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
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
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, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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!