1 billion children face physical, sexual, psychological violence every year on earth: UN report

News Network
June 19,2020

United Nations, Jun 19: Half of the world's children -- one billion every year -- are affected by physical, sexual or psychological violence, suffering injuries and death because countries have failed to follow established strategies to protect them, the first report of its kind from the UN has said, with experts noting that the coronavirus-related lockdowns have left far too many youngsters stuck with their abusers.

While nearly all countries (88 per cent) have laws in place to protect minors, less than half (47 per cent) say they strongly enforce them, said the Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020 launched on Thursday.

Because countries have failed to follow established strategies to protect children, about one billion are affected each year by physical, sexual or psychological violence, it said.

"There is never any excuse for violence against children," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"We have evidence-based tools to prevent it, which we urge all countries to implement. Protecting the health and well-being of children is central to protecting our collective health and well-being, now and for the future," he said.

The report -- launched by the World Health Organisation, the UNICEF, the UNESCO, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children and the End Violence Partnership -- charted progress in 155 countries against the "INSPIRE" framework, a set of seven strategies for preventing and responding to violence against children.

The report signaled a clear need in all countries to scale up efforts to implement them. It included the first ever global homicide estimates specifically for children under 18 years of age -- previous estimates were based on data that included 18 to 19-year olds.

According to the findings, in 2017, around 40,000 children were victims of homicide.

"Violence against children has always been pervasive, and now things could be getting much worse," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.

"Lockdowns, school closures and movement restrictions have left far too many children stuck with their abusers, without the safe space that school would normally offer. It is urgent to scale up efforts to protect children during these times and beyond, including by designating social service workers as essential and strengthening child helplines," she said.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the related school closures, "we have seen a rise in violence and hate online – and this includes bullying".

"Now, as schools begin to re-open, children are expressing their fears about going back to school. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that schools are safe environments for all children. We need to think and act collectively to stop violence at school and in our societies at large," Azoulay said.

Stay-at-home measures including school closures have limited the usual sources of support for families and individuals such as friends, extended family or professionals.

This further erodes victims’ ability to successfully cope with crises and the new routines of daily life. Spikes in calls to helplines for child abuse and intimate partner violence have been observed, the report said.

While online communities have become central to maintain many children's learning, support and play, an increase in harmful online behaviors including cyberbullying, risky online behavior and sexual exploitation have been identified.

“Whilst this report was being finalised, confinement measures and the disrupted provision of already limited child protection services exacerbated the vulnerability of children to various forms of violence," said Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children.

Of the INSPIRE strategies, only access to schools through enrolment showed the most progress with 54 per cent of the countries reporting that a sufficient number of children in need were being reached in this way.

Between 32 per cent and 37 per cent of the countries considered that victims of violence could access support services, while 26 per cent of the countries provided programmes on parent and caregiver support; 21 per cent of the countries had programmes to change harmful norms; and 15 per cent of the countries had modifications to provide safe physical environments for children, the report said.

Although a majority of countries (83 per cent) have national data on violence against children, only 21 per cent used these to set baselines and national targets to prevent and respond to violence against children, it added.

The report said about 80 per cent of countries have national plans of action and policies but only one-fifth have plans that are fully funded or have measurable targets. A lack of funding combined with inadequate professional capacity are likely contributing factors and a reason why implementation has been slow.

"Ending violence against children is the right thing to do, a smart investment to make - and it's possible. We can and must create a world where every child can thrive," Howard Taylor of the End Violence Partnership said.

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Sri Lanka | Rajapaksa brothers strengthen grip as their group wins ‘super majority’ in parliament polls

Agencies
August 7,2020

Colombo, Aug 7: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's party and its allies won an overwhelming two-thirds majority in a parliament election, results showed on Friday, giving him the power to enact sweeping changes to the constitution.

The governing Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and its allies had won 150 seats in the 225-member parliament, according to the tally published by the election commission from Wednesday's vote.

Rajapaksa had sought a two-thirds majority in parliament to be able to restore full executive powers to the presidency, which he says are necessary to implement his agenda to make the tiny island economically and militarily secure.

He is likely to install his older brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the next prime minister. The brothers are best known for crushing the Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils during the elder Rajapaksa's presidency in 2009.

On a congratulatory phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, which is keen to check Chinese influence on its southern neighbour, Mahinda Rajapaksa vowed to deepen ties between the two countries.

"With the strong support of the people of Sri Lanka, I look forward to working with you closely to further enhance the long-standing cooperation between our two countries," he told Modi. "Sri Lanka and India are friends and relations."

The tourism-dependent nation of 21 million people has been struggling economically since deadly Islamist militant attacks on hotels and churches last year followed by lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

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Pak PM's advisors possess assets worth millions of dollars, dual citizenship

News Network
July 20,2020

Islamabad, Jul 20: Six advisors of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan posses dual citizenships and several of top 20 aides have admitted of owning movable and immovable assets worth millions of dollars abroad.

The list was published on the official website of Pakistan government's cabinet division.
All the dual nationals were working as special assistants to the prime minister (SAPM). 

These people include SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari (UK), SAPM on Power Division Shahzad Qasim (US), SAPM on Petroleum Nadeem Babar (US), SAPM on Political Affairs Shahbaz Gill (US), SAPM on Parliamentary Coordination Nadeem Afzal Gondal (Canada) and SAPM on Digital Pakistan Tania Aidrus (Canadian citizenship by birth).

According to Gulf News report, the wealthiest SAPM is Power Division and Mineral Resources Assistant Shahzad Syed Qasim who has assets worth over Rs 4 billion followed by SAPM on Petroleum Nadeem Babar with assets worth Rs 2.75 billion. Meanwhile, Adviser for Overseas Pakistanis Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari's net assets is estimated over Rs 2 billion.

Giving further details of the wealthiest SAPM, the official website stated that the PM's aide on Power Division and Coordination of Marketing and Development of Mineral Resources owns assets in Pakistan, UAE and US. His three properties in UAE include two villas in Jumeirah Golf Estates and Sienna Lakes, Jumeirah Golf Estates and an apartment at Park Towers, DIFC - all worth Dh20,688,000. He has three cars in the UAE worth Dh400,000 and in the US, he has property worth US$865,000 while he has Rs 4 billion in various local and foreign bank accounts and retirement funds including $2.1 million in US.

Meanwhile, Nadeem Babbar, who is Special Assistant on Petroleum Division, owns assets worth over Rs 2.7 billion, including several properties in Pakistan and abroad and stakes in more than 30 local and foreign companies.

The Gulf News further reported that in the list Dr Moeed Yusuf's, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning, the name was also included but was later withdrawn as it was clarified that he had the US residency and only holds the citizenship of Pakistan as per the affidavit submitted to the government. "I have not returned to the US since I took up my current responsibility, have no employment or income in the US nor do I have any millions worth properties abroad" Dr Yusuf was quoted as saying.

The latest list on PM Imran Khan's advisors possessing dual nationalities has sparked strong criticisms by the Opposition leaders.

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Trump administration rescinds international students visa policy

Agencies
July 15,2020

Washington, Jul 15: The Trump administration has agreed to rescind its July 6 rule, which temporarily barred international students from staying in the United States unless they attend at least one in-person course, a federal district court judge said on Tuesday.

The U-turn by the Trump administration comes following a nationwide outrage against its July 6 order and a series of lawsuits filed by a large number of educational institutions, led by the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), seeking a permanent injunctive relief to bar the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from enforcing the federal guidelines barring international students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses from staying in the country.

As many as 17 US states and the District of Columbia, along with top American IT companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, joined MIT and Harvard in the US District Court in Massachusetts against the DHS and the ICE in seeking an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect.

"I have been informed by the parties that they have come to a resolution. They will return to the status quo," Judge Allison Burroughs, the federal district judge in Boston, said in a surprise statement at the top of the hearing on the lawsuit.

The announcement comes as a big relief to international students, including those from India. In the 2018-2019 academic year, there were over 10 lakh international students in the US. According to a recent report of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), 1,94,556 Indian students were enrolled in various academic institutions in the US in January.

Judge Burroughs said the policy would apply nationwide.

"Both the policy directive and the frequently asked questions would not be enforced anyplace," she said, referring to the agreement between the US government and MIT and Harvard.

Congressman Brad Scneider said this is a great win for international students, colleges and common sense.

"The Administration needs to give us a plan to tackle our public health crisis - it can't be recklessly creating rules one day and rescinding them the next," he said in a tweet.

Last week, more than 136 Congressmen and 30 senators wrote to the Trump administration to rescind its order on international students.

"This is a major victory for the students, organisers and institutions of higher education in the #MA7 and all across the country that stood up and fought back against this racist and xenophobic rule," said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

"Taking online classes shouldn't force international students out of our country," Congressman Mikie Sherrill said in a tweet.

In its July 6 notice, the ICE had said all student visa holders, whose university curricula were only offered online, "must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status".

"If not, they may face immigration consequences, including but not limited to the initiation of removal proceedings," it had said.

In their lawsuit, the 17 states and the District of Columbia said for many international students, remote learning in the countries and communities they come from would impede their studies or be simply impossible.

The lawsuit alleged that the new rule imposes a significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the US and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.

In a separate filing, companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, along with the US Chamber of Commerce and other IT advocacy groups, asserted that the July 6 ICE directive will disrupt their recruiting plans, making it impossible to bring on board international students that businesses, including the amici, had planned to hire, and disturb the recruiting process on which the firms have relied on to identify and train their future employees.

The July 6 directive will make it impossible for a large number of international students to participate in the CPT and OPT programmes. The US will "nonsensically be sending...these graduates away to work for our global competitors and compete against us...instead of capitalising on the investment in their education here in the US", they said.

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