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Archive for October 16th, 2012

In Sierra Leone, Women are being detained for owing debt

Posted by African Press International on October 16, 2012

Juveniles in a police cell in a Sierra Leone, where women are being detained for owing debt

FREETOWN,  – Many Sierra Leonean women who are unable to repay small debts end up in prison for want of decent legal representation after their creditors report them to the police, meaning that civil disputes turn into criminal cases.

An estimated 10 percent of all charges issued by the Sierra Leonean police involve the failure to repay small debts.

The criminalization of debt upsets the livelihoods of the accused who are mostly petty traders. Their children at times are forced to live with them in detention and their incarceration often breaks up families and deepens poverty, said Advocaid, a Sierra Leonean civil society group helping women and children offenders.

Ignorance of legal rights and an outdated law contribute to the trend in which debt disputes turn into criminal cases. The crime of “fraudulent conversion” is based on Sierra Leone’s 1916 Larceny Act. The charge relates to a person’s inability to repay debts.

“Why are you serving a five-year prison sentence when you owe somebody just US$100,” Advocaid’s interim director Simitie Lavaly told IRIN. “By just providing a lawyer you can save someone’s life.”

In 2006 when Advocaid began offering help to women imprisoned for debt defaulting and other offences, there were 50 women in the main prison in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown unable to raise bail or afford legal representation, Lavaly said.

“The only reason these people were in prison is because they were poor and could not afford representation. There was no educated person in prison. All of these women are illiterate. Even now the majority of the women in the criminal justice system are illiterate. You are not there because you are a bad person, but because you cannot get legal representation.”

Poverty is widespread in Sierra Leone, which is recovering from a civil war that devastated its people and institutions. The judiciary is inadequately staffed, and has a big backlog of cases, Advocaid said.

Magistrates are overworked and under-trained, there are constant adjournments, missing case files, lack of transport for prisoners to and from court and a shortage of magistrates has created lengthy delays, Amnesty International said in its 2012 state of the world’s human rights report.

Many women have been arrested, detained or convicted because of debt issues, noted Advocaid. However, other common offences by Sierra Leonean women include murder, causing serious injury to someone – in many cases their husbands – and public disorder.

Poor understanding of the law

Poor understanding of court procedures and language barriers have resulted in many suspects inadvertently admitting guilt and getting convicted. A 19-year-old woman who spoke to IRIN said she was charged with murder after she accidentally stabbed her husband with a sharp object she was carrying when he fell on top of her while playing. She spent 18 months in a remand prison before her trial started, but was later acquitted.

“I am unhappy about the murder charge because I didn’t have any intention of killing my husband,” she said on condition of anonymity. “The police have to help. They didn’t investigate the case properly. One of the policemen told me that I killed my husband on purpose… I would have been put in jail and I would have been so frustrated and perhaps killed myself.”

Another ex-detainee, who requested not to be identified, told IRIN she was condemned to life in prison for murder after being accused of poisoning her co-wife’s son, but said she was falsely accused. With legal representation, her life sentence was reduced to eight years and she was later released on account of time served.

“The biggest challenge confronting the formal justice system is the public perception that it has been compromised by the executive and lacks independence,” said Ibrahim Tommy, director of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, a Sierra Leonean activist group.

In addition, he explained that there are few state counsels, access to justice both physical – there are few courts and magistrates in a given region – and many cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Most of the country’s lawyers, estimated to be around 500, are in private practice or working for corporations and mainly based in Freetown.

The granting of bail, which is at the discretion of magistrates and judges, has been seen as unfair. In addition, some plaintiffs have been known to fail to turn up to court for hearings once the accused has been detained, thus dragging out cases and crowding prisons.




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How much food is enough?

Posted by African Press International on October 16, 2012

How much food is enough?

ADDIS ABABA, – After years of criticism, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced it is exploring new ways to measure “hunger”, “undernourishment” and “food insecurity” – terms used interchangeably – which will dramatically alter the number of people believed to be going hungry.

In what officials stress are “preliminary” steps, FAO is using a new set of indicators in its annual report, State of Food Insecurity in the World, prepared jointly with the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The report revises the number of hungry down to 870 million people, saying the number used after the 2007-2008 food price spike – one billion – was inaccurate because of a lack of updated country data and faulty methodology.

Over 12 percent of the global population is hungry, says the new report. Most of them – 852 million – live in developing countries, where the prevalence of undernourishment is now estimated at 14.9 percent of the population. These new figures place countries closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger by 2015.

“The new estimates suggest that the increase in hunger during 2007-2010 was less severe than previously thought,” the report says. The effect of high prices during the 2008-2009 economic crisis “was less pronounced than was assumed at the time, while many governments succeeded in cushioning the shocks and protecting the most vulnerable from the effects of the price spike.”

New data, methodology

Undernourishment down in
Source: SOFI 2012

Despite questions about how FAO, in 2009, arrived at the one billion hungry figure, the number appeared in several significant reports.

FAO began the process of adopting new standards two years ago, and presented the new methodology to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington and at the International Scientific Symposium on Food and Nutrition Security in Rome in 2011. The new variables are comprehensive, taking into account the level of price volatility within a country.

The authors of the report told IRIN via email that the new figures reflect more and better data as well as major improvements in their methodology. The new data include fresh population estimates and household-level surveys of food consumption in 44 countries.

''We now recognize that not all the food produced or imported by a country actually reaches households''

That has helped improve the agency’s statistical model, which is now sophisticated enough to cover ‘skewness’, or asymmetry, in the distribution of food in any population, making it more accurate.

The new methodology also takes into account food lost during distribution. “We now recognize that not all the food produced or imported by a country actually reaches households,” the authors said.

André Briend, a well-known nutritionist, noted, “FAO had been criticized for years for its approach based on national data with a lot of errors and approximations.” Briend said he is “not in a position to judge how the method they used was implemented in the field and how reliable it is, but if properly implemented, this should be more reliable than their previous estimates.”


The new figures rely on national data, which often are not readily available or of uncertain quality. The report’s authors acknowledge this is a limitation.

“We only have 57 surveys for 44 countries, though they include most of the more relevant ones in terms of the number of undernourished (the only notable exception is China). To give an idea, the countries for which we have used survey data represent roughly 60 percent of the total number of undernourished.

Undernourishment up in
Cote d’ Ivoire
Source: SOFI 2012

“One message of this report is that we need country collaboration in providing us access to the detailed microdata (information on household spending, dwelling characteristics, etc.) of the surveys they conduct, but also that we need other types of data,” the authors said.

“We are already presenting a set of additional indicators and proposing to start a new type of survey to collect annually data on a global basis on people’s experience with food insecurity.”

This will be an ambitious project, experts say.

Relying on detailed questionnaires or the “new ‘experience’-based indicators that are being proposed – in principle this is a good idea because it taps into some of the unseen effects of hunger,” said Purnima Menon, a nutrition expert with the International Food Policy Research Institute, in an email. “At the same time, years of work often go into developing experiential measures of food insecurity!”

Definitions are key

At the heart of the matter is how “hunger” or “undernourishment” are defined – usually regarded as the inability to access enough food to be able to conduct a healthy and active life.

A key issue was to define what “enough” food is, said a technical note released along with the report.

The FAO method is based on assessing energy requirements. People are considered undernourished “if the level of his or her habitual dietary energy intake is below the minimum level nutritionists deem appropriate,” the technical report states, taking into consideration age, sex and lifestyle.

The other issue was how long a person must be undernourished before their condition is considered chronic; the FAO indicator has settled on a year.

Still, the new methodology does not capture the short-term effects of food price surges or other economic shocks. FAO says it is working to develop a wider set of indicators to capture a better sense of the quality of food people have access to as well as other dimensions of food security.




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Kenya: Ongoing rains continue to ponder Naivasha’s slum estates causing panic

Posted by African Press International on October 16, 2012

By Jackson Marwa in Naivasha Jackson Marwa reporting from Kenya Jackson Marwa reporting from Kenya

Fear of disease outbreak has hit hundreds of slum dwellers in the troubled Naivasha town following the ongoing rains which have flooded latrines and cut off fresh water supply.

And as the ongoing rains continue to ponder the area it emerged that raw sewer was mixing with clean lake water  posing a health crisis to the communities living around the area.

Following the move, the government has moved in to address the problem by supplying affected families with water treatment tablets and disinfectants.

According to Naivasha district public health officer Samuel King’ori, most of the people would benefit from the supply.

King’ori admitted that the rains had caused destruction washing away

The senior officer noted that other areas affected by the floods were Kihoto and Pipe Line.

King’ori pointed out that Kihoto estate as the most sensitive as the locals relied on water from wells some of which had flooded.

He has advised the residents who were staying at the pipeline area to vacate the area as water level was rising.



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