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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kajal Bheel and Forced Conversions in Pakistan

GHRD is currently working on the case of Kajal Bheel. Kajal is a 12-year-old girl from the Sindh province in Pakistan. On the 21st of October this year, Kajal was home alone with her brother when the perpetrators broke into the family house and abducted Kajal. Her uncle witnessed the incident from across the street but could not intervene as the perpetrators were carrying weapons.

Her parents later found out that their daughter had been forcefully married to one of the perpetrators and tried to lodge a First Investigation Report (FIR). However, the police were unwilling to help them. The family was summoned to the court where man unknown to them handed over a marriage certificate on which Kajal’s name had been changed.

Child marriages and forced conversions are illegal in Pakistan, and minors (people under the age of 18) are not allowed to marry. Because of this Kajal has been ordered by court to take a medical exam to prove that she is 12 years old, despite having a valid birth certificate. The medical exam stated she is 17 (which means she is still a minor). Nevertheless, the judge has decided to apply Sharia law instead of The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act and according to Sharia law, a girl is considered to be an adult as soon as she reaches puberty. Therefore, the court is claiming Kajal is an adult and there is no claim to a legal case, as Kajal has given evidence in court that she wanted to marry the perpetrator. However, there is reason to believe she was pressured to make this statement as the perpetrator was present during the court session.

Kajal’s second court hearing was supposed to be held on December 3rd. However, it was postponed as the judge felt he did not want to deal with the case anymore. The following court hearing was supposed to be held on December 9th. The court hearing was once again postponed until the 19th of December; during which two other similar cases on forced conversions will also take place. At present, Kajal is still with her perpetrators.

Demonstrations and seminars have been held in the Sindh province of Pakistan in order to stand up against forced conversions and child marriages and  raise awareness. Tomorrow, December 10th, demonstrations will be held in Washington D.C. on the same topic.

We have seen many similar cases like the one of Kajal. It is very common for young girls to be the victim of abduction, forceful marriages and religious conversions. The only way to stop this is to put pressure on the national government and encourage them to take action against forced conversions of young girls.

You can sign the petition here:

You can also follow the hash tag #SaveKajal on Facebook and Twitter in order to stay updated. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Youth in Action: Power to You(th) training program by Anna Donath, Human Rights intern

Between 30th October and 4th November I participated in a Power to You(th) training course on Youth Empowerment, Employability and Entrepreneurship. The training was organized for youth workers and youth leaders working directly with young people. It took place in Beaufort, Luxemburg, a small village in the beautiful region called “Little Switzerland” which is approximately 30km away from Luxembourg City. The training was organized by the Luxembourg National Agency and the 21 participants represented 15 different countries (Austria, Croatia, Check Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Turkey


Power to You(th) aimed to provide youth workers and youth leaders with creative, adaptable tools and the inspiration to facilitate youth empowerment and to promote entrepreneurship and employability of young people. We explored the tool of Youth Exchanges as part of the Erasmus+ programme to be able to use it in our work to inspire and empower young people to actively participate in society.


Using non-formal education methods and activities (such as outdoor work, experiential learning, and theatre and community interaction), this training aimed at creating an inspiring, active and creative space for the development of new ideas and exploring possibilities for youth employability and entrepreneurship by focusing on youth empowerment tools. It gave us, the participants, the possibility to discover meaningful roles and develop different tools in our work around youth projects.


We also had the chance to explore – as the locals calls - the City (aka Luxembourg City). We had an amazing walk through the city and thanks to the local participants we learned a lot of the history and culture of Luxembourg. We also had a great dinner there with the Luxembourg National Agency and were treated to the local specialities.


One of my favourite exercises and memory’s is definitely when we spent a day on exploring the world of Erasmus+ and whether it can be used as a tool for supporting the empowerment process and how youth workers and youth leaders can support young people in this process of reflecting and recording and learning to harness their skills to increase future employability (with the aim that we will be able to create powerful activities and projects with and for young people). To familiarize ourselves  with the whole process of organizing/participating in a Youth Exchange we received the most empowering task in the training. We were randomly assigned groups, received a  map of the neighbouring forests, lunch bags and an exercise of coming up with an imaginary person (complete with a detailed socio-economic description) and to take that person with us for a small hiking tour.


During the tour each group had to discuss each level of the process of a Youth Exchange project (getting informed, applying, organizing, participating and reflecting on a Youth Exchange project). We were walking in the most beautiful, fairy tale like forest for 4 hours and created a whole story. Not just about the imaginary person and her experiences, but we also created an imaginary Youth Exchange program, with actual training plan, with the budget and its objectives. But overall the hiking tour was more than a training exercise. The peaceful environment, the beauty of the nature gave us new perspectives and provided a perfect situation for self-reflection.


Overall the training was a big success, not only  did I gain new knowledge, skills and experiences but also made new friends and professional partners for future projects.


Monday, December 8, 2014

GHRD Report: Youth in Action: Keep Active and Change your Life, Puente Genil, Spain by Syd Boyd, Communications Intern

In October 2014, I attended a week long training for Youth in Action in Puente Genil, Spain. The training was called “Keep Active and Change your Life” and was organised by the Spanish NGO Camaleon Rojo. The aim of the course was to empower European youth by providing greater understanding of the European job market, as well as methods to approach the job-hunting process. The programme was attended by four groups from different nationalities, the Italian team, the Austrian team, the Spanish team, the Polish team, and last but not least, the Dutch Team. Drawing on the resources compiled by teams from five countries, the trainee was provided with a comprehensive understanding of the European job-market and was equipped with skills to deal with the difficulties of securing a career in a difficult economic time. It was a fantastic experience and I feel privileged to have attended. I gained massive cultural experience and learned a lot during the training, and had the opportunity to meet highly motivated and inspirational people.

The training was intensive, starting every day at 08.00 and ending every day at around 22.00. The training consisted of a lot of role-playing and presenting. Main activities included, playing the Stereotypes game, partaking in Cultural Evenings, doing Energizers, defending a point of view, preparing an Interview and a CV, learning about news ways to present a CV such as the Video Curriculum format, and creating a song based on our experiences during the training. All team exercises were highly educational, especially as they involved interacting with people from different cultures with different mind-sets. I found I could deal with it quite well, and felt that despite different cultural approaches, there were basic human similarities that we could lock on to.

Besides activities directly related to the Youth in Action training, we were invited to participate in several cultural outings. Of course, being with so many different cultures was a training in itself, and we learned loads about the various cultures that were represented. Cultural excursions were an important part of the trip. Our first excursion was a visit to the town hall of Puente Genil, to meet with the Mayor. Local journalists were present, and country group leaders were asked to speak about the Youth in Action programme. It was nice to make the Puente Genil newspapers. An excellent part of the trip was the visit to Cordoba, what a fantastic city. It was about 28 degrees, and we spent the day sight-seeing. It was an amazing experience. The city used to be an important part of the Muslim Caliphate, and had impressive Muslim architecture. I was blown away by a mosque we visited, which had been converted to a Christian church. I had never seen anything like it. It was a bizarre mixture of Mosque and Church, with Christian paraphernalia adorning three of the walls, the fourth wall was still covered in Muslim temple art. The vast hall was like some ancient Middle Eastern prayer room, with sand coloured columns a sprawling flagstone floor. The ceiling was very high, and the whole thing looked like a massive desert cave, and very impressive. For the rest of the afternoon we walked through the historic part of the town, as well as the beautiful bridge leading out of Cordoba. A few of us spent a considerable amount of time shopping for souvenirs. It seemed to be no obstacle that pretty much every tourist shop was exactly the same, as we nipped into the next tourist shop available after having just left the first.

In conclusion I found the whole experience tremendously valuable. Meeting the people from the other countries and developing a close relationship with them provided us all with a profound experience of each other’s culture, as well as throwing light on our own culture, and the things we do without thinking about them, as they are supposedly normal. The training was interesting too, as it enabled me to unravel my thoughts about job hunting, as well as passing on some information that had been very helpful to me. The atmosphere was fantastic and reflected in the ongoing Facebook group, which for two weeks after the training is still used as a contact point for participants from all teams, and where all photos are uploaded and further arrangements are made for meeting up in the participant countries. Everyone made a great effort, and people who at the start of the week were having difficulties with English improved in leaps and bounds. It was a pleasure to see people’s confidence and expertise improve in such a short time. Public speaking skills were greatly improved, as everyone was expected to get up in front of the group and present various role playing activities. Initially, some people were considered designated public speakers, but as the programme went on, everyone gained confidence and the skill to present, and present well in English no less. To some the experience was even life changing, as confidence increased and new horizons were delineated. Whereas previously participants had a fixed view of life and how it should be lived, now opportunities were limitless, and not bound by past conditioning. In short, the Youth in Action training programme contributed to the personal freedom of the participants, and as such achieved a worthy goal. I was inspired by the other people I met, as they were all outgoing, positive, and adventurous individuals, who had faced and overcome various challenges in their lives, and had a wide array of skills and pursuits. Certain characteristics I noticed in some of the participants I will emulate, as I was deeply impressed by them. In short, it was a privilege to have been able to attend the Youth in Action training.