Girls in Conflict with the Law: Voices from Africa and the Middle East
Recorded December 14, 2020
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Nearly half of the population in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is aged under 24 according to UNICEF, and 60 percent of Africa’s total population is under 25 according to the Brookings Institute. In a session moderated by Dui Hua’s John Kamm, legal expert Ann Skelton and Penal Reform International’s Taghreed Jaber explore the unique challenges and vulnerabilities faced by girls in conflict with the law in South Africa and the MENA region.
Taghreed Jaber speaks about the challenges facing girls in the MENA region, including lack of access to education due to armed conflicts, female genital mutilation (FGM), and informal justice systems. She calls for more gender-sensitive legislation and stressed the importance of having more female legal practitioners in justice systems around the world.
Professor Ann Skelton speaks about girls as sex offenders under South African law. Focusing on the recent past, Professor Skelton speaks about the unintended effects of legislation that led to girls being treated as criminals, double standards faced by girls due to societal attitudes, and how efforts to legislate “new generation” crimes such as sexting can have adverse effects on the groups they are meant to protect.
Here are some takeaways from this event:
“There’s also a very strong relation between being a victim of domestic or sexual violence and having to get in touch and contact with the legal system. As a victim or a survivor, the fact that the systems are not equipped enough to respond to the needs of these girls, either as victims or perpetrators of some offenses, is a huge challenge in the MENA.” – Taghreed Jaber
“Although the legislature had thought they were being very clever to treat these children in a gender-neutral way, what they overlooked was the societal impact on what being involved in a sexual offense is for girls. [It’s] so different from boys because adolescent boys are sort of expected by society to engage in sexual activity and girls are not.” – Ann Skelton
Both panelists also address the effects of COVID-19 on girls and women in these areas. Taghreed Jaber speaks about additional COVID-related violence facing girls and women while Professor Skelton discusses the challenges that came with releasing children from custody amongst the pandemic.
“According to the World Health Organization, domestic violence and violence against women has increased 37 percent in the Mediterranean region, which is a very high percentage and…we all can understand the reasons that have led to [this] in terms of the increase of stress, the suspension of social and productive networks that were not able to operate [during] war, the increased economic hardship that makes men more aggressive towards women in general. This means that more girls have been subject to domestic violence, that would include sexual violence, but they have limited chances of really going to report and seek support and help against the violence that they have been subject to.” – Taghreed Jaber
“One of the tricky things when you’re releasing children from custody, if it’s adults [being] released, it’s so easy to just say, ‘Well, release [them]. Let them go home.’ But when it’s children, you have to also look at what are the circumstances that you’re releasing them too.” – Ann Skelton