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England and Wales ‘one step closer to ending child marriage’ after MP vote | Global development

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A ban on child marriage in England and Wales came a step closer Friday with cross-party support for a new bill in the House of Commons.

The marriage and civil partnership (minimum age) bill had its second reading in parliament, with government and opposition MPs supporting the private member’s bill brought by Conservative MP Pauline Latham.

The vote was welcomed by campaigners and survivors of child marriage who have been lobbying against the current legislation, which allows 16 and 17-year-olds to wed with parental consent.

The bill would raise the minimum age of marriage and civil partnership to 18, but also criminalise any marriage, including non-legalised religious marriages, under that age, making “any conduct causing” such a union an offence. Crucially, campaigners say, this would take the onus away from a child to prove their marriage is forced, and strengthen the responsibility of professionals in safeguarding children.

Many cases of child marriage in the UK are unregistered and “invisible”, campaigners say, taking place in religious or traditional family settings at ages lower than 16.

“As a child bride myself, I celebrate with tears of pain and of joy, as we are one step closer to ending child marriages,” said Ruby Marie, 38, from Wales, who was forced to marry at 15. She now works as an ambassador for Karma Nirvana, a UK charity supporting victims of forced marriage and “honour”-based abuse.

She said that the “child abuse” of underage marriage can cause lifelong trauma.

“You get PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” said Marie, whose parents took her to Bangladesh to marry and kept her there until she got pregnant, months later. “I was lost for a very long time. I was a child, with the body of a child. I was raped by a man twice my age. I felt I was being sold. I was mentally confused. I loved my parents, how would they do this to me? It is mental torture. This bill will help so many people.”

In Britain, children as young as seven are at risk of child marriage, Karma Nirvana said. This year the group supported 78 children in England and Wales facing the threat of forced marriage. Three were under 10 – the youngest, seven – while the majority, 52 children, were 16 and 17.

Most were of British Pakistani heritage, but they also helped Kurdish, Romanian, Turkish and Afghan children born or living in the UK.

Zeynep* came to London with her mother in 2016 from her homeland, where she had already survived a short-lived marriage to an abusive man.

“In my country it happens to very young children,” Zaynep said. “It is a humiliating tradition. I was 12. My mother told me: ‘This is normal.’”

“I want child marriage to be made illegal, because that way, when you ask for help you would get it,” she said. “I’m angry I didn’t get help and I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”

Fearing she would be remarried in the UK, Zeynab said she went to the police for protection four times before being taken seriously. She hopes a change in the law would improve police protection for victims.

Officers came to her house and initially removed her from her family, but after two days she was returned to them.

“My family denied everything. They said I was crazy and I told lies. I was so disappointed. It was a huge step for me to go to the police.”

At the age of 15, she was married to a 26-year-old man in the UK.

“One day, he told everyone, my mother-in-law, father-in-law, to leave the house. My mother came on the phone and said now you need to have sex with him and prove you are a virgin. He locked the door. I was so scared. He raped me.”

Last year Zeynep gained police protection and now lives with a foster family and is supported by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), which has long campaigned to ban child marriage.

“Many bad things have happened to me,” she said. “But having supportive people around me has helped me, given me strength. I feel powerful.”

“I thought about going to the police for months,” Zaynep said, of her first attempt to get help in London, at 13. “I didn’t know the number, so I Googled it. I was so scared. And then, they sent me back to my family, who denied everything. My mum threatened to kill me.”

*Zaynep is not her real name.

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; adult survivors can seek help at Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International.

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El Salvador ‘responsible for death of woman jailed after miscarriage’ | Global development

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The Inter-American court of human rights has ruled that El Salvador was responsible for the death of Manuela, a woman who was jailed in 2008 for killing her baby when she suffered a miscarriage.

The court has ordered the Central American country to reform its draconian policies on reproductive health.

The decision on Tuesday marked the first time an international court has ruled on El Salvador’s extreme abortion laws and was celebrated by women’s rights activists, who believe it could open doors for change across the region.

Since 1998, abortion in El Salvador has been banned without exception, even in cases of rape and incest. Over the past two decades, more than 180 women have been jailed for murder for having an abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to rights groups.

The case of Manuela v El Salvador was brought after the 33-year-old mother of two from the countryside died from cancer after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment, leaving her two children orphaned. She had been serving a 30-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide after a miscarriage.

When Manuela – whose full name has never been made public in El Salvador – went to the hospital after miscarrying, staff failed to provide her with timely treatment and instead subjected her to verbal abuse and accused her of having an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Manuela was handcuffed to her bed and denied access to a lawyer while police interrogated her.

“There is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency,” the landmark court ruling stated. “Such situations, as they are medical conditions, cannot lead to a criminal sanction.”

The court also ruled that the state must pay reparations to Manuela’s family, and should develop comprehensive sexual education policies and guarantee doctor-patient confidentiality.

“The Inter-American court has done justice by recognising Manuela was another victim of an unjust legal context that originates in the absolute prohibition of abortion,” said Morena Herrera, at the Feminist Collective for Local Development, one of the parties in the case supporting Manuela’s family.

“Manuela’s story is a sad one, but it represents a change and becomes a path of justice and hope for all women in Latin America and the Caribbean who are criminalised for obstetric events.”

Most countries in the region respect the Inter-American court’s jurisdiction, opening the door for sweeping change, activists said.

“This is a huge advance for reproductive rights, not only in El Salvador but across Latin America,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, another party in the case. “This is a standard we can apply to the constitutions and states across the region.”

Martínez Coral added that while the ruling was to be celebrated, the issue of poverty affecting access to reproductive rights remained a challenge.

“There are over 180 cases of women in jail, or that have been jailed, over these issues,” said Martínez Coral, who also worked as a litigator on the case against the Salvadorean state.

“What that means is we’re dealing with a state that criminalises women and, above all, criminalises poor women in the most rural and impoverished areas,” she said.

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EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

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The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a proposal to digitalise EU cross-border justice systems, aiming at making them more accessible and effective. Under the new draft law, the EU executive wants to tackle inefficiencies affecting cross-border judicial cooperation and barriers to access to justice in cross-border cases. Shifting paper-based communications to electronic formats would save up to €25m per year across the EU in postage and paper costs.

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Covid limits migration despite more people displaced by war and disasters | Global development

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The coronavirus pandemic had a radical effect on migration, limiting movement despite increasing levels of internal displacement from conflict and climate disasters, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said in a report on Wednesday.

Though the number of people who migrated internationally increased to 281 million in 2020 – 9 million more than before Covid-19 – the number was 2 million lower than expected without a pandemic, according to the report.

“We are witnessing a paradox not seen before in human history,” said IOM director general, António Vitorino. “While billions of people have been effectively grounded by Covid-19, tens of millions of others have been displaced within their own countries.”

Internal displacement caused by violence, conflict and disasters increased to 40.5 million from 31.5 million. Globally, the IOM said governments implemented a total of 108,000 restrictions on international travel, alongside internal restrictions on movement, disrupting migration during the pandemic.

Prior to the report’s release, Vitorino told IOM member states on Monday that international cooperation was needed to ensure people were not stripped of the option of migrating when they needed to.

He also pointed out that people from countries with low levels of vaccination could be excluded from emigrating. “We must acknowledge the deep impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had for people on the move: people stranded in transit, families separated across borders, migrants left unemployed but unable to afford the return home,” said Vitorino.

“The resulting complex patchwork of measures, frequently changing in scope and application, has placed a chilling effect on cross-border mobility, particularly for those unvaccinated.”

The report said conditions were particularly harsh for people from developing countries working in the Middle East and south-east Asia, with the pandemic affecting their incomes and housing, while they were also often excluded from access to healthcare and welfare.

However, the feared 20% drop in remittances – which can be a key lifeline to poor families during crises – that was predicted by the World Bank in April 2020 did not materialise and had been much lower, at 2.4%. This might be partly related to people being forced to send money to their families through formal routes, the report suggested, because options such as carrying cash were blocked off, as well as many working in jobs on the frontline of the pandemic that continued despite lockdowns.

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