The Indian village where child sexual exploitation is the norm

women photoIndian advocacy group Jan Sahas believes there are an estimated 100,000 women and girls in caste and gender slavery. Photograph: Rebecca Conway

By Michael Safi

Many families in India still mourn the birth of a girl. But   when Leena was born, people celebrated.

Sagar Gram, her village in central India, is unique that way. Girls outnumber boys. When a woman marries, it is the groom’s family that pays the dowry. Women are Sagar Gram’s breadwinners. When they are deemed old enough, perhaps at the age of 11, most are expected to start doing sex work.

India officially abolished caste discrimination almost 70 years ago. But millennia of tradition is not easily erased. For most Indians, caste still has a defining influence on who they marry and what they eat. It also traps millions in abusive work. The exploited and trafficked children of Sagar
Gram, and dozens of other villages across India’s hinterland, are one of its most disturbing manifestations.

“It is caste and gender slavery,” says Ashif Shaikh of Jan Sahas, an advocacy group that works with members of India’s lowest castes, communities that used to be called “untouchables”.

“We estimate there are 100,000 women and girls in this situation. But there are likely more we haven’t identified. It’s an invisible issue.”

Girls in Sagar Gram grow up hearing a story. Sometime in the misty past of Hindu myth, a king fell in love with a dancer. His enraged queen issued the woman with a challenge: if she could walk a tightrope across a river, she could join the royal family, and permanently raise the status of her caste.

As the woman neared the opposite bank of the river, a step from success, the queen suddenly cut the rope. “Up until now, we lured your men through dancing,” the woman told the queen. “From now on, we will take your men from you with our bodies.”

Leena, 22, remembers learning about the woman. She remembers the awe she felt when the older girls from her caste, the Bacchara, suddenly had enough money for makeup and nice clothing. She remembers what the adults in her village told her when she was 15, and her family was having money problems.

“Your parents are going through such a hard time,” they told her. “How can you go to school? You need to be working.”

That was when she started. “The rest of the girls in my village were doing it, so I felt like I had to do it as well,” she says. “It was my responsibility.”

Girls in Sagar Gram, which lies next to a highway, are groomed for this life virtually from birth. Parents decide which of their daughters will fetch the best price. Older girls teach them how to attract customers from passing trucks and cars. The younger ones sometimes stow under beds, observing the others at work.

Sex was nonetheless a mystery to Leena. “When I was young, the most important thing was seeing the money the customer was offering,” she says. “I didn’t understand what they were doing to me. I only saw that money was coming in.”

Her virginity was prized. She made 5,000 rupees (£55) on the first night. Her price declined after that. Another Bacchara woman, aged 29, says the most she can make for an encounter is 200 rupees. She might see five or six men in a day.

India’s preference for male children has created a deep gender imbalance. Among the Baccharas of Sagar Gram village, however, the problem cuts the other way: there are 3,595 women in the district compared with 2,770 men, according to the most recent census.

Yet, visiting the village at dusk, few women or girls can be seen. “They’ve all gone to hotels or to stop cars,” an older man says, gesturing at the nearby highway. Every few hundred metres along the road, girls are reclined on rope beds, waving at any vehicle that slows.

The legal age of consent in India is 18. Madhya Pradesh, the state in which Sagar Gram is situated, recently passed the death penalty for anyone who rapes a child under 12, also increasing jail terms for adults who have sex with someone under 18. Police say seven people were arrested for child
sexual exploitation offences in Sagar Gram in the past year, five of them women who sold their underage daughters. The law is clear, but does little to sway social custom and economic distress.

“It’s a traditional business,” says deputy superintendent Nagendra Singh Sikarwar, at the nearby Jeeran police station. “Even girls we try to rehabilitate come back to it. The main issue is we don’t have alternative jobs for them. And so their families are keen that they continue the work.”

Most Bacchara men do not work. Only the lowest paid or most degrading jobs are available to them anyway. So they rely on their children. They wait on their porches with the rest of the family while their daughters are inside with customers.

One villager, Balram Chauhan, should be a rich man. He has five daughters. But he is struggling: Chauhan, 52, is the only father in the village who refuses to force his children into sex work.

“To be exposed to such violence and mental and physical abuse,” he mutters. “How could any parent willingly send them off?”

His mother was a prostitute. Despite his efforts, so were four of his sisters. “From the moment I understood what they were doing I tried to stop them,” he says. “But my parents were against me. They said it was a culture that had been going on for years. Who was I to stop it?”

Trying to break this cycle has been a lifelong struggle. His parents sabotaged his efforts to train as a health worker, Chauhan says. When he married off his two daughters to spare them from a life of prostitution, his family cut him off.

He cannot move his family outside of a Bacchara village: nobody would rent property to someone from his caste. The “higher” caste communities nearby consider his very presence polluting. So he has opened a small shop in Sagar Gram selling biscuits and confectionery, trying to eke out enough to pay for his daughters’ education.

“A lot of people here bad-mouth my daughters,” he says. “If they see them speaking on a cellphone, 10 people come to my shop and tell me: ‘Your daughter is chatting to so-and-so.’ They try to say they have loose characters.

“If I had one daughter, I could handle it. But when there are five …” he trails off. “It’s a difficult thing.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global- development/2019/jan/14/indian-village-where-child-sexual- exploitation-is-the-norm-sagar-gram-jan-sahas

LA’s teachers can teach the working class about the power of labor strikes

los angeles photoTeachers from Kentucky gather inside the state Capitol in April to rally for increased funding. Photograph: Bryan Woolston/AP

Eric Blanc and Meagan Day

Educators in Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the country, are going on strike on Monday. By deciding to walk out for smaller class sizes, more support staff, fewer standardized tests and charter school regulation, LA’s teachers have ensured that California will be the next state hit by a strike wave that shows no signs of ebbing anytime soon.

The teachers’ upsurge was one of the defining stories of 2018. It began in West Virginia, where teacher and support staff decided to shut down the schools until their demands for better pay and healthcare were taken seriously. They won big, and they inspired educators across the nation to follow their example. Work stoppages soon swept across Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina and Colorado. Though not all their demands were met, teachers won major gains and changed the national conversation about the reasons for public education’s crisis.

Confounding all expectations, most of these actions erupted in Republican-dominated regions with relatively weak labor unions, bans on public sector strikes, and electorates that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Media pundits dubbed this a “red state rebellion”. But blue states are hardly immune to low pay, underfunded schools and frustrated teachers. Last fall, educators across Washington and charter school teachers in Chicago joined the strike wave – and strikes are now looming in Los Angeles as well as Oakland, threatening to disrupt business as usual for tens of millions of people on the west coast.

Above all, the teacher revolt expresses a rejection of the austerity and privatization agenda pushed by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly since the Great Recession. Today, 29 states have lower education funding than they did in 2008, and nationwide, education funding is still about $450 lower per student than it was a decade ago, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report. Last year, educators across the nation reached their breaking point, finally squeezed too tight by rising living costs, crumbling schoolhouses, and an encroaching school privatization campaign that opportunistically treats the crisis caused by underfunding as a pretext to further erode public education and labor unions.

However, 2018 wasn’t just the year that teachers had enough. Something else happened, too. West Virginia and subsequent battles have hammered home one of the labor movement’s most fundamental (and forgotten) lessons: strikes are the most powerful tool at working people’s disposal. Teachers have been rallying and lobbying against public education budget cuts for years – yet it was only once they began striking that politicians were forced to start making concessions.

At most times, in most places, workers feel powerless in the face of management. But when they organize to bring work itself to a halt, the balance of power fundamentally shifts. Suddenly the true importance of workers’ labor is laid bare, and the powers-that-be have a crisis on their hands. Strikes transform ordinary working people with little wealth and political clout into a force to be reckoned with. And all that’s necessary to tap into this game-changing, table-turning power is for workers to recognize the extraordinary value of their work, and organize with each other to withhold it.

Yet strike numbers have been declining for decades and it’s not hard to figure out why. Fewer workers are represented by unions than at any point in the last 70 years, thanks largely to a ruthless corporate offensive against the labor movement and basic union rights, including the right to strike. Unfortunately, most union officials have responded by retreating into a self-defeating reliance on electing and lobbying mainstream Democrats, instead of building disruptive strikes.

The teachers’ upsurge points the way forward for unions and the working class. But it will face new challenges in 2019. With the movement now spreading to the blue states, educators and their unions will no longer be primarily battling Republican politicians. To win in a city like Los Angeles means nothing less than taking on the Democratic party establishment. The corporate-funded drive to privatize LA’s public schools is not led by acolytes of Donald Trump. To the contrary: Austin Beutner, the billionaire investment banker installed as superintendent by deep-pocketed backers of school privatization, is a proud liberal and a longtime funder of the Democratic party.

Confronting Democratic politicians won’t come easy to many union leaders and educators, but the success of the movement depends on it. And if the strikes continue to spread, expect this growing labor militancy to exacerbate the polarizing intra-party struggle between the Democratic establishment and insurgent forces led by socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Winning in 2019 will also require foregrounding progressive taxation. Though districts and states can afford to make some immediate concessions – LA, for example, is sitting on $1.86bn in financial reserves – public education’s crisis can’t be solved without a massive re-investment in our schools. But who will pay for this? Against the inevitable attempts of mainstream politicians to pit teachers against other workers by cutting other social services or raising regressive taxes, educators and their unions will have to convince the public to join the fight for the only equitable solution: tax the billionaires and corporations.

The stakes are high. Public education remains one of the few remaining public goods in the United States. For that very reason, corporate politicians are doing everything they can to dismantle and privatize the school system. But if the teachers’ upsurge can reverse this offensive, there’s little reason to assume that working people will stop there. Saving public education may be the first step towards building a revitalized labor movement capable of bringing many of society’s basic necessities – from healthcare to energy production – into the public sphere.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/14/la-teachers-working-class-power-labor-strikes

Myanmar: Wives of Reuters journalists devastated by verdict

reuters photoPan Ei Mon (L) and Chit Su Win wives of jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo after their appeal was rejected [Ann Wang/Reuters]

by Joshua Carroll

Yangon, Myanmar – The families of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after uncovering a massacre in Rakhine state were once again left devastated on Friday when a court rejected the pair’s appeal to overturn their seven-year prison sentences.

After the judge rattled through his ruling in a crowded courtroom in downtown Yangon, the wives of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo wept as senior foreign diplomats offered their commiserations.

While little has gone in the reporters’ favour since their arrests in December 2017, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, was still clinging to hope before today’s decision.

“We were even hoping to go to the jail to welcome them if they were released today, but it’s not happening,” she told a scrum of reporters outside the gates of Yangon’s regional High Court.

Neither of the men attended Friday’s ruling. They have both been unable to see their children for the past month. Wa Lone’s detention forced him to miss the birth of his baby daughter in August last year, while Kyaw Soe Oo has only been able to see his three-year-old daughter at court hearings and prison visits.

A message to journalists

The two journalists were sentenced in September under the country’s Official Secrets Act after being accused of holding classified documents.

Their nine-month trial was roundly condemned as a sham aimed at stifling independent reporting on the military’s large-scale killings of Rohingya.

“Journalists have got the message that they should avoid these kinds of issues,” Myint Kyaw, secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network, told Al Jazeera.

The military is adamant its actions in late 2017 were legitimate counterinsurgency operations, but the UN has called for senior officials to be prosecuted for genocide.

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung said he would talk to the reporters about whether or not to take an appeal to Myanmar’s Supreme Court. “We are very disappointed about today’s judgement,” he said.

In their September appeal, the defence pointed to testimony by a police captain who said his colleagues entrapped the reporters in a sting by handing them documents and then promptly arresting them.

But Judge Aung Naing hewed closely to the original ruling today before observers in a high-ceilinged courtroom dotted with cobwebs, and described the pair’s prison terms as a “suitable punishment”.

Besides a Supreme Court ruling, the reporter’s best hope of being released soon is a pardon from President Win Myint, who would take orders from the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Based on previous cases of journalists being jailed in the country, said Myint Kyaw, there is a chance the pair will receive a pardon, “but it will take time”.

‘A day in prison is an injustice’

Maja Kocijancic, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “We are confident that the President of Myanmar will promptly address this injustice and ensure, together with the government, that the press can fulfil its function as an essential pillar of democracy.”

Many are losing hope that former icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi will intervene on the pair’s behalf.

Bill Richardson, a senior US diplomat and former confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi, alleged last year that she referred to the two journalists as “traitors” during a heated exchange.

Richardson resigned from his position on an international advisory body on Rakhine soon after the confrontation.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting from Rakhine’s Inn Din village last year revealed how soldiers and villagers hacked and shot 10 Rohingya men and boys to death before burying them in a mass grave.

They were among almost 7,000 Rohingya who died within the first month of the military’s crackdown, which began in late August 2017, according to estimates from Doctors Without Borders.

The reporters were held incommunicado for two weeks following their arrests. Wa Lone later testified that he was hooded and deprived of sleep during days of interrogation.

“One day in prison was already an injustice,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response. “This appalling farce must end now.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/myanmar-wives-reuters-journalists-voice-despair-verdict-190111102521706.html

India’s lower house passes citizenship bill that excludes Muslims

Legislators approve bill that will grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants amid protests in northeastern Assam.

indian photoProtesters set fire to effigies of the prime minister and vandalised two BJP offices [Biju Boro/ AFP]

India’s lower house of parliament has approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants, sparking protests that brought the country’s populous northeast to a near standstill.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper house, seeks to grant rights to Hindus, Jains, Parsis and several other non-Muslim religious groups who migrated illegally from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“They have no place to go except India,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament on Tuesday. “The beneficiaries of the bill can reside in any state of the country.”

Critics have called the proposal, contained in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

The bill sparked a second day of protests in the northeastern state of Assam, where nearly 4 million people, accused of being foreigners, were effectively stripped of their citizenship last year.

Protesters there are angry not because the bill excludes Muslims, but because it would grant citizenship to undocumented Hindus who failed to prove their citizenship and hence were excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last July.

The final NRC list is due to be published on June 30.

suhas Chakma, director of the New Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group, said the citizenship bill was “absolutely unconstitutional as it targets specific groups”.

The bill is unlikely to pass the upper house of parliament, he told Al Jazeera, because the chamber is not controlled by the ruling party.

“This is going to backfire on the BJP,” he said, pointing to the anger in Assam.

Protests in Assam

In Tuesday’s protest, demonstrators set up blockades with burning tyres and vandalised two BJP offices, disrupting traffic and business from early in the morning to late afternoon.

They also burned effigies of the prime minister.

Mukesh Agarwal, Assam police spokesperson, said more than 700 demonstrators were arrested. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Samujjal Bhattacharya, leader of the All Assam Students Union, said that providing residency and citizenship rights to undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, with which Assam state shares a long border, would threaten indigenous communities.

“Already, we have a whole lot of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh who entered Assam illegally over the years. Now, the government is trying to make a law seeking to confer citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh. We want all illegal migrants to be detected and deported, irrespective of their religion,” Bhattacharya said.

The issue of immigration from Bangladesh has spurred periodic public uprisings in Assam since the Indian government granted rights to Bangladeshis who entered the country before 1971 – the year Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan.

BJP’s alliance partner in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad or Assam People’s Party, quit the coalition government on Tuesday in protest against the new bill.

“We have always opposed the entry and presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Our party was formed in 1985 with this promise of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh,” AGP president Atul Bora said.

“We, therefore, cannot remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the Modi government.”
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/india-house-passes-citizenship-bill-excludes-muslims-190108145755215.html

The Adolescent Girl Holds the Key to Kenya’s Economic Transformation and Prosperity

Kenya photo
Dr Natalia Kanem, Chief of UNFPA, “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”. Credit: UNFPA Tanzania

By Siddharth Chatterjee

NAIROBI, Kenya, Teenage pregnancy in Kenya is a crisis of hope, education and opportunity.

The New Year has begun. Can 2019 be a year of affirmative action to ensure hope and opportunity for Kenya’s adolescent girl?

Consider this. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that when a young adolescent girl is not married during her childhood, is not forced to leave school nor exposed to pregnancies, when she is not high risk of illness and death nor suffering maternal morbidities, when she is not exposed to informal work, insecurity and displacement; and is not drawn into an insecure old age-she becomes an asset for a country’s potential to seize the demographic dividend.

So what is the demographic dividend?

It means when a household has fewer children that they need to take care of, and a larger number of people have decent jobs, the household can save and invest more money. Better nutrition, education and opportunities and more disposable income at the household level. When this happens on a large scale, economies can benefit from a boost of economic growth.

One of the goals of development policies is to create an environment for rapid economic growth. The economic successes of the “Asian Tigers” during the 1960s and 1970s have led to a comprehensive way of thinking about how different sectors can work together to make this growth a reality. This helps explain the experience of some countries in Asia, and later successes in Latin America, and optimism for improving the economic well-being of countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent by investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

With over 70% of Kenya’s population less than 30 years of age, the country’s favorable demographic ratios could unlock a potential source of demand and growth, Kenya is currently in a “sweet spot”. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that its working age population will grow to 73 per cent by 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment.

The key to harnessing the demographic dividend is enabling young people and adolescent girls in particular, to enjoy their human rights and achieve their full human potential. Every girl must be empowered, educated and given opportunities for employment, and above all is able to plan her future family, this is the very essence of reaping a demographic dividend.

Each extra year a girl stays in high school, for example, delivers an 11.6 per cent increase in her average annual wage for the rest of her life.

The UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem has said: “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”.

So what can be done?

First, end all practices that harm girls. This means, for example, enforcing laws that end female genital mutilations and child marriage.

Second, enable girls to stay in school, at least through high school. Studies have shown the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to become pregnant as an adolescent and the more likely to grow up healthy and join the paid labour force.

Third, reach the marginalized and impoverished girls who have traditionally been left behind.

Forth, make sure girls, before they reach puberty, have access to information about their bodies. Later in adolescence, they need information and services to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Finally, take steps to protect girls’ – and everyone’s – rights.

As we countdown to 2019, let us prioritize the development of every girl’s full human potential. Our collective future depends on it. We must do everything in our power to ignite that potential-for her sake and for the sake of human development and humanity.
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/adolescent-girl-holds-key-kenyas-economic-transformation-prosperity/

‘Give them freedom’ – PNG bishops denounce six-year refugee detention

freedom photoPapua New Guinea flag flies ahead of the Nov. 17-18 APEC
summit. Credit: James D. Morgan / Getty Images News.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops
of Papua New Guinea have issued a renewed plea on behalf of
the nearly 500 refugees and asylum seekers being held in
indefinite detention in deteriorating conditions.

“These people have been away from their families for the sixth
Christmas… it was just another night of detention on Manus
Island,” said Fr. Ambrose Pereira, communication secretary for
the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the
Solomon Islands.

Facing conditions of trauma, overcrowding, and lack of food,
he said, “most of them survive thanks to medicines, mostly
anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotics,” and many face
serious side effects from taking the medications long-term
without a prescription.

In a statement to Fides News Agency on Thursday, Pereira
called the refugees’ situation “abuse and neglect,” and said
it causes the Papua New Guinea bishops “great suffering.”

“This is not the way to treat human beings,” he said.

Australia has had a system of “third country processing” since
2012 for asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat without
a valid visa. The system transfers the asylum seekers to other
countries, where they are processed based on that country’s
laws.

Many of those seeking asylum in Australia come from
Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Iran, traveling by boat from
Indonesia. They are typically intercepted by the Australian
navy before reaching land, and are then sent to detention
camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, a small Micronesian
nation.

The government of Australia made an agreement with the
government of Papua New Guinea in 2013, providing that
migrants sent to Papua New Guinea from Australia would be
settled there if they are found to be refugees. Otherwise they
would be sent back to their country of origin or another
country where they have legal residence.

Ahead of the Nov. 17-18 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
summit in Port Moresby, the Papua New Guinea government sent
dozens of men who had been receiving specialized medical
attention back to Manus Island, citing security needs. These
men joined hundreds of other refugees and asylum seekers being
held on the island.

In November, a report from Amnesty International and the
Refugee Council of Australia documented serious declines in
mental and physical health among the refugees in detention on
Manus Island.

Three men had committed suicide, and many others had attempted
suicide, the report said.

It decried the “brutal and illegal policy of offshore
detention.” It pointed to a decrease in mental health
resources and professionals available to the refugees and
asylum seekers, as well as incidents of assault and robbery
against them.

“The obvious answer to almost all health problems is to give
them freedom and to reduce the damage caused by stress,
trauma, overcrowding and malnutrition during their detention,
as highlighted by numerous reports,” said Fr. Pereira in his
statement.

“Refugees are waiting for the day they are released, and we
hope that 2019 will bring good news for them.”

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/give-them-freedom—
png-bishops-denounce-six-year-refugee-detention-30434

Congo’s bishops call for release of election results

election congo photoKinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: StreetVJ / Shutterstock

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, (CNA).- The bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for the release of the result of the country’s presidential election. The Church sent thousands of election monitors to assist at polling stations across the central African country during the vote, which was the subject of numerous delays, with many reporting irregularities.

The vote to determine a successor for President Joseph Kabila was rescheduled for December 30 after numerous delays. The election was originally slated for November 2016. The result is expected to produce the first peaceful transition of power in the DRC since independence in 1960.

The results are expected to be released on Sunday, but Corneille Nangaa, head of the country’s national electoral commission, has said the final announcement could be delayed. Nangaa said that officials were still waiting for final vote counts from 80% of local polling stations.

Some communities in the North Kivu and Mai-Ndombe regions will not be able to vote until March, after the vote there was delayed over security concerns and Ebola outbreaks.

Nevertheless, while calling for the winner to be announced, the Congolese bishops said that the winner was clear according to results seen by them. The bishops’ conference did not say who they believed had won the election.

The DRC bishops’ conference was among several organizations to send election observers to polling stations across the country, commissioning more than 40,000 observers to report on the election process.

In an earlier statement on Dec. 31, the conference highlighted concerns about voters being turned away from the polls and monitors being removed by police from voting stations in different parts of the country.

While not officially backing any one candidate in the election, the bishops were vocal in their opposition to Kabila’s remaining in power past his constitutionally imposed term limit.

Kabila was set to leave office in December 2016, following the election of his successor, but the vote was successively postponed by government authorities, resulting in widespread civil unrest.

Since that time, Kabila has remained in office.

The bishops of the country played a key role in mediating an agreement between the Congo’s ruling political coalition and opposition leaders, culminating in a Dec. 31, 2016, agreement that allowed Kabila to remain in office beyond his mandate but said he must step down after an election in 2018.

Nearly two dozen candidates entered the race to replace Kabila, who has been in power for 17 years. He acceded to the presidency at the age of 29, following the assassination of the previous president, his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. He was reelected in 2006 and 2011.

The front runners in the election have been former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive, and Felix Tshisekedi, son of a prominent opposition party leader.

Shadary, a self-described “fervent Christian” and practicing Catholic, previously stated that he had “placed his campaign in God’s hands.” Shadary is also the preferred candidate and would-be successor of President Kabila.

President Kabila’s administration has come under sustained criticism both before and during the election campaign. Last year, 15 people were killed while attending peaceful, Church-organized rallies against the government.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/congos-bishops-call-for-release-of-election-results-23987