Police in Kenya have arrested four more people for allegedly running a child-trafficking syndicate following a BBC investigation into the theft and sale of babies.
BBC Africa Eye revealed children were stolen to order from illegal clinics and at a Nairobi public hospital.
Seven people are now in custody in connection with the case including medics and a hospital administrator.
The babies were sold for as little as $400 (£300).
In the wake of the BBC Africa Eye story, police chief Hillary Mutyambai ordered an investigation into hospitals, as well as children’s homes in the Kenyan capital.
Two hospital administrators, a nurse and a social worker appeared in court on Thursday, adding to the three senior medical officials who were in court on Wednesday.
They have not been formally charged and did not enter pleas.
BBC Africa Eye uncovered a trade in children stolen from vulnerable mothers living on the streets, as well as the existence of illegal clinics dotted around Nairobi, where babies were being sold.
The investigation also revealed alleged corruption at Mama Lucy Kibaki, a public hospital in Nairobi.
Fred Leparan, a clinical social worker at the hospital, is alleged to have facilitated the sale of an abandoned two-week-old baby boy to undercover reporters, later accepting 300,000 shillings ($2,700; £2,000) in cash.
Both Mr Leparan and Mama Lucy Kibaki hospital declined requests to comment on the investigation’s findings.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Kenya’s Labour and Social Protection Minister Simon Chelugui said the culprits would face the “full force of the law”.
Mr Chelugui also acknowledged that improvements to some of Kenya’s child protection services were needed.
His colleague in the Interior Ministry Fred Matiang’i thanked the BBC for exposing the “rot” at Mama Lucy hospital. He added that human and drug trafficking were the biggest challenges Kenyan security was dealing with.
There are no reliable statistics on child trafficking in the East African state, but a non-governmental organisation, Missing Child Kenya, said it had been involved in nearly 600 cases in the past three years.
Rome Newsroom, – When 90-year-old Cardinal Christian Tumi was interrogated in captivity by armed separatists in Cameroon last week, he calmly told his captors that he had been called by God to preach only what is true.
A video published on social media Nov. 7 revealed a conversation that took place while Cardinal Tumi was held overnight by separatist militias while traveling through Cameroon’s Northwest Region.
In the video, one of Tumi’s captors confronted the cardinal about his calls for fighters in Cameroon to lay down their arms and then instructed him to share the separatists’ message with the public.
To this, the cardinal responded: “I will preach what is the truth with pastoral conviction and biblical conviction.”
“Nobody has the right to tell me to preach the contrary because I was called by God,” Cardinal Tumi said.
At another point in the video, the cardinal told his captors: “When I speak, I speak like a pastor and that I can never stop doing. If I stop doing that, then I will not be faithful to God, the Almighty.”
Tumi had been traveling with 12 other people, including a local leader, Fon Sehm Mbinglo I, from Bamenda to Kumbo on Nov. 5 when they were intercepted by gunmen belonging to separatist militias in Bamunka, a village in Cameroon’s northwest region. He was freed by the separatist fighters the following day.
The kidnapping of the archbishop emeritus of Douala came amid a conflict between separatists and government forces in the English-speaking territories in Cameroon’s Northwest Region and Southwest Region. Tensions escalated after Francophone teachers and judges were sent to work in the historically marginalized Anglophone regions in 2016, and the dispute has come to be known as the Anglophone Crisis.
Cardinal Tumi has been active in seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis through dialogue after his retirement as archbishop of Douala.
At one point in the video, Tumi told the separatists: “All of us are fighting for peace … even you.”
Tumi helped to create the Anglophone General Conference, a framework for dialogue between all parties to the Anglophone conflict.
The crisis in Cameroon is rooted in conflict between the English- and French-speaking areas of Cameroon. The area was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire’s defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961.
Cardinal Tumi was born in what is now Northwest Cameroon in 1930 and served as a bishop in Francophone regions of the country from 1979. He was president of Cameroon’s bishops’ conference from 1985 to 1991.
There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Cameroons.
This violence escalated in October when gunmen attacked Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a school in Kumba in Cameroon’s Southwest region, on Oct. 24 and opened fire on students in a classroom. Seven students aged 12 to 14 were killed, according to Reuters.
While he was kidnapped, one of the separatists instructed Tumi in the video to tell the public and the government of Cameroon that “we will never lay down our arms until we are free because we are fighting for our rights.”
The cardinal responded: “I am a Cameroonian citizen like you. I am not part of the government. I am totally independent … I am not the mouthpiece of the government and am not employed by the government.
“If you have done wrong, I will tell you that you have done wrong; if the government has done wrong, I will say that they have done wrong.”
On his sixth attempt Wavel Ramkalawan, an Anglican cleric, has become Seychelles’ president ending decades in opposition, but as Tim Ecott reports from the Indian Ocean archipelago – he now has to bring the country together.
“After 43 years we have regained democracy. The road has been long and now we will reap its rewards.”
There was only the merest hint of triumphalism in President Wavel Ramkalawan’s acceptance speech as he addressed an audience of invited dignitaries assembled in the manicured grounds of State House.
His election marks a seismic change for the islands, where the presidency has been dominated by one party since 1977.
In front of the grand Victorian colonial mansion and accompanied by a military guard of honour, the 58-year-old was sworn in by the chief justice on Monday.
The new president is an ordained Anglican minister, and not surprisingly his overall message was one of peace, tolerance and an appeal for all Seychellois to work together for national unity, and to overcome the divisions of so many years of political wrangling.
Thanking outgoing President Danny Faure for keeping political dialogue open over the past few years, Mr Ramkalawan stressed the need for tolerance among the Seychellois people and appealed for what he called a return to civility, to a society where everyone says good morning to one another and where racial and social differences are put aside.
“Seychelles,” said the new president, “should be an example of tolerance for the whole world. We are 115 small islands in the Indian Ocean, but we are not insular.
“We will maintain friendly relations with all nations, and welcome help and assistance from our international allies whomsoever they may be.”
Behind the Christian sentiments expressed by the new president there is also political steel.
This was his sixth attempt at the presidency, a journey that began when he first contested the role in 1998.
He had entered politics several years earlier, and was criticised by the government for making what they saw as political statements from the pulpit during the one-party state era.
He had come tantalising close to winning the presidency several times, and in 2015 lost to James Michel by only 193 votes in a second round of voting.
Referring to the years in opposition, and his five previous defeats in presidential elections Mr Ramkalawan quoted Nelson Mandela: “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”
In spite of the positive messages in his inaugural address, there is no doubting the divisions within Seychellois society.
It is precisely 43 years since the islands were subjected to a violent coup by Albert René, who overthrew the democratically elected government of James Mancham, the man who had led the islands to independence from the UK in 1976.
Amid his appeals for peace and harmony, President Ramkalawan pointedly paid homage to Gerard Hoarau, an opponent of René assassinated in London in 1985, and whose killers have never been identified.
Hoarau was not the only person who died or disappeared during the one-party era that lasted from 1977 to 1991.
Many of the crimes committed during that period were exposed publicly during recent Truth and Reconciliation hearings in Seychelles.
There is no doubt that those revelations harmed the chances of Mr Faure and his United Seychelles party in these elections.
United Seychelles is the current name of the former Seychelles People’s Progressive Front, which was in power when René so ruthlessly imprisoned and persecuted his political opponents.
For all its convoluted political history in the decades since independence, the 97,000-strong population of Seychelles now faces very big challenges.
The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, with around 350,000 annual visitors accounting for 65% of GDP.
Covid-19 has reduced tourist arrivals to a tiny trickle, and the economy has already shrunk by around 14%.
An April evening in the suburbs of Khartoum. After months of undercover work, I had learned to time my visits to khalwas, Sudan’s Islamic schools,to coincide with evening prayers. I entered while the sheikhs (teachers) and 50-odd boys dressed in their white djellabas were busy praying. As they knelt, I heard the clanking of chains on the boys’ shackled legs. I sat down behind them and started filming, secretly.
I began investigating after allegations emerged of abuse inside some of these schools: children kept in chains, beaten and sexually abused. Khalwas have existed in Sudan for centuries. There are more than 30,000 of them across the country where children are taught to memorise the Qur’an. They are run by sheikhs who usually provide food, drink and shelter, free of charge. As a result, poor families often send their children to khalwas instead of public schools.
I had been working as a journalist in Sudan for five years, but this was the first time an assignment really felt personal. I was taught at a khalwa: a place where I would try to get through each day without being beaten.
In 2018, I began what would become a two-year investigation with BBC News Arabic and take me to 23 khalwas across Sudan. Before proper undercover equipment from the BBC arrived, I taped my phone inside a notebook, to secretly film.
Despite having gone to a khalwa myself, I was shocked by what I found. I saw children – some as young as five – beaten and shackled like animals. One boy with deep, raw wounds around his ankles told me: “We can be in groups of six or seven all chained together, and they [the sheikhs] make us run around in circles. Whenever one of us falls over we have to get up again because they keep whipping us … They say that this is good for us.”
One of the worst experiences I had was in 2018 at Ahmed Hanafy, a well-respected khalwa in Darfur. In a study room, under a hot corrugated iron roof, a small boy was held down and whipped more than 30 times by a teacher. The only sound in the room was the lashing of the whip and the boy’s anguished cries. I wanted to grab the whip and hit the sheikh, but I knew I couldn’t. When I later contacted the school, the sheikh confirmed they do beat children but denied this incident ever took place.
Another disturbing case was that of two 14-year-old boys, Mohamed Nader and Ismail. When I visited them in hospital they were lying on their stomachs, unconscious, their backs stripped of flesh. They were beaten and tortured so badly they nearly died.
“They kept them in a room for five days without food or water,” Mohamed Nader’s father, Nader, told me.
“They rubbed tar all over their bodies. [Mohamed Nader] has been so badly beaten you can even see his spine.”
I had filmed inside the same khalwa where this had happened, al-Khulafaa al-Rashideen, run by a man called Sheikh Hussein. The conditions there were the worst I had seen. Most of the boys were shackled and teachers hovered over them with whips in case they made any mistakes. One student pointed out a room with barred windows, which he described as a prison. It was the room in which Ismail and Mohamed Nader had been kept.
I kept in regular contact with the boys. Several months after the attack, as we played on a PlayStation together, Mohamed Nader began to tell me what happened when he was caught trying to escape with Ismail.
“They tied me up and laid me on my stomach before whipping me”, he said. The beatings went on for days. “A lot of people came to beat us while the rest of the khalwa was asleep. After that, I don’t know what happened, I woke up in the hospital.”
The police charged two teachers with assault, who were later released on bail. The khalwa remained open.
As he stared at the screen, Mohamed Nader said: “There is rape in the khalwa. They would call you for it, in a macho way.” He said the smaller or weaker boys were abused by older students.
Mohamed Nader and Ismail were not sexually assaulted, but several other people also told me that rape happened in the khalwa under the management of Sheikh Hussein.
When I returned to the khalwa to talk to him, Sheikh Hussein admitted that it was wrong to imprison children, but maintained that shackling was “packed with benefits” and that “most khalwas use chaining, not just me”. He told me he had stopped using chains and that “the prison” was now a storeroom. When I asked about allegations of sexual abuse he became angry, categorically denying these claims and accusing me of attacking the Qu’ran.
The sheikh died in a car accident earlier this year.
The new transitional government is now conducting a survey of all khalwas in Sudan. The minister of religious affairs, Nasreddine Mufreh, said they would be reformed. There should be “no beating, torture, violation of human rights or children’s rights whatsoever” inside khalwas.
When I told him about the abuse I had seen, he replied: “The old regime didn’t have laws regulating khalwas. I can’t solve a problem caused by 30 years of the old regime overnight.”
With the influence that sheikhs hold, it’s rare for families to seek justice. However, Mohamed Nader’s parents have decided to press charges. Although the public prosecutor’s office is obliged to look into all cases of violence against children, Mohamed Nader’s parents have had to hire a lawyer to fight their case.
On the way into court his mother, Fatima, said the 2018 revolution had made her more optimistic: “In the past, we had no rights but now it’s different. With the new government, we will get our rights, God willing.”
After several hours inside she emerged disappointed. One of the defendants had failed to turn up and the hearing was postponed. The teachers accused of beating the boys still haven’t entered a plea. The khalwa is now run by Sheikh Hussein’s brother who told me that under his management the beating of children would not be tolerated.
Mohamed Nader and Ismail are on a slow road to physical recovery. But thousands of other children across Sudan are still at risk.
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe — In the sweltering mid-October heat of Matobo, one of Zimbabwe’s hottest and driest districts, Spiwe Moyo tended her ripening tomato crop. Nearby, underneath a baobab tree, a few emaciated donkeys and a small herd of skinny cattle take shelter from the blazing sun.
Along with the onions, vegetables and green beans grown by other communal farmers as part of the Evergreen Community Market Garden, Moyo’s tomato crop is a virtual oasis of green, surrounded by bare red soil that receives little shade from the sparse leaves of the mopani trees and a few patches of dry grass long desolated by the high temperatures.
Despite the punishing heat, unfriendly surroundings and daily struggles for water for humans and domestic animals, she beamed a smile when she spoke of the prospects for her crop, which will ripen in the next week or so.
“I am just weeding out the crop and inspecting for pests and other diseases, because in this hot weather, crops can suddenly suffer diseases or pest attacks. We only water the crops in the morning or evening, to conserve the water,” Moyo told EarthBeat in an interview at the garden.
The water comes from a solar-powered well funded by Catholic Church organizations. Without it, she says, “there would be no green crops to talk about, as the rains are not sufficient.”
There has been practically no rain in the past two years in this arid part of Matebeleland South province, in southwestern Zimbabwe. This year, however, rains came suddenly, a month earlier than expected. Experts say that is one of the uncertainties caused by climate change, and it has combined with other climate-related disasters that have made food scarce in southern Africa.
Climate change has caused as many as 86 million people across sub-Saharan Africa to migrate from their land, according to a September UNICEF report. And drought and climate change are creating critical food scarcity for more than 11 million people in nine southern African countries, the report says.
In an effort to head off water wars and help farmers adapt to the changing climate, various Catholic agencies, including the Irish aid agency Trócaire, Britain’s Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, or CAFOD, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ aid and development agency, are funding agro-ecology learning centers and solar-powered community wells in southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.
At the centers, which blend sustainable agriculture techniques with indigenous farming practices, local farmers learn skills such as contour plowing, drip irrigation and organic pest control, as well as practices such as “intercropping,” or combining multiple crops in one plot.
As a result, communal oases of green are appearing in various areas, as “model” farmers share their new knowledge with their neighbors.
“The seasons are changing and we are seeing the impact of climate change, because we usually have the first showers in August and at the end of October we then get the first planting rains. But in the last two years, there have basically been no rains here,” said Felix Ncube, who is a member of the management committee of St. Joseph’s Agro-Ecological Center in Matopos.
Committee members run the learning center and also train other people in the community, passing along their new knowledge to other farmers.
The problems related to climate change are worsened by unemployment and food insecurity, Ncube said. Although Caritas and the World Food Program assist the community with relief kits, they distribute aid only to the elderly, leaving younger people desperate, he said.
“The youths here have nothing to do to feed themselves or take care of their families, so they end up cutting down trees as a source of energy [for brick-making kilns], and this is contributing to the arid conditions in the area,” he said.
Because deforestation can affect local rainfall, the Catholic groups working with farmers hope that slowing the loss of tree cover will also help ease some of those conditions.
Competition for farmland and demand for charcoal both lead to deforestation. In Zambia, the Mother Earth Center, a sustainable farming project run by Comboni Sisters, encourages farmers to reforest their land.
The center trains farmers to combine agriculture with forestry, as a means of diversifying the tree and plant cover on their farms. This helps promote preservation of native tree species and also makes the farmers better prepared to withstand drought and floods.
Because of the high cost of electricity, charcoal is commonly used for cooking and heating in low- and middle-income households, even in cities, Sr. Annes James, who runs the Mother Earth Center, told EarthBeat in an email.
“Little or no investment seems to be made fast enough in the area of solar energy, despite the abundant sunshine enjoyed in these parts all year-round,” she said.
In Zambia, the drying and shifting flows of rivers are evidence that the effects of climate change are already at play in the region, Jesuit Fr. Andrew Simpasa, director of the Kasisi Agriculture Training Center in Lusaka, Zambia, told EarthBeat.
“In Zambia, the Chongwe and Ngwerere Rivers, which were once a catchment area for providing irrigation water for farms located on the eastern side of Lusaka city, have now become perennial rivers,” Simpasa said.
“This has caused water access disputes between commercial farmers, who have the machinery and equipment to domesticate the water, and small-scale farmers who struggle to access irrigation water during the dry season,” he added.
In Zimbabwe, Gwinyai Chibaira, agri-livelihoods project manager for Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe, has seen successive droughts and floods wipe out farmers’ crops. Even so, when the agency launched an agricultural training center in 2013 in Beitbridge, near the border with South Africa, only four farmers signed up, he said.
Now about 100 households have participated in the training programs, learning to grow fodder for livestock such as cattle and goats. They can then sell the animals to support their families and reinvest in their farms.
Oscar Singo, 36, has gone a step further. Besides growing fodder and cabbages for his herd of cattle, he buys animals from others and fattens them before auctioning them off.
As the climate changes, experts recommend planting earlier to reduce the risk of heavy storms and flooding before they can harvest their crops. They also encourage farmers to plant trees and other vegetation to retain moisture and create additional windbreaks, and to ensure that cattle and goats do not devour newly planted trees and other vegetation.
In Beitbridge, farmers find that fodder crops serve as animal feed, help avoid erosion and provide an additional source of income.
Timothy Ngulube, a 60-year-old livestock farmer in Fula, a village near Beitbridge, hopes to earn enough to install his own solar pump to irrigate the fields where he grows crops to feed his animals on his landholding of less than four acres.
“I used to grow tomatoes and maize,” he said, “but it is getting dryer and hotter here, hence I have to focus on livestock, which is resilient to these dry weather patterns.”
HAUNA, Zimbabwe, – When the girls at Sahumani Secondary School in eastern Zimbabwe started playing rugby, they had to make do with the soccer pitch and the oversized football shirts used by the boys.
Five years on, several have represented their country in the sport, and many more credit it with saving them from becoming child brides in a nation where early marriage remains common despite being outlawed in 2016.
“I used to hate rugby. At the time I believed the sport was only for the elite and for men, not girls like me,” said Catherine Muranganwa, 20, who has played for Zimbabwe’s Under-18 and Under-20 women’s national rugby teams.
Muranganwa, whose two sisters were married before they turned 18 – the legal marriage age in Zimbabwe – said the game had awakened her to different possibilities.
“When I travel for rugby I meet amazing women and I have realised that getting married early is not the right choice,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her village in the Honde Valley, about 90 km (55 miles) from the city of Mutare.
Rugby is now compulsory for all the girls at Muranganwa’s school.
“When the Form 1s enrol with us we introduce them to rugby. There is a positive improvement regarding early marriages,” said headteacher Mwaradzika Makazouya, adding that the school’s long lockdown closure had raised the risk of girls being married off.
As of 2019, 32.6% of a representative sample of some 8,000 women aged 20 to 49 years had been married before 18, according to the Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019.
While there has been progress in the fight against early marriage in the southern African nation since it was banned, poverty and religious practices hamper efforts to stamp it out.
Education is a key factor in determining the risk, and with schools mostly still shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners are warning there could be an increase in the practice.
Around the world, an estimated 500,000 more girls are at risk of being forced into child marriage in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, a report by Save the Children showed on Thursday.
That would mark a 4% year-on-year increase, reversing progress to reduce early marriage over the last 25 years, the charity said.
James Maiden, a chief of communication at the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said low levels of education and socio-economic status raised the risk of being married off early in Zimbabwe.
Girls from poor households were nearly four times more likely to be married compared before the legal marriage age than those from wealthy households, he added.
‘TOO LATE FOR MARRIAGE’
Muranganwa’s father, who was a polygamist with four wives, died when she was 12 and life has not been easy for her mother, a peasant farmer, and the rest of her family.
He was a member of a church known for polygamy and marrying off girls before they reach the legal age of marriage.
Muranganwa, who walks 10 km (six miles) to get to Sahumani Secondary School each day, said most girls who attend her church are married before they finish their primary education.
“Young girls are usually married off to older polygamous men at an annual church gathering,” she said, adding that her mother has supported her in rejecting a string of marriage proposals despite pressure from other relatives.
Velme Nyarumwe, 20, one of Muranganwa’s fellow players on the Zimbabwe Under-20 Women’s rugby team, said her four sisters were all wed before their 18th birthdays.
“To my family, at 20 I’m already too late for marriage. They pile on pressure daily,” she said.
Many of the rugby-playing girls are the first in their families to reach Form 4, the final year of Ordinary level education in Zimbabwe, said school rugby coach Patricia Makunike-Chakanya.
Sahumani starting teaching girls rugby in 2015 in an initiative spearheaded by teachers who had also trained as coaches under the banner of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union.
Makunike-Chakanya, herself a victim of gender-based violence, got interested in the game in the 1980s, when it was only played by men. She later trained as a coach, hoping to make the sport popular with girls too.
Besides honing their drop kicks, she spends time talking to the girls, listening to their worries and giving them advice.
“Staying with some of the girls at the school gives me an opportunity to counsel them and to protect them from predatory men in the village,” Makunike-Chakanya said.
Most parents have rallied behind the girls’ rugby team, called the “The Valley Giants”, and they no longer have to wear old soccer jerseys thanks to a sponsorship deal with a local seed company.
“We realised that by not supporting them they would give up on sport and get into the community where they become vulnerable to all sorts of abuse,” said Ivan Craig, a director responsible for sales and marketing at Agriseeds.
Muranganwa now dreams of making a career in rugby so she can help support her family, while also seeing the world.
“Marriage is not my priority now,” she said.
“I wish to play for independent clubs in Botswana and South Africa as well as in Europe. I know with rugby I’m going to change my family’s life.”
More than 1,100 people have been killed in rural areas across several states of northern Nigeria amid an alarming escalation in attacks and abductions during the first half of the year, according to Amnesty International.
“The Nigerian authorities have left rural communities at the mercy of rampaging gunmen who have killed at least 1,126 people in the north of the country since January,” the London-rights group said in a new report on Monday, giving a figure until the end of June.
The killings, during attacks by “bandits” or armed cattle rustlers, and in clashes between herders and farming communities for access to land, have been recurrent for several years.
Amnesty said it had interviewed civilians in Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states, who reported living in fear of attacks and kidnappings.
The rights watchdog said villages in the south of Kaduna state were affected the most, with at least 366 people killed in multiple attacks by armed men since January.
“Terrifying attacks on rural communities in the north of Nigeria have been going on for years,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“The ongoing failure of security forces to take sufficient steps to protect villagers from these predictable attacks is utterly shameful,” he added.
Amnesty blamed state authorities and the federal government for failing to protect the population.
Armed groups loot and set fire to villages and frequently kidnap people for ransom, apparently with no ideological motive. Many experts have recently warned against associating the attackers with armed groups active in the region.
President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a campaign promise to eradicate the armed group Boko Haram, which has killed tens of thousands since it launched an armed in northeast Nigeria in 2009.
Amnesty said most villagers complained of receiving little or no help from security officials, despite informing them prior or calling for help during attacks.
“During the attack, our leaders called and informed the soldiers that the attackers are in the village, so the soldiers did not waste time and they came but when they came and saw the type of ammunitions the attackers had they left,” a witness to an attack in Unguwan Magaji in southern of Kaduna was quoted as saying by Amnesty.
“The following morning so many soldiers came with their Hilux pick-up trucks to see the dead bodies.”
Ojigho decried reported abuse of civilians who asked for more official help and protection.
“In their response to these attacks, the Nigerian authorities have displayed gross incompetence and a total disregard for people’s lives,” he said. “Arresting people who dare to ask for help is a further blow.”
The escalating violence has forced many farmers and their families from their homes while thousands could not cultivate their farms during the 2020 rainy season because of fear of attacks or abduction, according to Amnesty.
It said that in Katsina state, at least 33,130 people were living in displacement camps, while others have headed to urban areas to stay with relatives.
Bishop Declan Lang, on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, has offered prayers for, and solidarity with, Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare and his brother Bishops in Zimbabwe.
“Christians across the globe have been inspired by the courage the Zimbabwean Church has shown in defending fundamental human dignity and rights,” said Bishop Lang, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs.
He also praised a pastoral letter titled The March is Not Ended released by Zimbabwe’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference on 14 August 2020 addressing the current situation in Zimbabwe.
“The recent pastoral letter with its call for truth, justice and reconciliation is both a powerful witness to the suffering that Zimbabwe is enduring and a way forward for the country to emerge from this.”
The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication officially declared that the 47 countries in the UN World Health Organization (WHO) African Region are free of the virus, with no cases reported for four years.
“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Polio is a viral disease that can cause paralysis, and mainly affects children under five.
The virus is transmitted from person to person, mostly through contact with infected faeces, or less frequently through contaminated water or food. It enters the body through the mouth and multiplies inside the intestines.
While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through a simple and effective oral vaccine, thus protecting a child for life.
‘A historic day for Africa’
The ARCC certification entailed a decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity, as well as field verification visits to each country in the region.
The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in Nigeria in 2016.
“Today is a historic day for Africa,” said Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC Chairperson, announcing the certification.
A commitment by leaders
The journey to eradication began with a promise made in 1996 by Heads of State during the 32nd session of the Organization of African Unity held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where they pledged to stamp out polio, which was paralyzing an estimated 75,000 children annually on the continent.
That same year, the late Nelson Mandela jumpstarted Africa’s commitment to polio eradication by launching the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign, supported by Rotary International, which mobilized nations to step up efforts to ensure every child received the polio vaccine.
Nearly two million spared
Since then, polio eradication efforts have spared up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis, and saved approximately 180,000 lives, WHO reported.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists,” said Dr. Moeti.
“I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause.”
Always remain vigilant
However, Dr. Moeti warned that Africa must remain vigilant against a resurgence of the wild poliovirus.
Keeping vaccination rates up also wards against the continued threat of vaccine-derived polio, or cVDPV2.
WHO explained that while rare, vaccine-derived polioviruses can occur when the weakened live virus in the oral polio vaccine passes among populations with low levels of immunization. Over time, the virus mutates to a form that can cause paralysis.
Adequate immunization thus protects against wild polio and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses, the UN agency said.
Learning from polio eradication
WHO officials in Africa believe that the experience in eradicating wild poliovirus has other benefits for health on the continent.
Despite weak health systems, and significant logistical and operational challenges, countries collaborated effectively to achieve the milestone, according to Dr. Pascal Mkanda, Coordinator of WHO Polio Eradication Programme in the region.
“With the innovations and expertise that the polio programme has established, I am confident that we can sustain the gains, post-certification, and eliminate cVDPV2,” he said.
The experience also will inform response to other challenges, both new and ongoing, Dr. Moeti added.
“The expertise gained from polio eradication will continue to assist the African region in tackling COVID-19 and other health problems that have plagued the continent for so many years and ultimately move the continent toward universal health coverage,” she said. “This will be the true legacy of polio eradication in Africa.”
ACCRA, – Reporting rape is traumatic for anyone, but having to pay two months’ wages to complete the medical form prevents many in Ghana from seeking justice, said a leading actress whose campaign to waive fees has reached the presidential palace.
British-Ghanaian actress Ama K. Abebrese – who starred with Idris Elba in the award-winning 2015 drama “Beasts of No Nation” – started a petition after hearing about the prohibitive charges in the West African nation where rape convictions are rare.
The minimum doctor’s fee for filling out a police medical form is 300 cedis ($52) – twice the average monthly earnings of informal workers, said Abebrese, one of Ghana’s most influential TV hosts who started out as a teenager presenter in London.
“If you can’t afford it, it is almost like you are denied justice on the basis of money,” said Abebrese, whose petition has attracted more than 14,000 signatures in a month.
“If you don’t get that medical report, essentially, the case to prosecute dies right there and then.”
Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are significantly underreported in Ghana and the police lack capacity to effectively investigate cases, which can take years to reach court, according to women’s rights groups.
Community leaders sometimes negotiate for rapists to pay compensation to victims’ families but they have come under fire in recent years for not taking the crime seriously enough.
Abebrese said she was hopeful that the government would scrap the medical fees after she met with Ghana’s first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, who said the president had been made aware of the situation, and with gender minister Cynthia Morrison.
A gender ministry spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they were “working on it”.
Police spokeswoman Sheilla Abayie-Buckman said many people could not afford to complete the medical form.
“It is quite expensive for an ordinary person. I guess not more than 50% are able to afford (it)” said Abayie-Buckman, who was unable to provide statistics on rape reports.
Doctors charge 300 to 800 cedi to fill out police medical forms and 1,000 to 2,000 cedi for giving a medical opinion for legal purposes, according to a Ghana Medical Association (GMA) document seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Frank Ankobea, president of the GMA, which represents medics and sets the fees, said they were necessary to cover doctors’ transport and expenses if called to court.
“Professionals charge that and it is so with all other professions,” he said, adding, “the government can absorb (the cost) and make sure all these provisions are made.”
Since starting the campaign, Abebrese said she has received dozens of calls from victims of sexual assault who were unable to seek justice because of the cost.
“(For) so many people, their cases were never prosecuted, it has really opened my eyes,” she said.
“You think you have an idea but you have no idea the magnitude,” said Abebrese, who recently called for a relationship expert who said in an interview that “every rape victim enjoys the act” to be banned from Ghanaian television.
Most Ghanaians believe that women are to blame for rape if they wear revealing clothes, according to a government survey.
Rape victims also struggle to access justice in other African countries, said Jean-Paul Murunga, a Nairobi-based programme officer for the women’s rights group Equality Now.
He said that rape survivors in Kenya have to pay $10 to $15 for a medical report and free post-rape care is only available in centres run by charities in many countries.
Murunga called on African governments to live up to legally binding promises, made in a pan-African women’s rights pact known as the Maputo Protocol, to ensure access to justice.
“The protocol … obliges African states to provide budgetary and other resources for preventing and eradicating violence against women,” he said. “This is yet to be realised.”