Category Archives: Women and Children

Freed from jail, Cambodian surrogate mothers raise Chinese children

Surrogate photoSophea and her husband participate in a ceremony to rid her and her family of bad karma, in Oudong, Cambodia. December 7, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Matt Blomberg

by Matt Blomberg and and Yon Sineat | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money
OUDONG, Cambodia, Sophea was eight months pregnant when Cambodian police told her she would have to keep the baby that was never meant to be hers – and forfeit the $10,000 she was promised for acting as a surrogate for a Chinese couple.

Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy in 2016, and police in June raided two apartments where Sophea and 31 other surrogate mothers were being cared for in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

They were charged the following month with violating human trafficking laws, but authorities released them on bail last week, under the condition they raise the children themselves.

Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as poverty means many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money.

For some of the newly-freed women, keeping their baby is a burden as they struggle to get by. For others, it is a relief.

Despite the financial loss, 24-year-old Sophea told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she was happy the authorities intervened, and that her family had welcomed her baby boy.

“If not for the crackdown and my arrest, I would have been left in deep regret,” said Sophea, who did not give her real name for fear of backlash from the authorities and members of her community.

“I would have given away my baby,” she said just two days after being released from police custody, settling back into village life at the end of a sandy track that winds through rice fields in Oudong, a 90 minute drive north of Phnom Penh.

Members of the other families said the babies are a mixed blessing. Instead of receiving $10,000, the women went home with another mouth to feed, in a country where the average annual income is $1,490, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“It is a very difficult situation. I worry that my income will not support the whole family,” said Pich, a motorcycle-taxi driver whose wife is carrying what will be their third child.

The 40-year-old, who also requested that his real name not be used, said he never supported his wife’s decision to be a surrogate and that he was ashamed she had gone through with it.

Another surrogate, a 24-year-old woman, went behind her husband’s back to take part in the scheme.

The $10,000 would have allowed the couple and their two children to move out of the shack they share with 12 members of their extended family, said the woman on condition of anonymity.

“I agreed to give birth at the provincial hospital and look after the baby, but I don’t know how we will get the money to support and raise another child,” she said.

Ros Sopheap, director of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia, said poverty will likely drive more women to engage in surrogacy – and that few know the practice is illegal.

“Very few people are aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s against the law,” she said.

“The reality is that these women do this because they are living in poverty. So as long as there is a demand for surrogate mothers, they will continue.”

Southeast Asia has long been a top destination for couples seeking surrogate mothers. Thailand banned the practice in 2015 after several high-profile cases, followed by Cambodia in 2016.

In 2017, an Australian nurse and two Cambodians were jailed for 18 months for operating an illegal surrogacy clinic.

In the country’s most recent surrogacy raid – just last month – 11 pregnant women and four facilitators were arrested.

Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said the 32 women were released on humanitarian grounds last week, but that the fate of the latest 11 surrogates is unclear.

Each case will be judged independently and “law enforcement will become stricter” in the future, according to the official.

It would be difficult, she added, for authorities to track down those who organised surrogacy rings, or the Chinese couples who paid for Cambodian women to bear their children.

“Even surrogate mothers did not know nor (have) contact with the one who wanted the babies,” said Chou Bun Eng.

Sophea said she preferred not to know who the biological parents were.

“I will not tell my son what happened in the past,” she said. “I won’t tell him about his actual Chinese parents.”

She said her priority upon returning home was to invite a Buddhist monk to conduct a cleansing ceremony – in order to rid the family of any bad karma incurred during the ordeal.

Her four-year-old daughter and extended family have also welcomed the baby, she said after the ceremony, which was attended by a dozen relatives and several village elders.

“The whole family loves him,” Sophea said. “My husband (a construction worker) told me: ‘Your son is my son’.”
http://news.trust.org/item/20181210101810-y6rbm/

Reaching the Borders for Refugee Women and Children

By Sisters Denise Curry, Therese (Tracy) Dill, Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN

During more than 200 years as a Congregation, we, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have been and are a strong presence in service to immigrants and refugees around the world. In the United States, with an increasing persecution of immigrants living in this country and the denial of entry to asylum seekers, our Sisters search for new ways to help peoples suffering under inhumane US immigration policies. The CARA Pro Bono Volunteer Project, established by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) with 3 other immigrant advocacy organizations provides a new opportunity to serve immigrant peoples.

 

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Sisters Denise Curry, Mary Alice McCabe and Tracy Dill, SNDdeN discuss plans for more Sisters to assist the refugees in the detention center.

In 2017, three of us, Sisters Denise Curry, Mary Alice McCabe and Therese (Tracy) Dill spent a week as CARA Project volunteers in Dilley, Texas at a “Family Residential Center,” under US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This privately-owned facility DilleyGWhouses 2,400 refugee women and children. It is a detention center, filled to capacity with mothers and their children, fleeing from persecution in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. These mothers make this dangerous flight toward the US border in a
desperate attempt to protect their children from violence and even death. In fact, these innocent women and children entering the USA find themselves in a prison which treats them like criminals and terrorists.

 

VOLUNTEER SERVICE
The CARA Project offers sensitive and compassionate legal assistance to these families. Spanish-speaking mothers prepare for interviews with ICE asylum officers in which they tell their distressing stories of persecution from either gang-related or domestic violence. As volunteers, we found a number of ways to help at the center. As interpreters in
Spanish, we gave in-take talks for helping the women to understand the steps and to feel relaxed and safe in this asylum process. Meeting with each woman individually, we listened to her story and assisted her in preparing for her interview with an ICE asylum officer. We also assisted with the office work that needs to be done in order for the CARA lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services for the women.

To serve the increasing numbers of asylum seekers at Dilley, the Project needs more volunteers: lawyers, paralegals and interpreters. Volunteers meet hundreds of mothers and children, thin, exhausted, and frightened, who have been walking and hiding for weeks. The women and children remain in detention in Dilley until ICE determines their fate. In the interview, the ICE asylum officer listens to the woman’s experience and decides whether or not the persecution in her country of origin is “credible” enough under US immigration law to allow her to seek asylum and stay in the US. The woman must tell her story of having been terrorized and traumatized, in a convincing manner. She must show that she has fled for her life and that return to her country would mean death. The stories are very disturbing: gangs kill family members, kidnap children, force men and teenage boys into gang “membership,” extort monthly payments from well-off and poor alike, abuse and rape girls. In domestic violence cases, women are beaten, treated as property, held captive, and receive death threats.

Stories-in-Central-America-Plate

 

We-are-HumanFUTURE FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN
A positive evaluation from the asylum officer is required for a mother and her children to be released from detention and sent on to their destination in the USA.

A negative evaluation will send the mother and children into the deportation cycle, which in most cases, means a “death sentence.” CARA lawyers always appeal negative evaluations and do everything to give these women and children a chance at a new life.

A week with these mothers and children is an experience that shakes one’s heart and soul in a unique way. We meet brave women from both cultures: Central American women struggling against all odd sto protect their families, and North American women, volunteers, pro bono lawyers and our own Sisters committed to social justice and basic human rights for immigrant families. At this time, more Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are preparing for volunteer service at this detention center in Texas during the current year 2018.

Figures thought to be underestimate the true scale of slavery and trafficking in Britain

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, March 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From children being forced by gangs to carry illegal drugs, to migrants smuggled into Britain and trapped in exploitative work, reports of slavery in Britain have surged as authorities crack down on the crime, according to data released on Monday.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said it received 5,145 reports of suspected slavery victims in 2017 across Britain, an increase of more than a third from 3,804 in 2016.

Those involved were commonly British, Albanian and Vietnamese, said the NCA, which is dubbed Britain’s FBI, warning that criminal networks were heading online to sexually exploit people, especially through adult services websites.

“What this report reinforces is that we are now dealing with an evolving threat,” NCA director Will Kerr said in a statement. “Particularly concerning to us is the rise in young people being exploited for sexual purposes or drug trafficking.”

The NCA said the jump in numbers was largely due to British children being reported to authorities as suspected victims of sexual exploitation or being used by gangs to carry illegal drugs in the so-called ‘county lines’ drug trade.

There were also increased crossovers between smuggling rings, that transport vulnerable migrants into Britain, and slavemasters, who force them into exploitative work, Kerr said.

Kerr said the figures “almost certainly” represent an underestimate of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in Britain.

At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery – trapped in forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude – but police say the true figure is likely to be in the tens of thousands.

Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat slavery, with its 2015 Modern Slavery Act introducing life sentences for traffickers, forcing companies to address the risk of forced labour, and better protect people at risk.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said on Monday it held 568 police operations in February alone but despite more arrests, authorities are struggling to jail slavemasters.

Trafficking prosecutions rose to 295 in 2015/2016 from 187 in 2014/15, but have since levelled off, according to data from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith


Thomson Reuters Foundation

Hopeful not Hopeless

Hopeful not Hopeless
Posted by Br Bill Firman on 11 October 2017
La Salle District of Austrailia, New Zealand, Pakistan & Papua New Guinea

Children of South Sudan - Br. Bill Firman

I have sometimes been asked what hope is there for South Sudan? Tribal divisions have become very deep, and almost everybody has lost relatives and friends in this senseless violence.

Amnesty International quotes a staggering, horrible statistic: A survey conducted in 2015 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that 72% of women living in four UNMISS Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites in Juba reported having been raped since the conflict broke out, mostly by police and soldiers.’

Has all respect and order disappeared? Certainly as one local writer, Jacob Lagu, states: ‘War is a dirty business. It inevitably degrades us all. It diminishes our humanity as steadily as we dehumanize our adversaries. We are all locked in conflicting victimhood narratives. Each side believes wholeheartedly that they are the victims of injustice. Each side believes that their adversary is the unrepentant aggressor.’

It seems to me that civil war must surely be the worst kind of war. In a civil war, your enemy is not ‘out there’ but can even be your near neighbour. South Sudanese now ask, ‘Whom can I trust in my own country?’ ‘Where can I go and be safe?’ Hundreds of thousands ask, ‘Will I ever be able to leave this Protection of Civilians camp where I feel like a prisoner?’

Yet, in spite of all this, there are people getting on with life. I have attached photos that show the reality of the poverty of many in South Sudan poor, but not maudlin. Children dressed in rags laugh and play and there are some fine young people growing up with a little help along the way.

In early 2010, a good friend in Australia raised some money to help a young, thin boy, called Augusto. Augusto’s father had died when he was only 18 months old.

He was being raised by his grandmother and the helpful families of his school friends. Augusto’s school fees were paid by overseas donations. Augusto has now just graduated from secondary school with a 73% average, a wonderful achievement giving the personal adversity he had to overcome let alone the turmoil in the country. Now he is trying to find the means to go to University.

Another of our neighbours, Naomi, is soon to graduate as a registered nurse from our Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI). Her twin brother, Wonderful, (yes, that is his name), is well on the way to becoming a doctor.

There are 80 applicant seeking places in the CHTI for next year. There are currently 110 in the CHTI and so far 145 have graduated after successfully completing the three-year programme. So amid the tales of gloom, there are many good news stories, many lives that are progressing well.

In another photo taken in 2009, there is a small boy called Danny sitting next to Fr. Joseph. Last Saturday, I woke to find our vehicle had a flat tyre. I called Danny who quickly changed the wheel for me. He has one year to go to finish secondary school: he has grown from a happy, inquisitive young boy, into an obliging, sensible young man.

There are plenty of signs of hope as we help produce better educated people. Sadly, many South Sudanese have to learn to live with hunger and the trauma of rape, looting and deaths of loved ones, but they still get on with life. We help them when we can, as do almost 500 missionaries from many countries as well as the UN and many resourceful NGOs delivering essential services.

There is hope because children and young people are especially resilient.

Yes, the scars are deep and, in the trauma healing workshops we conduct, many older people reveal their nightmares and flashbacks. But somehow the children in South Sudan are among the happiest and least complaining I have known.

One does not feel hopeless here. Many people continue to hope and dream of a better future. A new, better-educated generation might just deliver the new South Sudan for which we all hope and pray.


Author: Br Bill Firman
About: Br Bill is the Executive Director of Solidarity with South Sudan.

Dozens of fleeing Rohingya die after boats capsize

Rohinga at River Naf
Bodies of 15 children and 11 women were recovered in the city of Cox’s Bazar, officials say [Suzauddin RubelAFP/Getty Images]

(August 8, 2017) AlJazeera  Three boats carrying ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar have capsized in Bangladesh, killing at least 26 people, according to officials.

The bodies of 15 women and 11 children were recovered in Cox’s Bazar after the vessels, which carried an unknown number of Rohingya, sank in the Naf River on Wednesday, Bangladesh border guard commander Lieutenant Colonel S.M. Ariful Islam said on Thursday.

Rakhine violence pushes more Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh.

He added that it was unclear whether anyone was still missing, according to The Associated Press news agency.

The top official in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammad Ali Hossain, said the bodies would be buried because no one had claimed them.

Officials in Bangladesh say growing numbers of Rohingya are trying to cross the Naf river that divides the two countries in rickety boats ill-equipped for the rough waters as they become increasingly desperate to escape the worst outbreak of violence in the restive Rakhine state in years.

Residents and activists have accused soldiers of shooting indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya men, women and children and carrying out arson attacks.

However, authorities in Myanmar say close to 100 people have been killed since Friday when armed men, reportedly from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), launched a pre-dawn raid on police outposts in the restive region.

Myanmar authorities say Rohingya “extremist terrorists” have been setting the fires during fighting with government troops, while Rohingya have blamed soldiers who have been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings.

Thousands flee into Bangladesh
Around 27,400 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar since Friday, three UN sources said, according to Reuters news agency.

The violence comes amid reports of Buddhist vigilantes burning Rohingya villages in Myanmar, Reuters said.

Hundreds of people have been stranded in a no man’s land at the countries’ border, the International Organization for Migration said.

Satellite imagery analysed by US-based Human Rights Watch indicated that many homes in northern Rakhine state were set ablaze.

Most of Myanmar’s estimated one million Rohingya Muslims live in northern Rakhine state.

They face severe persecution in the Buddhist-majority country, which refuses to recognise them as a legitimate native ethnic minority, leaving them without citizenship and basic rights.

Longstanding tension between the Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in bloody rioting in 2012. That set off a surge of anti-Muslim feeling throughout the country.

 

Nigerian Wins Prestigious Award for Aiding Victims of Boko Haram

Last Updated: August 21, 2017 12:20 PM
Lisa Schlein
Voice of America

Rebecca-Dali-and-her-husband-Samuel-Dali-at-the-award-ceremony-today-e1503340422591
Rebecca-Dali-and-her-husband-Samuel-Dali-at-the-award-ceremony on August 19, 2017. (VOA)

GENEVA  (August 21, 2017)  Nigerian activist, Rebecca Dali has won the prestigious Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation Award for her work in re-integrating women and orphans abducted by Boko Haram militants into their home communities.

The award was presented at a ceremony Monday commemorating World Humanitarian Day (August 19) at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva.

It is given every two years in memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in a terrorist attack on August 19, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq, along with 21 others. The prize aims to draw world attention to the courageous, often unnoticed, humanitarian work of an individual, group or organization in areas of conflict.

“Rebecca Dali is a very courageous woman in a corner in Africa, in northeastern Nigeria, who is doing work under very difficult circumstances,” said Anne Willem Bijleveld, the chairman of the board of the de Mello Foundation.

He told VOA that some of the women and girls who are liberated want to return to their communities, but their communities and families often do not want them back because they have been raped, have had children, and been subjected to sexual violence by Boko Haram.

“Rebecca Dali did a tremendous job in re-establishing dialogue and reconciliation to get these girls back into their communities, to get them back where they came from and that they can continue with their life again,” Bijleveld said.

Aiding widows, orphans for years
Dali was born on October 1, 1960, the same day Nigeria got its independence. She overcame extreme poverty in childhood and a rape at age six to earn a Ph.D in later years in ethics and philosophy.

She got married in 1979 to a man who, she said, “allowed me to do what I like to do.” She has six children. Her fourth, a son, was lost on August 21, 2011 in the aftermath of the Jos crisis, when clashes erupted between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups.

Dali formed her non-profit organization Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative in northern Nigeria in 1989 to aid widows and orphans caught in situations of violence, who often struggle to survive.

She has established three Livelihood Centers that teach women marketable skills, such as sewing, computers, and cosmetology. “When they graduate, we give them seed money so they can start their own business,” she said.

When the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, she turned her attention to the victims of this Islamist radical group. She told VOA tens of thousands of destitute widows and orphans were left behind when their men were killed.

“In our society, women are not dignified. Even if their husbands are killed, then the family usually will take away all the things that they own,” she said. “So, in the Boko Haram, they are double victimized. So, I train these widows in my Livelihood Centers.”

Dali’s husband, Reverend Samuel Dali, was president of the Church of the Brethren, which was attended by most of the 276 Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014.

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A still image taken from video shows a group of girls, released by Boko Haram jihadists after kidnapping them in 2014 in the north Nigerian town of Chibok, sitting in a hall as they are welcomed by officials in Abuja, Nigeria, May 7, 2017. (Reuters)

The government has taken charge of the Chibok girls who have been released, so Dali said her group is focusing on helping the many other women and children who were abducted by Boko Haram. She said those who managed to escape have been treated as pariahs by their communities.

“They are stigmatized. People rejected them. Their husbands rejected them. The society rejected them. Their parents sometimes reject them,” she said.

Dali said her organization has provided the victims with food and shelter and paid for children’s schooling. She added that the women and girls received trauma care and were encouraged to tell their distressing stories.

“Then, we go and lobby in the society among the local people, so that they will allow them to stay in the society,” she said.

The award carries a cash prize of about $5,000, which Bijleveld terms “a symbolic amount.” She may also win more support from the publicity.

Dali said she is heartened by the recognition she and her organization have received from the de Mello Foundation. “The award came to me as a miracle from God,” she said. “So, it will urge me to do more. It is really going to help me,” she said.

 

 

 

South Sudan’s Women Deminers Brave Danger to Change Their Children’s Future

All Africa (Thomas Reuters Foundation)
By Stefanie Glinski

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Photo: PHOTOESSAY: South Suday’s Deminers Brave Danger to Change Their Children’s Future. A growing number of women deminers are clearing up bomb and unexploded ordnance – most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families, writes Stephanie Glinski for Thomson Reuters Foundation. Margaret J…..

11 July 2017: Juba — A growing number of women deminers are clearing up bomb and unexploded ordnance – most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families

Margret has decided that South Sudan is not a place to raise children, but she is changing this for future generations.

That’s why – 10 years ago – the mother of two joined the country’s 400 to 500 deminers, digging up remnants of past and present wars – bombs, unexploded ordnances and landmines.

She’s one of a growing number of women to take up the risky business, most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families.

“It’s my way of contributing and making this country better,” she said. “I sent my children to Uganda, but I want them to come back one day. It’s a sacrifice for me, but a gain for those returning when the war is over.”

Landmines have a long history in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation that won independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and violent liberation struggle. After just two years, a political squabble escalated into renewed civil war in late 2013, fracturing the new nation along ethnic lines.

More than four million mines and explosive devices have been found and destroyed in South Sudan over the last decade, says the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). While some accidents are recorded, UNMAS believes that at least 90 percent go unreported.

WAR REMNANTS
Margret currently works around Kolye village, a 30 minute drive on unpaved bumpy roads from the South Sudanese capital Juba in a lush setting of green fields and mango trees.

The area saw heavy fighting between the Sudanese army and southern rebels during Sudan’s long civil war which ended in 2005, paving the way for the South’s independence.

Deadly anti-personnel fragmentation mines were laid by Khartoum’s forces to protect their barracks.

More than a decade later, they are still killing civilians.

“Soldiers placing mines think carefully about how humans behave, where they go and what they do. That is why mines are found alongside roads, in market places or by water points,” said Jan Møller Hansen of DanChurchAid’s demining project, the organisation that also employs Margret.

While mines are easy to place, they are hard to remove. After an eight-week training course, Margret has dug out hundreds of them throughout her career and – on a good day – she can cover up to 30 square metres (320 square feet).

“We can use the safe land to build roads, hospitals and schools and that’s what excites me the most,” she smiled.

According to UNMAS’s demining chief, Tim Lardner, it will take at least another 10 years to clear up the whole country that is roughly the size of France.

South Sudan signed the Mine Ban Treaty less than six months after independence in 2011, deeming anti-personnel mines illegal and their removal mandatory.

Renewed war has complicated efforts to remove mines from previous conflicts, while rebel forces, without providing evidence, have accused the government of laying new explosives in violation of the treaty, a charge it denies.

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