20 Shameful laws you’d never believe were real

Imagine living in a society where your basic freedoms are violated. Where you risk imprisonment for not following certain religious practices or from suffering devastating health complications? Well, it may seem unimaginable but this is the stark reality of human rights worldwide.

In fact, day in day our fundamental rights are being violated by governments worldwide. I’ve drawn up a list of 20 shocking legal scenarios in countries all across the world – across almost every continent – to show just how precious our human rights and why we must never give up the fight for freedom and justice worldwide. So with that, I present to you, in no particular order: 20 laws that you’d never believe were real – but very much are!

1. Being the “wrong kind of Muslim” can lead to the death penalty 

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In Pakistan, strict blasphemy laws include the death penalty for those found guilty

In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims are forbidden from calling themselves ‘Muslims’. If an Ahmadi Muslim gives the call to prayer (makes the azan), recites from the Holy Qur’an in public or greets people with the typical greeting: Assalam aleykum (‘Peace be upon you’) and is found guilty, then they not only face three years in prison but also the death penalty according to current blasphemy laws (although no such executions have yet taken place). Read one case here.

2. Having a miscarriage can lead to imprisonment

In El Salvador, if you suffer a miscarriage you could face 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide”. Read about one ongoing case here of a young girl in El Salvador having suffered a still birth who has been accused of killing her child and is currently in prison.

3. Marrying the girl you rape means you can escape criminal charges 

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In 2012, 16-year-old Amina Filali (Morocco) committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist. The law was later amended following protests and pressure from Amnesty International

Rather shamefully, in many countries across the globe, if you are found to have raped a girl/woman but marry her, you can legally avoid a criminal conviction. This is the sad reality in a variety of countries including Bahrain, IraqKuwaitLibya and Palestine. Thankfully, a host of other nations worldwide across the MENA region, Latin America and Europe – including Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan – have  appealed / are soon to amend such laws with Bahrain next in the queue. See here and here for more information.

4. FGM is legal and carried out in hospitals

Despite attempts to ban FGM in Indonesia, the practice is still legal. According to UNICEF, a staggering 49% of girls in Indonesia aged 14 and under have been victim to FGM/C (2010 – 2015) which is in fact carried out in local hospitals. Read more here.

5. It is illegal to go to school in a headscarf 

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Public displays of “conspicuous religious symbols” mean that Muslim women/girls cannot wear a headscarf at school, whilst small crucifixes as pendants are allowed

In France, if you’re Muslim hijabi (you wear a headscarf) then you are unable to teach in State primary and secondary schools. Likewise, students cannot wear a headscarf to school. In 2004, a new law on “conspicuous religious symbols in schools” was introduced, meaning that Muslim women and girls were ever pushed to work/study in private Islamic schools or give up their right to wear their hijab. The law also applies for Jewish kippahs and Sikh turbans.

6. Your faith is officially banned 

Religious persecution is rife across the globe and China holds no exception. Having officially banned the practice of the Falun Gong, they’ve gone even further as to harvest their organs illegally. Read more here.

7. It’s legal to marry girls aged 14 years or under

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A 14-year-old girl in preparation for marriage (Indonesia) – Image credit: UN Photo/Armin Hari (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

It’s estimated that 1 in 5 girls worldwide are married before their 18th birthday. In Bangladesh, Iran, Saudi Arabia and certain US States, children as young as 14 or less are also being drastically let down by the law. In Indonesia [pictured], the official legal minimum age for marriage is 16 for girls and 19 for boys, but exceptions can be made. Over in the USA, a series of legal “loopholes” mean children as young as five can technically be married to middle-aged men. In Iran, the standard legal age of marriage is a shocking 13 years old but girls as young as nine or 10 years old can be married by their fathers/grandfathers by getting permission from the courts.

8. You cannot go out in public as a female if you’re not covering your hair and body 

Imagine being forced to cover – not out of religious choice – but legal obligation? This is the reality in Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Saudi, women are legally obliged to wear an abaya (long gown) and headscarf, whilst women in Iran are also obliged to dress according to the requirements of hijab by wearing long, lose, opaque clothing covering the body and a headscarf covering their head and hair.

9. You can legally have sexual intercourse if you’re 14 years old in over 30% of European States

Did you know that across Europe, children – yes children – aged as young as 14 can legally have sex? This is quite simply unbelievable. Where is this you may ask? Well check out this long list: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lichtenstein, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia and Vatican City. That’s a shocking 16 out of 52 States

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In just under a third of EU States, children aged 14 years old can “legally have sex”, meaning adults can escape prosecution for having sexual relations with young girls/boys

10. Husbands can forbid their wives from working 

In Cameroon and Guinea, if you don’t want your wife to work, then you have every legal right to forbid her from doing so. In Afghanistan and Yemen, a husband also has the legal right to stop/control how and when his wife can leave the house, therefore affecting her ability to work.

11. You cannot legally get divorced 

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As in the Catholic faith, the legal system in The Philippines means that a couple cannot get divorced – as is in the case in the Vatican City

The Philippines – and more obviously Vatican City – a married couple cannot seek a legal divorce. A couple can get their marriage annulled which requires a mental health assessment, court appearance and generally lengthy and expensive process. However, things might be set to change. Read more here and watch this space!

12. It’s legal to hit your wife 

Imagine if you were not only subject to domestic violence but had no legal right to seek justice? Well this is the reality in a host of countries including: Armenia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Iran, Latvia, Lesotho, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen. Find out more here.

13. Telling people that gay people are normal is a criminal offence

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As astonishing as it sounds, the Russian federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” – known as the “Gay propaganda law” – makes it illegal to “promote non-heterosexual relationships” to minors. The law effectively stigmatises and entire community and promotes homophobia. Read more here and here.

14. Husbands face no legal charges for raping their wife

Despite the attitude of some people which denies marital rape as a “concept”, marital rape is in fact “permitted” legally in the following countries: Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lesotho, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. In her study, Emily Shugerman found four of these countries also allow marital rape when the victim is still a child.

15. Women cannot legally enter football stadiums 

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Image credit: Chris Marchant (CC BY 2.0)

Iran comes up trumps again for another law aimed at women. Yes, if you’re a woman in Iran you cannot enter a football stadium – well not legally anyway. The reasoning behind this law? Absolutely no idea!

16. You can be executed for homosexual acts 

We all know that LGBT rights are sadly lacking in many countries but in 11 countries in particular, you can be executed for “committing homosexual acts”. Yep, in Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, northern Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, southern Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, you face the death penalty. Find out information here.

17. You can legally buy a gun but are deemed too young to buy alcohol 

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I find it very very odd indeed that in the USA, you can buy a gun (with some exceptions) aged 18 but you’re still deemed too young (and immature) to buy alcohol. Whatever your stance on gun ownership (I’m firmly against), I can’t see any sort of logic that says you’re only mature enough to buy alcohol aged 21 (a substance which can affect your own health and potentially other people through your behaviour) but you can own a highly dangerous violent weapon which can automatically kill others…?

18. Eating and drinking in public during Ramadan is illegal 

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. This is of course – or should be – a spiritual choice for God and God alone. However, in many Muslim countries it’s actually illegal to eat and drink in public during daylight hours in Ramadan. This includes: Iran, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Now, I’m not advocating being disrespectful and wafting food right under people’s noses (a bit of sensitivity can go a long way) but for non-Muslims and non-practising Muslims alike (also those unable to fast!), this is a step too far.

19. You cannot join a worker’s trade union 

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Image credit: habeebee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Trade unions are an important mechanism for workers, enabling them to come together for the protection of their working rights such as the right to appropriate, safe working conditions, equal adequate pay and the right to vacation and adequate rest and leisure. But if you’re in the UAE, trade unions are officially illegal. Full stop. Currently also illegal in Saudi Arabia, the government is now in the process of introducing the General Union of Saudi Workers.

20. You must earn £18,600 a year (plus £2,400 – £3,800 per child) for your spouse to be able to live with you in your country 

Picture this: you go abroad to study and you meet the love of your life. Or perhaps, you fall in love with a fellow student and decide you want to get married and stay in your country. What’s the problem? Well, hang on. If your partner is a non-EU citizen and you want them to live with you at home, unless they’re going to be your carer or they’re from a war zone, then you’re obliged to earn £18,600 a year to be able to sponsor them and apply for a spousal visa to live together in the UK. Add on top £3,800 for your first child and £2,400 for each other individual child. Where is this strange law? Well, it’s right here in the UK!

So there you have it folks – a small snapshot into just why we need human rights conventions, mechanisms, laws and courts!

Salam!

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Marriage at 13, forced veiling and a ban on cycling – welcome to Iran for women

It’s no secret that abuse of human rights – or lack of human rights rather – is a major problem in Iran. Living in a theocratic State, religion (and in particular the government’s interpretation of it I should add!) rules every aspect of public life. A twisted extreme ideology is used to permit/prolong – and in some cases enforce – child marriage, domestic violence and forced veiling amongst a wide range of other abuses. Whilst freedom of speech is a right that citizens are not blessed with – young and old, male and female – for women and girls, life is incredibly tough.

Wanting to find out what really goes in Iran, I spoke to the group Iran Human Rights Monitor to find out what life is like for women in Iran, day in day out on the ground. Here’s what they had to say…

Thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview! As a human rights organisation fighting for change in Iran, it would be very insightful to find out what it’s really like for women and girls living in Iran on a daily basis.

President Hassan Rouhani was quoted during a post-election speech giving supposed support for women’s rights:

“There must be equal opportunities for women. There is no difference between man and woman in their creation, in their humanity, in their pursuit of knowledge, in their understanding, in their intelligence, in their religious piety, in serving God and in serving people.” (Fars News, retrieved 25/20/2013)

How does this fair to the reality to the daily life of girls and women in Iran today? Could you outline some of the obstacles which women and girls in Iran face on a daily basis?

Women are deprived of their most basic rights in Iran. No matter what they say, whether for national or international consumption, women are systematically discriminated against both in law and practice.

Women are not allowed to study in at least 70 fields at university. The unemployment rate among educated women and female university graduates is 85.9%. According to official statements, women’s participation in the job market is only 13%, while the majority of women are hired in unregistered jobs with salaries lower than the minimum wage and no insurance or benefits.

So, women have a really hard time earning a living. Every year, an average of 100,000 women are fired from their jobs. The situation is particularly difficult for women who head households and have to feed and provide for their families. The latest figures indicate that there are at least 3.5 million single women acting as head of the household in Iran. Only 18% of these women receive some small form of assistance from the government – the rest do not have any sort of backing.

Women are also not allowed in sports stadiums. They are not allowed to ride bicycles in public, and they are not allowed to perform at musical concerts or sing in public and are also not allowed to work in cafés. There have been frequent instances of women flouting government rulings which ban women from cycling, swimming, etc.

Of course, it is common knowledge that women do not enjoy freedom in choice of clothing and are forced to wear the compulsory veil, something that they are becoming more and more defiant about. Today, the regime is trying to control women who drop their veils behind the wheel.

The religious police enforce compulsory observation of hijab (Islamic covering). At what age does this apply? What are the penalties for not fully observing hijab?

According to the mullahs’ [religious figures] interpretation of Sharia, girls are considered to be adults when they reach the age of nine lunar years. That is less than nine years old and is the age when they are obliged to wear the veil and cover their hair. At this age, they can also be subjected to any punishment applicable to adults. The legal age of marriage is 13 years old, but fathers and grandfathers are permitted to wed their daughters at even younger ages (even nine or 10 years old), by simply getting permission from a court.

The penalty for not fully observing the hijab is usually a warning on the street, then women are taken into detention. Usually these women have to sign written pledges to conform with the official dress code. They have to pay bail and are then released. However, sometimes, the young women and girls are taken under the pretext of improper veiling to unknown locations and are sexually attacked. There have been incidents where women who get out of such detentions commit suicide because of what they have gone through.

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Being ordered to correct her hijab – Image credit: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi (CC)

There are some severe lack of protections within Iranian law. There is no law against domestic violence and marital rape is not criminalised. If a woman has an abusive husband, where can she go for help? How does society respond to this?

There is absolutely no support for women who are subjected to domestic violence at home. The courts and police stations tend to encourage woman to return to their abusive husbands. There was a famous case in Mashhad where the woman had complained to the police station about the abuses of her husband but they sent her home, only to be tortured and burned by her husband for 21 days along with her two daughters. They were found accidentally by neighbours who heard their cries and moaning. As long as the laws discriminate against women, there is not much that can be done by the general public.

Women in Iran gained the right to vote in 1963 and can be judges/legal counsellors but cannot give final verdicts. Could you describe women’s role in the political and legal systems In Iran? How does this fair in Iran?

The Iranian regime ranks 137th on the international level among 145 countries in terms of gender equality and political participation, and 141st in terms of economic participation. Women are not allowed to run for president or become leader. As you already mentioned, women cannot issue rulings or be a de facto judge in Iran.

In the current Iranian parliament, there are only 17 women among 290 members of parliament, making up a mere 5.8% participation for women. In the administration of Iranian cities and provinces, women hold only 13 out of 2,653 positions as provincial governors, governors, district governors, and mayors. In a total of 500 big and small cities, only 64 women were elected as members of City Councils compared to 3,724 male members. That amounts to a meager 1.7% participation for women in City Councils. In reality, women have no role in political decision making and leadership in Iran.

Similar to Saudi Arabia, strict laws exist in Iran regarding nationality and marriage. Iranian nationality can be passed only through the father by law. For the child of an Iranian mother and father of another nationality, Iranian nationality can usually only be gained after residing in Iran for over one year after the age of 18. Why do you believe that such law exists? What is the impact legally, socially and culturally of such laws?

To understand the source of this kind of laws, you should first understand and study the nature of the Iranian regime which is a misogynistic regime. That means all the laws are based on the repression of women. To understand better please read this article.

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Female sports are restricted in Iran – Image credit: Anoo Bhuyan (CC)

For women (and men!) who speak out against the political system, what are the consequences?

They receive long prison sentences. There are many human rights and civil rights activists imprisoned in Iran. Prison conditions are very bad in Iran, and those who are imprisoned become very ill because of the inhuman conditions in prison and lack of basic medical services.

Could you talk a little about your organisation and what your goals and successes have been?

Iran Human Rights Monitor is a web portal working in collaboration with the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Our main goal is to condemn the violation of human rights in Iran at international level – mostly the ongoing wave of executions.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Right now, we need the UN Special Rapporteur of human rights in Iran, Asma Jahanguir, to get more involved in the issue of executions in Iran. July was a bloody month with 101 executions but unfortunately we have witnessed a lack of reaction, condemnation and severity in dealing with this from international organisations and the UN.

We we also have started a new project regarding the 1988 Massacre in Iran [an estimated 30,000 political prisoners were killed on order of Ayotallah Khomeini]. After this massacre, no one was brought to justice. The perpetrators are still playing important role with the government of the Iranian regime and we want them to face trial. This is a call for a movement of justice.

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Image credit: gato-gato-gato (Flickr, CC)

What achievements are you particularly proud of within the movement for human rights in Iran?

Since last year, our movement calling people to action has been expanded. Many people have been informed about this massacre, whilst the Iranian regime has tried to remove any trace of it happening. However, our main goal hasn’t been achieved yet.

Where can we learn more about the issues discussed and how can we help?

You can learn more by visiting our new website calling for justice after the 1988 massacre and also by signing and sharing out petition.

Thank you for your time and participation and all the very best in your work for the future!

For all the latest information, follow Iran Human Rights Monitor on Twitter and Facebook and please sign the petition!

Salam!

Credits

Featured image: Chris Marchant (CC)

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10 Trends which reveal the reality behind gender inequality

You’ve no doubt heard about gender inequality but you may not be aware of the reality that women across the world face. What does “gender inequality” actually mean in real terms? Perhaps you may feel that in your part of the world it’s not an issue. Well, I beg to differ. Statistically speaking, women are more likely to be affected by a range of discrimination and abuse than their male peers due to their gender and the relationship between poverty and prevailing socio-cultural norms. Now, everything has a context and therefore social, cultural and economic factors must be taken into account but by being female – across the so-called “developed” and non-developing world, there are a range of trends that stick and which are unacceptable in the 21st century.

Here’s 10 trends which highlight and exemplify the shocking reality of gender inequality today.

1. Women are the hardest hit by poverty

Women are overall disproportionately affected by poverty. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), out of the 1.3 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty, women account for a disproportionately large amount of this figure. But what about in the “developed world”? What about mainstream society? Well, the UN’s research “The World’s Women” in 2015 concluded that in Europe women and girls were greater affected by poverty than men (53%).

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2. More girls leave school early and become illiterate than their male peers

Without an education, you’re more likely to remain trapped in the cycle of poverty and without a doubt, women and girls are the worst affected. Due to a combination of social, cultural and economic factors such as poverty and child marriage, many girls leave school much earlier than is required leaving them unable to gain a solid education and build their future.

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3. Females are more likely to experience sexual violence

We need to break the myth that sexual violence only affects women and girls. It DOES affect men but to a far lesser degree. Many women (as well as men) will also not report or speak out about sexual violence for fear of retribution of social stigma, but the figures we do have are shocking.

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4. Women are excluded from habitually male-led decision making

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling and it’s real. The lack of females in politics and high management positions is shocking as this ultimately means that women are excluded from decision making, meaning that half of the population remain under-represented in politics, finance etc. – you name it!

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5. Women earn less than their male colleagues for the same job

Not only are women more likely than men to work in undervalued, low-paid or vulnerable jobs but women are also on average paid less than men (ILO, 2012; UN Women, 2017). According to the World Bank, in most countries across the globe, women on average earn only 60-75% of what men do. This is a staggering phenomena in the “Western world” which many find hard to believe.

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6. Being female means you’re more likely to be sold into slavery

Human trafficking is a serious problem across the globe. Most victims of human trafficking are female and the numbers of girls being trafficked is increasing. Human trafficking of women and girls often involves sexual exploitation and is unimaginably detrimental to the psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, social, cultural and economical wellbeing of those affected.

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7. Women are more likely to die from natural hazards

When natural disaster strikes, women are once again at greater risk of harm. Women living in poverty (as usual!) are more likely to be affected than their male counterparts and remain incredibly vulnerable.

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8. Girls are more likely to be affected by HIV and AIDS than their male peers

51% of adults living with HIV are female (UNAIDS, 2015). What’s more, if we break down the figures by age, we find that young girls and women (aged 15 to 24 years old) are particularly vulnerable to infection (UNAIDS 2015; UN Women 2017). New infections amongst young women are higher than that of their male peers and with 45% of teenage girls in certain cases declaring that their first sexual experience was non-consensual, this may not come as a surprise for many people out there (UNAIDS, 2014).

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9. Women spend more time on unpaid housework and less on leisure than men

We may think this is a stereotype but it’s true. Across the world, in pretty much every country, each day men spend more time on leisure activities while women spend more time doing unpaid housework (OECD, 2017). Women take on the major burden of domestic and care work – even when they have a job of their own.

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10. Being born female means you’re more likely to be married as a child

Child marriage predominantly affects girls. Whilst boys can be affected, the numbers show that this is a far less common occurrence. Child marriage results in high numbers of young girls missing out on an education, financial independence and being subject to sexual, emotional and physical abuse. For girls of such a young age, childbirth can even mean death, as their young bodies cannot bear the physical burden.

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So there we are folks. The figures speak for themselves. Please, please – next time you hear someone harping on about “feminism” this and that as though it’s a man-hating phenomena, remind them of these facts. We must keep raising awareness and challenging socio-cultural norms which discriminate against women and perpetuate the marginalisation, exclusion and abuse of so many women – both closer to home and further afield.

Sources, credits and further information

A full list of sources can be downloaded here (PDF)

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