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People Making Headlines in 2004


Home Page > Articles in English > People 2004



Pakistan: Humaira Awais Shahid

Kenya: John Githongo

Germany: Cathrin Schauer



Humaira Awais ShahidFrom the January 2004 issue of World Press Review

Humaira Awais Shahid:
Fighting Forced Marriages

By Tekla Szymanski

A Pakistani legislator fights unspeakable women’s rights abuses—with surprising success.

The acid burns the hair off their heads, fuses lips, melts breasts, and leaves the victims blind, in agony, unrecognizable, and scarred for life. According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), at least 211 women were killed in 2002 and countless others maimed when their husbands threw acid in their faces to punish them for disobedience. In Urdu, the acid is called tez ab—sharp water. Some victims say that it is worse than dying.

Humaira Awais Shahid, 32, a former investigative journalist turned legislator at the Punjab Assembly, is lobbying to treat this "ruthless tribal custom" as attempted murder. On Aug. 5, 2003, the Assembly passed her resolution to treat it as a crime and prosecute the men who commit it.

According to HRCP, an estimated 70-90 percent of Pakistani women have suffered some form of domestic violence—ranging from beatings and rape to maiming and murder. Shahid became aware of these practices while researching forced marriages for the Lahore-based daily Khabrain. The so-called "blood marriages" (vinni, from the Pashto word for blood) are forced unions between rival clan members in parts of northwestern Pakistan. They settle disputes, restore honor, win forgiveness, and turn mostly minor girls—some as young as 5 years old—into servant-mistresses. Tribal jirgas, or assemblies, order the unions. One girl above the age of 7 or two girls younger than that are an acceptable compensation for, say, murder. The girls become the property of the victim's family.

According to Junaid Bahadur of Karachi's Dawn, "The girl's parents usually pray for her death so the period of their disgrace is shortened." During her research, Shahid came across the account of the forced marriages of a 17-year-old girl and her 8-year-old sister. Shahid challenged the local jirga: The marriages were dissolved and a monetary settlement between the families was worked out.

Though part of the political establishment, Shahid, too, is a victim of prejudice. "To my horror, most of the time, [we] aren't allowed to speak up in debates," she says. "It's like we are just there to amuse the male legislators."

Nevertheless, in February 2003, Shahid's resolution to outlaw vinni passed unanimously. "Women's issues...will never totally disappear from the agenda of the [Assembly]," says Shahid, "but they will only be touched upon and never debated. Women's empowerment is a fashionable discourse."



From the February 2004 issue of World Press Review

John Githongo:
Anti-Graft Czar

By Tekla Szymanski

Githongo, a former journalist spent years investigating Kenya’s rampant culture of bribery and fraud before heading President Mwai Kibaki’s anti-corruption unit.

The new "high priest of good governance" so called by the BBC, symbolizes creativity, boldness, and audacity. Githongo, 38, the former executive director of Transparency International (TI) Kenya, is Kenya's secretary for governance and ethics under President Kibaki, whose National Rainbow Coalition came to power at the end of 2002.

It must be Githongo's dream job. "I've always been fascinated by the connection between corruption and politics. It starts from the top and ends at the top." And that is exactly how he is going to clean up a country ranked by TI as the world's 6th-most corrupt: from the top down, sparing no one.

In December, after a six-month secret international investigation that he coordinated, Githongo identified former and serving politicians and civil servants in a US$1 billion corruption probe. He is now building a case for prosecution. Bribery and fraud cost Kenya as much as US$1 billion a year. The majority of Kenyans live on less than $1 per day, but according to TI's "Daily Bribery Survey," they are made to pay an average of 16 bribes a month—in two of every three encounters with public officials. Parliament recently passed three crucial anti-graft laws that provide President Kibaki with the legal framework to embark on a five-year campaign against corruption.

An anti-corruption commission was established whose main targets will be the public and civil service sectors, the police, immigration, the Revenue Authority, and the Ports Authority—even government officials. The judiciary has already come under fire: Six of the nine Appeals Court judges have been found to be corrupt; 17 lower-ranking judges have been suspended.

Githongo graduated from the University of Wales with a degree in economics and philosophy. He then set up and ran TI's Kenyan chapter, and for eight years, he wrestled with the Moi regime through his acid columns in Nairobi's weekly The East African.

Many attempts have been made to bribe Githongo, and his life has been threatened. He has gathered evidence of corruption and fraud and collected his findings in a vast private archive that will now be his main weapon in sorting out the truth from propaganda and false allegations.

He is a "robust creature of the dot-com generation," wrote Bartholomäus Grill in Hamburg's Die Zeit. "Liberal, ambitious, determined, well educated—a man who is immune to the luxuries of the elites."

"[This] is a blow-by-blow fight...in the trenches of bureaucracy," cautions Githongo, who is known to be clean as a whistle. "Don't think the culprits will just sit back. They fight. Corruption fights back."

[Note: Githongo took refuge in Britain in 2005 because of fear for his safety; in his self-exile, he published a damning 36-page dossier on Kenya's graft to the highest level that has shaken up the government: three ministers have quit. According to Githongo, however, only 30% of the corruption cases in his country have been uncovered so far.]


From the March 2004 issue of World Press Review

Cathrin Schauer:
Foe of Sex Tourism

By Tekla Szymanski

A German social worker and nurse has exposed “Europe’s biggest open-air brothel,” a haven for pedophile sex tourists.

Since 1995, Cathrin Schauer, 40, has been the project director of the German nongovernmental organization KARO, which provides social and health services to prostitutes on the German-Czech border. During that time, she uncovered a growing child-prostitution network catering to the burgeoning Western European sex-tourism trade. She worked behind the scenes, quietly gathering evidence of 500 abused children, and frequently alerted the Czech police. But her alerts went unnoticed. Until now, that is.

On Czech Independence Day, Oct. 28, 2003, Schauer published her book, Kinder auf dem Strich ("Children Walk the Streets"), chronicling child prostitution along the Czech-German border. It catapulted her into the limelight and unleashed a Czech-German diplomatic row. The Czech government slammed the findings as dishonest, unethical, a sham, even a marketing ploy. The Czech Interior Ministry threatened to file suit. "Nobody approached us," Schauer told World Press Review. "We heard about their plan only through the media."

The German branch of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which sponsored the book, and Christine Rau, the wife of the German president, both stand firmly behind the report.

Czech and German commentators, however, are divided over Schauer's revelations. "The warning from Germany should be taken seriously," Prague's Mlada Fronta Dnes remarked. Some commentators criticize the report—others praise Schauer for highlighting the issues and verify her accounts.

Schauer's findings are a hard pill to swallow for the Czechs, who will join the European Union on May 1, 2004. But Germany, too, will have to own up: Ninety percent of the pedophile sex tourists are German, KARO reports.

The book's eyewitness accounts make for painful reading. "When the Germans ask for younger children, I bring them my 6-year-old brother," says 15-year-old "Antonin." Parents and relatives act as pimps. Mothers offer infants as young as 3 years old, for a couple of euros, or a piece of candy for a sibling. Schauer maintains that she sought to protect the privacy of the 40 children between the ages of 6 and 17 profiled in her book by guaranteeing their anonymity.

Her critics, however, maintain she withheld documentation to sensationalize her findings.

"We are devastated by the criticism against us," Schauer told WPR. "We did not want to attack the Czech government. Only expose the perpetrators."


For further reading:

UNICEF Germany briefing on Schauer's report (pdf in German)

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