Thousands of girls married off during pandemic now absent as schools reopen in Bangladesh

Thousands of girls married off during pandemic now absent as schools reopen in Bangladesh
Financial and social insecurity had led the parents to marrying off their daughters, said education officer Ruhul Amin. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 02 October 2021

Thousands of girls married off during pandemic now absent as schools reopen in Bangladesh

Thousands of girls married off during pandemic now absent as schools reopen in Bangladesh
  • More than 15.5 percent of Bangladeshi girls had been forced into wedlock below the age of 15
  • The marriage age in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men

DHAKA: When 16-year-old Borsha recently went to her local police station with a desperate plea for help to get out of a forced marriage, her biggest wish was to get back to school.
Her simple request for a return to education was one that has no doubt mirrored the dreams of thousands of other girl brides in southern Bangladesh whose classroom seats have remained empty since the lifting of one of the world’s longest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) shutdowns.
Borsha, whose marriage was canceled when police intervened, is one of a large number of schoolgirls in the region believed to have been silently married off over the past 18 months.
Living at her grandparents’ house in Chuadanga district, with her mother who earns $2.50 a day at a local factory, Borsha realizes that the cost of her education is a big expense for her family, but she told Arab News that early marriage was not the way to end such cycles of poverty.
She said: “It’s very tough for my mother to make ends meet and cover my educational expenses but marrying off little girls is not the solution.
“My teacher at school also taught me the negative impacts of child marriages as it creates many health complications for a girl. I want to complete my school first and want to become a journalist.”
Borsha studies at Jhinuk High School which has agreed to waive her tuition fees until she has completed her secondary education.
The marriage age in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men, but according to UN Children’s Fund estimates from 2019 — before the COVID-19 outbreak — more than 15.5 percent of Bangladeshi girls had been forced into wedlock below the age of 15.
Following the recent reopening of Bangladeshi schools, authorities have been alarmed by the number of girls not attending classes.
Accurate information about child marriages in Bangladesh during the pandemic remains largely anecdotal, but numbers are believed to have increased as quarantines and lockdowns have aggravated existing economic and social strife in communities such as Borsha’s.
In nearby Khulna district, officials have started counting cases.
District , told Arab News: “We noticed many girls were not attending classes when the schools reopened last month. Our school authorities contacted their guardians and discovered that many of the girls had been married off during the closure of the schools. We recorded more than 3,000 child marriages in this district.”
And the actual number may be far higher.
“Financial and social insecurity had led the parents to marrying off their daughters. Our teachers are maintaining contact with the guardians to convince them to allow the girls to attend classes,” he said.
Abus Shahid, a father from Khulna who six months ago married off his ninth-grader daughter, said he had no choice because his earnings had been squeezed.
“At the same time, schools were closed for an indefinite period, and my daughter had nothing to do except sit idle at home,” he added.
Asma Begum, also from Khulna, said she had agreed to her 15-year-old daughter getting wed in order to save her from unwelcome advances and teasing.
“I had to take the decision. Besides, we received the proposal from a good groom. It depends on her in-laws whether they will allow their daughter-in-law to continue studying,” Begum added.
The number of child marriage cases in Bangladesh revealed by the reopening of schools in the country may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, data showed that an underage girl somewhere in the world was forced into marriage every two seconds, and with virus cases still on the rise, the UN has forecast an additional 13 million child marriages over the next decade as programs to prevent them have been disrupted by lockdowns and the global economic slowdown.
Rasheda Chowdhury, a renowned Bangladeshi educationist and director of the Campaign for Popular Education, told Arab News that the issue was already there before the start of the pandemic and immediate intervention was now necessary.
She said: “We failed to address the issue socially and administratively. To prevent child marriages a coordinated effort should be taken.
“Female members of local government bodies should play a role in returning girls to school and preventing further incidents of child marriages.”


HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
Updated 58 min 6 sec ago

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
  • “We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel," WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said
  • Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements

JOHANNESBURG: HIV infection rates in Africa have decreased markedly, but the continent is still behind set targets, with efforts slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“Africa has made significant progress against HIV over the past decade, reducing new infections by 43 percent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths,” the WHO Africa office said in a statement.
But it warned that Africa was not likely to meet a target to end AIDS as a public health threat by the turn of the decade as Covid has undermined the fight in many countries.
“Covid-19 has made the fight against HIV all the more challenging, but one virus must not win out over another. We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said.
Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements.
UNAIDS last week warned that HIV infection rates were not decreasing fast enough to reach the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030.
According to data released at the annual International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA) currently being held in South Africa’s port city of Durban, only nine African countries are on track to meet the target in the next four years.
The countries are Botswana, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“This scorecard is a wake-up call for African governments to stay focused on ending AIDS,” Moeti said.
South Africa, the country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence at 20.4 percent, is hosting the week-long annual meeting bringing together scientists, politicians and activists.

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Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 07 December 2021

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
  • A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown
  • Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces

VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.


Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
Updated 07 December 2021

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
  • Move follows government ban on all arrivals to combat spread of omicron variant
  • Irish carrier is largest airline in Europe, which is facing severe COVID-19 outbreak

LONDON: Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has canceled all flights to Morocco until February 2022.

The move follows a total ban by the Moroccan government on flights arriving in the North African country until Dec. 13 to combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

It is not yet clear whether the ban will extend beyond the initial December deadline.

Other countries, including Japan and Israel, have also implemented stringent flight bans in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Irish carrier Ryanair usually flies thousands of flights a day across Europe and beyond. The continent’s COVID-19 outbreak is far worse than many other places in the world, including Morocco, which recorded just 90 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 50,000 in Britain.


One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
Updated 07 December 2021

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
  • Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary

SANARY-SUR-MER,France: French rescue workers on Tuesday recovered a man’s body from the rubble of a residential building destroyed overnight in a suspected gas explosion, and were scrambling to find two other people still missing after extracting a woman and a baby alive.
The woman and baby as well as three others were injured in the blast in the Mediterranean coastal city of Sanary-sur-Mer, which was heard from as far as eight kilometers (five miles) away.
“It’s very likely that the victim is the father of the baby,” Houda Vernhet, director of the government’s regional authority for the Var region, told AFP.
He was unconscious when located and declared dead after rescue workers spent more than two hours removing him from the unsteady wreckage of the three-story building.
The two people still missing “are a mother, an elderly woman, and her son” who lived on the ground floor, Vernhet said.
“For now, we haven’t yet found any signs of life from the rubble, but we didn’t hear the baby right away, either,” said Col. Eric Grohin, director of the fire service for the Var department.
Authorities said rescue workers smelled gas when they arrived at the site.
“The causes aren’t known for now. There was smell of gas, but we can’t say anything more while the police inquiry is underway,” the regional authorities said in a statement.
Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary, a city of around 15,000 people southeast of Marseille.


Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
Updated 07 December 2021

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
  • Among the billionaire's collection were items from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq

NEW YORK: Billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt has agreed to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities, the Manhattan district attorney announced Monday.
In return, Steinhardt, a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces that were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection."
Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that he was "pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”
According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.
New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt's collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.
The items surrendered by Steinhardt include a stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, dating from to 400 B.C., which prosecutors say appeared without provenance on the international market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. The stag's head is valued at $3.5 million, the district attorney said.
There was also the chest for human remains from the Greek Island of Crete, called a larnax and dating from around 1300 B.C., which prosecutors said was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.