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Forced Marriage In Germany: Troubling Findings From The First National Census

A new study on forced marriages in Germany has some disturbing findings: 30,000 such cases may exist and 30% of the girls were younger than 18. The youngest victim was nine years old.

Germany's Minister of Families Kristina Schröder (Michael Panse)
Germany's Minister of Families Kristina Schröder (Michael Panse)

*NEWSBITES

The first ever study on forced marriages in Germany found as many as 30,000 cases, including a particularly high number of teenaged female victims, many of whom were threatened with violence.

Most girls and women in the study were from immigrant families, although approximately one-third were born in Germany. Of those born abroad, most had lived in Germany for five or more years. Turkey was the country of origin of 23% of cases, while 8% of the brides came from the Balkans (Serbia, Kosovo or Montenegro), and 6% from Iraq, according to the study commissioned by Germany's Minister of Families Kristina Schröder.

Roughly 30% were girls 17 years of age or younger when they were either forced to marry or when the subject was broached to them by their family. Nearly a third (27%) were threatened with a weapon or with death if they did not agree to go through with the marriage.

Munich sociologist Aydin Findikci estimates the total number of forced marriage cases in Germany to be 30,000 but arriving at an exact figure is difficult -- especially as it may sometimes be hard to distinguish between a forced marriage and an arranged one. Many forced marriages only come to light when some crime is connected to them, or when the young women or girls find the courage to seek help outside the family.

One-third of women and girls in the study sought help on their own. Another third were persuaded by friends, and the remaining third were put in touch by teachers or social workers. When they took part in the study, 40% were between the ages of 18 and 21, but 30% were minors. The youngest was nine years old, the oldest 55. The research concluded that 71% had not yet been married when they sought help.

The study showed that the better the girl spoke German and the better educated she was, the more likely she was to seek help. Those who had already been married had a considerably lower level of education. The study was conducted during 2009 and 2010 – 1,445 counseling services around the country were asked to participate, of which 830 signed on.

Read the full story in German by Miriam Hollstein

Photo - Michael Panse

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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