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As Yemen transitions politically and restructures its constitution, the number one priority should be to protect its citizens—particularly Yemeni girls who are too often subject to child marriage. Traditionally, poor families have married off underage girls in exchange for money, a practice that is not only unethical but also extremely dangerous.

The absence of a legal minimum age for girls to marry endangers the lives of Yemeni females. Without legal protection from instances of rape, systemic inequalities are pervasive. A 2006 UN survey revealed that approximately 14 percent of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 15, and 52 percent are married before the age of 18. Tellingly, these child marriages limit the potential of young girls, entrapping them to a parochial life dominated largely by an authoritative male partner.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, a child bride explained the perils of her situation: “I thought marriage was just a wedding, a party and that was it. I didn’t have any idea that marriage had another meaning.”

“I loved learning,” she said. “Then my family saw the results of my first year of high school and I had failed…(my) pregnancy influenced my health, because my body wasn’t ready for pregnancy at that young age. As a side effect, I was unable to study because of the fatigue of pregnancy. My dream when I was young had been to become a doctor.”

In September, media attention further highlighted the dangers of child marriage when it covered the story of an 8-year-old Yemeni girl who bled to death after being raped by her husband, a man in his 40s. As details spread, international attention and outrage looked to the Yemeni government for immediate action.

Since then, a variety of activists have worked towards reform, but there is still major progress to be made.

Yemen must be proactive in reforming its laws around child marriage, for the fate of its young female population depends on it.

Anna Purcell

Sources: Human Rights Watch, BBC

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On Sept 9th, The Huffington Post reported the death of an 8-year-old girl in the northwest city of Hardh, Yemen. According to Medical Daily, the little girl, Rawan, “bled severely after suffering vaginal tearing following her forced marriage to a 40-year-old man.” Rawan’s death generated outrage among neighboring Kuwaiti officials, but also in Yemen itself.

Indeed, following her death, social media have been exploding with incriminating comments against Raman’s family who allowed her to marry so young, but also against her ‘husband,’ the 40-year-old man who effectively raped her on her wedding night.

Sadly enough, Raman’s story is not an isolated one. In 2010, the death from internal rupture of a 13-year-old in similar circumstances shocked public opinion.

The plague of child marriage is particularly severe in Yemen, where statistics speak for themselves. According to Human Rights Watch, 14 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 and 82 percent before they turn 18. Al Bawaba’s numbers are even more appalling: they estimate that “a quarter of young girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15.”

The World Health Organization’s 2013 report estimates that, if consistent with current levels of child marriage, more than 140 million girls will marry between 2011 and 2020. As of today, more than 14.2 million marriages with underaged girls occur annually; that’s 39,000 child marriages per day. The extent of child marriage is frightening. Girls as young as three years old are sometimes drawn into arranged marriages by their families.

Despite the Yemeni authorities’ efforts to prohibit child marriage, one step forward is often synonymous with two steps backwards in Yemen. For instance, a law setting the minimum marriage age at 17 was enacted in 2009, only to be later repealed because deemed ‘un-Islamic.’

The shocking circumstances surrounding Raman’s death have hopefully sparked the fire needed for change. The international community ought to live up to its commitments to child freedom by preventing other cases like that of Raman from happening.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: New York Daily News, The Huffington Post, Medical Daily, WHO

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Did you know that…

1. An estimated 20-30 million people live in a state of slavery today.

2. 21 million people are in forced labor.

3. On average, each forced laborer generates $13,000. Some can make as much as $67,200.

4. After drug and arms trafficking, human trafficking ranks third as the largest international crime industry. On the whole, the human trafficking industry generates $32 billion each year, with $15.5 billion in industrialized countries alone.

5. In the U.S. alone, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are victims of this illegal trafficking annually.

6. In 46 percent of the cases of human trafficking, the victim personally knew the trafficker. Only 54 percent of all victims had traffickers they did not know.

7. Women and girls represent over 70 percent of all victims, and children account for half of the trafficked population.

8. Each year, 1 million children are exploited by the commercial sex trade.

9. In 2006, “there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions throughout the world. This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted in 2006.”

10. Since Mauritania was the last country to decriminalize slavery in 2007, slavery is now prohibited in every country throughout the world.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: The CNN Freedom Project, Abolition Media

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In South Africa, instances of rape are all too frequent—one in every four male citizens admits to having nonconsensual intercourse. Recently, however, these sexual assaults have taken on a new character: many are now targeted at members of the LGBT community as attempts to ‘cure’ female victims of their homosexuality. This practice—deemed ‘corrective rape’—has led to widespread violence and brutality.

Such incidents are rampant in South Africa, a country known for its progressive social tolerance and high standard of human rights, particularly for minority groups. Most notably, South Africa is the only country in Africa to have legalized same sex marriages. However, despite prodigious governmental strides towards equality, the country has witnessed a rising amount of attacks against homosexuals, mostly in the brutal form of “corrective rape.”

The most widely recognized case of ‘corrective rape’ occurred in 2011, in an attack against Eudy Simelane, a former football star on South Africa’s Banyana Banyana national team. On April 28, 2011, Simelane was found in a park on the outskirts of Johannesburg, brutally beaten, having been gang-raped, stabbed 25 times, and left half-naked to die. Despite the perpetrators’ conviction, Simelane’s case remains problematic. During the sentencing, the judge refused to recognize sexuality as an aggravating factor in the attack.

Eudy Simelane’s ‘corrective rape’ was anomalous in the amount of international attention it received. A multitude of other victims live every day in fear and silence; the potential of an attack is a constant, haunting reality. Such conditions are not the conditions of equality, but rather of social oppression and hate.

By not recognizing the targeted manner of these ‘corrective rapes,’ South Africa’s legal system is perpetuating the social inequalities that exist. It is not enough to recognize these rapes as merely sexual assaults; instead, they must be categorized for what they are—hate crimes. Until this occurs, social inequality and gross human rights violations will continue to persist for the LGBT community in South Africa.

Anna Purcell

Sources: New York Times, BBC

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Think about the last time uou made a call from your smartphone, or ate chocolate. Have you used any beauty products or worn cotton clothing lately? These seemingly harmless activities, may be contributing to human trafficking.

The likelihood that your smartphone has not been touched by a slave is low; it contains the mineral Coltan, and 64% of Coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,  are mined by enslaved children. Nearly 40% of the world’s cocoa beans are harvested by more than 200,000 children on the Ivory Coast alone. Every day, tens of thousands of Indian children mine mica, a mineral found in makeup. And, 1.4 million children, more than the entire New York City public school system, are forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan fields; cotton that may have been used to make the shirts many of us wear every day.

There are at least 27 million slaves worldwide; roughly the population of Australia and New Zealand combined. And, although trafficking often brings to mind images of women or girls forced to participate in sexual acts against their will, there are other ways human beings are sold. A staggering amount of men, women and children are forced into long hours of hard labor for little to no pay. This type of trafficking is often supported by unsuspecting citizens who would never deliberately contribute to slavery. Nevertheless, an alarming number of otherwise upstanding citizens unknowingly do just that every day: help human trafficking; the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

Human trafficking often uses legitimate businesses to conduct their operations. As a result, certain businesses, such as hotels, taxi services, airlines, rail companies, and advertisers like Craigslist may facilitate trafficking. Some businesses are aware of their involvement in these crimes, but are persuaded to turn the other cheek due to high profit potential. There are, however, cases where businesses are unaware of what is happening, or are unable to identify clients who may be participating in these illegal activities.

So what can you do to help? It’s simple: just be aware of the origin of your purchases, and avoid products from regions particularly affected by human trafficking or forced labor. Reducing the demand for cheap merchandise manufactured in sweatshops will deliver a significant blow to the human trafficking industry.

Find out how many slaves work for you by taking the slavery footprint survey at slaveryfootprint.org; the number will surprise you.

Dana Johnson

Sources: Pukaar Magazine, Polaris, CARITAS.org, Slavery Footprint
Photo: Photopin

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Dating as far back as the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, rape as a weapon of war has been prevalent in conflicts throughout the 1990s and continues to be used today.

A common misconception is that rape is simply a by-product of war. Sexual violence is certainly occurring in every conflict around the world but its role has evolved from an unfortunate effect of war to a tactic used to humiliate and control entire populations.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution (UN Resolution 1820) in 2008 defining the use of sexual violence as a war tactic and calling for an end to impunity for those who perpetrate such acts. This resolution came too late for many, including the over 20,000 Muslim women and girls raped in Bosnia during the Bosnian War as well as the estimated 200,000 women and girls raped during the fight for Bangladeshi independence in 1971.

Sexual violence has become a common element of 21st century war. To be able to combat its prevalence, we must first understand the methods and reasoning behind its use.

Perpetrators utilize sexual violence in conflict situations for many different reasons. Rape can be used as a method of ethnic cleansing, as was seen in the Bosnian War. Serbian fighters raped Muslim women to produce Serbian offspring and thereby “cleanse” the population. During the Sudanese War, however, the Janjaweed militia typically used rape as a scare tactic to humiliate, intimidate, and punish the non-Muslim women and communities. Currently in Colombia rival groups are using rape and murder as part of a punitive code to strengthen control in specific regions.

Not only is rape considered the most invasive of war crimes, it has long-lasting consequences for entire communities and countries. Sexual violence during conflicts has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in multiple regions. In addition, mass rape has produced a new generation of young adults that are growing up with only one parent or as orphans because their mother was killed during the conflict. This has long-lasting ramifications for countries that will only be seen in the coming decades as this generation reaches working and reproductive age.

It appears that the use of rape as a war strategy will continue to be employed in conflicts across the globe as long as the culture of impunity surrounding this crime persists. Although the United Nations made sexual violence an official war crime in 2008, the International Court of Justice has yet to find efficient means to indict and prosecute the many thousands of people guilty of this heinous crime.

– Sarah C. Morris 

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, United Nations
Photo: The Wip