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Violence against Africa’s children is rising. It stains our collective conscience | Graça Machel

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Of all the unspeakable injustices suffered by Africa’s children – and I’ve witnessed many – violence is surely the worst because it is almost entirely preventable. Africa’s children suffer many hardships, including poverty, hunger and disease. Violence against children is avoidable, yet young people in Africa, especially girls, continue to live with sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, forced labour, corporal punishment and countless other forms of abuse.

After decades spent trying to improve young people’s life chances, I had hoped to see at the very least a significant reduction in violence that threatens children. It is now 31 years since the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and we have seen some governments putting into place laws and policies aimed at ending violence against children. There have also been efforts, though insufficient, towards eradicating female genital mutilation and child marriage, which cause untold lifelong suffering.

Progress is uneven, fragmented and slow. Violence against children is once more on the rise driven partly by online sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse tourism and recently by lockdowns and school closures. These have pushed violence behind closed doors where it goes unseen and unreported. Armed conflicts by groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia and Amba separatists in Cameroon, frequently target children, making them the most common victims of abductions, rape, forced marriages and murder.

Regrettably, many African governments lack the political will to tackle these gross violations. This week, in an attempt to galvanise action, the African Partnership to End Violence against Children (Apevac) convened a high-level virtual conference to present its new research findings confirming worrying levels of violence and slow government responses. Thankfully, there are also some good, African solutions that can be successfully applied across the continent.

I have witnessed the worst, as well as the best, of humanity. Yet the brutality revealed in these findings plumb new depths. Children still face unacceptable levels and forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence. In some parts of Africa, four in 10 girls suffer sexual violence before the age of 15. Even worse is that children in most need – those in residential care or used as child labour, with disabilities, living on the streets, or in armed conflict and refugee situations – are not protected.

Violence against children is not a uniquely African phenomenon. The World Health Organization estimated last year that globally up to a billion children aged 2-17 had experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence or neglect. Many African children enjoy peaceful lives, but it is clear the continent faces an urgent problem, fuelled by complex social and economic drivers. Increasing urbanisation, armed conflict, forced displacement, humanitarian and climate-related disasters all play a part.

Evidence shows that in the long term violence against children leads to poor health, higher school dropout rates and worse job prospects, with consequences for the cost of health and social care, and economic productivity. In South Africa, for example, the economic losses resulting from violence against children in 2015 were estimated at $13.5bn (£9.8bn), or 4.3% of GDP. The reduced earnings attributable to physical and emotional violence in childhood were $2bn and $750m respectively. If these costs were replicated across sub-Saharan Africa, they would exceed the total official development assistance from the 38-member country Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

African governments are storing up problems for the future. By 2050, the continent will be home to about a billion young people. These children must be given the right life chances now. It is they who will drive Africa into the future and power a social and economic renaissance. The violence these children encounter today threatens to derail Africa’s ambitions.

Ending violence against children is one of the most important priorities of our time, and it will not happen without strong political leadership. I applaud Apevac and its call to the African Union to adopt a regional action plan and to political leaders to massively scale up investment in their countries. It is important that political and financial investment is given to Africa’s homegrown initiatives to end violence against children. Studies show such initiatives can be successful in addressing the interplay between schools and societies, law and culture, patriarchy and child rights.

Violence against children is preventable. We must redouble our efforts to stop it and remove the stain on our collective conscience. The United Nation’s sustainable development goal 16.2 aims to end all forms of violence against children by 2030. Achieving this will unlock multiple wins in gender equality, education, health and a more peaceful and inclusive Africa, where every child grows up safe and secure.

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[Ticker] US to lift Covid travel-ban on EU tourists

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Fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the UK will be let back into the US from “early November” onward, the White House said on Monday, ending an 18-month ban and prompting airline firms’ shares to climb. “This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans … safe,” a US spokesman said. The EU recently recommended increased restrictions on US visitors, amid anger at lack of US reciprocity.

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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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