CALL TO ACTION:
Submitted by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the International Association of Applied Psychology, the International Council of Psychologists, the International Union of Psychological Science, the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention-Meaningful World, the World Council of Psychotherapy, the American Psychological Association, and other organizational members of the Psychology Coalition at the United Nations 1
14 April 2015
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Boko Haram, a group of militant Islamic extremists, abducted 276 schoolgirls between the ages of 16 and 18 years from the Government Secondary Boarding School in Chibok, Nigeria, on 14 April 2014. The abduction was a continuation of episodic attacks against cities in northern and central Nigeria since 2009 when the insurgency was first launched by Boko Haram to destabilize the government and establish an Islamic caliphate under Sharia Law (Onuoha, 2012). More than 300 days since the Chibok abduction and measures by the Nigerian government to find them, the vast majority of the 276 girls remain unaccounted for and their fate unresolved. The abduction and non-return of the schoolgirls provides a poignant illustration of the pervasive, global problem of discrimination and violence against girls and women, including abductions and trafficking, in every region of the world (Save the Children, 2013).
On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the tragic abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls, we, organizations of psychologists accredited by the Economic and Social Council at the United Nations, committed to human rights and social justice, launch this statement in a broad appeal to the international community to heed the importance of fully implementing international human rights standards, which protect girls and women against abductions, trafficking and all other forms of violence and discrimination. This statement has three major parts:
- First, we place abductions, trafficking and all other forms of violence and discrimination against girls and women within the contextual framework of international human rights standards.
- Next, we draw upon research that documents the physical and psychological impact of these violations of human rights on girls, their families, and their communities, and that highlights the role of intervention by psychologists, other mental health providers, educators, and humanitarian workers in preventing violence and providing psychosocial recovery.
- Finally, we issue a call to action to governments,United Nations (UN) agencies, civil society organizations, and the international community, presented as concrete recommendations, grounded in international human rights standards and psychological science.
Contextual Framework of International Human Rights Standards Against Abductions, Trafficking and Other Forms of Violence Against Girls and Women
Numerous international human rights instruments provide safeguards for girls and women to be protected by States against abductions, trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence and discrimination. For example:
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989) protects children from separation from their parents against their will (Article 9); the abduction or sale of or trafficking in children (Article 35); and the unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of children’s liberty (Article 37). The CRC also calls for the protection of children’s freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 14); and protection from physical and mental violence, injury, or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse (Article 19). Finally, Article 39 requires member states of the UN to “take all appropriate measures to promote the physical and psychological recovery and social integration of children who have been victims of any form of neglect, exploitation or abuse, torture or degrading treatment, or of armed conflict.”
- The Optional Protocol to the CRC on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (UN, 2000) protects children from compulsory recruitment into armed forces or use in hostilities (Articles 2 and 4).
- The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography (UN, 2000) expands upon the CRC and stresses the importance of international cooperation to protect children from trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (UN, 1979) and its General Recommendation 30 (2013) call for all State and non-State actors in armed conflict to prevent, investigate, and punish all forms of gender-based violence against women, in particular rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and to implement a policy of zero tolerance, putting an end to impunity.
- The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN, 2000) is designed to prevent human trafficking and to protect women and children victimized by it.
- The Paris Commitments (UNICEF, 2009a) obligates States to implement the Paris Principles (UNICEF, 2007), including the promotion of the physical and psychological recovery and reintegration of children who have suffered from gender-based violence.
This international normative framework also includes regional human rights instruments for preventing violence against women and girls, including, for example, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Union, 2003); the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Union, 1999); the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (ASEAN, 2004); the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (OAS, 1994); the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Council of Europe, 2011); and the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Council of Europe, 2010).
In spite of commitments made by the international community, there are major gaps in the implementation of international and regional human rights instruments against abductions and trafficking and other forms of abuse, which result in gross violations both within and across countries. Under norms that facilitate discrimination against women in many parts of the world, being both young and female relegates millions of girls and women to the margins of society where their human rights are routinely disregarded, their safety is denied, and they remain powerless, invisible, and neglected. In situations of armed conflict within or between nations, abductions, rape, trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labor are used as instruments of war, designed to weaken families, and break down the social fabric of communities and societies (Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria, 2014; Muhigwa, 2014; Rafferty, 2013a; 2013b) . Although men and boys are also victims of violence, women and girls are the primary targets (Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria, 2014).
The abduction of schoolgirls evidences what UNESCO (2011) calls “The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education.” Education is among the most important factors for improving the human rights of girls and women globally. Accordingly, the destruction of educational opportunity is one of the most damaging consequences of armed conflict. More than 40% of out-of-school children live in conflict-affected countries, where we also find some of the largest gender inequalities and lowest literacy levels in the world. Although this crisis affects both girls and boys living in armed conflict, a past President of the UN Security Council (2010) has emphasized that girls are often specifically targeted in the growing number of armed attacks against schools worldwide. School-based abductions or recruitment of girls serve important purposes for armed opposition groups, depending upon the socio-economic-politico-religious context. The primary purposes include: forced sexual services, forced marriages and trafficking, and domestic labor ((Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria, 2014; UNICEF, 2009b); and because schoolgirls are smart and can read and write, they therefore perform multiple roles in addition to sexual services (cf. McKay, 2011, McKay & Mazurana, 2004, McKay, Veale, Worthen, & Wessells, 2010). Other long-standing, common purposes of armed opposition groups in kidnapping schoolgirls and deliberately attacking the educational infrastructure include: to oppose the type of education provided by the government and disrupt the girls education so that the roles and statuses of girls and women do not change, and to destabilize and disrupt communities (UNESCO, 2011).
Although a number of countries have made commendable efforts to combat human trafficking, this activity continues to grow because of the ongoing demand for sex with children, the lower social status of girls and women, extreme poverty, inadequate legislation, lack of enforcement of relevant laws, failure to prosecute offenders, and disregard for human rights (APA, 2014a; Rafferty, 2013a, 2013c; Spohn & Tellis, 2013).
Research on the Physical and Psychological Impact on Girls and Women
Psychological science suggests that the harsh conditions, persistent and extreme abuse, and trauma associated with child trafficking may seriously hamper children’s physical, psychological, and social-emotional development (Rafferty, 2013a). Physical abuse and deprivation, for example, can result in direct physical injury (e.g., broken bones, bruises, contusions, cuts, and burns); indirect physical injury, such as chronic headaches, dizziness, insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns; or in extreme cases homicide or suicide (Zimmerman et al, 2008). Higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), tuberculosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, vaginal fistula, unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortions, complications from unwanted pregnancies, and poor reproductive healthcare have also been identified among children and youth who have been trafficked (Beyrer & Stachowiak, 2003; Kumar, Subedi, Gurung, & Adhikari, 2001; Miles, 2000; Silverman, Decker, Gupta, Maheshwari, & Patel, 2006; Silverman, et al. 2007; Tsutsumi, Izutsu, Poudyal, Kato, & Marui, 2008).
In addition to the physical effects described above, victims of abduction, trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence against girls and women may develop a wide range of psychological and interpersonal problems (Beyrer & Stachowiak, 2003; Deb, Mukherjee, & Matthews 2011; Hossain, Zimmerman, Abas, Light, & Watts, 2010; Tsutsumi et al., 2008; Zimmerman et al., 2008). In extreme cases, the psychological symptoms demonstrated by children who have experienced trafficking-related abuses have been compared to the psychological symptoms identified in torture victims who report a complex set of psychological and physiological symptoms (Zimmerman et al., 2003).
Girls growing up in areas of armed conflict experience complex trauma that frequently remains unexamined. In areas of armed conflict, girls are witnesses to violence, fear being raped and otherwise violated, and live in stressed and fearful families and communities under constant threat of violence. Girls who have been abducted miss their loved ones and community and are further deprived of the benefits of developmental stages such connection provides. Such childhood trauma poses challenges to girls’ resilience, contributes to their subsequent mental health distress, and in some cases, longer-term psychopathology (Betancourt, 2008; Betancourt, Borisova, Williams, et al., 2013; Haider, 2014; Kangas, Haider, & Fraser, 2014; McKay, 2008: Wessells, 2006). (See also, UNICEF Machel Study 10 Year Strategic Review: Children and Conflict in a Changing World,2009.)
Related research on adverse childhood experiences (Anda & Felitti, 2010; Felitti et. al, 1998,) including child maltreatment, suggests a link between child abuse and poorer later life physical and mental health outcomes, including: (a) psychological reactions (e.g., hopelessness, despair, suicidal ideation and attempts, anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, and depression); (b) psychoactive substance abuse and dependence (e.g., addiction, and drug overdose); (c) psychosomatic reactions (e.g., headaches, neck pain, back aches, and sleeping problems); (d) social reactions (e.g., feelings of isolation, loneliness, and hostility); and (e) severe post-traumatic stress syndrome/disorder. Children who experience sexual abuse are more likely to experience these adverse emotional outcomes (APA, 1999; Briere & Spinazolla, 2005; Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 2001; Rafferty, 2007; 2008).
Prevention of Violence and Promotion of Mental Health and Psychosocial Recovery
Social science research indicates that comprehensive measures to secure gender equality and protect human rights, in accordance with the international human rights framework, are vital for the effective prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against girls and women, including abductions and trafficking. A comprehensive human rights-based framework would allow both victim-focused and law enforcement responses to be developed, implemented, and evaluated and would promote both prevention and protection measures to ensure psychosocial wellbeing (cf. Robinson, 2002). Discrimination and violence against girls and women are rooted in patriarchal structures, cultural traditions, and social norms that condone their objectification and commercialization; manifest in attitudes, and beliefs; and are powerful influences in shaping behavior (Rafferty, 2013d). Social norms and cultural traditions perpetuate gender-based social inequalities, stereotypic attitudes and discrimination toward girls and women, and also perpetuate women’s subordinate status in society, heighten the vulnerability of girls and women, and pose challenges to achieving gender equality and eliminating gender-based violence. Therefore, a strong commitment is required to changing prevailing sexist attitudes and social norms and the forms these attitudes and norms take among the diversity of girls and women of different ethnicities, religions, et cetera. Also, it is necessary that education for gender equality and diversity take place within formal educational institutions at all levels and within other public institutions, as well as within rehabilitation and recovery programs (cf., Rafferty, 2013b).
The successful protection of children and women who have been trafficked will also require activities designed to provide them and their families and communities with the necessary supports and services for mental health, psychosocial recovery, and enhanced wellbeing. As such, psychologists, health, and mental health practitioners and allied professionals have a vital role to play with regard to the appropriate assessment of girls’, children’s, and women’s physical and mental healthcare needs, as well as in the implementation of effective strategies to provide trauma-informed and culturally competent physical, psychological, and social recovery and rehabilitation services.
CALL TO ACTION
Recommendations to Prevent, Reduce, and Eliminate Abductions, Trafficking, and other forms of Violence against Girls/Children/Women
We respectfully call upon and urge all Member States of the United Nations to:
- Ratify all human rights instruments, especially those that provide for the protection of girls and women from abductions, trafficking, and all other forms of gender-based violence.
- Take strong and consistent measures to prevent and eliminate any violation of the rights to the survival, personal safety, health, physical, emotional, and social development, and participation of girls/children/women within situations of political unrest and armed conflict within their territories (CRC, 1989; CEDAW, 1979; CEDAW Recommendation 30, 2013).
- Develop and implement national legislation and policies to eliminate abduction, trafficking, and all forms of violence and discrimination against the rights of girls/children/women, and ensure that such legislation and policies are applicable to all administrative levels and sections of their countries, and are consistent and in compliance with international human rights commitments. 2
- 3.1 Protect girls/children/women from abduction, sale or trafficking; from separation from their parents against their will; from deprivation of their freedom of thought, conscience and religion; from physical and mental violence, injury, or abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.
- 3.2 Take all appropriate measures to promote the physical and psychological recovery and social integration of girls/children/women who have been victims of any form of neglect, exploitation or abuse, torture or degrading treatment, or other forms of gender-based violence in armed conflict.
- 3.3 Protect girls/children under 18 years of age from compulsory and/or forced recruitment into armed forces or use in hostilities.
- 3.4 Prevent, investigate, and punish all forms of gender-based violence, in particular, acts of rape and other forms of sexual abuse, thereby putting an end to impunity.
- Fulfill and protect, in all sections of every UN member country, access to and enjoyment of education as a human right of girls and all children, by establishing schools as safe learning environments, free from all forms of violence at, and on the way to and from, school –including abductions, sexual harassment, and exploitation, rape, physical, and psychological abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence and abuse.
- 4.1 Ensure that both public and private school facilities are physically safe structures where the psychosocial wellbeing of children can be protected.
- 4.2 Ensure that school administrators of all schools provide safety instruction and skills to all children, teachers, and other staff.
- 4.3 Comply with the UN Secretary-General’s Five-Year Global Education First Initiative (2012) by putting every child in school, and improving the quality of teaching and the availability and quality of books and materials.
- 4.4 Ensure that the educational curriculum and processes of schools foster global citizenship, peace, tolerance, inclusiveness and justice needed to transform societies experiencing inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict into peaceful, tolerant, and inclusive societies.
- Take steps to develop effective systems to assess and monitor full compliance with international human rights legislation and policies against gender-based violence, including abductions, trafficking, and discrimination against the human rights of girls/children/women, and reduce and eliminate gaps in implementation of each country’s human rights commitments.
- 5.1 Advocate for compliance with provisions of the CRC and other human rights instruments on gender-based violence including abductions and trafficking of girls/children/women in situations of armed conflict and peace.
- 5.2 Advocate for full compliance within each country to adopt and follow a definition of the child in agreement with the CRC (defined as less than 18 years of age), including those that have passed child rights legislation adopting a definition of the child with a lower age than that of the CRC.
- 5.3 Conduct a comprehensive review on the compatibility of the existing national statutory, religious and customary laws with provisions of the CRC and other human rights instruments.
- Intensify efforts to build on progress in the global struggle against trafficking of girls/children/women as called for in international trafficking standards and national legislation.
- 6.1 Build alliances with governments of neighboring countries within each region, as well as other regions, to suppress trafficking by focusing on demand factors, apprehending traffickers, and facilitating the repatriation of victims and perpetrators.
- 6.2 Take all measures, in accordance with national and international norms, to investigate, apprehend, prosecute, and convict perpetrators who sell, buy, and/or sexually exploit girls/children/women.
- 6.3 Develop and implement timely and appropriate policies, programs, and gender- and age-appropriate services for all victims, including mental health and psychosocial support for families during and following the abduction, in accordance with the Declaration and Agenda for Action and the Global Commitments adopted at the 1996, 2001, and 2008 World Congresses against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, as well as the outcome documents of other international conferences on this issue.
- 6.4 Ensure that girls/children/women, especially the most vulnerable, have access to timely and comprehensive medical treatment (including sexual and reproductive care), mental health care, and psychosocial recovery and reintegration services and support.
- Provide education on human rights to survival, safety, development, and participation, including the freedom of religion and belief, in schools for teachers, students and staff and also provide human rights training for all persons who are involved in other services to girls/children/women.
- Engage and cooperate with a diverse range of civil society stakeholders and UN Agencies for implementation at the national, state, and local government levels of the Secretary-General’s Campaign to End Violence against Women and Girls (2008) and recommendations of the UN World Report on Violence against Children (2006).
- Promote the adoption of a national plan of action and ensure that adequate resources are allocated to implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the impact of legislation at the national- and local levels to protect girls/children/women from abduction, trafficking, and all forms of discrimination and violence.
- Develop data, disaggregated by sex, age, race/ethnicity, tribal affiliation, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, state, region, etc., to assess community needs and to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of programs designed to eliminate abductions, trafficking, and other forms of violence against girls/children/women, as well as projects designed to identify and to provide programs and services for victims of trafficking following their rescue and return.
II. Civil Society Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations including Psychological and Mental Health Associations, Humanitarian Organizations, and other Civil Society Institutions
We respectfully call upon and urge civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, including psychological societies and other civil society organizations and institutions, who desire to collaborate in addressing the abduction of girls to:
- Become informed, through a lens of respect about the culture as well as the past and recent history, about the country/countries/states, that provide the socio-political and economic contexts of the abduction and trafficking or other forms of violence against girls/children/women. Give particular attention to socially accepted institutionalized attitudes and practices that condone or promote violence (APA, 1996) and examine their attitudes and beliefs about at-risk groups (APA, 2014a).
- Contact national groups of psychologists and human rights workers or UN agencies and international NGOs working in the country/countries/states of concern to find out what is being done, what is needed, and whether and how international psychologists or psychology organizations may collaborate in a culturally appropriate manner. Seek to identify strengths and resources that exist within the country/countries/states of concern for entering into a supportive, collaborative relationship (APA, 2014b).
- Reflect on and decide from among the following what their best role(s) is/are in contributing on an individual or collaborative basis to a specific area of discrimination and violence against girls/children/women, based on their qualifications, past experiences, and cultural competencies, to:
- 3.1 Conduct or share research on the problem or strategies for change and/or conducting outcome evaluation of programs to prevent or provide mental health or psychosocial recovery from trafficking or other forms of gender-based violence;
- 3.2 Engage in national or international advocacy;
- 3.3 Incorporate scholarship on armed conflicts, abduction, and trafficking into courses at all levels of higher education, including the training and education of mental health practitioners and psychosocial service providers and related professionals;
- 3.4 Conduct national or international educational campaigns;
- 3.5 Incorporate a human rights, international perspective in their teaching, research, practice, or other professional activities;
- 3.6 Work or volunteer directly with health care or human rights organizations to join with local partners to provide culturally appropriate mental health services to girls, children or women who have been subjected to trafficking and related trauma or to develop culturally relevant assessment, treatment or service protocols for application in these contexts;
- 3.7 Contribute financially to, or fundraise for, agencies and organizations that advocate for, support, or treat survivors of trauma due to abduction or trafficking, or for those that combat trafficking;
- 3.8 Work in indirect service delivery as trainers and consultants in collaboration with recognized international humanitarian organizations (APA, 2008), offering culturally appropriate training to international colleagues in law enforcement and providers of psychosocial recovery services for victims.
- Work within the existing advocacy structure of the civil society organizations with which they affiliate to support existing advocacy efforts to pass an International Violence against Women Act within their congress or parliament, which would make preventing violence against women and girls on a global scale the official policy of their Government. We urge civil society organizations within the U.S. to work within the existing advocacy structure of the APA Public Interest Government Relations Office to support existing efforts to advocate for the ratification by the U.S. Senate of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in keeping with the APA Resolution on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention’s Optional Protocols (2001), and “safe harbor” legislation to ensure that women and girls who are sex trafficked are treated as victims and not as criminals.
- Partner with psychology organizations and human rights NGOs in other countries, working to eliminate the abduction and trafficking or other forms of violence against girls/children/women; to advocate for the provision of timely and appropriate psychosocial support and mental health services to families in communities where girls/children/women have been abducted, trafficked, or killed; to advocate for supports and services to be provided for the victims who may return; and to work to identify the best modalities for providing these supports and services.
- Advocate for full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, and other international commitments including the Palermo Protocol. Although the CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty, further steps need to be taken to ensure full implementation of its principles by investing in childhood as the foundation for healthy and sustainable human development.
III. United Nations and International NGOs
We respectfully urge UN organs/agencies/programs and international Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) to:
- Continue to monitor the abduction and trafficking of girls and women by terrorist groups and call upon governments to curtail sources of support and resources for such groups and bring perpetrators before competent courts to be held accountable (as requested by the Human Rights Council, 1, April 2015, Resolution A/HRC/S-23/L.2).
- Continue to provide consistent technical and funding assistance as needed to the Governments where the abduction and trafficking of girls/children/women are occurring. Such assistance may need to occur under terms of bilateral or multistakeholder partnerships involving transparent, long-term shared commitments and genuine collaboration.
- Assess and evaluate the effectiveness of partnerships and modify strategies as necessary.
- Publicly disseminate information on the degree of success of partnerships in reducing or eradicating trafficking of girls/children/women and promoting their human rights together with lessons learned.
1 For further information, contact Corann Okorodudu, EdD, Professor Emerita of Psychology & Africana Studies, Rowan University, Email: email@example.com; Kathleen H. Dockett, EdD, Professor Emerita of Psychology, University of the District of Columbia, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Yvonne Rafferty, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Pace University, Email: email@example.com; Katherine Miller, BA, Master’s Candidate, International Disaster Psychology, University of Denver, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the Declaration and Platform for Action of the UN World Conference on Women, Beijing China (1995), ILO Convention 182 on Minimum Age on Elimination of the Worse Forms of Child Labour (1999), Optional Protocol on recovery and reintegration of a child victim.” In addition, the Optional Protocol to the CRC on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, 2000) protects children under 18 from compulsory recruitment into armed forces or use in hostilities (Articles 2 and 4). Finally, the UN Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discriminations Against Women calls for all State and non-State actors in armed conflict to prevent, investigate, and punish all forms of gender-based violence, in the involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts (2000), Optional Protocol on the sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000), UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (2000), Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), the Secretary-General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls (2008), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women General recommendation No. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations (2013). In addition, the APA Resolution on Emancipating and Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking (2009) urges state and local governments, and international non-governmental organizations to work assiduously to end human trafficking and to assist its victims.
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Posted by David Sharek on April 14, 2015