized Crime. The protocol offers the most universally acknowledged definition of trafficking:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt or persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Involuntary servitude is the essential feature of human trafficking. For this reason, trafficking is often synonymously referred to as “modern-day slavery”. Men, women, boys, and girls are bought and sold – sometimes many times over – to work in brothels and strip clubs, in sweatshops, in mines, on plantations, at construction sites, as beggars, brick makers, domestic help, circus performers and even camel jockeys. Some of them are held in debt bondage and expected to pay off a balance due to win their freedom. Other have no debt, but as a result of threat or force live as virtual prisoners.

Closely linked to money laundering, drug trafficking, document forgery and human smuggling, trafficking in persons generates an estimated US $9.5 billion in annual revenue, much of which goes into the coffers of organized-crime networks. Every country in the world is implicated in this slave trade, whether as a point of origin, transit or destination.

Since 2000 the United States Department of State has issued the world’s most comprehensive annual report on trafficking. The latest edition calculates that 600,000 to 800,000 human beings are trafficked across international borders each year – and these figures do not account for those who are trafficked “internally”, from one destination to another within their own countries or communities. The report further estimates that 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls, and most of them are trafficked into the commercial sex industry. According to the International Labour Organization, this industry “has become highly diversified and global in recent years.”

Although exact numbers are difficult to learn, available estimates give some indication of the scope of the problem. Approximately 100,000 Albanian women and girls are thought to have been sold into the sex trade in neighboring Balkan countries and Western Europe. Between 1990 and 1997, 200,000 Bangledeshi women were believed to have been trafficked. Some 200,000 Nepali girls under the age of 14 may be working as sex slaves in India. An estimated 600,000 Thai children have been sold into prostitution. Israeli police speculate that 99 percent of women working as prostitutes in Israel are victims of trafficking. In Belgium, between 10 percent and 15 percent of known foreign prostitutes are thought to have been trafficked from abroad. As many as 130,000 women enter Japan on entertainer visas every years, but only about 10 percent of them actually perform in legitimate venues. The rest – many of whom are believed to have been trafficked – are most likely working in sex clubs or as prostitutes. The Middle East, Northern and Latin America, and Africa are also points of origin, transit and/or destination. As with other forms of trafficking, no region in the world appears to be free from the trade of women and girls for sex.

The hazardous journey

Beyond the common denominator of exploitation, every women’s or girl’s trafficking experience is unique. In Albania, where 13-year-old “Alma” is living with her family in a camp for Kosovar refugees, she is convinced by her boyfriend of two weeks to run away from Italy. After they arrive, he forces her into prostitution and beats her repeatedly whenever she refuses. In Nigeria, just before “Betty” is sent to Europe, her sex trafficker has a voodoo priest convince her that her soul will be held captive until she has paid back her debt to the trafficker – possibly as high as $50,000. In Nepal, a familiar older women in the community – perhaps one who was sent to an Indian brothel years earlier and has now returned as a “matchmaker” – approaches the house of “Kamala” and convinces her parents of the good life their daughter will have in Mumbai, India. As she reassures them about how much money Kamala will send home, she is liable to forego discussing the considerable dispensations to herself, the transport organizers and escorts, and the brothel owner.

In Brazil, “Anita” is befriended by an older man and offered a promising job in a big city, far away from the remote rural community where she lives with her impoverished family. She later discovers that her would-be employer has sold her into prostitution. “Karin”, a single mother of two from Sri Lanka, is transported to Singapore by a man who agrees to find her a witnessing job. Shortly after her arrival, she is taken to an open market, where she and other women – from Indonesia, Thailand, India and China – are inspected and purchased by men from Pakistan, India, China, Indonesia and Africa.”

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Child Marriage: Part 2

Posted in child abuse, child marriage, child rape, domestic violence, gender violence, politics on September 12, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”:

“The Legal Context

Despite national and international law pertaining to minimum age and consent in marriage, many young girls around the world are still at risk. In 15 countries, the legal age of marriage is 16. Even when legal protections against child marriage do exist, they may be ambiguous, allow for dual existence of customary and civil law and have limited enforcement mechanisms. Some legal provisions, for example, may allow traditional law to override statutory law, and therefore restrictions against early marriage in state law may not apply to customary marriages.

Moreover, in countries “where there is a discrepancy between the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls, it is consistently lower for girls.” According to CEDAW, these discrepancies “assume incorrectly that women have a different rate of intellectual development from men, or that their stage of physical and intellectual development at marriage is immaterial.” The national laws of Cameroon, Jordan, Morocco, Uganda and Yemen do not specifically accord women the right to consent before marriage. Among the “vast majority” of countries around the world that have codified a women’s equal right to choose a marriage partner, legal provisions are often “merely symbolic” – and as a result unenforced or subject to wide exceptions.

Legislative provisions in many countries allow for child marriage with parental consent, which in the context of traditional societies does little to preserve the rights of girl children. In Algeria, Chad, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Libya, Romania and Uruguay, the law allows a perpetrator of rape – including rape of a minor – to be pardoned of his crime if he marries his victim. In the case of a young victim, stigma, shame, coercion and ignorance of the law, along with a multitude of other factors, may prevent her from exercising her legal right to refuse such a marriage. In Ethiopia, illegal “abduction marriages”, where men kidnap young girls and consummate the marriage with rape, remain prevalent in some rural settings. In a study conducted among 227 Ethiopian wives, 60 percent said they had been abducted before age 15, and 93 percent before age 20.

The failure to prioritize women’s and girl’s rights

Child marriage predominates in traditional societies around the world, where the desires and needs of parents and community may override considerations for the individual development and wellbeing of a girl child. The patriarchal values buttressing these cultures further erode any rights that might otherwise be afforded a young girl. The fact that marrying young maximizes a female’s reproductive lifespan and thus ensures large families justifies the custom of child marriage and ignores the health impact of such a tradition on young wives.

The prevalence of child marriage also may be linked to the economics of poverty. Young girls in certain communities in Africa will generate more bride price because as virgins they are less likely to have HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Conversely, African parents in resource-poor settings who are worried about not being able to find men who can afford a high bride price may prevent a daughter from completing schooling for fear that an education will increase her cost. Once a girl has left school, she is much more likely to get married. In the Asian societies where dowry customs dominate, girls may be married off early because dowry doubles once a girl matures. In Bangladesh, for example, dowry doubles once a girl reaches the age of 15, because she is considered less “marriageable”.

Other motives for child marriage include controlling a young girl’s sexuality and curbing any manifestations of independence. Committing a pubescent or even prepubescent girl to marriage reduces the likelihood of premarital liaisons, which is important when the sexual purity of girls and women is seen as a community prerogative and the basis of family and tribal honour. In societies where subservience to husbands is requisite in marriage, young brides offer the additional benefit of being easier to mould into deferential wives.

Child marriage and gender-based violence

Child marriage is a form of gender-based violence that leads to a range of other forms of violence. Research suggests, for example, that sexual assault may be more common among wives who marry young, due at least in part to the power inequities between older husbands and younger wives. Indian girls from Calcutta who married early reported that their husbands had forced them to have intercourse before they had started menstruating. Despite protestations of pain and lack of desire, 80 percent of these girls said that their husbands continue to force them to have sexual relations.

Girls who marry early may also be at greater risk of physical violence at the hands of their husbands and in-laws. In Jordan, 26 percent of domestic incidents reported in 2000 were committed against wives who were under age 18. As with sexual violence, this increased risk may be associated with age and power differentials. Lack of social networks and economic assets, as well as low self-esteem, make child brides less likely to leave abusive husbands and more likely to tolerate the abuse. In studies in Benin, India and Turkey, for example, 62 percent to 67 percent of young wives – as opposed to 36 percent and 42 percent of older wives – believed that their husbands were justified in using physical violence against them.

Girls who try to escape early or abusive marriages risk retribution from their husbands as well as their natal families, including further abuse, imprisonment or even death. The Commission on the Status of Women in Pakistan, where the honour killings are often linked to domestic violence, reported in 1989 that “men are constantly fighting to retrieve their women because they have run away.” Data from prisons in Afghanistan’s capital city in Kabul in 2004 indicated that the majority of female inmates had been married before age 16, and that incarceration was highly correlated to child marriage. “Zabia” is one such case:

“When [Zabia] was 10 years old her parents sold her in marriage to a 50-year-old man who was deaf and dumb. She was raped on her wedding night. In the years that followed, [Zabia] ran away to her father’s house some seven or eight times. Every time she returned, her father beat her and held her in chains until her husband came to retrieve her. She finally escaped to the city, where she met a kind woman who took her in. After some time, [Zabia] met a young male relative of the woman, became engaged and married him. She had been happily married for six months and was pregnant when she told her second husband her true history. The second husband, who accepted her past, went to meet [Zabia’s] parents to tell them of her whereabouts and happy marriage and invited them to visit their daughter. Instead, [Zabia’s} parents reported the couple to the police, who imprisoned them for illegal marriage.”

Husbands of young wives are often significantly older, and therefore more likely to die before their wives. While it may seem a reprieve in cases of violent marriages, lack of property or inheritance rights, as well as high rates of illiteracy among young brides, puts those widows at great risk for multiple forms of exploitation. In certain parts of India, a girl whose husband has died may be given in nata to a widower in the family. Although officially designated his wife, she may become “the common property of all the men in the family.” In parts of Africa, a widow is remarried, according to the practice of levirate, to a brother of her deceased husband. Any resulting children are given the name of the deceased husband, thus ensuring the continuation of his lineage. If a widow refuses to marry her brother-in-law, she not only risks being cast out of his family, but also losing custody of her children and any rights to her husband’s property. Widowed women also can be traded as commodities in dispute negotiations between families or communities – given as a wife, for example, from one family to another to reinstate the honour of an aggrieved man and his clan.

The multiple health risks of child marriage

In addition to the physical dangers associated with domestic violence, child marriage poses many other health risks. Because of the greater permeability of their vaginal tissue and other biological factors like hormone fluctuations, girls are more vulnerable than mature women to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Their age, limited life experience and inferior status also make it more difficult for young wives to negotiate safer sex.

While marriage to girls is considered a protective measure for husbands, it may have the opposite effect on their wives, especially in polygynous societies. In a recent study undertaken in Rwanda and cited in a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report on child marriages, 25 percent of girls who became pregnant at 17 or younger were infected with HIV, even though many reported only having sex with their husbands. The study found that a higher incidence of HIV infection was directly correlated to a younger age of sexual intercourse and first pregnancy. In findings from rural Uganda, girls aged 13 to 19 who were HIV-positive were twice as likely to be married as girls who were HIV-negative. For young wives, “abstinence is not an option – those who try to negotiate condom use commonly face violence and rejection.”

The leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls worldwide is complications from pregnancy and child-bearing. According to public-health experts, for every girl that dies during pregnancy or childbirth, 30 more will suffer injuries, infections and disabilities. And the risks are not limited to the mother: If a girl is under the age of 18 when she gives birth, her baby’s chance of dying in its first year of life is 60 percent higher than that of a baby born to an older mother. Moreover, the extended reproductive span of a girl who is married early puts her and her children at risk due to a greater number of pregnancies and deliveries. According to one study, women who marry before age 19 will have two to four times more children than those who marry after age 25.

The additional burden of obstetric fistula

One of the most physically and psychologically debilitating effects of early child-bearing is fistula, a rupture of tissue that results in an opening between the vagina and the bladder or the rectum, or both, which is reparable only with surgery. Primarily caused by obstructed labour, fistula is closely linked to marriage and child-bearing among girls between 10 and 15 years of age. In one 1995 study in Niger, for example, 88 percent of women with fistula were in this age group when they were married. As will all pregnancy-related injuries, young married girls in resource-poor settings are least likely to get treatment for fistula. With leaking urine and feces, a malodorous girl suffering an untreated fistula is likely to be ostracized by her community and divorced by her husband.

Child marriage is so common in Ethiopia that doctors at the Fistula Hospital, based in the capital city of Addis Ababa, operate on approximately 1,200 girls a year. Those who are of and manage to find transport to the hospital are probably only a small proportion of the young women needing treatment.

An urgent human rights concern

The Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women and Girls, from which much of the information included in this chapter has been drawn, is a network of nongovernmental organizations with international affiliates that shares “a vision of marriage as a sphere in which women and girls have inalienable rights.” The early work of the Forum highlighted the fact that very little is being achieved at either the international or national level to address the global problem of child marriage.

The Forum’s most recent report in 2003 emphasized that there is considerable work to be done to end the practice of child marriage. Much of this effort involves lobbying governments to adopt and enforce laws that both prohibit child marriage and ensure that girls have equal access to education. Just as important, however, is changing the attitude and behavior of community and religious leaders, whose complicity allows child marriage to continue. Finally, the Forum asked for increased support to programs that empower young girls, to help them realize that their futures need not be preordained by customs that deprive them of their rights to mental, social and physical wellbeing.
Agencies such as the United Nations Fund for Population Assistance and UNICEF have started to demand action to end child marriage, while international nongovernmental organizations, including Population Council and the International Center for Research on Women, have pioneered initiatives to research child marriage, raise awareness and inform policy discussion. Despite some of these gains, the magnitude of the problem requires greater effort, not only through prevention, but also through prevention, but also through supporting girls who are already in child marriages. Policy makers, elected officials and community and religious leaders, as well as individuals, all have a critical role in making a difference in the lives of girls and young women.”

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