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MEXICO CITY (AP) – Federal and state police officers raided a group home Tuesday in the western state of Michoacan and rescued 458 children who were forced to beg for money and suffered sexual abuse while being against their will in filthy conditions, Mexico’s top prosecutor said.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said police also rescued 138 adults from “La Gran Familia” (The Great Family) group home in the city of Zamora.
The residents were kept in deplorable conditions, fed rotten food and made to sleep on the floor among rats, ticks and fleas and many of them were never allowed to leave the premises, Murillo Karam said at a news conference attended by top federal investigators and Michoacan Gov. Salvador Jara.
“I’m in utter dismay because we weren’t expecting the conditions we found at the group home,” Jara said.
Police detained the home’s owner, Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, and eight workers for questioning, Murillo Karam said.
Verduzco, known in Zamora as “Mama Rosa” or “La Jefa” is a noted local children rights activist whose group home was often visited by politicians. Local media on Wednesday published several photographs of her with former President Vicente Fox and his wife, former Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy and other officials.
The investigation began after five parents filed complaints last year with authorities because they weren’t allowed to see their children at the home, Jara said.
One of the parents was a woman who grew up and gave birth to two children at Great Family, which has been open for 40 years. She was allowed to leave when she was 31-years-old but Verduzco kept the two children, who had been registered under her name, said Tomas Ceron, head of the Criminal Research Agency at the Attorney General’s Office.
The mother of one of the boys held said Wednesday she was only allowed to see her child three times a year and that the home’s owner demanded $2,800 to release him.
Veronica Gamina told The Associated Press by telephone that four years ago she took her then 9-year-old boy to The Great Family group home in the city of Zamora because she had to work and couldn’t take care of him.
But when she returned to reclaim her now 13-year-old boy, “they told me to write letters explaining why I wanted him back, then they asked me for 37,000 pesos ($2,800 USD) but I make 800 pesos ($60) a week and couldn’t get the money together,” Gamina said. She spoke from outside the home, which was being guarded by police, and where she said about 70 parents had gathered.
Gamina, a 28-year-old sandwich shop worker, said she went to authorities after hearing about conditions at the home from someone who escaped.
Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office said the children remained in the home Wednesday while authorities made sure they were being fed and looked for places to transfer them. The youngsters were also being checked by doctors.
The Islamist militant group Boko Haram on Monday claimed responsibility for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria last month and threatened to sell them, while protesters continued to press the government to rescue them.
“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in the video, according to the French news agency AFP.
Boko Haram on April 14 stormed an all-girls secondary school in the village of Chibok, in Borno state, then packed the teenagers onto trucks and disappeared into a remote area along the border with Cameroon.
The militants kidnapped more than 300 teens, Nigerian police sources previously had indicated. Of those, 53 reportedly escaped and 276 still are captive. An intermediary for Boko Haram said two of the captives have died of snakebites and 20 are ill, the Associated Press reported on Monday.
The teens’ abductions have embarrassed the government and threaten to overshadow its first hosting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) for Africa. The three-day gathering is scheduled to open on Wednesday.
Nigerian officials had hoped the event would highlight their country’s potential as an investment destination since it became Africa’s biggest economy after a GDP recalculation in March.
Protest leader arrested
On Sunday, authorities arrested a leader of a protest staged last week in Abuja that had called on them to do more to find the girls. The arrest has further fuelled outrage against the security forces.
Naomi Mutah Nyadar was picked up by police after she and other demonstrators met with President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Patience, concerning the girls.
Nyadar was taken to Asokoro police station, near the presidential villa, said fellow protester Lawan Abana, whose two nieces are among the abductees.
Police were not immediately available to comment on the incident, but a presidential source said Nyadar had been detained because she had falsely claimed to be the mother of a missing girls. Abana denied making the claim.
In a statement, Patience Jonathan denied local media reports that she had ordered Nyadar’s arrest, the state-owned News Agency of Nigeria said.
She also urged protesters in Abuja to go home.
“You are playing games. Don’t use school children and women for demonstrations again. Keep it to Borno, let it end there,” the agency quoted her as saying.
More protests were planned for Monday. These could become a major headache for the government if they continue during the WEF event, where security arrangements will involve some 6,000 army troops.
On Sunday, Nigeria’s president said the government was doing everything possible to rescue the girls but admitted he didn’t know where they were.
“Let me reassure the parents and guardians that we will get their daughters out,” President Goodluck Jonathan said.
Unconfirmed reports say some of the girls have been “married” to their captors, while others allegedly have been moved across the border into Cameroon and Chad.
Boko Haram, now considered the main security threat to Africa’s leading energy producer, is growing bolder and extending its reach. The kidnapping occurred on the same day as a bomb blast, also blamed on Boko Haram, that killed 75 people on the edge of Abuja and marked the first attack on the capital in two years.
The militants, who say they are fighting to reinstate a mediaeval Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria, repeated that bomb attack more than two weeks later in almost exactly the same spot, killing 19 people and wounding 34 in the suburb of Nyanya.
by Ashley Alman
A Delaware man convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter only faced probation after a state Superior Court judge ruled he “will not fare well” in prison.
In her decision, Judge Jan Jurden suggested Robert H. Richards IV would benefit more from treatment. Richards, who was charged with fourth-degree rape in 2009, is an unemployed heir living off his trust fund. The light sentence has only became public as the result of a subsequent lawsuit filed by his ex-wife, which charges that he penetrated his daughter with his fingers while masturbating, and subsequently assaulted his son as well.
Richards is the great grandson of du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, a chemical baron.
According to the lawsuit filed by Richards’ ex-wife, he admitted to assaulting his infant son in addition to his daughter between 2005 and 2007. Richards was initially indicted on two counts of second-degree child rape, felonies that translate to a 10-year mandatory jail sentence per count. He was released on $60,000 bail while awaiting his charges.
Richards hired one of the state’s top law firms and was offered a plea deal of one count of fourth-degree rape charges — which carries no mandatory minimum prison sentencing. He accepted, and admitted to the assault.
In her sentence, Jurden said he would benefit from participating in a sex offenders rehabilitation program rather than serving prison time.
Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O’Neill told The News Journal that it was “extremely rare” for an individual to fare well in prison. “Prison is to punish, to segregate the offender from society, and the notion that prison serves people well hasn’t proven to be true in most circumstances,” he said, adding that the light sentence for the member of the one percent raised questions about “how a person with great wealth may be treated by the system.” (Though perhaps it provides more answers than questions.)
According to the The News Journal, several attorneys claimed treatment over jail time was a deal more typically granted to drug addicts, not sex offenders.
Kendall Marlowe, executive director of the National Association for Counsel for Children, told The News Journal that sex offenders are jailed for the safety of the children they threaten.
“Child protection laws are there to safeguard children, and adults who knowingly harm children should be punished,” she said. “Our prisons should be more rehabilitative environments, but the prison system’s inadequacies are not a justification for letting a child molester off the hook.”
News of the lenient sentence for the confessed rapist comes as a new book, Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism In The 21st Century, has put new focus on the distorting role of inheritance in the free market economy.
By OSKAR GARCIA Associated Press
A key Hawaii lawmaker considering an anti-prostitution bill says he and Honolulu police have agreed to get rid of a longtime exemption that allowed officers to have sex with prostitutes.
State Sen. Clayton Hee, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he and police agreed at a meeting that the exemption ran contrary to popular opinion.
Honolulu police said during the meeting that they’re OK with making it expressly illegal for officers to have sex with prostitutes, as long as undercover officers can still say they’ll have sex so they can make arrests.
Honolulu police spokeswoman Teresa Bell told The Associated Press that officers have never been allowed to have sex with prostitutes under departmental rules, so making it illegal won’t change how officers operate.
“That’s exactly what we wanted and how we’ve been conducting our investigations — with the verbal offer,” Bell said.
Bell said Hee met with officers who submitted written and oral testimony to a House committee earlier in the legislative session.
The bill passed the House without a clause that would have made sex with prostitutes illegal for officers after police lobbied to have the language removed, arguing it would inhibit undercover investigations by giving criminals knowledge of what police can and cannot do.
At a Senate hearing last week, lawmakers and members of the public expressed outrage at the exemption after the AP reported on police officers’ lobbying to keep it unchanged. Hee vowed at the hearing to make the practice illegal.
Hee said the version of the bill that moves through his committee Friday will remove sexual penetration from the police exemption from prostitution laws, leaving police with the ability to solicit sex in the course of an investigation.
“I suppose that in retrospect the police probably feel somewhat embarrassed about this whole situation,” Hee said. “But, thankfully, the issue has been brought to light and the behavior has been addressed.
“The police support the idea that sexual penetration shall not be an exempt permitted behavior by the police in making arrests on prostitutes,” Hee said. “They agree this tool is not an appropriate tool for their toolbox.”
Officers who have sex with prostitutes are subject to internal investigation and, on a case-by-case basis, the possibility of being fired or suspended, Bell said. But Bell said the department did not know of any cases in recent memory in which an officer was disciplined for having sexual contact with a prostitute.
Bell said the department thought the clause they pushed to be removed from the bill was too vague.
Hawaii’s current anti-prostitution law includes the exemption: “This section shall not apply to any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties.”
The clause that was removed reads, “unless the action includes sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse.”
Bell said the department is dedicated to working with integrity, respect and fairness and didn’t want the ability to have sex with prostitutes.
“That’s not something that we wanted anyway; that was just there,” Bell said. “The only thing that we had a problem with was the verbal part.”
Kathryn Xian, director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said she was surprised police agreed to changing the law.
“In all of the versions of the language, never did it exclude their ability to solicit verbally,” said Xian, a candidate for Congress who drafted the language changing the exemption.
by SAMEER N. YACOUB and SINAN SALAHEDDIN
BAGHDAD (AP) — A contentious draft law being considered in Iraq could open the door to girls as young as nine getting married and would require wives to submit to sex on their husband’s whim, provoking outrage from rights activists and many Iraqis who see it as a step backward for women’s rights.
The measure, aimed at creating different laws for Iraq’s majority Shiite population, could further fray the country’s divisions amid some of the worst bloodshed since the sectarian fighting that nearly ripped the country apart after the U.S.-led invasion. It also comes as more and more children under 18 get married in the country.
“That law represents a crime against humanity and childhood,” prominent Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar told The Associated Press. “Married underage girls are subjected to physical and psychological suffering.
Iraqi law now sets the legal age for marriage at 18 without parental approval. Girls as young as 15 can be married only with a guardian’s approval.
The proposed new measure, known as the Jaafari Personal Status Law, is based on the principles of a Shiite school of religious law founded by Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shiite imam. Iraq’s Justice Ministry late last year introduced the draft measure to the Cabinet, which approved it last month despite strong opposition by rights groups and activists.
The draft law does not set a minimum age for marriage. Instead, it mentions an age in a section on divorce, setting rules for divorces of girls who have reached the age of 9 years in the lunar Islamic calendar. It also says that’s the age girls reach puberty. Since the Islamic calendar year is 10 or 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, that would be the equivalent of 8 years and 8 months old. The bill makes the father the only parent with the right to accept or refuse the marriage proposal.
Critics of the bill believe that its authors slipped the age into the divorce section as a backhanded way to allow marriages of girls that young. Already, government statistics show that nearly 25 percent of marriages in Iraq involved someone under the age of 18 in 2011, up from 21 percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1997. Planning Ministry spokesman Abdul-Zahra Hendawi said the practice of underage marriage is particularly prevalent in rural areas and some provinces where illiteracy is high.
Also under the proposed measure, a husband can have sex with his wife regardless of her consent. The bill also prevents women from leaving the house without their husband’s permission, would restrict women’s rights in matters of parental custody after divorce and make it easier for men to take multiple wives.
Parliament must still ratify the bill before it becomes law. That is unlikely to happen before parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30, though the Cabinet support suggests it remains a priority for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration. Al-Maliki is widely expected to seek a third term.
Baghdad-based analyst Hadi Jalo suggested that election campaigning might be behind the proposal.
“Some influential Shiite politicians have the impression that they should do their best to make any achievement that would end the injustice that had been done against the Shiites in the past,” Jalo said.
The formerly repressed Shiite majority came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime. Since then, Shiite religious and political leaders have encouraged followers to pour in millions into streets for religious rituals, a show of their strength.
Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari, a Shiite, has brushed off the criticism of the bill. His office introduced a companion bill that calls for the establishment of special Shiite courts that would be tied to the sect’s religious leadership.
Al-Shimmari insists that the bill is designed to end injustices faced by Iraqi women in past decades, and that it could help prevent illicit child marriage outside established legal systems.
“By introducing this draft law, we want to limit or prevent such practices,” al-Shimmari said.
But Sunni female lawmaker Likaa Wardi believes it violates women’s and children’s rights and creates divisions in society.
“The Jaffari law will pave the way to the establishments of courts for Shiites only, and this will force others sects to form their own courts. This move will widen the rift among the Iraqi people,” Wardi said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also strongly criticized the law this week.
“Passage of the Jaafari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq’s women and girls,” deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement. “This personal status law would only entrench Iraq’s divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all.”
It is unclear how much support the bill enjoys among Iraqi Shiites, but Jalo, the analyst, believes that it would face opposition from secular members of the sect.
Qais Raheem, a Shiite government employee living in eastern Baghdad, said the draft bill contradicts the principles of a modern society.
“The government officials have come up with this backward law instead of combating corruption and terrorism,” said Raheem who has four children, including two teenage girls. “This law legalizes the rape and we should all reject it.”
A 19-year-old man was arrested Saturday after police said he raped and beat a 4-month-old girl, causing severe brain damage and requiring her to be placed on life support.
Albuquerque police arrived at an apartment in the 12000 block of Copper NE late Friday night to investigate reported injuries to a baby. Paramedics arrived soon after. The baby was rushed to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where doctors told police the baby was “completely unresponsive” and had suffered additional injuries that suggested she had been raped, according to a criminal complaint filed Saturday in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.
Elijah Fernandez, the boyfriend of the victim’s mother, was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center on Saturday on charges of child abuse resulting in great bodily harm and aggravated criminal sexual penetration. He is being held on a no-bond hold.
Detectives on Friday night questioned the baby’s mother, grandmother and grandmother’s boyfriend.
On Friday night, the grandmother’s boyfriend told police, Fernandez brought the baby to him to ask for help because the girl was not breathing and had bruises and red marks on her face. The victim’s mother told police that Fernandez was taking care of the girl while she did laundry.
Fernandez claimed that the baby fell from her bed while Fernandez changed her diaper, according to the complaint. The grandmother’s boyfriend added that Fernandez and his girlfriend regularly smoked “Spice,” an illegal drug synthesized to mimic the effects of marijuana.
Fernandez and his girlfriend were taken in for questioning, when Fernandez admitted striking the baby in the face twice because he was feeling stressed about not having money and was angry about the baby’s crying, according to the complaint.
However, the victim’s grandmother told police that she noticed bruises on the right side of the baby’s face two days before the alleged assault. The grandmother and mother discussed the bruises then, the victim’s grandmother told police, but the mother said she thought the bruises might have come when the baby slept against the side of her bed, according to the complaint.
Speaking to detectives, the baby’s mother initially denied that the girl had any bruises before Friday night, but later said that, four days ago, she was putting the baby to bed when a bar on the bed popped off and struck the infant in the face, according to the complaint.
But an APD officer said in the criminal complaint this version of events did not explain how the baby had fresh bruises Friday night.
When Fernandez was being questioned, officers noted that he was sweating profusely. The officer said it appeared that Fernandez was sweating “from drug abuse,” according to the complaint.
Medical staff trained in sexual assault examinations later contacted detectives and said that the infant had injuries consistent with rape, according to the complaint.
Medical staff had also alerted the state Children, Youth and Families Department three times about the infant and her 2-year-old sister, according to Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Simon Drobik, who was citing medical staff.
A state CYFD spokesman called the case an “absolute tragedy” but said that the referrals were not related to allegations of physical or sexual abuse. One referral came because the baby was born with a low level of THC, a chemical in marijuana, in her system, spokesman Henry Varela said. A second referral related to a medication that the mother received that impacted her ability to breast feed and the third came after the mother canceled a follow-up doctor’s appointment for the baby, Varela said.
She later rescheduled the appointment after CYFD’s intervention, Varela said. Also, Varela said CYFD never interacted with Fernandez or knew him to be a caregiver in the home.
“This case is an absolute tragedy and surpasses anybody’s ability to comprehend how someone can hurt a child in this manner,” Varela said in an emailed statement. “Our hearts are broken for this innocent 4-month-old child, and we are working with law enforcement to make sure the individual responsible for this crime is prosecuted and sent to prison.”