Child marriage declines globally
According to a recent UNICEF report, the prevalence of child marriage is decreasing around the world. In the past decade, the proportion of women around the world who were married as children has dropped by 15 percent. The decline has been driven in large part by reductions of this harmful practice in India, which is home to about 40 percent of the world’s child brides. In an effort to reduce rates, Indian legislators criminalized child marriage in 2006 and local authorities launched campaigns to crack down on the practice. Although much work remains to end child marriage across the region—particularly in rural areas and among some ethnic minority groups—it appears as though recent efforts are paying off: over just one decade, the number of Indian girls married before the age of 18 plummeted from 47 to 27 percent.
Sexual violence in Syria
Investigators from the UN Human Rights Council reported this week that Syrian government forces and allied militias have raped and sexually assaulted civilians in a deliberate campaign to torture, instill fear, punish opposition communities, and extract information. The UN report—the first of its kind since the war began over seven years ago—documents a pattern of sexual violence carried out by the government-aligned forces during house raids, at checkpoints, and in detention centers. Women and girls comprise the overwhelming majority of victims, but the report details accounts of men and boys who also face sexual violence, particularly in prisons. Karen AbuZayd, an American commissioner on the UN investigating panel, said that chronic underreporting means that the documented cases of sexual abuse carried out by government forces and associated militias represent only the “tip of the iceberg.”
Sexual harassment at the United Nations
An internal United Nations memo addressed to the Office of Internal Oversight Services leaked this week detailed the UN’s failed response to sexual abuse allegations, documenting faulty forensics in cases of sexual misconduct and a culture of impunity. The memo was written by the UN’s top internal investigator amid mounting scrutiny over the organization’s handling of sexual harassment and assault cases. In February, reports emerged that senior UN officials were under investigation for alleged sexual harassment, and recent news reports revealed a lack of accountability for harassment cases. The memo was written just one day before UN Secretary-General António Guterres unveiled a “Speak Up” helpline for staff who experience misconduct, part of the five-point plan to tackle sexual harassment among UN staff, which Guterres launched alongside a new UN task force on sexual harassment.