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World Briefs II

Law Redefines Child-Protection Policies in Place Since '80

The Washington Post
WASHINgton

On Nov. 19, President Clinton signed into law the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, the most significant change in federal child-protection policy in almost two decades. Half the states already had enacted similar laws in response to public alarm over cases of gross child abuse in homes supposedly supervised by local child-protection authorities.

The law shifts the emphasis of child-welfare policy set by major legislation in 1980, when research indicated that many children had been placed in foster care unnecessarily in the 1970s. The 1980 law demanded that local authorities make "reasonable efforts" to preserve biological families before placing a child in foster care or freeing a foster child for adoption.

During the lengthy, contentious 1997 debate, lawmakers declared that local officials and judges had widely misinterpreted the 1980 law and were making unreasonable efforts to keep children with unfit parents. A consensus formed that children were wasting formative years in foster care; the median length of stay grew from 15 months in 1987 to more than two years in 1994.

The new law explicitly states that the "paramount concern" of all child-protection efforts must be the health and safety of children, overriding the reasonable-efforts requirement in some cases - specifically if parents have grossly abused or abandoned a child.

Virginity Testing Debated in Turkey

The Washington Post
ANKARA, Turkey

The importance of the virginity of an unmarried girl to a family's honor goes to the heart of Turkey's traditional moral code. But recent suicide attempts by five girls seeking to avoid a forced virginity examination have sparked a public outcry. The five girls involved in the suicide attempts, ages 12-16, took rat poison and then jumped into a water tank rather than face the tests. They survived and the virginity tests were carried out in their hospital beds.

Women's rights activists were infuriated when Isilay Saygin, state minister in charge of female and family affairs, defended mandated medical examinations to verify the virginity of girls in state-run foster homes. "If girls commit suicide because of virginity tests, they would have committed suicide anyway. It is not that important," Saygin was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview - which she later said misinterpreted her remarks. Stating that she opposes a ban on virginity controls, Saygin argued that such tests were needed to help guide young people's behavior.

The case of the five girls who attempted suicide after the director of their state foster home ordered them to undergo virginity tests when they returned late to their dormitories one night has fueled a campaign elsewhere in the government, led by Human Rights Minister Hikmet Sami Turk, to ban such tests, except in court cases involving sex crimes.

Physicians interviewed in one study said many young women seek the tests themselves. Some interpret this as an indication of the pressure many women feel in a society in which an unmarried woman discovered not to be a virgin risks being ostracized by her family or losing a chance to get married.