1-27-21 The child environmentalist receiving death threats in Colombia
An 11-year-old boy who received death threats after calling for better access to education during the Covid-19 pandemic has been recognised by the UN for his activism. Francisco Vera is well-known in his native Colombia for his environmental campaigns and defence of children's rights. On 15 January he received a death threat from an anonymous Twitter account after posting a video urging the government to improve internet connectivity for children studying online. Now the UN has hand-delivered a letter to Francisco, congratulating him for his pioneering work in the South American country where it is not uncommon for environmental activists to be killed. In an interview with the BBC, the school student says he welcomes criticism but that violent threats are unacceptable. The incident sparked outrage in Colombia, where violence against human rights activists and environmental leaders is on the rise. It also renewed calls for more civility on social media. "These type of threats are common in Colombia and they often go unpunished," said Lourdes Castro from Somos Defensores, a group that documents attacks against community leaders. "But to threaten an 11-year-old just shows you that we have reached new levels of intolerance and lack of respect for freedom of speech," she explains. In a letter signed by Michelle Bachelet, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, the organisation thanks Francisco for his activism and says that the world needs more young people with his "passion to protect the planet". "We also agree with you that internet connectivity needs to be improved for boys and girls around the world," the letter adds. It was delivered personally to Francisco by Ms Bachelet's delegate in Colombia. Francisco said he was happy to get recognition and hopes to continue working with his peers on environmental projects this year, including a campaign to ban single-use plastics in Colombia. "Criticism is part of life, and I welcome it as long as it is constructive and respectful," the student told the BBC. "But there is obviously no place for insults and threats."
1-25-21 Malka Leifer: Israel extradites ex-principal accused of child sex abuse in Australia
Israel has extradited to Australia a former principal accused of sexually abusing girls at a school in Melbourne, following a six-year legal battle. Malka Leifer, who is wanted in Australia on 74 sexual assault charges, went to her native Israel in 2008 after allegations of abuse surfaced. She fought her extradition, claiming she was mentally unfit to stand trial, but Israel's Supreme Court rejected her final appeal last December. Ms Leifer has denied the charges. An organisation representing her alleged victims said it was "an incredible day for justice". Ms Leifer, who is in her 50s, faces dozens of charges of child rape and abuse relating to the period when she was headmistress of the Adass Israel School for ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls. Photographs published by Israeli media appeared to show prison officials leading Ms Leifer to a plane at Ben Gurion airport early on Monday. The Ynet news website reported that her ankles and wrists were shackled, and that she was met on board by Australian law enforcement officials. She is flying to Melbourne via Frankfurt, Germany. Israel's justice ministry and Ms Leifer's lawyer later confirmed that she had been extradited. A spokesman for Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said that the Australian government "does not comment on logistics involving extradition arrangements against individuals until the extradition process has been concluded", according to Reuters news agency. Voice against Child Sex Abuse (VoiCSA), an Australian organisation representing her alleged victims, said in a statement: "So many people have been involved to ensure this day would finally arrive. "Regrettably, many have also been involved in trying to ensure this day would never arrive - despite their significant efforts, they have failed. "We can now truly look forward to Leifer facing justice in Australia on the 74 charges she is facing."
1-19-21 Olivier Duhamel: French incest allegations prompt victims to speak out
Tens of thousands of people have responded to a social media campaign in France designed to shed light on the problem of sexual abuse within families. The campaign, featuring the hashtag #MeTooInceste (after the #MeToo movement) was started over the weekend by NousToutes, an organisation battling sexual violence in France. Incest in French is used to mean sexual abuse by relatives, including those who are not related by blood. It followed accusations against a prominent political commentator, Olivier Duhamel, who has been accused by his stepdaughter of abusing her twin brother 30 years ago. Mr Duhamel has described the allegations as "personal attacks". The Twitter campaign began late last week with a message by a 67-year-old NousToutes activist known as Marie Chenevance. "It was now or never to break the omerta [code of silence] around this issue," Marie said. In earlier years, she said, activists had met a "wall of silence" when they shared their stories of family abuse. More than 80,000 people have responded to the campaign since Saturday, the organisation says. Mié Kohiyama was one of those who shared her story, alongside a drawing she made when she was five years old. The picture shows a child with no mouth, alongside the words "Help Me" ("au secours", which she spelt "o scour"). Back then, it was her way of speaking about the abuse, she said, but no-one heard the message. "On Saturday, when I posted this tweet," she told me, "it's strange to say, but I was proud of the little girl who drew this picture. "I tell myself that now people can understand these kinds of drawings. Forty years before, it was not possible." Part of the reason the accusations against Mr Duhamel have had such an impact, activists say, is that the account of his stepdaughter Camille Kouchner in her book La Familia Grande describes not just the alleged behaviour itself, but the culture of secrecy that she says surrounded the family. Muriel Salmona, a leading psychologist specialising in sexual violence, says that the issues raised by Mr Duhamel's stepdaughter along with the launch of the new hashtag opened up a "safe space" for victims to speak out. Historically, she says, there has been "almost-total impunity in France" for family abusers, with less than 1% of rape cases against minors ending up in court. "The figures on violence against children are bad for most of Europe," Dr Salmona explained. "But in France there is a current that tolerates sexual violence against children."
1-12-21 Irish government to apologise over mother-and-baby homes
The Irish government is to apologise after an investigation found an "appalling level of infant mortality" in the country's mother-and-baby homes. Established in the 19th and 20th centuries, the institutions housed women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage. About 9,000 children died in the 18 institutions under investigation. The government said the report revealed the country had a "stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture". Taoiseach (Irish PM) Mícheál Martin said the report described a very dark and difficult chapter in Irish history. "As a nation we must face up to the full truth of our past," he said. The greatest number of admissions was in the 1960s and early 1970s. Many children born in the homes were adopted or taken to orphanages run by Catholic nuns. The report said "the women and children should not have been in the institutions" and that many women suffered emotional abuse. The investigators say it appears there was "little kindness" shown to the mothers and "this was particularly the case" during childbirth, which many of the women found "a traumatic experience". The Irish government will apologise for the hurt experienced by the residents of the homes. Mr Martin said "one hard truth" was that "all of society was complicit" in the scandal. "We did this to ourselves as a society - we treated women exceptionally badly; we treated children extremely badly," he said on Tuesday. "We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy and young mothers and their sons and daughters were forced to pay a terrible price for that dysfunction. "As a society we embraced judgementalism, moral certainty, a perverse religious morality and control which was so damaging. "But what was very striking was the absence of basic kindness. Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman said the report showed that for decades a "pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future".
11-10-21 Albania races to rescue children from jihadist camp
Eva's pale, triangular face glows in the frame created by her coal-black shawl and hood. Her pale brown eyes gaze straight into the camera. Now 16, she was kidnapped by her father Shkelzen and taken to Syria when she was nine. After seven years of war and then captivity, she looks like she is from another world, capable of nothing, or anything. We cannot print her photograph because it might endanger her life. She is still in the al-Hol camp in northern Syria, where she was taken with over 70,000 other orphans and widows of jihadist Islamic State fighters, when Barghuz, the last IS stronghold, fell in March 2019. Her brother Endri, 14, is luckier. He was brought home from Syria by Albanian special forces in late October 2020, with a woman and three other children. Frail, thin as a rake, he grins with his uncle Xhetan, who is barely able to believe he can hold his nephew again in his arms. "That camp," Albanian Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj tells me, "is hell on Earth, as witnessed by our police officers." In the UK, the al-Hol camp is better known as the temporary home of former London schoolgirl and "IS bride" Shamima Begum, who joined the jihadists in 2015 and later had her UK citizenship revoked. The interior minister in Tirana says it is currently home to 30 Albanian children and 10 Albanian women - and the bottom line for Albania is to get all the children home in the next few months. "We think there is a moral obligation to repatriate at least the kids, because they are not terrorists, they are victims of their irresponsible parents," he told the BBC. "But they could be raised up into real monsters if we leave them in the camps and ignore them." Their mothers, on the other hand, should face trial, he believes. Negotiations are going on with both the Kurdish authorities, who run the camps, and the mothers to allow repatriation.
1-5-21 South Korea: Child rapist's release sparks demand for change
The reduced sentence and subsequent release of a man convicted of brutally raping a child has raised fresh debate around South Korea's legal system, reports BBC Korean's David Oh. Twelve years ago, on the morning of 11 December, an eight-year-old girl was walking to school in Ansan, south-west Seoul, when she was kidnapped by Cho Doo-soon, a 56-year-old ex-convict. He took her to a toilet in a nearby church, where he brutally beat and raped her. Na-young - not her real name - survived. But she still suffers physical injuries and mental trauma from the attack. And now, she has had to move: her rapist has been allowed to return to Ansan, where he committed the crime. Cho's new residence is less than 1km (0.6 miles) from Na-young's house. "We didn't want to run away but had no choice. I also wanted to deliver a message that the government did nothing but forced the victim to go into hiding," her father told me just days after Cho was freed, having served a reduced sentence of 12 years. He added that Na-young was reluctant to move because she did not want to leave her close friends. The family were also afraid of exposing their identities by moving. But they felt that it was still their only option. "Many years have passed but still nothing has changed. The burden still falls entirely on the victim," he said. Cho's case sparked massive criticism of the country's judicial system for being lenient on sex offenders. He was initially sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. But an appeal court later reduced the term to 12 years, as he claimed he was drunk when he raped the girl. That's because in South Korea, penalties for crimes committed under the severe influence of alcohol carry far more lenient punishments. The country's criminal code, Article 10 (2), also known as "Sim Sin Mi Yak", says a court can reduce a sentence when a person "who, because of mental disorder, is unable to make discriminations or to control one's will". Meanwhile, the law "Joo Chi Gam Hyung" states that "substance abuse" impairs a person's mental state. (Webmaster's comment: Her life was destroyed! His life should also be destroyed!)
1-4-21 Outcry as 'bean dad' forces hungry child to open tin can
A dad in the US who boasted about his parenting skills after telling his hungry nine-year-old daughter to open a tin of beans or go without food has caused outcry on social media. After six hours the child successfully opened the tin and was finally allowed to eat, he said in now-deleted tweets. The dad, a podcaster, claimed it was a victory for "good parenting". But other parents accused him of neglect, while some suggested he invented the story to get attention. Twitter users nicknamed the father "bean dad" as the incident caused another heated debate on social media, where parenting methods are a frequent cause of disagreement. John Roderick, who is also a musician, shared the story on Saturday on Twitter, explaining that it began when his daughter asked him to make baked beans. After she brought him a tin-opener and can of beans, he asked her how she thought a tin-opener worked, he said. When she said she didn't know, he said he realised "a teaching moment just dropped into my lap". "Apocalypse dad was overjoyed," he added. Explaining that he wanted his daughter to learn how to open a tin of beans, he said she tried for six hours. "She was next to me grunting and groaning trying to get the thing. I should say that spatial orientation, process visualization and order of operation are not things she… intuits. I knew this would be a challenge," he said. Eventually she opened the tin and ate the beans, he explained. The tweets were quickly shared widely as other users condemned the incident, suggesting it was poor parenting. "I feel like it's super valuable to teach kids that they're not alone in the world and that there's no shame in asking other people for help and support," wrote journalist Jason Schreier. Another user suggested Mr Roderick's approach was "ridiculous" - and that he should simply have fed his daughter, and then showed her how to use a can opener.
1-4-21 Nóra Quoirin: 'Misadventure' verdict for girl found in Malaysian jungle
A girl whose body was found in a jungle during a holiday in Malaysia died by misadventure, a coroner has recorded. Nóra Quoirin, 15, from Balham, south-west London, was discovered dead nine days after she went missing from an eco-resort in August 2019. The family said they were "utterly disappointed" with the verdict, which ruled out any criminal involvement. They believe "layers of evidence" that were heard at the inquest point towards Nora having been abducted. The family were staying in Sora House in Dusun eco-resort near Seremban, about 40 miles (65km) south of Kuala Lumpur, when they reported Nóra missing, the day after they had arrived. Nóra, who was born with holoprosencephaly - a disorder which affects brain development - was eventually found by a group of civilian volunteers in a palm-oil plantation less than two miles from the holiday home nine days after vanishing. The Quoirins, whose lawyers had asked the coroner to record an open verdict, said in a statement after the ruling that they have a number of reasons for the abduction theory. These include: Professionally trained canines were unable to follow Nóra's scent. There was an opened window to the chalet with unidentified fingerprints found on the outside. Nóra had "neither the cognitive, nor physical means" to leave the chalet by the window on her own. Hundreds of people relentlessly searched the surrounding area, including where Nóra was found, on the day of or immediately preceding the day of her death. They found no signs of human life. There was a "lack of major physical damage" to Nóra's body despite her "inability to handle terrain as complex as the Seremban jungle". In the statement, issued through the Lucie Blackman Trust, the family said they witnessed 80 slides presented in court as the verdict was given, adding that none of them "engaged with who Nóra really was - neither her personality nor her intellectual abilities". They said: "The coroner made mention several times of her inability to rule on certain points due to not knowing Nóra enough. "It is indeed our view that to know Nóra would be to know that she was simply incapable of hiding in undergrowth, climbing out a window and making her way out of a fenced resort in the darkness unclothed."