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Bearing gifts: the camels bringing books to Pakistan’s poorest children | Global development

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Sharatoon had wanted to continue her studies, but she had to leave school and her beloved books when she got married aged 15.

Now 27, Sharatoon is happy reading again, as every Friday a camel visits her small town, his saddle panniers full of books.

She has four children, the eldest is 11, the youngest 18 months, and she reads to them all, as well as to other children in the town.

Every week, when Roshan the camel comes to her home in Mand, about 12 miles from the border with Iran, in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Sharatoon exchanges the books she borrowed for new ones.

“When the camel came to our area for the first time, the kids were very happy and excited. Schools have long been closed in our area due to Covid and we do not have any libraries, so this was welcomed by all the kids,” says Sharatoon, who uses only one name.

Camel rider Abdul Qadeer leads Chirag, laden with books to the town of Abdul Rahim Bazar, in Gwadar
Camel rider Abdul Qadeer leads Chirag, laden with books, to the town of Abdul Rahim Bazar, in Gwadar Photograph: Faisal Faiz/The Guardian

Balochistan is Pakistan’s most impoverished province, blighted by a separatist insurgency for the past two decades. With a 24% female literacy rate, one of the lowest in the world, compared with a male literacy rate of 56%, it also has the highest percentage of children out of school in the country.

Roshan visits four villages, staying in each at the home of a “mobiliser” such as Sharatoon, where all the district children aged four to 16 can come to read, borrow and exchange books with one another.

“Parents and kids are excited. It is giving hope to many that they can read, and the staff members also work on mobilisation so more outreach can be done,” says Fazul Bashir, a coordinator for the library.

When Covid closed the schools across Balochistan, two women in Mand – Zubaida Jalal, a federal minister in the Pakistan government, and her sister Rahima Jalal, headteacher of a local high school – came up with the idea of a camel.

“Actually, the idea of using camels comes from Mongolia and Ethiopia,” says Rahima. “It suits our desolate, distant and rough terrains. We have received an enormous response that we were not expecting.”

Children in Abdul Rahim Bazar read books brought brought by the camel library
Children read books brought brought by the camel library in Abdul Rahim Bazar, Balochistan. Photograph: Faisal Faiz/The Guardian

The books are donated by Alif Laila Book Bus Society in Lahore, which operates mobile ricksaw libraries in the city.

The trial of the camel library has gone well and it is about to begin its next three months of rounds.

Sharatoon says: “Kids are eagerly waiting; they want to read books and keep asking me [about it]. There should be more science-related books so our kids can learn by experimentation.”

The Jalal sisters say there has been a lot of interest in the scheme from other areas, and they have just started a library in the city district of Gwadar, Balochistan, with a camel called Chirag.

Anas Syed Mohammad is a 10-year-old 4th-grade student in the town of Abdul Rahim Bazar, about 30 miles from the city of Gwadar.

Since the camel library started visiting three weeks ago, Mohammad has read a different book each time. “I loved reading Khazane Ki Talaash (In Search of Treasure). I discuss these books with my friends,” he says.

Chirag visits five towns each week accompanied by his handler and Ismail Yaqoob, a volunteer and teacher. One day, when Yaqoob went to work in his school instead of the village, he got a call on his mobile from one of the children.

Teacher Ismail Yaqoob (left) with children in Gwadar district
Teacher Ismail Yaqoob (left) and Chirag the camel, with children in Gwadar district. Photograph: Faisal Faiz/The Guardian

“He asked me why I had not come along with the camel. They were waiting for books,” says Yaqoob. “Children are so interested in reading and in their studies, but sadly the state does not invest in education.”

Jawad Ali, 10, who has ambitions to be a teacher, has also started borrowing books from the camel library. He says: “I am learning new things from these books and reading stories, understanding photo stories. But I want to read more books. The books are written in my native language – Balochi – but in English and Urdu as well. We want more books – and libraries and schools, too.”

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‘They see it in corridors, in bathrooms, on the bus’: UK schools’ porn crisis | Pornography

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Barnardo’s works directly with children who are victims of abuse or display signs of harmful or risky sexual behaviour. In 2020-21, they worked with 382,872 children, young people, parents and carers.

In a recent survey of their frontline workers across England and Wales, staff reported a rise in the number of children participating in acts they have seen in pornographic videos, despite feeling uncomfortable or scared. They describe porn as having a “corrosive” effect on child wellbeing.

Child sexual abuse expert Sarah works with children who are displaying signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour. She also trains other professionals who work with children

“I started out as a primary school teacher eight years ago, and I’ve been worried about children seeing porn ever since. Children don’t have to be able to type to see porn – it can be sent to them or shown to them on someone else’s phone. They see it at school, in the corridors, in the bathrooms, on the bus. There is just no censor on any of it – one video leads to another. If you can imagine it, it exists as porn, and children are seeing it.

“I am working with a teenager who was sexually abused by a family member. This young person had been exposed to porn and it was perpetuating what the abuser told them – that this is normal, that it’s not abuse.”

She is particularly concerned, as are her colleagues, about the increasingly extreme nature of the porn freely available on mainstream sites.

“A common role play theme on porn sites is intra-familial abuse – on mainstream sites you will see fetishisation of grandad and granddaughter sex, or stepfathers and stepdaughters. This may lead to a young person not disclosing or getting the support they need. From both angles it is dangerous; it puts the child at risk and encourages the perpetrator.

“The impact of porn shows in children harming others or themselves because they either don’t understand or are so ashamed of sexual urges. Shame is very prevalent and is often hidden.

“We are working with a seven-year-old who has been exposed to porn and is now displaying sexualised behaviour. They had free rein on a device, and someone hadn’t deleted a browser history. Once a young person sees porn, they may feel a need to come back again and again – porn is designed to meet a need. That is a form of sexual abuse against that child.”

Brian* is a senior social worker who has worked with children for over 30 years

“Unfortunately, porn is a feature for the majority of the children who come into our service. The children we support are very damaged. They would be likely to have experienced multiple forms of abuse – sexual, physical and domestic. Porn in and of itself is not the cause of their behaviour but it becomes a compounding factor when it hits that history of vulnerability.

Adult sex offenders can give children a distorted rationalisation for their behaviour, and the messages that are given through porn then fit with that distortion.

Lucy* has worked within the field of child sexual abuse for 16 years.

“We know children find porn distressing – they are telling us that themselves. We have done research with children in schools so that we have a cohort to compare our vulnerable children to, and they are saying the same thing.

“This is not what could be described as erotic or soft porn. They may start on porn sites and quickly begin to see very hardcore material. Or [extreme material] lands in their social media feeds, and they can then feel compelled to go back and look again.

“Children are less able to manage sexual arousal, and this material is designed to be arousing. Lots of children can feel guilty and distressed by what they see. We have 14-year-olds telling us they have to watch it as soon as they wake up. They describe being preoccupied with accessing porn to an extent that impacts upon their day-to-day life.

“We also regularly work with children with learning disabilities, another group vulnerable to the harm of porn. They may be shielded from sexual information and then reach 13 or 14 and take away the wrong learning from porn. They may learn that no means yes, that if you persist, women will enjoy forced sex. These messages are harmful for any child but for children with learning needs or who have developed unhealthy beliefs around sex as a result of abuse, it’s particularly bad.

“After lockdown, we began to get more calls from parents where there is no other obvious trauma, just the exposure to porn. I’ve been doing this 16 years, and children have far more access to porn now.”

* Names and some details have been changed to protect identities

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. In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, and adult survivors can contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International

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French centre-right tilts toward Pécresse

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Valérie Pécresse, a moderate conservative who has likened herself to former British and German leaders Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, has emerged as a front-runner in primaries in France’s centre-right Les Républicains party, Reuters reports. “I won’t flinch. I have a project for a clean break, a project for the unashamed right,” she said Thursday, ahead of elections against liberal incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right contenders in spring.

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Poland plans to set up register of pregnancies to report miscarriages | Poland

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Poland is planning to introduce a centralised register of pregnancies that would oblige doctors to report all pregnancies and miscarriages to the government.

The proposed register would come into effect in January 2022, a year after Poland introduced a near-total ban on abortion.

This has raised serious concerns among women’s rights activists, who believe that in light of the abortion ban, the register could be used to cause legal difficulties for women who have self-administered abortions.

The draft legislation is part of a wide-ranging project to update the medical information system in Poland.

“It’s about control, it’s about making sure that pregnancies end with birth,” Natalia Broniarczyk, an activist from Aborcyjny Dream Team told the Polish weekly Gazeta Wyborcza.

The plan prompted online protests. A social media initiative titled “I’d like to politely report that I am not pregnant” encouraged Polish women to email photos of their used sanitary pads, tampons and underwear to the Polish ministry of health.

The ministry has strongly denied the project amounts to a centralised pregnancy register, with a spokesperson saying the changes are simply part of wide-ranging digitalisation project that will update the way data about a multitude of conditions, including allergies, is stored.

The spokesperson said doctors always had information on pregnancies, but before it was stored on paper by hospitals, rather than centrally by the government.

The concerns of activists about the register grew considerably after a bill proposed by the government that would establish an “institute of family and demographics” passed first reading in the Polish parliament by one vote on Thursday.

The institute would aim to monitor family policy, pass opinion on legislation and educate citizens on the “vital role of family to the social order” and the importance of “cultural-social reproduction” in the context of marriage. The institute would have access to citizens’ personal data and prosecutorial powers in the realm of family law, prompting worries it could be used to enforce the country’s strict abortion law.

The project has drawn widespread criticism from Polish academics and civil rights advocates.

“Maybe just call it the ‘Red Center of Rachel and Leah’,” a feminist organisation from Łódź said in an Instagram post, referencing Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. In the novel the Rachel and Leah Center is a training facility for women designated to be “breeders” by the authoritarian regime.

The committee of demographic researchers at the Polish Academy of Sciences has issued a statement expressing concerns that the “pro-natalist propaganda” would take precedent over scientific research at the institute.

“The project aims exclusively to promote traditional model of family,” Adam Bodnar, Poland’s former ombudsman for citizen rights, told the Polish news website Oko.press. “It could also become a tool against those who fall outside this model, for example those who do not conform to heteronormative norms.”



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