Middle East: child labour on the rise as conflicts and tensions grow
EMAD MEKAY, IBA MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, CAIRO
As wars, conflict and political tension have increased in the Middle East over recent years, so have the number of children ensnared in hazardous labour and child exploitation, says a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) commissioned by the Cairo-based Organization of Arab States and the Arab Council for Childhood and Development (ACCD).
The new dangers children in the Middle East are now facing include increased employment in street work, bonded labour, early marriages, the sex trade and recruitment by armed groups.
In Syria, for example, more than 2.8 million children have been forced out of school since pro-democracy protests erupted in 2011 and a civil war ensued. ‘Child labour is being used as a coping mechanism after exhausting other strategies such as reducing food consumption, spending savings and accumulating debt,’ says the report.
Arab governments have generally worked to combat child labour through legislation but often failed to rein in abuse because of the spread of corruption, lack of oversight and their own contribution to political instability. Some countries have even restricted the work of some NGOs whose activities include combating child labour.
The 145-page ILO report details various forms of abuse that Middle East children encounter but says the spike in underage involvement in armed conflict and exposure to political tension have resulted in some of the worst abuses in a decade. It states: ‘Over the past ten years, during which the region has witnessed high levels of armed conflict resulting in the mass displacement of populations – both within and between countries – the situation has certainly worsened’.
More than half of the 22 Arab countries, with a population of 420 million people, are currently affected by conflicts or inflows of refugees and internally displaced persons. These include Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. ‘As is the case across the globe, conflict has hit women and children disproportionately hard in the region. In consequence, child labour has emerged as perhaps the most critical child protection issue in the region, requiring our urgent attention and action,’ says Frank Hagemann, the ILO’s Deputy Regional Director for the Arab States. ‘The effects of recent economic shocks, political turmoil, conflict and war have worsened pre-existing levels of child labour, and have also reversed much of the progress Arab countries made in combating child labour through policy development and practical measures.’
“We are seeing massive movements of people into Europe from Northern Africa and from Syria and they are desperate
Co-Chair, IBA Employment and Industrial Relations Law Committee
The report was compiled before the start of several developments that look set to send the region further into downward spiral. A full-blown civil war started earlier this year in Libya after warlord Khalifa Haftar launched a military campaign to take over Tripoli, the Mediterranean country’s capital city with a population of 1.5 million people, from the UN-recognised government.
Algeria and Sudan saw mass public protests that caused the ousting of their two long-time rulers within the space of a month. There are reports already of food and fuel shortages in some parts of Sudan.
Political tension is also simmering in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are witnessing an unprecedented crackdown on dissent and political opposition that includes sentencing opponents to death en masse.
Iran is also bracing for a US push to bring its oil exports to zero, a development that many Middle East experts say could send more people into poverty and further destabilise the region, given that the Islamic republic is heavily involved in countries throughout the region. Eric Edmonds, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, who specialises in child labour issues, says in such crises in conflict zones, families adapt as a survival mechanism. ‘When the political situation pushes families into desperation, they are going to do everything they can to survive. That almost always means “all hands on deck” towards livelihood,’ he says.
Peter Talibart, Co-Chair of the IBA Employment and Industrial Relations Law Committee, agrees that desperation often creates child labour but says the international community should take a wider look at the issue beyond just blaming political tension and conflicts.
‘I wouldn’t limit it to political tensions. I think economic tensions. I think movement of people. We are seeing massive movements of people into Europe from Northern Africa and from Syria and they are desperate.’
Talibart says the wider challenge of modern slavery creates an environment where child labour thrives. ‘Looking at just child labour in isolation, in my view, is a mistake because it is a subset of a bigger problem – modern slavery,’ he says. ‘Saying that political tensions are the primary driver of the rise in child labour potentially makes the same kind of mistake. You are looking at a part of the problem and part of the cause of a problem rather than looking at the whole thing. And by focusing at one fact we risk ignoring the others… It starts with desperation and I think it starts with people who are prepared to take advantage of desperate people. Children working is a very difficult issue. People would tell you they are against child labour and change their minds if they are then told that the families need the child to work in order for them to eat. Both are unacceptable circumstances.’
Winners of IBA Annual Awards 2019
The IBA Annual Awards were presented to exceptional lawyers at the Annual Conference in Seoul.
The IBAHRI Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights Award honoured joint recipients Martin Lee SC JP and Dr Margaret Ng (pictured).
Lee has devoted his life to the advancement of human rights and democratic ideals in his native Hong Kong. He served on the Drafting Committee for Hong Kong’s Basic Law, helping to shape what would become the territory’s post-handover constitution.
Dr Ng has similarly dedicated much of her career to the protection of human rights and freedom of speech in Hong Kong. She continues to fight restrictions of civil liberties in Hong Kong as a member of the Basic Law Article 45 Concern Group.
Malaysian lawyer and poet Cecil Rajendra collected the 2019 IBA Pro Bono Award. Described by his nominator as ‘the founding father of legal aid’, Rajendra has been a staunch advocate of human rights and has striven to improve access to justice for all throughout his career.
The IBA Outstanding Young Lawyer Award went to Turkish lawyer Elif Goksen. Goksen works to improve access to justice and acts as a voice for individuals who have been mistreated, marginalised or excluded.
The awards, which are sponsored by LexisNexis, were presented on 26 September during the IBA Annual Conference in Seoul, South Korea.
For more information visit tinyurl.com/IBAAward19
International Rescue Committee and David Miliband to receive Stockholm Human Rights Award
The IBA, together with the Swedish Bar Association and the International Legal Assistance Consortium, has awarded the 11th Stockholm Human Rights Award to David Miliband and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the humanitarian aid body that Miliband heads.
In 2018, the IRC and its international partners assisted 2,175 children and parents seeking asylum in the US and resettled 5,374 refugees and Special Immigrant Visa recipients across 25 cities. In addition, the IRC provides clean water, shelter, healthcare and education to people in conflict-stricken countries including Myanmar, Syria and Yemen.
Described by former US President Bill Clinton as ‘one of the most creative public servants of our time’, Miliband has dedicated his career to improving access to justice and upholding the rule of law.
Miliband joined the UK government as Member of Parliament for South Shields in 2001. He was later appointed Environment Secretary, where he was responsible for developing British policy on climate change, and elevated the issue to priority status for policymakers. From 2007 until 2010, Miliband served as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, a position he used to highlight and condemn human rights atrocities across the world. In 2013, Miliband resigned his parliamentary seat to head the IRC.
This annual award is given to an individual and/or organisation for outstanding contributions to human rights and the rule of law. Former recipients of the Award include Thomas Buergenthal, international jurist and professor of law for more than 50 years, and Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002.
Miliband and the IRC will be presented with the Award on 4 November 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. Miliband will participate in a short interview with the IBA’s Executive Director, Mark Ellis, after the presentation.
For more information about the Stockholm Human Rights Award, visit tinyurl.com/StockholmAward19
Film: Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights
Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, discusses the injustice of wealth inequality in the US in a new film with the IBA’s US Correspondent, Michael Goldhaber.
In his 2018 report to the UN, Professor Alston argued that the persistence of poverty was a political choice that poses a threat to democracy. In this film, he elaborates on his concern that the US criminal justice system is being misused to raise revenue by punishing the poor for being poor, instead of delivering justice. Pointing to the lack of social rights in the US, Professor Alston highlights the need for a social safety net and ruminates on whether the Trump era could be remembered for bringing social democracy back to America.
Watch the interview at tinyurl.com/alstonIBA
IBA President attends Nigerian Bar Association annual meeting
Horacio Bernardes Neto, President of the IBA, gave the keynote address at the Nigerian Bar Association’s Annual General Conference, held in Lagos on 23–29 August. He addressed delegates at the event’s opening ceremony, which focused on the theme ‘Facing the Future’. The President also discussed the importance of upholding the rule of law, and raised awareness of the issues highlighted in the IBA’s landmark report, Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession.
The President’s visit was at the invitation of Paul Usoro, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), who commented that the visit would build on and strengthen the existing relationship between the IBA and the NBA.
Commenting on his participation at the NBA meeting, Bernardes said: ‘I am deeply honoured to have been invited by President Usoro, SAN, to attend this prestigious gathering, and I am very much looking forward to greeting longstanding friends of the IBA, as well as meeting anew many of Nigeria’s fine jurists on this trip.’
Nigeria was the latest stop on an IBA global campaign trail to bring attention to the startling rates of bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession and to work to halt such behaviour.
Discussing the report on bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession, Bernardes said: ‘It is deeply shameful that our profession, predicated on the highest ethical standards, is rife with such negative workplace behaviours. Bar associations, law societies and law firms must lead by example and expose unacceptable behaviour. The IBA is working to ensure that eradicating bullying and sexual harassment is prioritised. We must work for positive change.’
Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession is available at tinyurl.com/iba-ustoo
IBA Presidential Task Force launches reports on refugee crisis
Two teams within the IBA Presidential Task Force on the Refugee Crisis Initiative have produced reports on different aspects of the current migration crisis. A Model Instrument for an Emergency Evacuation Visa was authored by Dr Violeta Moreno-Lax, of Queen Mary University of London, who received input from Michelle Alfaro from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Professor Siobhán Mullally and Claire Raissian LLM of the Irish Centre for Human Rights provided their expertise for the second team’s report, A Child Rights Response to Child Migration and Migrant Children at Risk.
Both reports were launched at the IBA Annual Conference in Seoul on Tuesday 24 September, at the showcase session on the creation of an international refugee visa and a model of protection for refugee and migrant children. The session involved the IBA Immigration and Nationality Law Committee, the IBA Family Law Committee and the IBA Presidential Task Force on the Refugee Crisis Initiative. The session was chaired by IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto and the IBA’s Human Rights Institute Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.
IBAHRI collaborates with legal profession in Zambia and Zimbabwe
On 9 August, the IBA’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) jointly hosted a panel discussion with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Lawyers’ Association and the American Bar Association.
Taking place at the SADC Lawyers’ Association in Zimbabwe, the event focused on threats to the independence of the legal profession and provided a candid assessment of coping mechanisms. Panellists included IBAHRI Council Member, Beatrice Mtetwa, and IBAHRI Deputy Director, Muluka Miti-Drummond.
The IBAHRI has meanwhile launched a project in Zambia to inspire students in their final year of law school to work on human rights issues when they enter the legal workforce.
The IBAHRI is collaborating with the University of Lusaka, Zambian lawyers and the IBA African Regional Forum to implement the project, which includes an essay competition for students in their final year. Prizes were awarded at a conference held at the University of Lusaka in September.
CPS faces allegation of dropping rape cases to boost prosecution rates
MEG LEWIS, SENIOR CONTENT EDITOR AND JENNIFER SADLER-VENIS, CONTENT EDITOR
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) has formally commenced proceedings against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) at the High Court, alleging that the CPS has secretly adopted a policy of dropping ‘weak’ rape cases or changed its decision-making practice in order to boost prosecution ‘success’ rates.
From 2017 to 2018, despite the number of rapes recorded by the police increasing by 31 per cent, the number of rape cases taken on by the CPS fell by almost a quarter, compared with the previous year. While the number of convictions for rape fell by almost 12 per cent over the year, due to the smaller number of prosecutions, the conviction rate rose from 57.6 to 58.3 per cent.
The Centre for Women’s Justice, which is acting for EVAW in the claim, has gathered 21 cases ‘where decisions have been made not to charge despite compelling evidence, and in some cases where men were known to be violent and some suspected of being serial offenders’.
EVAW alleges that the CPS is no longer taking a merits-based approach to rape investigations, and that it now second-guesses jury prejudices in order to boost conviction rates. The merits-based approach stressed the need to consider whether or not consent was sought, as well as given, as detailed under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
‘Our case is built around how a merits-based approach is a critical human rights-based approach to prosecuting rape,’ says Sarah Green, Co-Director of EVAW, ‘to try to ensure justice where the victims of this crime are disproportionately women and girls.’
Harriet Wistrich, Director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, is bringing the case for EVAW. She argues that the failings by the CPS to prosecute rape is a comparable human rights failure to those witnessed in the investigation of serial rapist John Worboys.
In February 2018, two victims of Worboys won a compensation claim after the Supreme Court upheld that the police had failed in their duty under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights to investigate serious violence against women.
‘If we were to be successful, I think it would show that where there are systemic failures, those may amount to a human rights violation,’ Wistrich tells Global Insight. A court ruling in EVAW’s favour, she explains, would mean victims who have been failed by the CPS would be entitled to damages.
The CPS denies a change in policy. ‘Decisions to prosecute are based on whether our legal tests are met – no other reason – and we always seek to prosecute where there is sufficient evidence to do so,’ says a CPS spokesperson. It points to ‘an increase in the volume of digital data and the analysis of evidence gathered by following reasonable lines of enquiry’ as one of the reasons for the falling charge rates.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition began legal action against the CPS in June
Though police forces across England and Wales have been requesting victims’ consent to review digital data in sexual assault cases for some time, a new national digital disclosure form rolled out in 2019 has brought the controversial practice back into the spotlight. Victims report being asked to hand over their phone and laptop contents – and in some cases their entire medical history – or risk having their cases abandoned.
‘It’s very intrusive for the victim to go through that. Unless there’s a really strong reason as to why there is something about a particular case that makes the digital disclosure particularly relevant, then it just should not be permitted at all,’ argues Rachel Horman, a solicitor and Head of the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Forced Marriage Department at Watson Ramsbottom.
‘Given such latitude by police investigators to probe so many details of a victim’s life, who is monitoring the investigators and the extent to which they may overstep their interpretation of “relevance”?’ asks Luz Nagle, Co-Chair of the IBA Crimes Against Women Subcommittee.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is conducting a probe into this intrusive use of claimant information. The CPS states that it will continue to work with victims and the ICO to ensure the right approach is being taken, and will carefully consider the results of the ICO’s review.
The CPS spokesperson explains that there are avenues for victims who disagree with the CPS’s decision.
They point to the Victim’s Right to Review Scheme, launched in June 2013, which allows victims to ask for a review of their case by another prosecutor, independent of the original decision-maker, if a decision is taken not to charge or to discontinue proceedings.
However, Horman says that there are inconsistencies in how the Victim’s Right to Review Scheme is applied to individual cases. She argues that the Scheme needs to be reviewed by an independent body, and that stakeholder training and accountability measures need to be tightened. ‘There needs to be more consequences for poor decision-making,’ she says, because as it stands, ‘everybody involved in the criminal justice system is letting down and putting victims at greater risk.’