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She had no idea that the 19-year-old had begun exchanging sex for cash in order to help pay for food for her three younger siblings and two cousins, who live together in a one-room house in a waterfront slum community in Mombasa, Kenya. When Bella came home with rice and other ingredients for dinner at the end of the day, she didn’t explain how she had bought them.

“The pandemic broke down the economy, especially for my area. So I had to help in one way or another with expenses,” said Bella over WhatsApp. The teen asked that her name be changed to protect her identity.

Before the pandemic, Bella was a sophomore at a high school in the city, where she was an avid history student and enjoyed playing table tennis with friends during breaks between classes. But in March, as Covid-19 spread, Kenya shut down and so did the schools.

Unable to continue her studies remotely due to a lack of electricity and internet access, and with her mother’s income from selling vegetables on the street slashed, Bella began washing clothes to help supplement the family’s income.

“God, that day, my mom almost killed me. My mom was so furious with me, she beat me. I don’t want to talk about it. She didn’t know that I was having an affair with that man.”

Bella


When one of her customers who was much older pressured her for sex, saying he would pay 1,000 Kenyan shillings ($9) or 1,500 shillings ($13) for unprotected sex — triple what he was paying her for doing his laundry — she felt like she couldn’t say no. After he found out she was pregnant, he disappeared.

“The pandemic played the biggest role in me getting this pregnancy right now, because if the pandemic was not here, I would have been in school. Like this washing clothes, and all that stuff, meeting that man, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Bella, who is currently receiving social support and cash transfers through ActionAid, an international campaign group. She supplements this with odd jobs and laundry work.

Now three months pregnant, Bella said she won’t be able to resume her education when Kenya’s schools fully reopen in January — a friend of her mother’s, who had been helping to pay her fees, withdrew her support.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that nearly 24 million children and adolescents, including 11 million girls and young women like Bella, may drop out of education next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone (130 million girls were already out of school, according to the agency). That reality not only threatens to roll back decades of progress made toward gender equality, but also puts girls around the globe at risk of child labor, teen pregnancy, forced marriage and violence, experts say.
“It’s a kind of vicious cycle,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for education, noting that girls who have become pregnant during lockdowns are not only less likely to return to school, policies and practices in some countries specifically prohibit their participation in education. Adolescent pregnancy during the pandemic threatens to block one million girls from education just in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report by World Vision, a member of UNESCO’s Covid-19 Global Education Coalition.

For many girls, school is not only a place of learning and a pathway to a brighter future, Gianni adds, it’s also a lifeline — offering vital nutrition services, menstrual hygiene management, sexual health information and social support.

Previous crises have proven that girls are the first to be pulled from the classroom and the last to return. When the Ebola outbreak prompted school closures in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, girls faced increased poverty, child labor and teen pregnancy, preventing them in some cases from resuming their studies, reports by UNICEF, Save the Children and UNDP have shown.
In Sierra Leone, teen pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000, according to UNICEF. And many girls in the country never returned to the classroom, partly because of a recently overturned policy barring pregnant girls from going to school, Plan International reported. Enrollment dropped by 16 percentage points in Sierra Leone communities most impacted, per a working paper published by World Bank.
Using data on school dropouts from the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, the Malala Fund estimated that 20 million more secondary school-aged girls could remain out of the classroom long after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

“The pandemic played the biggest role in me getting this pregnancy right now, because if the pandemic was not here, I would have been in school. Meeting that man, it wouldn’t have happened like at all.”

Bella

The repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic on girls could be felt for generations.

Earlier this year, UNFPA projected that lockdowns lasting at least six months could lead to an estimated 7 million additional unintended pregnancies and 31 million cases of gender-based violence, as well as 13 million child marriages and 2 million female genital mutilation cases over the next decade.
Covid-19 will also push 47 million more women and girls into poverty, according to an analysis commissioned by UN Women and UNDP, which estimates that around 435 million women and girls will be living on less than $1.90 a day by 2021. According to the report, the number of women and girls living in extreme poverty won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2030.

“With the impact of Covid we’re seeing a very quick and dramatic retreat of the progress we’ve made on gender equality,” Julia Sánchez, secretary general of ActionAid, said, highlight issues where advocates have made strides in recent years, like in putting a stop to genital mutilation.

“All of a sudden it’s like we’ve all turned our backs and we’re starting to walk in the opposite direction.”

In an ActionAid survey of 1,219 women mostly aged 18 to 30 in urban areas of India, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, only about 22% of those who were studying said they were able to continue their education remotely. But the survey was limited by the fact that young women were interviewed based on their willingness and availability to respond — only about 25% were currently in some form of education.

Out of school and facing extreme economic insecurity, many of the girls surveyed said they were forced to take on a bigger burden of unpaid care and domestic work, found themselves unable to access life-saving sexual health and reproductive services — including birth control — and were more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

Reported incidents of violence were particularly high in Kenya (76%), where young women surveyed repeatedly mentioned sexual abuse and early pregnancies. Echoing Bella’s story, several girls and young women who were out of school told surveyors they were forced to exchange sex for money out of financial desperation, ActionAid wrote.

“There are a lot of girls in my area who are going through the same situation. As for my situation, now I am just hoping God helps me through this, and I come out of this safe.”

Bella


Like many other countries on the African continent, Kenya has committed to closing the gap on exclusion in education, providing all children access by 2030. But the scattershot approach to tackling teen pregnancy — an issue before the pandemic hit — has been criticized by campaign groups like Human Rights Watch. In July, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered an investigation into rising reports of violence against women and girls, noting that teen pregnancies had escalated during the pandemic.

Frustrated advocates say cuts to foreign aid by donor countries, like the United Kingdom, amid a wave of Covid-induced austerity measures will have devastating impacts on girls’ education and leave them without the safety net that school offers. They warn that failing to place women and girls at the center of recovery plans comes at a steep cost to economic growth, especially when faced with one of the deepest recessions since World War II.

A World Bank report, released in partnership with the Malala Fund in 2018, showed that limited educational opportunities for women and girls who complete secondary school could cost the global economy between $15 trillion and $30 trillion.

“Governments are under the squeeze because aid is going to be cut, because revenues are going down because of the economic effects of Covid, and also because there are greater demands in the health sector,” Lucia Fry, director of research and policy at the Malala Fund, said. “In some cases, not all, countries are actually diverting funds away from education at this time of great need.”

A number of advocacy groups are calling on governments to maintain the priority that they’ve given to education, while simultaneously looking to the international community to provide fiscal stimulus in the form of debt relief and emergency aid. Longer term, they’re looking at reforms in things like the international tax system so that countries can keep more of the revenues that they have for public services.

In the meantime, teenagers like Bella are having to shift their expectations from a future in school to one at home.

“It has been so hard for me. I lack words to explain how I feel,” Bella said.

“Going back to school won’t be possible … and my baby’s coming soon.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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