Gender Beat: Child Brides Up in India; Malaysia Defends ‘Preventing’ Homosexuality Contest

A round-up of what’s happening in the worlds of gender and sexuality.

Child marriage is on the rise in India’s urban areas. Credit: Reuters

In India’s urban areas, child brides numbers are on the rise

A joint report by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and the charity Young Lives has revealed that the number of child brides in India’s urban areas – including in some urban districts of Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka – are on the rise.

The study, which relies on Census 2011 data, found that even though the number has declined by 0.7% in rural areas since 2001, there has been a rise of 0.3% in India’s cities and towns, challenging the commonly held belief that the practice of child marriage is largely prevalent in the country’s rural areas.

According to a Thompson Reuters Foundation report, the study is the first to break down census data on child marriage and claims that nearly one in four girls in rural areas and one in five in urban areas were married before the age of 18.

Renu Singh, the country director of Young Lives, told Reuters that it was unexpected that ” in the ten to 14 age group, there are still large numbers of girls being married in urban areas. One was hoping and thinking that would not exist at all.”

Despite the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 making it illegal for men under 21 and women under 18 to marry, India ranks among the top ten countries with the highest rate of child marriage alongside Niger, Guinea, South Sudan, Chad and Burkina Faso.

Uber fires 20 employees after sexual harassment investigation 

The San Francisco-headquartered Uber fired 20 employees on Tuesday, June 6, following an investigation into claims of sexual harassment, Bloomberg reported.

The move came after a probe was conducted into claims of sexism, harassment and mismanagement of such issues had surfaced in February after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing her experiences at the company.

According to the Observer, Fowler had revealed incidents of sexual harassment and blatant sexism faced by her and other female employees, following which two other female employees alleged similar harassment. During the probe, over 200 reports of inappropriate conduct, including harassment, bias, bullying and discrimination, came to light.

According to The Verge, besides those terminated, over 3o employees are in training or counselling and seven were given written warnings.

Canadian province passes law allowing government to take away children if parents refuse to accept their gender identity

The Canadian province of Ontario on June 1 passed a legislation granting authorities the right to take children away from parents who did not accept their “gender identity”.

The new law has replaced the Child and Family Services Act, which governed child protection, foster care and adoption services. The legislation states that a child’s “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” should be among the factors taken into consideration by child protective services “in the best interests of the child”.

The new law has attracted a lot of criticism. Credit: Mike Blake/Reuters

While several have hailed the newly adopted law, with RT quoting children and youth advocate Irwin Elman as saying that it is a step towards the province’s “commitment to anti-racism and children’s rights,” soon after Bill 89 or the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act of 2017 was passed by a 63-23 vote, critics of the measure began a petition to repeal the “totalitarian” child abuse bill,  RT reported.

The online petition, which has over 7,800 signatures, argues that the legislation is a “direct assault” on Christian parents who reject “transgender ideology”.

Malaysia defends contest on how to ‘prevent’ homosexuality

Amid accusations of inciting violence against minorities after holding a contest on how to “prevent” homosexuality, Malaysia’s health ministry has claimed that the video competition was aimed at helping teenagers make better health decisions, Reuters reported.

According to a Metro report, in the “gender identity disorder” category of the contest called the National Creative Video Competition on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health, the ministry had last week offered prizes of up to 4,000 ringgit for videos showing “consequences” of being LGBT, with the guidelines on its website stating that the clips should show how to “prevent, control and seek help” for them.

In response to criticism from LGBT activists, Malaysian deputy director-general of health Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said the contest was to spread knowledge about healthy lifestyle practices among teens, Reuters reported. “This creative video competition is purely to tap knowledge and creativity of adolescents on sexual and reproductive health related matters and does not intend to create discrimination to any particular group,” he said.

Other categories of the contest, which began Thursday, June 1, and runs through the end of August, include sexual reproductive health and cybersex. According to Lokman, the rationale behind choosing the topics was the data on the rising incidents of sexual and reproductive health problems among teens.

Homosexuality is considered illegal in the Southeast Asian country and is punishable with a prison sentences of up to 20 years.

SIT to probe gangrape of woman, death of daughter in Gurugram

The Gurgugram police have established a special investigation team to probe the alleged gangrape of a woman in an auto rickshaw and the death of her six-month-old infant. Sketches of the three accused have also been made public.

The incident occurred on May 29 when, after leaving her home in Bass Kayla village, the victim took a shared auto in which two male passengers were already seated, an Indian Express report stated.

According to police, the woman alleged that the men gangraped her in the moving vehicle and threw her infant out when she began crying. The woman retrieved her daughter after the three – the driver and two passengers – left her near Khandsa village in Gurugram. The infant had, however, died before she could be taken to a hospital.

Saudi women’s rights activist who defied driving ban re-arrested  

Prominent Saudi Arabian human rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was previously detained for over 70 days for defying the country’s driving ban for women, was again arrested by authorities, human rights group Amnesty International said on Monday, June 5.

The 27-year-old, who was previously detained in 2014, was returning from the UAE when she was detained at King Fahd airport in Dammam.

According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia is the only country that bars women from driving.

The rights group, which has claimed that al-Hathloul had been denied access to her family and a lawyer, and is due to be interrogated in Riyadh, said in a statement that “The Saudi Arabian authorities’ continuous harassment of Loujain al-Hathloul is absurd and unjustifiable. It appears she is being targeted once again because of her peaceful work as a human rights defender speaking out for women’s rights, which are consistently trammeled in the kingdom. If so she must be immediately and unconditionally released”.

“Instead of upholding its promise of a more tolerant Saudi Arabia, the government has again shattered any notion that it is genuinely committed to upholding equality and human rights.”