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Watchdog urges unconditional support to protect Afghan women

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(Last Updated On: May 19, 2021)

While donor countries to Afghanistan say they want to keep protecting the human rights of women and girls, a bill introduced in the United States Senate last week raises issues about how requiring the Afghan government to respect rights could potentially lead to cuts in funding for essential services for women and girls.

In an article by Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch Interim Co-Director, Women’s Rights Division, she stated the Protect Women’s and Girls’ Rights in Afghanistan Act would require the US Secretary of State to report twice yearly to Congress on the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.

It would continue US support to “preserve the rights” of Afghan women but warns that the US will “refuse to provide economic aid to an Afghan government” that violates these rights, Barr stated.

According to her, the bill follows a November 2020 joint statement by Afghanistan’s main donors, including the US, that laid out the “key elements” that would be taken into account when considering whether to continue their current development and budgetary support to the country.

Among those elements was respect for women’s rights.

Efforts to hold this and any future Afghan government to account are vital, she stated. The Afghan government has a poor track record on women’s rights, including failing to investigate and provide accountability for violence against women, she said.

The Taliban, which controls large parts of the country and could gain a role in the government through a peace deal or military success, retains many of their deeply abusive pre-2001 policies toward women and girls, Barr stated.

But donors should consider how they can respond to government abuses without harming women and girls by cutting essential services.

Over 75 percent of the Afghan government’s budget comes from international donors. Cuts in donor funding to Afghanistan have already damaged women’s access to health care and could imperil girls’ access to education, she said.

Barr stated that with the withdrawal of international troops, donor countries may be eager to cut their support to Afghanistan; punishing the government for rights violations could be a convenient excuse.

But defunding the government should not mean defunding services, she stated.

Nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan have proved they can deliver vital services despite the country’s escalating insecurity, so long as they have sufficient resources.

Countries pulling troops from Afghanistan should make it clear that they will continue to support – and fund – Afghan women and girls, whether or not they can work with the Afghan government, Barr said.

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Magnitude 5.6 quake hits western Afghanistan, killing more than 20

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(Last Updated On: January 18, 2022)

An earthquake rocked western Afghanistan on Monday, killing more than 20 people and destroying hundreds of homes, local authorities said.

The 5.6 magnitude tremor shook the western province of Badghis, bordering Turkmenistan, in the afternoon, reducing brick homes to rubble, according to photos shared by local authorities, Reuters reported.

“Unfortunately, our initial reports show that 26 people, including five women and four children, have been killed and four others injured,” said Baz Mohammad Sarwari, the director of Information and Culture of the Badghis provincial administration.

“The Mujahideen have reached to some of the affected areas, but Badghis is a mountainous province, the number of casualties might go up,” he added, referring to Taliban fighters, and adding that heavy rain was also lashing the area.

Mullah Janan Saeqe, head of the Emergency Operations Centre of the Ministry of State for Emergency Affairs, confirmed the death toll and said more than 700 houses had been damaged, Reuters reported.

Sanullah Sabit, the head of the nursing unit at the main hospital in Badghis’ capital said they had received five patients injured in the quake, mostly with broken bones and fractures.

The quake was at a depth of 30 km (18.64 miles), according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

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China’s birthrate falls to lowest level in 61 years

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(Last Updated On: January 17, 2022)

China’s birthrate has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, barely outnumbering deaths in 2021 despite major government efforts to increase population growth and stave off a demographic crisis.

Across China, 10.62 million babies were born in 2021, a rate of 7.52 per thousand people, the national bureau of statistics said on Monday.

In the same period 10.14 million deaths were recorded, a mortality rate of 7.18 per thousand, producing a population growth rate of just 0.34 per thousand head of population, the Guardian reported.

The rate of growth is the lowest since 1960, and adds to the findings of last May’s once-a-decade census, which found an average annual rise of 0.53%, down from 0.57% reported from 2000 to 2010.

China, like much of east Asia, is in the grip of a population crisis, with lowering birthrates, and predictions of imminent negative population growth and an ageing population. Monday’s figures showed the proportion of over-60s in China rose from 18.7% in 2020 to 18.9%.

Beijing has announced major reforms to address the decline, including raising the retirement age. A three-child policy has replaced the two-child policy that was introduced in 2016 and had sparked a slight increase in births before falling again.

The high cost of living, delayed marriages and lack of social mobility are frequently cited as contributing factors to young Chinese people’s reluctance to have children.

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CSTO to take anti-drug trafficking measures at Afghanistan border

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(Last Updated On: January 17, 2022)

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will hold a three-phase anti-drug trafficking operation at the border with Afghanistan, the organization’s Secretary General Stanislav Zas told Russia-24 news outlet.

He said the CSTO has a range of activities planned for 2022, including military security and the fight against terrorism, Russia-24 reported.

“These are measures of fighting against the illegal circulation of narcotics. This subject is especially important on the backdrop of the recent events in Afghanistan. Here we plan three stages of anti-drug trafficking measures,” Zas said.

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