INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Adoption changes enacted in China; Sudan military bombs Darfur; ...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--American families interested in adopting babies from the People’s Republic of China will find it more difficult when tougher guidelines are implemented in May. Those rules will refuse adoption to people who are obese, single, over 50 years old or on anti-depressant medication. Prospective parents also will be required to have been married for two years and have no more than four children.

The director of the China Center for Adoption Affairs said the measures will help ensure the quality of adoptive parents, according to a report in the Associated Press. In the past 10 years, more than 50,000 Chinese babies have been adopted by foreigners, the majority of whom are from North America and Europe.

China's population control law limits most couples to only one child. Large numbers of baby girls are abandoned at birth because of a traditional Chinese preference for sons. More than 90 percent of Chinese babies adopted are girls.

AFGHAN WOMEN STILL STRUGGLE -- Millions of women and girls in Afghanistan continue to face daily violence and discrimination five years after the fall of the extremist Taliban government –- and activists who try to help face violence themselves.

In September, Safia Amajan, head of the Women's Affairs Ministry in the southern city of Kandahar, was shot dead after criticizing the Taliban's treatment of women, according to a report by the BBC. Though jobs opportunities now exist for women, many are afraid to leave their homes because of the security situation in the country. Others suffer from domestic violence in arranged marriages or at the hands of families who are given a girl to resolve a dispute with the girl’s parents. About 57 percent of Afghan girls are married before 16, the legal marriage age. As many as 80 percent of marriages are forced.

Girls who resist the arrangements may be killed by their own relatives to protect family honor. Desperate women often resort to extreme measures to escape. One hospital in Herat reported that in six months 53 women had set fire to themselves.

MUSLIM PILGRIMS ‘STONE THE DEVIL’ -- About 2 million Muslims from 70 countries threw stones Dec. 30 at three pillars representing the devil during the annual “hajj” pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage re-enacts events in the life of Abraham, including his willingness to offer his son as a sacrifice to God. The stoning ritual occurs at a spot where the devil is believed to have appeared to Abraham.

New security measures were added this year in an attempt to prevent stampedes that have killed hundreds of pilgrims in previous years, according to the BBC. At least 345 people died in a crush during the stone-throwing ritual last year. Saudi Arabia deployed an estimated 30,000 police and security forces to prevent a similar disaster this year.

Before pilgrims complete the hajj, they must circle the Kaaba, a cube-like building in the centre of Mecca's Great Mosque, seven times. The pilgrimage, which Muslims usually are obliged to undertake at least once, ended Jan. 1.

BUSH SENDS HOLIDAY GREETINGS TO MUSLIMS -- President George W. Bush sent a holiday greeting to Muslims worldwide gathered to celebrate the feast of Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to offer his son as a sacrifice to God.

“For Muslims in America and around the world, Eid al-Adha is an important occasion to give thanks for their blessings and to remember Abraham's trust in a loving God,” Bush said. “America is a more hopeful nation because of the talents, generosity, and compassion of our Muslim citizens. This holiday reminds us of the values that so many of our citizens hold in common, including love of family, gratitude to God, the importance of community, and a commitment to respect, diversity, tolerance, and religious freedom.”

SUDAN BOMBS DARFUR AFTER PEACEKEEPING VISIT -- A Sudanese government airplane bombed two areas in Darfur just after African Union peacekeepers visited the locations to encourage the rebels to join a ceasefire agreement, according to a statement released by the AU Jan. 1.

AU Gen. Luke Aprezi said the strike jeopardizes efforts to bring other rebel groups into a ceasefire signed by one rebel faction and the government this past May, according to the Associated Press. Sudanese officials had approved Aprezi’s visit ahead of time, the AU said.

Aid workers say violence has increased since the agreement was signed. The United Nations says renewed fighting continues to push the number of people in need of aid to survive in the Darfur region even higher, according to Mission Network News. In just six months, refugees have surged by hundreds of thousands to 4 million. Food and water security are scarce.

Operation Blessing's David Darg says, "For the people in Darfur, right now, hope isn't even an option, which is a terrible thing to say. Unless there is a radical shift, nothing is going to happen for these people that's positive and nothing is going to change. Some form of security needs to be introduced to the region."

SOMALI TROOPS DRIVE RADICAL ISLAMISTS FROM POWER -- Thousands of soldiers have driven out radical Islamic extremists who had controlled most of Somalia since June. Somali forces, reinforced by troops from neighboring Ethiopia, swept through the country the last week of December, driving the Islamic Courts Union forces south to the port of Kismayo.

The group, which had links to Al Qaeda and was backed by several Arab and Islamic regimes and organizations, had sought to unite and then expand Somalia, establishing an Islamic Caliphate with Sharia law over a Greater Somalia, including eastern Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya, according to the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

The estimated 3,000 extremists in Kismayo, who were believed to include four suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, reportedly surrendered or fled into the bush country. Their defeat puts the internationally recognized government in charge for the first time in at least a decade. It remains to be seen, however, whether they can exert control over armed clan militias that have kept the country in turmoil for generations.

CHINESE OFFICIALS SHUT DOWN CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION -- Police and government officials in Duolun County, Inner Mongolia, raided a house church’s Christmas celebration on Dec. 29 and detained three leaders, according to a report published by the China Aid Association.

About 30 policemen and local Religious Affair Bureau officials declared the celebration as an "illegal gathering" and three church leaders were sentenced to 15 days’ administrative detention. It is believed that such arrests are made to deter Christians from celebrating Christmas.

"To attack and arrest peaceful Christians during Christmas season is contrary to both the spirit of Christmas and the Chinese law," said CAA President Bob Fu. "We urge the Chinese government to release the three innocent church leaders immediately."


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