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Archive for May 10th, 2012

The rape epidemic of Norwegian women.

Posted by African Press International on May 10, 2012 Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __ Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __

 Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai reporting from Norway

Last Saturday a norwegian woman in her 30’s told police that she was raped by two men in a pirate taxi in Trondheim. The victim explained that she was picked up by a pirate taxi and that the two men in the car raped her, thereafter dropped her off and drove away. The woman approached a random resident and asked for help.

 The victim described the men as about 170 centimeters tall, in their 30’s and of foreign origin. The woman was allegedly raped repeatedly, and the police regard the assault as very serious.

Norway is suffering from a wave of rapes that are largely being perpetrated by immigrants against norwegian women.

The police has in the recent years received several reports of sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults in connection with the pirate taxis.

— We do not recommend the use of pirate taxis, said Egen, Crime Watch leader to VG newspaper.

Amazingly a police report released last year, states that every single solved case of assault rape in the country in 2010 was carried out by a muslim immigrant. Many of the perpetrators who commit these rapes are on the edge of society often unemployed, or refused permanent stay in Norway.

In the past five years it has often been asylum seekers who are perpetrators of sexual assaults.

This is nothing new. A report in the Aftenposten, a norwegian newspaper, in 2001 stated that while 65 percent of those charged with rape are classed as coming from a non-western background, this segment makes up only 14.3 percent of Oslo’s population. Norwegian women were the victims in 80 percent of the cases.   

The Norwegian police claims that lack of resources and funding is to blame for the rise in rapes.

Many Norwegians feel that the government has failed to provide proper funding to combat the crisis. They have questioned the government’s obssession with foreign aid and providing generous benefit packages to asylum seekers at the expense of funding the protection of the people.




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Change of direction in hunger response

Posted by African Press International on May 10, 2012


Poor 2011 rains left the well empty in Mbar Toubab village in northern Senegal

DAKAR,  – One day after being sworn in on 2 April, Senegal’s new President Macky Sall reversed months of public denial of the hunger affecting over 800,000 of his people – part of the Sahel-wide crisis affecting 16 million inhabitants – by calling on partners to help the country get food to those in need. UN agencies and NGOs are struggling to raise enough money to get programmes working so they can catch up with the steadily rising number of hungry people.

After Sall appealed to bilateral and multilateral partners to help rural areas affected by food deficits on 3 April, Abdoul Aziz Diallo, President of the Senegalese Red Cross (SRC), told IRIN: “We knew about the situation but the previous regime did not want to make a public declaration, since they thought it would prove their agricultural programmes were not efficient.”

Such projects included the Grand Agricultural Offensive for Food Security (GOANA), launched by ex-President Abdoulaye Wade to make Senegal self-sufficient in key crops.

In view of this approach, the SRC, UN agencies and some donors – who act only on official government request – felt they were unable to launch appeals or a major response.

Few people in the capital, Dakar, are even aware that there is a food crisis across much of the country. “You don’t hear about it on the news – I knew they were facing difficulties in my village [Niakhar in Fatick region of central Senegal] but not that it was across the country,” said Dakar resident Ephie Diam, 31.

About 810 000 Senegalese are facing hunger, according to a joint study in February 2012 by the Senegalese government and the World Food Programme (WFP). In the 2011 harvest season, cereal production fell by 36 percent compared to 2010, and the production of peanuts, Senegal’s main cash crop, fell by 59 percent.

The lean season, which in good years starts in July, began in March this year, four months earlier than usual, while market prices for local cereals are 20 percent higher than in 2011, reflecting a trend prevalent across the Sahel.

“We have to be very quick – households have very limited food stocks and prices are very high. People have already started to sell their cattle, to get indebted, and to skip meals. They can’t do that for long,” warned Ingeborg Maria Breuer, the WFP representative in Senegal.

Photo: Jane Labous/IRIN
An inhabitant of Mbar Toubab village bringing back water from the nearest well

In the village of Kalasan, 13km from St Louis, a badly affected region in northern Senegal, farmer Salimata Dueye, who has five children, said her harvest failed in 2011. “It is a terrible year,” she told IRIN. “I do not have enough to feed my children.”

The most recent nutritional study, by UNICEF and the Senegalese Ministry of Health in December 2011, showed that by the end of January 2012, around 20,000 children across the country would be acutely malnourished, with the worst-hit areas in Matam, in the northeast, with a rate of 14.9 percent acute malnutrition, and Djourbel in western Senegal, with 10 percent.

Response kicking off

“To be able to talk about it [the problem] has completely changed the work environment,“ Jan Eijkenaar, the West Africa humanitarian affairs director of ECHO, the EU aid body, told IRIN, reflecting the widespread feeling in the aid community. Moussa Bakhayokho, an agricultural adviser to the Prime Minister, said the government has met with its partners to assess the situation.

Breuer said WFP is now “getting all the [political] support we need at local and national level”. In the new atmosphere, the agency launched a food distribution campaign at the end of April, aimed at supporting 806 000 people between now and October, the end of the lean season. The first food distribution took place on 30 April in Ziguinchor, in the south – usually one of the country’s bread-baskets but this year hit by crop failures and food shortages.

However the agency faces reluctance among donors and has only been able to raise US$27 million of the US$52 million it requires to buy food. “Senegal is normally perceived as stable place, so it is very hard to explain [to donors] that it is also affected [by the Sahel crisis]”, said WFP’s Breuer. Two-thirds of WFP’s required food stocks are still missing. It also plans to hand out cash vouchers between May and June to help people purchase goods from local markets, but only 45 percent of the needs are covered, said Breuer. Finally, the organization has just 12 percent of the funding it needs for “blanket feeding” – giving nutritional supplements to all of the 120,0000 moderately malnourished children aged under two to prevent them from becoming severely malnourished – which is a vital prevention strategy, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Chief of Health and Child Survival and Development in Senegal, Xavier Crespin.

NGOs face similar problems. The SRC – a crucial partner in food distribution – has received no money at all, as it could only launch its funding proposal on 27 April because of the political reluctance. Oxfam America has secured just 10-15 percent of its budget. Even UNICEF, which started early, has only received one-quarter of the $4 million it needs to fight malnutrition.

Malnutrition – “small step ahead”

The malnutrition treatment battle is a small step ahead, with significant stocks of Plumpy’Nut – sent by UNICEF and used to treat acutely malnourished children – already in place, said Mame Mbayame Dionne, chief of the food nutrition and child survival division at the Health Ministry. Up to 40 percent of her personnel have been trained in malnutrition treatment programmes just started this month.

Though malnutrition is often a taboo subject for leaders, in Senegal the previous authorities were less reluctant to talk about it than the widespread food crisis, said Crespin. Nutrition programmes “would have been implemented anyway”, said ECHO’s Eijkenaar, and ongoing work such as a USAID programme to encourage families to diversify their diets continues over the long term. Action against Hunger, a Spanish organization, for example, started taking care of malnutrition cases in Matam at the beginning of April.

But even malnutrition combined with a food crisis in Senegal is a hard sell. Big donors do not think 20 000 malnourished children is a lot, perhaps particularly in a Sahel context, where for instance 320,000 children are estimated to be severely acutely malnourished in Niger this year.

“We are in the context of giving early warning of a catastrophe, so the message [to respond] doesn’t get through. People need horrific images to mobilize,” said Isaac Massaga, West Africa humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam America.

Everyone hopes Senegal’s change of government will help reverse the trend.

Cattle, agriculture, overlooked

When it comes to long-term aid to boost Senegal’s agricultural output, progress looks to be slow. The new administration says it will grant $69 million to help farmers access agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, seeds and tools, but this is hardly more than in 2011, according to government adviser Bakhayokho.

Apart from a pledge by the Islamic Development Bank it is not known who will cover the $23 million needed to feed cattle that drought has left without pasture. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has so far only received one-third of the money it needs to help 60 000 agro-pastoralists to boost their crop production and feed their animals, their principal means of survival.


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Reducing the HIV risk of girls living on the street

Posted by African Press International on May 10, 2012

Rough streets

KINSHASA,  – Sarah, 16, started sleeping on the streets of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC), when she was only eight years old. She doesn’t remember how she came to live on the streets, but thinks it was soon after her mother died.

Sarah is one of an estimated 20,000 children living rough on Kinshasa’s streets, many from homes too poor to feed them, some after being thrown out of their homes because they were accused of sorcery, while others end up on the streets as a result of the divorce and remarriage of a parent whose new partner won’t accept them. According to NGOs, about one-third of these children are girls, and around 80 percent of girls on the street make a living from sex.

“Some men take you by force, and if you scream for help they beat you,” Sarah told IRIN/PlusNews. “Younger girls can be taken advantage of and get only about US$1 for sex, but if you negotiate, you can get $10 for one whole night… sometimes you go to a hotel, sometimes you just find a dark place to do it.”

Sarah’s face and arms are marked by scars from a fight with a group of girls who cut her with a razor. “When it’s night you have to find somewhere to sleep. If it rains, your usual place may be flooded, and we’re always running from the police,” she said. “If you have no money and have to borrow some to eat, you will pay forever, because a debt on the street is never finished.”

Girls regularly experience violence, but help for street children, particularly girls, is very limited. A French NGO, Medecins du Monde (MDM), and their local partners, including the NGO, Aide à l’Enfance Défavorisée (AED) – Help for Disadvantaged Children – run a programme that seeks to protect girls up to the age of 21 living on the street from sexual and gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.

“Our partners have ambulances that go out on the streets and provide basic primary healthcare and referral for street children, and sexual and reproductive health services for girls, including contraceptives and condoms,” said Pascale Barnich-Mungwa, country coordinator for MDM in DRC.

With MDM reporting HIV prevalence among girls they have tested at 12-15 percent, the provision of healthcare is crucial. “We teach them and help them with their drugs – ARV coverage is already difficult in the DRC, but now you have minors living on the street and at risk of theft of their drugs, which makes adherence tough,” she said.

AED also runs a drop-in centre where girls can access healthcare and take time to rest, as well as learn tailoring and other skills, and even music.

“Activities like music help to build self-esteem. Many of these girls are raped as often as twice a week, so rape becomes the norm, and they survive by building a wall between themselves and their bodies. Activities like dance help them to take charge of their bodies again, somehow,” said Barnich-Mungwa. Rape is one of the rituals girls go through when being initiated into sex work on the street, usually supervised by an older girl known as a ‘yaya’, or older sister, she said.

MDM’s main aim is risk-reduction, rather than reintegration of the girls into their families. Many girls run away from abusive homes, and families often want no more to do with children they sent away. “If we have girls below 12, reintegration may be possible if they’ve been on the streets for short periods, but once they have been raped and are already involved in sex work, it becomes much more difficult,” Barnich-Mungwa said.

“So at first, with our partners, we work to reduce the risks linked to their situation through education, user groups, etc. Once we’ve increased the risk awareness towards sexual behaviour and/or violence, we work at reducing it through contraception, condom use, and so on,” she said.

One organization that does aim at reintegrating girls with their families is War Child, which runs a similar programme in a different part of the city. “Our ambulances accept anyone on the street for first aid, provision of condoms and advice, but we specifically target girls aged 17 and under,” said Michel Gratton, the War Child country director in DRC.

''Some men take you by force, and if you scream for help they beat you. Younger girls can be taken advantage of and get only about US$1 for sex ''

“We invite them into the ambulance, where they talk to a counsellor one-on-one to see if they have any desire to return home. We try to convince them to come to our transit centre, where they have access to literacy classes, life skills and psychosocial services. If the girls are keen to return home, we start to look for their families and begin a process of medication, with regular follow-up of the girls who do go back home.”

Reintegration into families is rarely easy. “It’s more difficult if the girls are pregnant, because not only has the girl’s bride price value gone down, but the families have to pay for expensive healthcare, especially if they have to have a caesarean section [because they are very young].”

There are a number of girls in the AED drop-in centre compound, known as Bomoyi Bwa Sika, meaning ‘New Life’ in the local Lingala language. Some look as young as 10, several are pregnant or carrying babies. The centre has a primary healthcare centre as well as a sexual and reproductive health centre where pregnant girls come for antenatal care.

“We receive about 50 girls every day – today it’s not even midday and we have received 53, and 14 slept here last night,” said Mama Francoise Nzeza, the director of the centre. “When the police are patrolling and picking up girls, we can get up to 80 per day.”

Nzeza says she would love to see the girls off the street and out of sex work, but they do not have the funds to offer them alternative accommodation and income-generating activities, and reintegration is often impossible. “We can’t tell them to stop sex work because we can’t give them an alternative – what we can do is give them condoms and contraception to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy, but we can’t judge or moralize about their situation.”

One of the drop-in centre’s key challenges is changing social behaviour. “Many of the girls on the street are violent – the streets make them hard and aggressive. We try to socialise them, so that if they get the chance they can live in mainstream society,” Nzeza said.

Reducing the number of children who end up on Kinshasa’s streets must be a society-wide effort. “It must involve a reduction in poverty and joblessness, so that parents can look after their children. It must involve conversations with churches, many of which are involved in these accusations of sorcery. It must involve sensitizing parents about their responsibility to their children, even after divorce,” she said. “In addition, we must insist that the laws to protect children are implemented.”


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Government, Muslim rebels move closer to peace deal

Posted by African Press International on May 10, 2012

A group of MILF fighters in Mindanao

MANILA,  – The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have edged nearer to a peace treaty after agreeing to a set of consensus points that could lead to less confrontation on the ground, officials say.

At talks in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, at the end of April, both sides signed a document containing “decision points on principles” that they said would open public scrutiny of any final peace deal with the 12,000-strong MILF, which has been engaged in a bloody rebellion for the past three decades on the southern island of Mindanao.

Among the 10 points in the document was consensus on creating a new autonomous political body to replace the current, often problematic, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), comprising six provinces and two cities that is home to some 2.8 million Muslim Filipinos.

ARMM was established in 1996 to provide the predominately Muslim population with some degree of self-rule after a peace agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a former rebel group, and Manila, with the MNFL head as its first governor.

Despite millions of dollars in government assistance and resources, the area remains mired in poverty, corruption and violence.

Other key points in the document are the strengthening of Islamic courts, “assertion” of the people’s basic rights – including those of the displaced – and sharing power and wealth in the mineral-rich region.

“This agreement should serve as a memorandum for both sides of the general directions of the negotiations as we move closer to a peace agreement,” Teresita Deles, the government’s chief presidential adviser on the peace talks, told IRIN.

The transparent way in which the talks were being held could avoid further confusion that could lead to a new explosion of violence, and another round of displacements in the Mindanao region, she said.

It would also serve to calm tensions on both sides, and allow greater access to humanitarian workers on the ground to help those still in dire need of assistance, Deles noted.

“This generates more goodwill – to see evidence that despite the distance between our positions, there is substantive common ground that has in fact been engendered on the table,” she said.

According to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, despite the consensus points, the two sides are still “worlds apart” in reaching a final agreement.

MILF remained committed to the peace talks, and to the basic principles outlined in the consensus points, he said, but pointed out that the government had previously reneged on its promises, including the doomed proposed deal signed by both sides in 2008, which would have given them control over large swathes of the area they consider as “ancestral domain”.

The deal was rejected by the Philippine Supreme Court, triggering violence and large-scale displacement. “The peace negotiations, however, are continuing, if limping,” Iqbal told IRIN. He didn’t think a final peace deal would be signed in 2012.

Meanwhile, MILF fighters would abide by the truce, and an earlier agreement to help civilians caught up in the crossfire to return to their homes, he said.

Talks with the government opened in 2003 but were marred by periodic accusations of truce violations by both sides. In 2008, the MILF launched simultaneous attacks across Mindanao that left about 750,000 people displaced and nearly 400 dead on both sides.

Negotiations were resumed after President Benigno Aquino came to power in 2010, but again came close to collapsing in late 2011, when 19 Special Forces troops were killed while storming an MILF camp in the south.

The killing triggered heavy artillery reprisals from the army and the displacement of about another 30,000 people. Nonetheless, Aquino rejected widespread calls for an all-out war and ordered a return to the peace table, along with efforts to help the newly displaced.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said most of those displaced in 2008 and 2011 have since returned to their homes, but many were moved to camps that were vulnerable to deadly natural disasters such as flooding, but which eventually became their permanent residence.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development estimates that at the end of 2011 some 46,000 internally displaced people were living in more than 40 camps and relocation sites across Mindanao.

Many of them have refused to return home for fear of getting caught in the crossfire again, and because basic services are more accessible in the camps than in the far-flung villages they come from.


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