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Parliament to vote on bill to ban child marriage in England and Wales | Forced marriage

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A bill that would ban child marriage in England and Wales will be presented to parliament for its second reading this week and has been welcomed by campaigners as a “huge stride” forward.

Currently, marriage and civil partnerships are legal at 16 and 17 with parental consent. This is not just out of step with international legislation but also a loophole that is “more often used as a mechanism for abuse”, according to Pauline Latham, MP, who will present her bill on Friday.

If adopted, it will have a “dramatic impact on so many young children, mostly girls but also some boys”, Latham said. “It could transform their life chances and their futures.”

“We are keeping everything crossed that it goes through on Friday and no one votes against it.”

Latham, a member of the international development committee, said ending child marriage was also critical for the UK’s international commitments.

“We can’t tell someone else to end child marriage if we are allowing it,” she said.

Sajid Javid had originally proposed the private member’s bill, but Latham picked it up after his promotion to the cabinet. The health secretary has said child marriages are associated with appalling abuses, including a heightened risk of domestic, sexual and “honour”-based violence, and described child marriage as “child abuse”.

Last year, about a quarter of the 753 cases dealt with by the UK’s forced marriage unit were of children under 18.

Between 2007 and 2017, 3,096 marriages involving children aged 16 and 17 were legally registered in England and Wales, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Campaigners say non-legalised religious marriages of children are even more common, which is why they want all child marriages, not just registered ones, criminalised.

Over the past year, domestic abuse charity Karma Nirvana dealt with 78 cases of child marriage in England and Wales. Only four of them were registered marriages, the group said.

Natasha Rattu, director of Karma Nirvana, said: “This is a huge stride towards ending child marriage. We haven’t managed to get a bill to this stage so far. We have had conversations with the government that are very positive. Come Friday, we will know whether we have got it over the line.”

If passed, the marriage and civil partnership (minimum age) bill would make it an offence to carry out “any conduct for the purpose of causing a child to enter into a marriage”, with a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment. The minimum age for civil partnerships and marriage would be raised from 16 to 18 in England and Wales.

Diana Nammi, executive director at the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), said they had seen first-hand the lifelong harm caused by child marriage.

“Some of these child marriages get registered, though the vast majority do not, and, in all cases, the moment she is married, often to a much older man, the full weight of the expectations upon her as a wife fall on the child’s young shoulders.”

“Too often girls are failed by the adults and statutory professionals that should safeguard them. It’s wrong that the onus has been on the child to speak out in order to get protection. That’s why IKWRO has tirelessly campaigned for this landmark change in the law that will make it clear that no child should ever face child marriage and that it is the responsibility of safeguarding professionals to ensure this does not happen.”

Payzee Mahmod, a survivor of child marriage, who is now an IKWRO campaigner, said: “At the age of 16, I was robbed of my childhood, when I found myself standing in a wedding dress in a garden in London, facing a child marriage to a man twice my age, who I didn’t know.”

In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111, and adults concerned about a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331. In the US, call or text the Childhelp abuse hotline on 800-422-4453. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International

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Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin

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US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge

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The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.

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