11-24-20 Ntabo Ntaberi: DR Congo militia leader jailed for crimes against humanity
A former militia leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including mass rape. A military court convicted Ntabo Ntaberi of murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlisting children under the age of 15. The ruling came at the end of a two-year trial that saw 178 victims testify. The United Nations said the ruling showed "impunity is not inevitable". "This verdict is a source of immense hope for the many victims of the conflicts in the DRC: their suffering has been heard and recognised," said Leila Zerrougui, head of the UN's peacekeeping mission in DR Congo. Ntaberi, also known as Sheka, was one of the leaders of a militia group called Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC), which operated in the restive eastern province of North Kivu. Eastern DR Congo has long been wracked by conflict, fuelled by political divisions and the area's abundance of mineral resources. There was a civil war in DR Congo between 1998 and 2003, but some militias fight on and continue to commit atrocities in the east, where a UN mission is struggling to keep peace. Authorities first issued a warrant for Ntaberi's arrest in January 2011, accusing him of orchestrating raids on villages in mid-2010. During those raids, members of the NDC and two other militia groups allegedly raped about 400 people and killed almost 300. Ntaberi was on the run for nearly six years, but eventually surrendered to UN peacekeepers in DR Congo in July 2017. He was prosecuted along with three co-defendants, including a commander from another militia, who also received a life sentence for crimes committed in North Kivu. Their jail sentences were handed out at the trial in the city of Goma on Monday. "We are satisfied with this verdict, it is a strong signal to other warlords," Kahindo Fatuma, a spokesman representing the victims, told AFP news agency. "The victims will be a little bit relieved." Thomas Fessy, a researcher on DR Congo for Human Rights Watch, said Ntaberi's conviction was "an important step in the fight against impunity". Dozens of armed groups are active in eastern DR Congo. A spin off of Ntaberi's militia group still operates in eastern DR Congo under the name NDC-Renovated, or NDC/R.
11-23-20 Afghanistan war: 26,000 Afghan children killed or maimed since 2005
An average of five children have been killed or wounded every day for the past 14 years in war-torn Afghanistan, a charity has found. Data from the UN showed at least 26,025 children were killed or maimed from 2005 to 2019, said Save the Children. The charity has urged donor nations to protect the future of Afghan children ahead of a key meeting in Geneva. Violence has been rising in Afghanistan amid stalled peace talks and US troop withdrawals. Afghanistan is among the 11 most dangerous nations in the world for children, according to Save the Children. In 2019 it accounted for the greatest number of killing and maiming violations of all the global conflicts covered in the charity's report, released on Friday, with 874 Afghan children killed and 2,275 maimed. More than two-thirds of those killed and maimed last year were boys, it said, "as a result of ground engagements between pro- and anti-government forces or of improvised explosive devices in both suicide and non-suicide attacks". The report found that schools have routinely been attacked in the ongoing conflict that pits the Afghan government, supported by US troops, against the Taliban and other insurgents. Save the Children said that between 2017 and 2019 there were more than 300 attacks on schools. "Imagine living with the constant fear that today might be the day that your child is killed in a suicide attack or an airstrike. This is the grim reality for tens of thousands of Afghan parents whose children have been killed or injured," said Chris Nyamandi, Save the Children's country director in Afghanistan, in a statement. Ahead of the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, a meeting of international donors that is starting in Geneva on Monday, the charity urged donor nations to safeguard the future of Afghan children with increased humanitarian funding. It also called on the UK government to commit itself and its allies to avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas.
11-21-20 Kenyan online cartel is luring girls to orgies, police warn
Police in Kenya are investigating an "online cartel" that targets girls stuck at home because of coronavirus and lures them under false pretences to what officers describe as orgies. The case came to light after three missing teenagers were rescued by officers in the capital Nairobi. The three told police they had seen a social media account that invited them to "parties" in the city. Police warned parents to keep a close eye on their children's activities. "The DCI (Directorate of Criminal Investigations) wishes to inform the public that we are hunting down members of the cartel and they'll be apprehended to answer for their crimes," police said on Twitter. Cases of young girls disappearing - some after being promised jobs - have been reported in Kenyan media in recent days. Earlier this week the relative of one girl made a tearful appeal on Twitter fearing she had been kidnapped or trafficked. The relative said the girl had gone missing in Nairobi on Saturday after being lured by people who were promising modelling jobs. "My cousin along with the 16-year-old girls, six of them, have not been seen since," the woman in the video says. On Friday, police tweeted that child-protection detectives had rescued three of the seven girls reported missing. Efforts to trace the others were continuing, they said. They did not reveal details of where the girls were found or if any arrests had been made. The DCI said the cartel operated from Nairobi and was using internationally registered telephone numbers. "As investigations go on we wish to issue a stern warning to individuals taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to prey on school girls, Their days are numbered," the DCI tweeted. Earlier this month the East African country tightened restrictions as a second wave of the coronavirus caused a surge in cases and deaths. Public gatherings are banned and an overnight curfew is in place. Schools closed in March but partially reopened in October. The government has said they will not fully reopen until January. Kenya, which has a population of 53m, has reported more than 75,000 infections and 1,349 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
11-18-20 Kenya arrests three health workers after BBC Africa Eye exposé
Police in Kenya have arrested three senior medical officers for allegedly running a child-trafficking syndicate following a BBC investigation into the theft and sale of babies. BBC Africa Eye revealed children were stolen to order from illegal clinics and at a Nairobi public hospital. The babies were sold for as little as $400 (£300). The police chief has ordered an investigation into hospitals, as well as children's homes in Nairobi. Investigations have revealed that senior medical officers were closely involved with child traffickers, said Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai. The suspects have not commented. The investigation by BBC Africa Eye uncovered a trade in children stolen from vulnerable mothers living on the street, as well as the existence of illegal clinics dotted around the capital, Nairobi, where babies are sold for as little as $400. The investigation also revealed corruption at Mama Lucy Kibaki, a public hospital in Nairobi. Fred Leparan, a clinical social worker at the hospital, facilitated the sale of an abandoned two-week-old baby boy to undercover reporters, later accepting 300,000 shillings ($2,700;£2,000) in cash. Both Mr Leparan and Mama Lucy Kibaki hospital declined requests to comment on the investigation's findings. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Kenya's Labour and Social Protection Minister Simon Chelugui said the culprits would face the "full force of the law". Mr Chelugui also acknowledged that improvements to some of Kenya's child protection services were needed. His colleague in the Interior Ministry Fred Matiang'i thanked the BBC for exposing the "rot" at Mama Lucy hospital. He added that human and drug trafficking are the biggest challenges Kenyan security was dealing with. There are no reliable statistics on child trafficking in the East African state, but a non-governmental organisation, Missing Child Kenya, said it had been involved in nearly 600 cases in the past three years.
11-17-20 Boy Scouts of America: Almost 100,000 make sexual abuse compensation claims
Almost 100,000 alleged victims of sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have come forward to claim compensation from the group. A lawyer for the plaintiffs called it the biggest-ever US sexual abuse case. The claims were filed ahead of a deadline on Monday evening. Internal files published in 2012 revealed decades of abuse. BSA - which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year - has apologised to victims, saying it was "devastated". Negotiations will now begin between the alleged victims, the BSA and their insurers. The organisation still has a considerable membership - more than two million youth participants ranging in age from five to 21. But this is about half of what it was in the 1970s, a decline that aligns with mounting scrutiny of the organisation. In February, BSA said was filing for bankruptcy protection to be in a position compensate victims. The proceedings in a federal bankruptcy court will eventually lead to the creation of a fund to settle abuse cases that are upheld. "It's by far the largest sexual abuse scandal in the US," attorney Paul Moses told the AFP news agency on Monday. In terms of current reported numbers, it dwarfs similar complaints made against the Catholic Church in the country. In a recent statement, BSA said it had been "moved by the bravery" of those who had come forward. "We intentionally developed an open, accessible process to reach survivors and help them take an essential step toward receiving compensation. The response we have seen from survivors has been gut-wrenching," the group added. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times newspaper uncovered about 5,000 files detailing allegations against scout masters and troop leaders who had been deemed "ineligible volunteers". Most incidents had not been reported to police, and the BSA tasked themselves with removing those accused. In 2010, Mr Moses won $20 million (£15 million) for a former boy scout abused by his leader.
11-13-20 Dutch police give 'stop paedophile hunts' warning after Arnhem death
A Dutch police chief has called for an end to "paedophile hunting" after a 73-year-old retired teacher was beaten up by teenagers and died of his injuries. Oscar Dros said there was a risk more people could die and he appealed for justice to be left to the authorities. The man from the eastern city of Arnhem was lured into having sexual contact with a minor while in a gay chatroom. Authorities said he was aware the boy was underage. But there was no evidence of past sexual contact with minors. The Arnhem attack is the latest in a series of 250 incidents involving so-called "paedophile hunters" in the Netherlands, reports say. Reports say the group of teenagers had come up with the idea of hunting for a paedophile after reading stories elsewhere in the Netherlands. The former teacher arrived at an agreed meeting point on 28 October and was then followed as he made his way home. He was beaten up by a group of boys and died later in hospital. Mayor Ahmed Marcouch has spoken of an "awful crime" that has had an impact on the local community. Dozens of neighbours, friends and former pupils took part in a ceremony to remember the victim last weekend. The fifteen-year-old's lawyer told local website De Gelderlander that the idea of hunting paedophiles "happened out of boredom in this corona time". His client had got carried away but did not himself take part in the attack. Jamil Roethof argued that the teenagers had only wished to confront the man and had no premeditated plan to attack him. He suggested he had died of a fall. Seven teenagers were arrested, six of them under the age of 18, and two have been held in custody. East Netherlands regional police chief Oscar Dros appealed to Dutch citizens to "stop paedo-hunting; stop detaining; stop provoking - leave this to us." Mr Dros told Algemeen Dagblad newspaper that since July some 250 incidents had been registered involving self-styled hunters, and there were probably many more. The practice has now been banned by police and public prosecutors.
11-11-20 Child abuse: Australian police find 46 victims of 'global network'
Australian police say they have rescued 46 children and arrested 14 men after an investigation into an international child abuse network. The victims were allegedly subjected to crimes including sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation. The investigation also led to three arrests in the US and had identified suspects in Europe, Asia, Canada and New Zealand, authorities said. The case is believed to be one of the biggest of its kind in Australia. All victims were aged between 16 months and 15 years old, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said. Sixteen of the victims had attended one childcare centre. The 14 men faced a total of 828 child exploitation charges, as well as bestiality charges involving four animals. Authorities said the network had produced and shared images and video online. One of the most serious cases involved a suspect who had worked in a childcare centre in New South Wales and had access to 30 children, police said. The 27-year-old man faced more than 300 charges, including sexual abuse. His partner, 22, was also facing charges. Police said families of the children at the centre had been notified. The year-long investigation began after a tip-off from US investigators about an Australian internet user, the AFP said. That led to an arrest in February of a 30-year-old man in the town of Wyong, north of Sydney. He was charged with 89 offences, including the abuse of two children. Police said that case led them to social media forums where pictures and videos were produced and shared. "Each warrant led to the discovery of more alleged offenders and more children to be saved," said the AFP in a statement on Wednesday. The suspects - aged between 20 and 48 - included a volunteer soccer coach, an electrician, a chef, a supermarket employee and disability care worker.
11-11-20 Catholic Church abuse: Vatican defends handling of McCarrick case
A Vatican report has found that two recent popes and Church officials ignored allegations about a US cardinal later found guilty of sex abuse. Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington DC, was expelled from the priesthood after the Vatican concluded its investigation last year. It has now issued a report into how he was able to rise through the ranks, despite allegations going back decades. It argues that credible evidence only surfaced in 2017. The current Pope, Francis, then ordered the investigation and last year Mr McCarrick, now 90, was found to have sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s. His abuses may have taken place too long ago for criminal charges to be filed because of the US statute of limitations. The 450-page report includes testimonies and dozens of letters and transcripts from Vatican and US Church archives. Mr McCarrick served as archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 to 2006. The report finds that the late Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, was told of his abuses but chose to believe American bishops who instead concealed the information and Mr McCarrick himself, who denied it all. It also finds that Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013, probably rejected the idea of an investigation because there were "no credible allegations of child abuse". The report acknowledges that, in hindsight, the Vatican's investigations into the allegations against Mr McCarrick were of a "limited nature". In July 2018, Mr McCarrick became the first person to resign as a cardinal since 1927. Pope Francis suspended him from all priestly duties the following February. He is among hundreds of members of the clergy accused of sexually abusing children over several decades. "We publish the report with sorrow for the wounds that these events have caused to the victims, their families, the Church in the United States and the universal Church," said the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
10-23-20 Italian held in France on suspicion of 160 rapes and sexual assaults
A 52-year-old Italian man wanted in Germany on suspicion of carrying out 160 rapes and sexual assaults, mainly on underage girls, has been arrested across the border in France. France's BNRF brigade for hunting fugitives said he was held last Friday at Rumersheim-le-Haut near Mulhouse. He was wanted in connection with attacks, mainly on the children of his partners, between 2000 and 2014. Officials said 122 inquires had so far been opened against him in Germany. French reports said that among the offences he was suspected of committing were the rape of his daughter over a number of years. German authorities first alerted their counterparts on 7 October that the suspect had crossed into France. His whereabouts were passed on days later and he was detained on 16 October. He is now being held in Colmar during extradition proceedings.
10-7-20 France passes new law to protect child influencers
France has introduced a new law to protect young social media stars. The legislation aims to regulate the hours under-16s can work online and what happens to their earnings. It also enshrines the right to be forgotten, meaning that platforms will be obliged to take down content on the child's request. The popularity of child influencers has grown rapidly in recent years, with a number of young names appearing on the list of YouTube's top earners. The change will make France a pioneer in the rights of child social media stars, the MP behind the bill, Bruno Studer, was quoted as saying by Le Monde newspaper. The new law, which was passed unanimously on Tuesday, does not affect all children who appear on social media, but instead targets those who spend significant amounts of time working online and whose work generates an income. The change offers them the same protections as those given to child models and actors in France, with their earnings placed in a bank account until they turn 16. Companies wishing to employ child influencers must also receive permission from local authorities. Before the law was passed on Tuesday, Mr Studer told La Tribune newspaper: "Children's rights must be preserved and protected, including on the internet, which must not be a lawless area." The world of child social media stars can be highly lucrative, with incomes boosted by advertising deals and merchandise sales. According to Forbes, last year's top YouTube earner was American Ryan Kaji, then aged eight, whose toy review channel made $26m (£20m). Third on the list was Russian-born Anastasia Radzinskaya, now six, who earned $18m (£13.7m).
10-1-20 Coronavirus risks ‘greatest surge in child marriages in 25 years’
The coronavirus pandemic could lead to a spike in child marriages globally, reversing 25 years of progress on ending the practice, a charity has warned. Save the Children said Covid-19 had put 2.5 million more girls at risk of early marriage by 2025. The pandemic is increasing poverty, forcing girls out of school and into work or marriage, the charity said. Girls in parts of South Asia, Africa and Latin America are most vulnerable. The UK-based charity is calling on world leaders to commit more funding and support to efforts to address child marriage and gender inequality. "These marriages violate girls' rights and leave them at increased risk of depression, lifelong violence, disabilities and even death," said Karen Flanagan, a child-protection adviser for Save the Children. She said that 78.6 million child marriages had been prevented over the last 25 years but progress to end the practice had "slowed to a halt". Last month Girls Not Brides, a group that campaigns to end child marriages, told the BBC it was seeing a similar trend, driven by shrinking economies and the closure of schools during the pandemic. Dr Faith Mwangi-Powell, chief executive of Girls Not Brides, said education "provides a safety net for girls". She said more financial support, monitoring and community engagement was required to ensure girls can attend school. Around 12 million girls are victims of early marriage every year, the charity says. But its report finds that number is expected to rise markedly over the next five years as the economic consequences of pandemic take their toll. In 2020 alone, another 500,000 girls risk being forced into child marriages and up to one million more are expected to become pregnant, the charity says. If no action is taken, there could be 61 million child marriages by 2025, according to the charity, yet this estimate may only be "the tip of the iceberg". "The pandemic means more families are being pushed into poverty, forcing many girls to work to support their families and to drop out of school - with far less of a chance than boys of ever returning," Bill Chambers, the president and CEO of the charity, said. "A growing risk of violence and sexual exploitation combined with growing food and economic insecurity also means many parents feel they have little alternative but to force their young daughters to marry older men." In April, the UN said there could be as many as 13 million more child marriages globally over the next decade because of the pandemic.