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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

UN says Syrian child refugees tops 1 million mark

Friday, 23 August 2013 04:25 Published in National News

   GENEVA (AP) — The number of registered child refugees fleeing Syria's violence has topped the 1 million mark in another grim milestone of the deepening conflict, two U.N. agencies said Friday.

   Roughly half of all the nearly 2 million registered refugees from Syria are children, and some 740,000 of those are under the age of 11, according to the U.N. refugee and children's agencies.

   "This one millionth child refugee is not just another number," said Anthony Lake, the head of UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency. "This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend."

   The children's ordeals are not over once they escape Syria, said Antonio Guterres, the head of the Office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, known as UNHCR.

   "Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope," he said.

   His agency said it tries to ensure that babies born in exile are provided with birth certificates, preventing them from becoming stateless, and that all refugee families and children live in some form of safe shelter.

   But the threats to refugee children are rising, the agencies say, including child labor, early marriage and the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking. More than 3,500 children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have crossed Syria's borders unaccompanied or separated from their families, according to the U.N. figures.

   The agencies say some 7,000 children are among the more than 100,000 killed in the unrest in Syria, which began in March 2011 and later exploded into a civil war.

   Most of the refugees fleeing Syria have arrived in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. However, U.N. officials say that increasingly Syrians are fleeing to North Africa and Europe.

   The two U.N. agencies estimate that more than 2 million children also have been displaced within Syria.

   U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday the real number of Syrian refugees is "well over 2 million" if unregistered refugees are counted.

   "The situation in Syria continues to worsen. The humanitarian suffering is alarming. Sectarian tensions have been ignited. Regional instability is spreading," Ban said in a speech in Seoul, South Korea.

   "It is heartbreaking to see all these young people, children and women and refugees, who do not have any means, any hope for their country," he said. "They do not know when they will be able to return to their country."

   Missouri school districts and parents are getting a more detailed picture school performance with the release of the state's new rating system today.  The new system replaces the old 14 point scale with a percentage score based on test scores, attendance, graduation rates and other criteria.  

   The changes mean finer distinctions between high-performing districts.  

   It could also mean more districts lose accreditation, including two local districts that don't quite measure up under the new standards: University City and Ferguson-Florissant.  But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that state officials are not likely to use the scores to take away accreditation until at least 2015, when they have three years of data to consider.   

   The figures show just how far struggling school districts have to go to become fully accredited again.  The unaccredited Normandy district earned just 11 percent.  The unaccredited Riverview Gardens district faired a little better at just under 29 percent.  And the provisionally accredited St. Louis Public Schools scored just below 25 percent.  Districts need 50 percent for provisional accreditation and 70 percent or more to be fully accredited.

 

Bradley Manning wants to live as Chelsea Manning

Friday, 23 August 2013 03:43 Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — By asking to be known as a woman named Chelsea, Bradley Manning has created a host of possible challenges for the military as the soldier began serving a 35-year prison sentence for giving secrets to WikiLeaks.

   Manning's gender-identity struggle — a sense of being a woman in a man's body — was brought up by the defense at the court-martial, and a photo of the soldier in a blond wig and lipstick was submitted as evidence.

   But the latest twist, announced Thursday, surprised many and confronted the Pentagon with questions about where and how the Army private is to be imprisoned.

   The former Army intelligence analyst disclosed the decision in a statement provided to NBC's "Today" show.

   "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible," the statement read.

   The statement asked people to use the feminine pronoun when referring to Manning. It was signed "Chelsea E. Manning" and included a handwritten signature.

   The soldier's attorney, David Coombs, told "Today" he hopes officials at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., accommodate Manning's request for hormone treatment, which typically involves high doses of estrogen to promote breast development and other female characteristics.

   However, George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the Army does not provide such treatment or sex-reassignment surgery. He said soldiers behind bars are given access to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

   A lawsuit could be in the offing. Coombs said he will do "everything in my power" to make sure Manning gets his way. And the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and other advocates for gays, bisexuals and transgender people said Manning deserves the treatment.

   "In the United States, it is illegal to deny health care to prisoners. That is fairly settled law," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Now the Army can claim this isn't health care, but they have the weight of the medical profession and science against them."

   With Manning in custody and unavailable to comment, the AP is seeking additional information about the statement from Coombs, who did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages. For the time being, AP stories will use gender neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue.

   A Federal Bureau of Prisons policy implemented last year requires federal prisons to develop treatment plans, including hormone treatment if necessary, for inmates diagnosed with gender-identity disorder. But the bureau oversees only civilian prisons.

   Manning's case appeared to be the first time the therapy had come up for a military prisoner.

   Manning, 25, was convicted of Espionage Act violations and other crimes for turning more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents over to the secrets-spilling website WikiLeaks. Coombs said the soldier could be paroled from prison in as little as seven years.

   After sentencing, Manning was returned Thursday to Fort Leavenworth.

   Fort Leavenworth is an all-male prison. But the staff has some leeway to separate soldiers from the other inmates based on the risk to themselves and others, prison spokesman George Marcec said.

   Manning would not be allowed to wear a wig or bra, and would have to meet the military standard for hair, Marcec said. In addition, Marcec said if Manning wants to go by Chelsea in the prison, a name change would have to be approved in court and then a petition submitted with the Army to change its records.

   Advocates said gays and transgender people are more susceptible to sexual assault and other violence in prison.

   "She most likely will need to be placed with a female prison population because she identifies as female," said Jeffrey Parsons, a psychology professor at Hunter College in New York.

   Under a special agreement, the Army sends its female prisoners to a Navy women's jail in Miramar, Calif. It also has an agreement under which it can send soldiers to federal civilian prisons.

   Greg Rinckey, a former Army prosecutor and now a lawyer in Albany, N.Y., said Manning's statement could be a ploy to get transferred to a civilian prison.

   "He might be angling to go there because he believes life at a federal prison could be easier than life at the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth," Rinckey said.

   He also said the military is adamant about not providing hormone treatment: "You enlisted as a male, you're a male, you're going to be incarcerated as a male."

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