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Human Rights

America’s Right is Lobbying Against South Africa’s Sex Education

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America’s right is lobbying against South Africa’s sex education syllabus

by Haley McEwen for The Conversation

SOUTH AFRICA — Conservative “pro-family” advocacy groups with US ties are targeting increasingly inclusive sex education lesson plans being developed by the South African education department as part of the life orientation curriculum.

Three groups in particular are vehemently opposed to the new content. They are Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), the conservative teachers’ union SAOU, and the Family Policy Institute.

The three organizations are calling on civil society to mobilize a boycott of the new Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) material. They argue that the content violates traditional Christian values and is dangerous to children.

The new lesson plans have not yet been released. But media reports suggest they include topics such as consent, gender and sexuality diversity, self-image, genital differences and changes, body diversity and touching oneself for pleasure.

According to the Department of Basic Education the purpose of CSE “is to ensure that we help learners build an understanding of concepts, content, values and attitudes related to sexuality, sexual behaviour change as well as leading safe and healthy lives”.

But FOR SA calls the plans “nothing less than soft porn”. The South African government has strongly rejected and debunked the misleading information that is circulating.

The narrative that sex education is dangerous to children is common among US conservative “pro-family” advocacy groups. The pro-family movement unites the anti-abortion and anti-gay movements that emerged in the US during the 1970s in response to the sexual revolution.

The pro-family movement advocates two main messages. The first is that the heterosexual nuclear family is the only “natural” form of kinship. The second is that the nuclear family is economically productive whereas others – such as those involving LGBTIQ+ people and non-nuclear families – are social threats and economic burdens. These messages reinforce intolerance, and can even inspire hatred, towards LGBTIQ+ people.

My own research showed that US Christian right organisations have increasingly grown transatlantic networks in Africa. As part of their expansion strategy they provide “mentorship” to support the establishment of pro-family civil society organisations and campaigns.

Efforts to stop the government’s proposed inclusive approach to education about sexuality could have serious negative consequences. This is because research has shown that it can have a profoundly positive effect on young people. For example, information about contraception, masturbation and consent makes it more likely that young adolescents will have safer sexual encounters.

And an emphasis on the benefits of abstinence – as well as information about contraception and disease prevention – has been shown to help reduce rates of teen pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. The new content has been developed to combat sexual abuse and the country’s extreme levels of gender-based harm and femicide.

As more countries adopt CSE into school curricula to address these issues, it has become a focal point of “pro-family” activism.

Rise of the US right in Africa

In South Africa, several organisations recently launched a campaign against the new curriculum called the Protect Children South Africa Coalition. According to organizers Family Watch International the stated purpose was to stop the “exploitation” of children, which they allege occurs through CSE programs.

Family Watch joined up with its Cape Town-based partner, the Family Policy Institute, to create the movement.

The coalition has circulated an online letter to present to the education department. It states:

Highly controversial CSE programs … indoctrinate youth to embrace radical sexual and gender ideologies, promote sexual rights and abortion, and encourage promiscuity, high-risk sexual behaviors, and sexual pleasure, even to the very youngest of children.

Family Watch launched identical petitions to similar curriculum changes in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. In all instances it collaborated with local organisations.

These campaigns are ideologically related to global anti-gender campaigns that have banned gender studies, such as those in Brazil and Hungary, and ongoing efforts to do the same in western Europe.

All lives matter is the message of these protesters at a rally demanding equal rights. Danny Casey/AAP

What is pro-family ideology?

The pro-family movement is against any family formation that does not resemble the western-centric, heterosexual, nuclear family model.

This includes households headed by single parents or by same-sex parents, and polygamous families.

The core of these campaigns dates back to the 1990s. That’s when anti-gay and anti-abortion activists joined forces in the International Organization for the Family. This was previously the World Congress of Families.

The movement began to call itself “pro-family”, arguing that the nuclear family is the foundation of every civilization known to history. It says the nuclear family is under attack by LGBTIQ+ and feminist movements.

“Pro-family” organisations based in the US have been working to spread their message in African countries since the early 2000s. They have, at times, done so by positioning themselves as allies of the previously colonized.

Yet, the ideas on which these movements are based have colonial roots. Colonial notions of racial superiority and inferiority were constructed through ideas of what constituted “civilized” sex and gender practices.

Successes

The US pro-family movement has had numerous successes in advancing policy agendas in African countries and elsewhere in the global south. This is well illustrated in the work of Dr Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian researcher based at Political Research Associates.

In one report, titled Colonising African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, Kaoma shows how pro-family activism has transplanted US culture war debates to African countries.

In addressing those who oppose CSE, it is important that decision makers also recognise the geo-political networks of power supporting these agendas. Fortunately, the SA government shows no signs of backing down on the sex education curriculum.

A great many young South Africans would be at risk if it were to do so.


Haley McEwen is a Research Coordinator at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Health

Advocates Urge Compassionate Release of Geriatric Prisoners to Avoid Virus

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Photo: Adobe Stock

by Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Hand sanitizer is considered contraband in prisons, making it harder to prevent the spread of the coronavirus if it strikes. Prisons can be incubators for spreading contagions, and advocates say officials need to take more measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading behind bars.

Federal and most state prisons, including those in Maryland, have banned visits to keep inmates safe. But Tyrone Walker, a formerly incarcerated associate with the Justice Policy Institute, said that’s not enough. He said officials need to end overcrowding and give parole to the elderly to keep incarcerated people safe.

“People who are currently incarcerated are housed on top of each other. And they’re asking us about the coronavirus to get, you know, to have some space,” Walker said. “Well, that’s not allowed while you’re incarcerated.”

The majority of America’s incarcerated population are held in state facilities. The Maryland correctional department said no coronavirus cases have been reported in its jails and prisons. But no inmates have as yet been tested.

Of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., about 165,000 are 55 or older. Those older people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

People in jail and prison also are more likely to report having a chronic condition or infectious disease, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Walker said prisons should consider releasing older incarcerated people with other high-risk factors.

“One of the things that the prisons can do is release those who are considered geriatric within their population,” he said. “They’re no risk to public safety, and they can be safely released back into the communities.”

Maryland imprisons 3,000 people age 50 and older, and nearly 1,000 who are 60 or older. As of Sunday, no states have reported coronavirus outbreaks in any prison in the United States.

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Health

LA Public Defender Leads $1.2 Million Grant to Help Mentally Ill

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LOS ANGELES — The LA County Public Defender’s Office is the lead agency for a $1.2 million grant to divert people suffering from mental illness out of jail and into treatment.

LA County has been awarded the two-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation to directly address the over-incarceration of the mentally ill.

Los Angeles County operates the world’s largest jail system and its jails remain critically overcrowded. One of the main drivers of the local jail population is the incarceration of the mentally ill.

The grant will allow the Public Defender’s Office, working with other County and City agencies, to expand pre-plea diversion for those in custody as a result of a mental disorder. The effort will work toward breaking the cycle from medical and mental health facilities to custody, with a focus on the homeless population.

“Mentally ill people do not belong in jails,” LA County Public Defender Ricardo D. García said. “The startup funding provided by the MacArthur Foundation represents a substantial opportunity to mitigate the counterproductive use of criminal courts and jails as holding centers for the mentally ill men, women and children of Los Angeles County.”

This new initiative will include embedding mental health professionals in high volume courtrooms, same-day assessments of defendants who appear to suffer from a mental health disorder, and the pre-plea release and diversion of qualifying individuals into mental health treatment programs.

To help guide the launch of this program, the initiative will utilize provisions of AB 1810, a state law enacted in 2018 that allows pre-plea diversion for some defendants with mental health needs.

Partner agencies in this endeavor include the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender; Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office; Department of Mental Health; Sheriff’s Department; Department of Probation; Department of Public Health; Health Agency Departments; County Counsel’s Bail Reform Team; Project 180, with support from the Superior Court.

The $1.2 million MacArthur grant will go toward diverting people suffering from mental illness out of jails and into treatment.

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Human Rights

Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

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Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

by Robert Moore for ProPublica

WASHINGTON D.C. — The Trump administration sought to “conceal information” about the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in Border Patrol custody, a House subcommittee chairwoman said at a hearing Tuesday.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said the Department of Homeland Security has “consistently failed to maintain transparency by stymieing congressional inquiries. This raises concerns that they are hiding serious issues with management, in addition to the leadership vacancies at the top of the department. One example of this is the department’s decision to conceal information on the death of Carlos Hernandez Vasquez.”

Rice chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations, which had a Tuesday hearing to examine DHS efforts to prevent child deaths in custody. Six migrant children died in government custody between September 2018 and May 2019, the first such deaths in a decade.

Much of the hearing focused on Carlos, who died on May 20 in a Border Patrol cell in Weslaco, Texas. A ProPublica investigation in December, which included video of Carlos’ last hours and death, raised questions about his treatment by Border Patrol agents and contracted medical workers as his condition deteriorated.

“Despite information requests by this committee, it was not until a ProPublica report was released seven months later that Congress and the public learned more about what happened to Carlos, that his death may have been caused by the failure to provide urgently needed medical care and the failure to follow the most basic procedures to simply check on a sick child,” Rice said in her opening statement.

Two high-ranking Homeland Security officials testified at the hearing, but neither responded to Rice’s criticism. The two officials — Border Patrol Chief of Law Enforcement Operations Brian Hastings and DHS Senior Medical Officer Dr. Alex Eastman — used their opening statements to stress the unprecedented nature of the surge of families and unaccompanied children at the border last year.

They said DHS quickly scaled up medical care for migrants at the border following the deaths of two children in December 2018, using medical professionals from the Coast Guard, Public Health Service and private contractors. Eastman said the surge of migrant families and children was “an unconventional problem that required an unconventional solution.”

Under questioning from Rice, Hastings said the video of Carlos’ death revealed by ProPublica was “troubling” but sidestepped questions about his death because of an ongoing investigation by the DHS Office of Inspector General.

Hastings described one change in “welfare checks” made in the wake of Carlos’ death. Records obtained by ProPublica showed that a Border Patrol agent logged three welfare checks on Carlos in the four hours he was lying on the floor of his cell, dying or dead. The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Carlos told ProPublica that the agent looked through a window but didn’t enter the cell.

In July, then-Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders ordered that “any subject in our custody” receive welfare checks every 15 minutes and be documented in the system, Hastings said.

Hastings’ word choice drew a sharp rebuke from Rice.

“You mean person, not subject, in your custody. Because that’s what they are. They’re people, not subjects,” Rice said.

“Person, yes ma’am,” Hastings said.

Inside the Cell Where a Sick 16-Year-Old Boy Died in Border Patrol Care

Rice and other Democrats criticized reports released last month by the DHS inspector general into the deaths of two Guatemalan children in Border Patrol custody in December 2018. The reports found no wrongdoing by agents in the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8.

“Publicly available summaries of these investigations are extraordinarily narrow in scope. They focus only on whether DHS personnel committed malfeasance and not whether the department’s policies and resources could properly protect the children in its care,” Rice said. She criticized the inspector general for declining an invitation to testify before the subcommittee.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., also criticized the inspector general for taking a year to complete investigations of the two deaths. Jakelin and Felipe were both held by Border Patrol agents in her district.

“Even more concerning, the OIG limited its investigation scope to only determine whether there was malfeasance by personnel and did not consider whether CBP’s policies and procedures are adequate to prevent migrant child deaths,” Torres Small said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, the reason for these investigations is not to punish people, it’s to keep this from happening again. It’s to make sure that we have the protocols in place in case we’re faced with this challenge again.”

The DHS Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to requests from ProPublica a hearing about the scope of the investigation or the reason for not testifying at Tuesday’s hearing.


ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust. Follow on Twitter at @ProPublica 



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