Killed, orphaned, sold: Afghan war takes brutal toll on children

Killed, orphaned, sold: Afghan war takes brutal toll on children
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Afghan girls attend a class at the Aschiana center in Kabul, Afghanistan March 5, 2019. Picture taken March 5, 2019. (REUTERS)
Killed, orphaned, sold: Afghan war takes brutal toll on children
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Afghan girls chat to each others at an Afghan Child Education and Care Organization center (AFCECO) in Kabul, Afghanistan March 3, 2019. Picture taken March 3, 2019. (REUTERS)
Killed, orphaned, sold: Afghan war takes brutal toll on children
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Afghan girls practice a traditional dance at an Afghan Child Education and Care Organization center (AFCECO) in Kabul, Afghanistan March 3, 2019. (REUTERS)
Killed, orphaned, sold: Afghan war takes brutal toll on children
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An Afghan girl practices a traditional dance at an Afghan Child Education and Care Organization center (AFCECO) in Kabul, Afghanistan March 3, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 March 2019

Killed, orphaned, sold: Afghan war takes brutal toll on children

Killed, orphaned, sold: Afghan war takes brutal toll on children
  • The Taliban’s possible role in any new Afghanistan government has not been defined as the latest round of talks with the United States wrapped up

KABUL/BALKH, Afghanistan: After fighting forced Mohammad Khan, a villager from the northern Afghanistan province of Sar-e Pul, to move his family to the more secure province of Balkh last year, they quickly fell on harder times.
Khan’s wife grew gravely ill, he could not find work, and struggled to feed their seven children. So in January, Khan sold their baby, just 40 days old, to a neighbor.
“I sold him for 70,000 afghanis ($929) so that my other children would not die of hunger,” he said.
In a country where half the population is younger than 15, Afghanistan’s 17-year war has arguably hit children the hardest.
Some 927 children were killed last year, the most since records have been kept, according to a UN report released in February.
Aid workers say they are seeing a growing number of children orphaned or forced to work in the streets.
“I think the hope that used to exist, doesn’t anymore,” said Adele Khodr, the representative for UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, in Afghanistan.
Aschiana, a charity that provides school half a day for children who beg and sell in Kabul’s streets, has seen the number of Afghan children at risk rise sharply in recent years as the Taliban seized more territory across the country.
It has been forced to reduce the number of children it helps, however, as its funding from donors declined, said Engineer Mohammad Yousef, Aschiana’s director.
“Children do not belong to political groups, for this reason they are ignored in Afghanistan,” he said, walking through dark hallways and classrooms where lights are turned off to save money. “They don’t have power.”
Zabiullah Mujahed, 12, is learning to draw at Aschiana and hopes to become a painter. He spends the balance of his day polishing shoes on Kabul’s streets to earn up to 100 Afghanis per day ($1.32).
The money is critical to support himself, his mother and six siblings, after his father was killed in a Taliban suicide attack four years ago.
“I’m worried about when peace will come and what will happen to my future,” he said. “If I don’t work, my mother, brothers, and sisters will remain hungry.”

LONG ROAD
Girls were banned from attending school under the Taliban government’s five-year rule that ended when the Islamists were ousted by US-backed forces in 2001. Enabling girls’ education has been a key goal of Afghanistan’s western-backed government and its foreign allies.
But some 3.7 million school-age children are still not in school, according to a first-of-its-kind UNICEF report in June 2018.
Worsening security, poverty and migration have all made educating children more difficult in recent years, Khodr said.
Sexual abuse and trafficking of boys, a practice that exploded during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, has also worsened, said Yasin Mohammadi, project manager for the non-governmental organization Youth Health and Development Organization (YHDO).
Boys from rural areas have flocked to cities such as Kabul and Herat to find work to support families, leaving them vulnerable to those employers who take them in and molest them before circulating them to other abusers, he said.

The practice of men sexually abusing boys, known by the Dari slang term “bacha bazi” for “boy play,” has been illegal in Afghanistan for only a year, and so far there are few known examples of perpetrators being sentenced.
The Afghanistan government’s director of children’s issues, Najib Akhlaqi, acknowledges that the situation for children is eroding. Progress is slow, but underway, he said, including drafting a national, long-term plan to help children.
“I am only one person. We can’t solve all these problems,” he told Reuters in an interview. “It takes a long time.”

PERILS OF PEACE
Aid groups welcome the prospect of peace, but worry that the inclusion of the Taliban in any post-settlement government could see a slide back toward the hard-line Islamist rule it imposed between 1996 and 2001.
The Taliban’s possible role in any new Afghanistan government has not been defined as the latest round of talks with the United States wrapped up.
“The Taliban never supported children, never supported people. I think we would see a worse situation than today,” said Pashtana Rasol, executive director of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization orphanage.
Rasol, who was orphaned herself at age eight after she says the Taliban killed her father, doubts that the orphanages she runs would remain open under a Taliban-led government.
“We are raising very powerful women here,” Rasol said in a Kabul orphanage where smiling girls practiced a dance routine, twirling in brightly colored dresses. “We want the girls to be improved, to be teachers, doctors, but of course the Taliban and the fundamentalist people do not want it.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the fault for the war’s devastating impact on Afghan children lies with “foreign invaders,” adding that it has an organization that helps orphans in areas that it controls.
If a peace accord is struck, the Taliban would encourage non-governmental organizations to continue their work in the country, but they would be under close scrutiny to ensure their activities adjust to cultural and religious values, he said.
Yousef, director of Aschiana, worries that women may not be able to work in a society with greater Taliban influence, putting more children at risk.
“Peace is very important to children,” he said. “But we are looking for real peace.”


Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians
Updated 06 May 2021

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians
  • Furious diva posts resignation letter insisting all Lebanese should express themselves freely and democratically
  • Resignation follows statement from chairman urging members to avoid political comments

BEIRUT: Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi has resigned from the Syndicate of Professional Artists after the body told members they could not criticize politicians.
Al-Zoghbi posted a two-page resignation letter on her Twitter account on Wednesday slamming the country’s ruling elite. 
She said there was a “negative influence” from all Lebanese politicians and political parties and accused them of sluggishness towards the country’s current economic and political crisis.
The Arabic music diva said she did not feel honored to sit back and watch her “beloved Lebanon and its people” sliding into the unknown.
Al-Zoghbi also addressed her five million followers on Instagram and 4.7 million followers on Twitter saying she would show unity and support to her fellow “decent citizens” by resigning from the Syndicate.
Last month, actor Jihad Al-Atrash, the Syndicate’s chairman, requested that members should not criticize or mention politicians or political parties. He added that freedom of expression remains respected and preserved within the parameters of the constitution.
His statement followed an attack on the house of actor Asaad Rachdan by supporters of MP Gebran Bassil, the head of Free Patriotic Movement.
During a TV interview, Rachdan had criticized President Michel Aoun , his son-in-law Bassil and their political party for their governance and blamed them for the current crises in Lebanon.
“I will not remain silent and I cannot be silenced except by killing me and I am not afraid to die,” he said.
Rachdan’s home was vandalized and Aoun’s photos were posted all around it.
Al-Atrash was heavily criticized for his statement after the attack and many artists and actors showed solidarity with Rachdan.  
Al-Zoghbi condemned the statement from Al-Atrash and the Syndicate, saying it was her obligation to back good citizens and support their demands for a better life. She said people should be able to express themselves and their opinions “freely and democratically.”
She described the Syndicate’s stance as “a dangerous and unprecedented move.”
She had been a member of the Syndicate for 20 years.
Lebanon is mired in political and economic crises as its politicians have failed to form a new government amid a financial collapse.
Many in the country are furious at the ruling elite and blame the current situation on decades of corruption and mismanagement.


Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters

Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters
Updated 05 May 2021

Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters

Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters
  • Group of local history enthusiasts discovered the move during a walk in a wooded area on the French side
  • In Belgian village of Erquelinnes, the mayor appeared keen to avoid an international incident

BRUSSELS: A Belgian farmer unwittingly extended his country’s territory by moving an ancient stone marking the border with France that was on his land.
A group of local history enthusiasts discovered the move during a walk in a wooded area on the French side.
The discovery of the stone, now sitting 2.20 meters (7.2 feet) away from where it was placed in accordance with a border agreement two centuries ago, has caused a flap in a normally sleepy rural area.
“If it belongs to us, it belongs to us. We don’t want to be robbed of 2 meters,” a resident of the French village of Bousignies-sur-Roc told RTL Info.
On the other side, in the Belgian village of Erquelinnes, mayor David Lavaux appeared keen to avoid an international incident.
“The land was sold and I think the person who bought it changed the borders the way he wanted,” he said. “But this isn’t just a private border, it’s a border between countries and you can’t just at will move boundary markers that have been there for a long time.”


Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness

Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness
Palestinian women ride bicycles at the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza city on April 28, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 05 May 2021

Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness

Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness
  • 10 bicycles in attractive colors and protection tools needed have been provided

GAZA CITY: Ola Zaqout regularly rides a bicycle as part of an unprecedented sports project she recently launched on the Gaza Strip with dozens of her Palestinian female friends.

Marking a departure from the norms in the strip that Hamas has run for 15 years, the initiative provides an opportunity for girls to ride bicycles in public places.

Its owner Rania Al-Daour calls it “Breathe Deeply” — a space for women to express themselves and lead normal lives.

Officially, there is no law prohibiting women in Gaza from riding bicycles, but under the weight of customs and traditions, it is unusual to see a woman cycling in public.

Zaqout, 23, said she felt the happiness that she had missed for years when she was able to ride a bicycle outdoors for the first time.

When she turned 10, Zaquot stopped riding bicycles following the decision of her family which considered it “a disgrace to the girl.”

She said that she loved riding her brother’s bike: “I was skilled and doing acrobatic movements in the streets.”

She said the Breathe Deeply project gives women access to the sport without restrictions and in an atmosphere of privacy.

Zaqout said she hoped that the culture of exercise spreads for women as well as for men. She looks forward to the day when she can use a bicycle in her daily life.

As a result of the prevailing atmosphere and culture since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, restrictions imposed on women — whether by an official decision or by informal means — have increased.

Al-Daour, the project owner, said its idea stemmed from her passion for returning to her childhood, the period when she was able to ride bicycles without any hindrances.

Rania, 29, a veiled woman and mother of three girls, believed that the project would provide girls with the opportunity “to practice cycling in an open space with comfort and privacy consistent with religious and community values.”

HIGHLIGHT

Women in Gaza need this sport, which improves psychological feelings, reduces depression, and improves body shape.

The project was launched in cooperation with the Gaza municipality and the Yarmouk Stadium in the city center was designated for women to practice the sport for five days a week in specific hours.

Al-Daour aims to “encourage women to practice the sport without shame or obstacles.”

The project enables girls aged 12 and above to ride bicycles for a symbolic fee. Rania has provided 10 bicycles in attractive colors for women, and the protection tools that this sport needs to maintain the safety and security of the participants.

Al-Daour and other trainers also coach girls who have never ridden bicycles.

Despite the encouragement Al-Daour has received, the project faced severe criticism on social media from people believed to be religious extremists, who shared pictures of unveiled girls during the opening ceremony of the project.

But Al-Daour preferred not to comment on such criticisms. “The project welcomes everyone, regardless of the appearance of the girl or the nature of her clothes. We practice sports in a playground designated by the municipality for specific hours and for girls only.”

Al-Daour emphasized that providing girls with the opportunity to practice cycling is not intended to challenge society and its traditions, but rather to help women pursue sport and gain its health and psychological benefits.

Women in Gaza need this sport, which improves psychological feelings, reduces depression, and improves body shape, according to Al-Daour.

During the opening ceremony, the Hamas-appointed Mayor of Gaza Yahya Al-Sarraj praised the project: “It encourages girls to practice sports and provides them with space to practice cycling in an atmosphere of privacy.”

 


Bill Gates and Melinda Gates splitting after 27 years marriage

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates splitting after 27 years marriage
Billionaire Bill Gates, chairman and founder of Microsoft Corp., and his wife Melinda attend the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. (AFP file photo)
Updated 04 May 2021

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates splitting after 27 years marriage

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates splitting after 27 years marriage
  • Launched in 2000, the nonprofit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranks as the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one world's biggest, with net assets of $43.3 billion at the end of in 2019

SEATTLE: Billionaire benefactors Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of one of the world's largest private charitable foundations, filed for divorce on Monday after 27 years of marriage, saying they had reached an agreement on how to divide their assets.
In a joint petition for dissolution of marriage filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle, the couple stated: "The marriage is irretrievably broken."
But the foundation said Bill Gates, 65, who co-founded Microsoft Corp, and Melinda Gates would continue to work together in their existing roles as co-chairs and trustees of the organization.
The divorce filing, which states that the couple have no minor children, comes after the youngest of their three children is believed to have recently turned 18. The spouses asked the court to approve their agreement on division of assets but did not disclose details.
"After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage," the two said in a statement posted on each of their individual Twitter accounts.
"We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life," they said.
Launched in 2000, the nonprofit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranks as the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one world's biggest, with net assets of $43.3 billion at the end of in 2019, according to the latest full-year financials shown on its website.
From 1994 through 2018 Gates and his wife, who is 56, have provided gifts of more than $36 billion to the Seattle-based foundation, the website said.
Last year, investor Warren Buffett reported donating more than $2 billion of stock from his Berkshire Hathaway Inc to the Gates Foundation as part of previously announced plans to give away his entire fortune before his death.
The Gates Foundation has focused on public health, education and climate. Its initiatives include supporting development of coronavirus vaccines, diagnostic tests and medical treatments as well as support for public radio and the manufacture of solar-powered toilets.

JOINT FOUNDATION WORK TO CONTINUE
The pair "will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues and set the organization’s overall direction," the Gates Foundation said in a statement.
The split comes two years after another leading American billionaire and philanthropist, Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos, said that he and his then-wife, MacKenzie, were getting divorced.
Gates dropped out of Harvard University to start Microsoft with school chum Paul Allen in 1975. Gates owned 49% of Microsoft at its initial public offering in 1986, which made him an instant multimillionaire. With Microsoft's explosive growth, he soon became one of the world's wealthiest individuals.
After an executive tenure in which he helped transform the company into one of the world's leading technology firms, Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2000 to focus on philanthropy. He remained chairman until 2014 and left the company's board in March 2020.
Known in the technology industry as an acerbic and ruthless competitor, Gates drew the ire of rivals and eventually the U.S. government for Microsoft's business practices.
The software giant was convicted of antitrust violations in the late 1990s. But the verdict was overturned on appeal, and the company then settled the case out of court.
Gates' public persona softened into an avuncular elder statesman as he turned his attention to philanthropy, and he has largely steered clear of the many controversies currently roiling the technology business.
Gates' spouse, who recently began referring to herself as Melinda French Gates on most websites and social media, was raised in Dallas and studied computer science and economics at Duke University. She later joined Microsoft, where she met her future husband.
In 2015 she founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment company focused on women, and in 2019 published a book, "The Moment of Lift", centered on female empowerment.

 


Lebanon: woman and lover arrested for stashing drugs in husband’s car in bid to frame him

Lebanon: woman and lover arrested for stashing drugs in husband’s car in bid to frame him
Updated 04 May 2021

Lebanon: woman and lover arrested for stashing drugs in husband’s car in bid to frame him

Lebanon: woman and lover arrested for stashing drugs in husband’s car in bid to frame him
  • The husband was driving his car in Tabarja, eastern Beirut, when a police team stopped him, searched his car and found 11 bags of narcotics
  • The couple admitted that they were in love and needed to get rid of the husband – so they decided to land him in trouble by stashing drugs in his car and reporting him to the police

BEIRUT: A wife and her lover have been arrested in Lebanon after stashing drugs in the car of the woman’s husband in a bid to get him arrested.

The husband was driving his car in Tabarja, eastern Beirut, when a police team stopped him, searched his car and found 11 bags of narcotics.

Police seized nine bags of hashish and two bags of salvi — a plant-based hallucinogen.

The Lebanese Internal Security Forces’ (ISF) anti-narcotics department apprehended the husband for possessing and dealing drugs and took him in for questioning.

“When questioned by interrogators, the husband denied the accusations, arguing that the seized narcotics didn’t belong to him and that he has never used or promoted drugs,” a senior officer close to the investigation told Arab News. 

After checking the husband’s criminal record, according to the officer, it was discovered that he had never been apprehended or involved in a drug case.

“It was a very strange incident. Normally when a suspect is held in possession of 11 bags of drugs it means he’s a promoter,” said the officer, who confirmed that his clean record was what exposed the wife’s malice.

ISF’s intelligence and information teams conducted further investigations before revealing that the person who had tipped off the police was connected to the wife.

That was when ISF members suspected that the wife and the person who had tipped off the anti-narcotics department had framed the husband.

According to an ISF media statement, a copy of which was obtained by Arab News, police detained the 35-year-old Syrian wife, R.S., and her 37-year-old Lebanese partner, S.H., in Jounieh and Tabarja on April 22. 

When questioned by interrogators the couple admitted that they were in love and needed to get rid of the husband. So they decided to land him in trouble by stashing drugs in his car and reporting him to the police.

After searching S.H.’s car, police seized an unlicensed handgun and eight bullets. 

“The suspects were referred to the General Prosecution pending further investigations,” the statement said.