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The Scourge of Islamic Slavery



Slavery is not an Islamic invention. Slave trade was an accepted way of life, fully established in all societies. Most of these slaves were white people, the word ‘slave,’ comes probably from the people of Eastern Europe, the Slavs. Without exception, the ancient world accepted slavery as normal and desirable.

The great civilizations of Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, were built upon slave labor. The Greeks, from whom we derive so many humanistic ideas, were dependent on slavery. Three quarters of the population of Athens were slaves. Even Plato’s Republic was based on slave labor. This was also the case of Rome. Under the Roman law, when a slave owner was found murdered, all his slaves were to be executed. In fact, half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves.

However, Islam is unique concerning slavery, as it is legally and religiously permitted and endorsed. Slavery persisted in the Arab-Muslim world for centuries, from its beginning. Islam itself means “submission,” as in being a slave to Allah’s will. Slavery has been justified by Mohammed’s example, as laid out in the Hadith.

The main occupation of Arab tribes before Islam was raids on others (Ghazawat) in order to take booty (Ghan’im). They were not farmers nor traders, nor scientists or intellectuals. They were raiders. For the Arabs, warfare was an economic benefit to achieving human spoils of war: captives. Becoming Muslims has brought only a marginal change: instead of raiding on one another as a social-economic way of life, now came the religious order to raid on the infidels’ territories and the prize was to take much more valuable booty: fertile lands, rich property and huge amount of captives.

Muslims conquered, invaded, controlled countries and took spoils and prisoners as slaves. Islam allows Muslims to make slaves out of anyone who is captured among the infidels. Islam allows for the children of slaves to be raised as slaves. Islam allows for Christians and Jews to be made into slaves if they are captured in war. Muhammad and many of his companions bought, sold, freed and captured slaves. So it stands to reason that the Qur’an, the Hadith, and classical Islamic law have a notorious doctrine and practice of slavery. Islam perpetuated the institution.

While on a military campaign, Muslim soldiers had sex with their female captives, even though the women were married to polytheists. It is also permitted to have sex with prepubescent slave-girls. This is the attitude of Sahih Muslim, 008.3432. They also asked Muhammad about coitus-interruptus with their captive female slaves. Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: We got female captives in the war booty and we used to do coitus interruptus with them. So we asked Allah’s Apostle about it and he said, ‘Do you really do that?’ repeating the question thrice, ‘There is no soul that is destined to exist but will come into existence till the Day of Resurrection’ (Sahih Bukhari, 7:62:137; 5:59:459; 3:46:718; The Muwatta’ of Imam Ahmad, p. 240).

As Islam spread out across the globe, Muslims captured huge amount of slaves. Islam enslaved any nation or ethnic group that it conquered, from blacks in Africa to white men, and especially women from the Balkan, Hungary and Ukraine. Muslims also kidnapped young children, boys and girls, and Islamized them, the notorious one was the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans of the Devshirme system. Muslims also raided the European Mediterranean societies, from the 16th century on from North Africa, robed the inhabitants and kidnapped children and women, an era known as the naval piracy.

Slavery and the sexual exploitation of women are deeply ingrained in Islamic cultural tradition and religious commandments. Muslim slave owners were entitled by the Shari’ah to sexually exploit their slaves. Muslim nations had engaged in the slave trade for over 600 years before Europe became involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Almost 200 years after the British outlawed the slave trade Muslim markets continue in many countries the sale of slaves. There are persistent, credible reports that slavery exists in many Muslim countries in large numbers.

Muhammad owned slaves. He also traded with slaves, mainly women, and exchanged women concubines with others. He even asked his adopted son, Zayd, to give him his wife. Above all, he never decreed slavery as abolished. The institution was too lucrative and deeply rooted during the entire Islamic history. According to Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (Zad al-Ma’ad, 1:160), Muhammad had many male and female slaves. He used to buy and sell them, but he purchased more slaves than he sold.

After Muhammad fought the ‘Battle of the Trench,’ he slaughtered the Jewish men of Banu Qurayzah tribe and sold the women and children into slavery: verse 33:26-27: “And he drove down those of the People of the Book who backed them from their fortresses and He cast terror into their hearts; some of them you killed and some you took captive.” Ibn Ishaq records Muhammad’s massacre of the Jewish tribe, Banu Quraythah (pp. 465-66). Then the apostle dug trenches, and he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches… There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900… Then the apostle divided the property, wives, and children among the Muslims. Some of the captive women he sent to Najd and sold them for horses and weapons.

The same happened when Muhammad attacked Khaybar, where the women were distributed amongst the Muslims.’ Muhammad (then about 60 years old) obtained for himself the very beautiful teenage girl, Safiya who appealed for her freedom. Instead he had sex with her (Ibn Ishaq, p. 511; Sahih Bukhari, 4:52:143; Sahih Muslim, 8:3326; Sunan Abu Dawud, 2:11:2118). Sahih Bukhari (5:59:512) records the occupation of Khaybar: “Khaybar is destroyed. The inhabitants of Khaybar came out running on the roads. The Prophet ordered their warriors killed, their offspring and woman taken as captives” “We conquered Khaybar, took the captives, and the booty was collected. Dihya came and said, ‘O Allah’s Prophet! Give me a slave girl from the captives.’ The Prophet said, ‘Go and take any slave girl’” (1:8:367).

The same horror occurred with beautiful Juwairiyah, after her peaceful tribe was attacked as they watered their cattle. The men were killed and the women and children enslaved and shared amongst the Muslims (Sahih Bukhari, 3:46:717; Sahih Muslim, 19:4292; Sunan Abu Dawud, 29:3920).

In many cases Muhammad gave girls to two of his sons-in-law and to a friend just to enjoy them (Ibn Ishaq, p. 593; al-Tabari, vol. 8, pp. 29-30). On pp. 592-3 we read that Muhammad enslaved 6000 women and children plus innumerable sheep and camels. As for Ali he said “Women are plentiful, and you can easily change one for another.

The Qur’an includes multiple references to slaves, slave women, slave concubines. Islam accepts the institution of slavery. It was also perceived as a means of converting non-Muslims to Islam. Slaves are mentioned in at least twenty-nine verses of the Qur’an. Muslims are allowed to have sexual relation with slave-girls. Slaves are called in the Qur’an as Mulk al-Yamin, “the right hand possesses” (4:24). All Islamic Schools of Jurisprudence agree about the enforcement of this verse. ‘What your right hand possesses’ refers to slaves and is found in many places: 4:3,24,25,36; 16:71; 23:6; 24:31,33,58; 30:28; 33:50,52,55; 70:30.

The verse (4:24) says: And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people… except those whom your right hands possess. Ibn Kathir, one of the most authoritative and highly regarded classical commentators of the Sunni world, writes of these female captives of war: “except those whom you acquire through war, for you are allowed such women after making sure they are not pregnant. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Said Al-Khudri said, “We captured some women from the area of Awtas who were already married, and we disliked having sexual relations with them because they already had husbands. So, we asked the Prophet about this matter, and this Ayah was revealed… Consequently, we had sexual relations with these women.”

Thus, women captives are forced to have sex with their Muslim masters, regardless of the marital status of the women. That is, the masters are allowed to break their marriage and have sex with them. Other verses maintains: “…you may marry other women who seem good to you: two, three, or four of them. But if you fear that you cannot maintain equality among them marry one only or any slave-girls you may own” (4:3). “Prophet, we have made lawful for you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave-girls whom Allah has given you as booty…” (33:50).

In 33.50, Allah gives Muhammad and all Muslim men the right to take slaves and have sex with female slaves. These are Allah given religious rights. See also 23:1-7; 70:29-30; 4.24. The Hadith contains many hundreds of descriptions of Muslims raping women captured in battle or having sex with their household slaves. This is their right ordained by Allah. Many descriptions of sex with slaves is also found dealing with ‘Azl. Coitus interruptus, withdrawing the penis before ejaculation (Sahih Muslim, 22:8; Sahih Bukhari, 8:77:600; Sunan Abu Dawud, 11:2166).

So, A Muslim men were allowed to have sex anytime with slave females (4:3, 4:29, 33:49). A Muslim could not be put to death for murdering a slave (2:178). Verse 33:52 says: “You [Prophet] are not permitted to take any further wives, nor to exchange the wives you have for others, even if these attract you with their beauty. But this does not apply to your slave-girls. Muhammad took a slave woman right immediately after his massacre of the Qurayza Jews, taking an extra-beautiful one from them.

Beheading the men and dividing up the boys as human spoils of war carry on Muhammad’s policy seen in Quran 33:26-27, in which he enslaved the women and children of the Qurayzah tribe of Jews. Tabari (vol. 11, p. 55), describes conquests during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (632-634) that represent many others throughout Islamic history. In Ayn al-Tamr, Iraq, Khalid bin al-Walid, Sayf al-Islam, “beheaded all the men of the fortress and took possession of all that their fortress contained, seizing as spoils what was in it… Khalid found in their church forty boys who were studying the Gospels behind a locked door, which he broke down in getting to them. He asked, “Who are you?” They replied, “Hostages.” He divided them among the Muslims who had performed outstandingly in battle.

In Islam Jihad to occupy the world and to force it to follow or be subjugated under Islam encompasses the ‘institutions’ of Dhimmitude and slavery. The major source of slaves was the constant Muslim raids into infidel areas, which were depopulated. Islam’s slavery was genocidal as males were generally slaughtered, while females and children were taken. The children were removed from their family and culture, forcibly converted, and used as soldiers. Slaves and their offspring were owned by the master and passed on as part of his property to inherit. Under Islam slaves have no legal rights at all – they are just a property.

Dhimmis were also forced to hand over their women and children either to pay their taxes or under laws demanding them as tribute so they became slaves and concubines. Hence the entire occupied populations were destroyed.

Most important the Shari’ah legalizes slavery, and if it is permitted in the Scriptures, nobody can abolish or even change it. All Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence traditionally accepted the institution of slavery. Slaves are regarded as inferior in Islamic law. They are not permitted to possess or inherit property, or conduct independent business. The testimony of slaves is not admissible in court; slaves cannot choose their own marriage mate, and can be forced to marry who their masters want. Slave women were required mainly as concubines and menials. A Muslim slaveholder was entitled by law to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women. There is no limit on the number of concubines a master may possess. The Islamic market demand for children was much higher than adults. Organized slave traders smuggled children into Islamic markets where they are enslaved, mutilated, and also serve as male concubine.

The Shari’ah sets Jihad laws as ‘warfare to establish the religion’ (Reliance of the Traveller, o9.0 p. 599), specify the enslavement or death if they resist, of women and children (o9.10 p. 603). Captured women and children become slaves and the woman’s previous marriage is immediately annulled (o9.13 p. 604). Vassal states were forced to supply thousands of their children annually as ‘tribute’ and these people became slaves.

Ibn Rushd compiled a compendium of the opinions of jurists up to his time. He summarizes various legal opinions about slavery: it is allowed to harm the enemy’s life, property and personal liberty, enslavement and ownership. There is a consensus about slavery, their men and women, old and young, the common people and the elite. For Ibn Rushd the example of Muhammad was extremely important for establishing the Shari’ah concerning slavery.

Bernard Lewis has put it correctly: the essence of the Shari’ah is three key elements: a) Muslim superiority over non-Muslims; b) male superiority over females; c) the legitimacy of violence to extend Islam to occupy the world. In his Race and Color in Islam, he brings many quotations and historical examples as to introduce the high need for slaves, whether acquired by violence or by commercial exchange. It was also legitimized by Islamic Scriptures and by racist felling of the Arabs, being superior species compare to the inferiority of blacks.

According to Peter Hammond, Slave Raids into Africa, the overall toll of black Africans who were transited to American and Muslim slave markets, is estimated at least 112 million, and more than 50%, in some areas and eras even 80% of those killed in the raids or died in transit. Over a million of white Europeans also ended up in the Islamic slave markets, women being a particular favorite of Arab slavers.

Humphrey J. Fisher, in his book, Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, shows the ever cruel history of Islamic slave trade in Africa. The tribes’ territories were harshly Islamized, while 120 million blacks were captured as slaves, almost half of them were perished while driven on the routes to be shipped to America and the Middle East markets.

Ronald Segal in his Islam’s Black Slaves documents that from its emergence Islam has established and institutionalized slavery and slave trade. When Islam conquered the Persian Sassanid Empire and much of the Byzantine Empire, female slaves were required in considerable numbers as concubines and domestic workers. The harems of rulers became enormous in size, and castration of male slaves was common place.

Segal records: In the 1570’s, a Frenchman visiting Egypt found many thousands of blacks on sale in Cairo markets. In 1665 Father Antonios Gonzalis, a Spanish/Belgian traveler, reported 800-1000 slaves on sale in the Cairo market on every single day. In 1838, it was estimated that 10000 to 12000 slaves were arriving in Cairo each year. He also observed that “White slaves from Christian Spain, Central and Eastern Europe’ were also shipped into the Middle East and served in the “palaces of rulers and the establishments of the rich.”

Even as late as the 19th Century, it was noted that in Mecca “there are few families that do not keep slaves, and they all keep mistresses in common with their lawful wives.” Even Ronald Segal, who was most sympathetic to Islam and prejudiced against Christianity, admits that well over 30 million black Africans have died at the hands of Muslim slave traders or ended up in Islamic slavery.

The Islamic slave trade took place across the Sahara Desert, from the coast of the Red Sea, and from East Africa across the Indian Ocean. The Trans Sahara trade was conducted along six major slave routes. As for the 19th Century alone, of which we have more accurate records, 1.2 million slaves were brought across the Sahara into the Middle East, 450000 down the Red Sea and 442000 from East African coastal ports. That is a total of 2 million black slaves. At least 8 million more were calculated to have died before reaching the Muslim slave markets.

For John Alembillah Azumah, Legacy of Arab Islam in Africa, “…the worst, most inhumane and most diabolical institution of the black African slave trade was initiated, refined, perpetrated and implemented by the Mohammedan Arabs and later aided and abetted by the black converts to Mohammedan Islam.”

Robert O. Collins and James M. Burns in their A History of Sub-Saharan Africa, prove that “The advent of the Islamic age coincided with a sharp increase in the African slave trade.” Africa has become a major supplier of slaves for North Africa and Islamic Spain. The other route was through the shores of East Africa to the Americas. The earliest Muslim account of slaves crossing the Sahara to Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast was written in the seventh century. From the ninth century to the nineteenth slave trade was the biggest Islamic industry in Africa. In fact it was the only industry.

By the Middle-Ages, the Arab word ‘Abd’ was in general use to denote a black slave while the word “Mamluk” referred to a white slave. Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) wrote: “The Negro nations are as a rule submissive to slavery, because they have attributes that are quite similar to dumb animals.” When the Fatimid came to power in Egypt they slaughtered all the tens of thousands of black military slaves and raised an entirely new slave army. From Persia to Egypt to Morocco, slave armies became common-place. After Muslim armies attacked and conquered Spain, they took thousands of slaves back to Damascus. The key prize was 1000 virgins as slaves. They were forced to go all the way back to Damascus.

Robert C. Davis, in his Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800, estimates that North African Muslim pirates abducted and enslaved more than 1 million Europeans between 1530 and 1780. Thousands in coastal areas were seized every year to work as galley slaves, laborers and concubines for Muslim slave masters in what is today Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Oman and Saudi-Arabia. He indicates that perhaps one and one-quarter million white European Christians were enslaved by Barbary Muslims. Jihad piracy and slave raids were a fact of life in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions for the better part of a thousand years.

Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade, records. In 1796, a British traveler reported a caravan of 5000 slaves departing from Darfur. Just in the Arabic plantations off the East Coast of Africa, on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, there were 769000 black slaves. In the 19th Century, East African black slave trade included 347,000 slaves shipped to Arabia and Persia.

Suzanne Everett, in her History of Slavery records: In 1818, al-Mukani ruler in Tripoli “waged war on all its defenseless neighbors and annually carried off 4000 to 5000 slaves. The traders speak of slaves as farmers do of cattle. Murders, tortures and rape abuse were day by day habits. Records in Morocco in 1876 show that the market prices for slaves varied from £10 to £30; female slaves comprised vast majority of sales with ‘attractive virgins’ £40 to £80. “A considerable majority of the slaves crossing the Sahara, were destined to become concubines in North Africa and the Middle East.”

Murray Gordon records: “Muhammad took pains in urging the faithful to free their slaves as a way of expiating their sins. Some Muslim scholars have taken this to mean that his true motive was to bring about a gradual elimination of slavery. Far more persuasive is the argument that by lending the moral authority of Islam to slavery, Muhammad assured its legitimacy. Thus, in lightening the fetter, he riveted it ever more firmly in place.”

He analyzes the sexual aspects of slavery. “For a better part of the Middle-Ages, Europe served as a valuable source of slaves who were prized in the Muslim world as soldiers, concubines, and eunuchs.” It is important to note that this pattern was established long before the European colonial period. In fact, “Eunuchs commanded the highest prices among slaves, followed by young and pretty white women… White women were almost always in greater demand than Africans, and Arabs were prepared to pay much higher prices for Circassian and Georgian women.” This was also the Fate of Slav women from the Balkans and Hungary. Abyssinian (Ethiopian) girls were considered the “second best.”

Slave taking rapidly advanced into a full-scale industry, with a disastrous impact that was apparent at the time and for centuries to come. Giles Milton in his White Gold, has noticed that the seventeenth century represented a dark period out of which Spanish and Italian societies emerged as mere shadows compare to the past. Arab slavery raids of kidnapping women and young children continued just below the surface of the coastal culture of the European Mediterranean even into the first years of the twentieth century.

The Indian historian, K. S. Lal, in his books, Theory and practice of Muslim state in India, and Islamic Jihad: the Legacy of forced conversion, imperialism and Slavery,   brings horrible data of how Islamic Jihadists conquered India, butchered its inhabitants by millions, and developed a huge peculiar system of slavery there. Raiding non-Muslim territories became a constant phenomenon. Five centuries after Muslims came to power in the territory, the animist hill peoples completely disappeared as a result of their conversion through enslavement into the Muslim populace of Malaya, Sumatra and Borneo. By the raiding system, especially of children, these areas has become Islamic. In many places of Southeast Asia, the enslavement was so entrenched so that the entire population, polytheistic Hindu, Buddhist and Animist creeds, became Muslim or exterminated.

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Political Parties, Church and Grand Mufti in Bulgaria: No Rights for Women



Photo: BNR

On 12 March, the European Parliament called upon EU countries including Bulgaria to ratify the Istanbul Convention. However, only one Bulgarian MEP was present at the debates. And he was against the treaty.

Just on the eve of International Women’s Day on the March 8, the Bulgarian government, attacked by political parties, the Holy Synod and Grand Mufti, said it would abandon its plans to send the Istanbul Convention to parliament for ratification. This situation clearly shows that Bulgarian society is not ready yet for the European future that envisages rights equality.

The Council of Europe Convention, known as the Istanbul Convention, was signed in 2011 in Istanbul to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. So far, it has been supported by 45 member states of the Council of Europe amid having been ratified in 28 countries with only 17 of them being EU members.

Unfortunately, the Convention still faces fierce opposition in many European Union countries. Thus, when in late February Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov said the motion to ratify the document had been rejected, Slovakia announced it would also withdraw its request for the ratification of the Convention under the pressure of similar conservative politicians.

Having signed the Convention in April 2016, the Bulgarian government announced it was going to ratify the treaty only at the end of 2017. A statement came from Deputy Minister of Justice Desislava Ahladova during the round table discussion Prevention of Violence through Education organized by the Bulgarian Fund for Women.

The announcement of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s ruling coalition GERB sparked off a wave of criticism. First, the United Patriots, a group of three parties known for their radical views lashed out at the government’s decision. “A woman cannot refuse her husband sex. That is why she gets married,” said Volen Siderov, chairman of the parliamentary bloc. In another statement, the United Patriots claimed that the Convention would legitimize the “third gender” and open the door to “transvestites from Iran.”

Soon, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church joined the criticizing group, though it backed the Convention in January 2015. Urging the National Assembly not to ratify the document, the Synod published a declaration blaming the government for introducing “a new understanding of man – man as an absolute master, the man without God who follows his desires and passions to such an extent that he can even determine his gender.” According to the Church, the term gender is the one that raises much concern. “The consequences of denying biblical truths are tragic and we are witnessing them in many societies where “gender” ideology has long been a state policy,” the Synod stressed. The Orthodox Church even called for prayers against the ratification.

Just a day after the Orthodox Church came up with comments, the Bulgarian Grand Mufti followed the suite. In a quite lengthy statement, the supreme body of Muslims in the country provided a number of theistic and secular arguments against the ratification. First of all, some legal uncertainties are a reason for the Grand Mufti’s disapproval. Although the government officials have stated several times that no changes would be made in the Constitution if the Istanbul Convention is adopted, the Mufti worries that important documents such as The Family Act, the Anti-Discrimination Act, the Young People’s Act, the Internal Policies Act would have to undergo substantial change in order to fulfill the Convention’s requirements. Both Christianity and Islam stand for traditional values, so it’s not really surprising that their positions in this matter coincide.

On the 25th of January Bulgarian Socialist Party introduced an initiative to submit a referendum proposal in the National Assembly. “[The convention] has generated enormous tension in the Bulgarian society and diverging opinions. That’s division,” BSP leader Kornelia Ninova said, as quoted by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television. “We think that the one who has to have their say on this issue is the Bulgarian people. This is why tomorrow we will be tabling the necessary signatures of Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs to ask for a decision to hold a referendum on the Istanbul Convention.”

However, her initiative failed as on the same day the government changed its mind and withdrew the proposal for ratification.
Obviously, the reaction of confessions and politicians depends on the current mood in Bulgarian society. Recent surveys show that the majority of Bulgarians are against the proposed Convention. Thus, according to the Barometer Bulgaria pollster, 63% of respondents said they disapprove of ratifying such a document. However, it is not shocking as four in five people in Bulgaria think that the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family, per a November 2017 Eurobarometer survey.

The story of the Istanbul Convention in Bulgaria is a vivid example of how conservative politicians and clergymen can influence the political agenda in a country and impede new motions in the human rights sector.

Endowment for Public Awareness

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United Nations Drowning Prevention Group launched on World Water Day 2018



Photo: Zackary Canepari for RNLI International

Ambassadors from across the world have highlighted the need for global drowning to be tackled if the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are to be met by 2030.

In an open letter on World Water Day (22 March), members of a newly formed UN group on drowning prevention, launched today, have called on the international community to recognise safe access to water as a global development priority alongside access to safe water.

With drowning claiming 360,000 lives a year across the globe, the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention – with founding members including the governments of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Fiji, Thailand, Tanzania and Ireland – has called for drowning to be recognised and resourced in line with its impact on communities worldwide.

This comes as the UN launches the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, focussed on addressing water-related challenges including access to safe water and sanitation.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Head of International Advocacy Helen Morton said:

“Drowning is a silent epidemic. Responsible for more deaths each year than international development priorities including malnutrition and maternal mortality, it goes unrecognised and under-resourced. Drowning hits the most vulnerable first and worst; children and young people represent the majority of lives lost and almost all occur in low and middle income countries. Wasted lives and preventable deaths on an epidemic scale.

“Rightly, resource in recent decades has focused on delivering the human right to water, but it’s now critical that we focus on water access in the fullest sense; recognising safe access to water as well as access to safe water as a pressing development problem, and as a means to enable development.

“The RNLI has been working with governments across the world committed to helping to end this silent epidemic, and we’re encouraged that a new dedicated UN group has launched today on World Water Day to prove that prevention is possible.”

The full open letter is available below.

A letter from the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention

Today, on World Water Day, we celebrate that water enables the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across our planet. The launch of a new United Nations Decade of Action on Water is an opportune moment to reaffirm our commitments to this urgent and important issue.

But in our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and make the UN Decade on Water successful, we must address the issue of water access in the fullest sense – that includes recognition of the realities in which those who are left behind live.

While our focus has been on access to safe water, it is critical to draw the attention of the global community to the need for safe access to water.

Each year, drowning is responsible for more deaths than malnutrition or maternal mortality. It affects the most vulnerable first and worst; almost all of the 360,000 drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Among these, children and young people represent the majority of lives lost. Every other minute, a child loses their life to the water. Drowning is the number one cause of child mortality in many countries across South East Asia and the Western Pacific.

In committing to the SDGs every country in the world has committed to deliver a set of Goals for their citizens by 2030. Ensuring safe access to water will be critical to reducing child mortality and to achieving sustainable development as a whole. Drowning prevention is a forgotten but fundamental enabler to ensure that every child survives and thrives; while insuring investment in nutrition, education and immunisation and providing a set of required survival skills that will protect our future generations.

Drowning is not fate, nor inevitable.

Every life lost to the water is preventable. Simple and scale-able solutions, such as survival swim lessons, community crèches and flood response skills, can be delivered at a large scale and low-cost, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. This is ever-more important with growing exposure to water due to climate change and increased risks of natural disasters, yet to date drowning has been absent from political debate, and has not received the level of public attention it deserves.

So, today, we officially launch the Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention, to mobilise governments from across the geographic and political spectrum to act on this common cause; to ensure that the issue of drowning prevention is recognised and receives resources commensurate with its impact on communities worldwide.

As the President of the General Assembly launches the Decade of Action on Water for Sustainable Development, we call upon him, and fellow leaders, to recognise the importance of safe access to water alongside access to safe water. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that no one is left behind, inaction is not an option.

Signed by:

Masud Bin Momen, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations Luke Daunivalu, Ambassador of Fiji to the United Nations Virachai Plasai, Ambassador of Thailand to the United Nations Nguyen Thi Phuong Nga, Ambassador of Viet Nam to the United Nations

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New Social Compact

Seven Out of 10 Top School Systems Are in East Asia Pacific

MD Staff



The East Asia and Pacific region has seven of the top ten performing education systems in the world, with schools in China and Vietnam showing significant progress, according to a new World Bank report released today. This is a major accomplishment that offers important lessons to countries around the world. In the rest of the region, however, up to 60 percent of students are in under-performing schools that fail to equip them with the skills necessary for success.

Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and the Pacific argues that improving education is necessary to sustain economic growth and highlights the ways that countries in the region have been able to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on lessons from successful education systems in the region, it lays out a series of practical recommendations for key policies that promote learning so that students acquire foundational skills in reading and math, as well as more complex skills that are needed to meet future labor market demands.

Providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of where they are born, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the foundation of a strong economy and the best way to stop and reverse rising inequalities,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.

A quarter of the world’s school-age children – some 331 million – live in East Asia and the Pacific. Up to 40 percent of them attend school in education systems whose students are ahead of the average students in OECD countries. These schools are not only in wealthy countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, but also in middle-income countries such as China and Vietnam. And, as the report highlights, student performance isn’t necessarily tied to a country’s income level. By age 10, for example, the average Vietnamese student outperforms all but the top students in India, Peru and Ethiopia.

But many countries in the region are not getting the results they want. In Indonesia, for example, test scores showed students were more than three years behind their top-performing peers in the region. In countries such as Cambodia and Timor-Leste, one-third or more of second graders were unable to read a single word on reading tests.

Another key finding of the report is that across the region, household incomes do not necessarily determine children’s educational success. In Vietnam and China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), for example, students from poorer households do as well, if not better, in both math and science, as compared to average students in the OECD.

Effective policies for the selection, motivation, and support of teachers as well as sound practices in the classroom are what determine how much students learn. For policymakers looking to improve their school systems, allocating existing budgets efficiently, coupled with strong political commitment, can make a real difference in the lives of children across the region,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education.

The report lays out concrete steps for improving learning for lagging systems in the region and beyond, starting with ensuring that institutions are aligned so that objectives and responsibilities across the education system are consistent with each other. The report also urges a focus on four key areas: effective and equity-minded public spending; preparation of students for learning; selection and support of teachers; and systematic use of assessments to inform instruction.

The report found that top-performing systems spend efficiently on school infrastructure and teachers, have recruitment processes to ensure the best candidates are attracted into teaching, and provide a salary structure that rewards teachers with proven classroom performance. It also found that schools throughout the region increased preschool access, including for the poor, and have adopted student learning assessment into their educational policies.

The report complements and builds on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and found that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

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