15 July 2004
Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee Experts Urge Latvia to Update Laws to Protect Women from Domestic Violence
Country Makes First Presentation to Committee; Trafficking in Women, Equal Participation in Political Life among Other Issues Raised
NEW YORK, 14 July (UN Headquarters) -- Deploring Latvias lack of legislation targeting violence against women, expert members of the Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee this morning urged the country to update its laws, protect women from domestic violence, and provide support for victims, as they considered the situation of women in that country.
Acting in their personal capacities, the Committees 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention, often referred to as an international bill of rights for women. Having ratified the Convention in 1991, Latvia was reporting to the Committee for the first time today, presenting its combined first, second and third reports.
During the article-by-article review of Latvias compliance, experts also stressed the need to sensitize law enforcement officials and judges to the victims of domestic violence, and that orders of protection or restraining orders be made available to them. Several lamented the lack of statistics on violence against women in the country, questioning whether the Government relegated such behaviour to the private sphere.
Introducing the countrys report, Ina Druviete, Chair of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee of Latvias Parliament, said the National Human Rights Office had received few complaints about family violence. Although physical violence against women was punishable by law, Latvian law enforcement institutions had not always paid proper attention to the problem or acted quickly enough. Moreover, the laws did not recognize psychological violence against women.
To change the polices attitude towards domestic violence, she continued, the central criminal police board had joined the crisis centres -- Skalbes -- in campaigns to raise awareness over the past few years, and educational seminars on family violence had also been held. As a result, sexually abused women could now speak directly to female police officers skilled in dealing with such cases.
Turning to a related issue, experts expressed deep concern over the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of women trafficked or lured in to Latvia from other countries. Portugals expert lamented the apparent lack of programmes in place to rehabilitate those women once they were removed from harm. Granted, some cooperative initiatives were underway with neighbouring and transit countries, but the problem should be made a national priority. Other experts stressed the need to target and prosecute the client side of the equation -- usually middle-aged, married men.
Addressing that issue, Ms. Druviete said Latvia adhered to major international conventions and treaties aimed at preventing human trafficking. Also, the country had recently established the National Programme for Prevention of Human Trafficking (2004-2008), which focused on improving legislation, rehabilitating victims and raising awareness. To limit trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation, the Government had created a special police unit, strengthening its cooperation with neighbouring countries and cooperating with non-governmental organizations.
Several experts pointed to an apparent lack of understanding of gender equality and non-discrimination, especially in Government bodies, and the urgent need to correct that through raising awareness and gender sensitive education. Cubas expert expressed concern that the campaigns to raise awareness mentioned in the report were just one-time events, rather than ongoing programmes aimed at all levels of Latvian society. She added that non-governmental organizations should not be the only organizations dealing with raising awareness and training on eradicating negative stereotypes, and disseminating information on the Convention.
Ms. Druviete conceded that the Soviet period had cultivated a brutal concept of gender equality in the country, which often disregarded the specific physiological and psychological needs of women. Since independence, in 1991, the attitude towards gender equality had been slowly changing, but much needed to be done by the Government, non-governmental organizations and Latvian society in the coming years.
Other experts pointed to the increasing numbers of unemployed women in the country, expressed concern that women were still not participating on an equal basis in political life, and stressed the need to encourage girls to move into scientific or technical careers. Ghanas expert drew attention to the alarming 100 per cent increase in the infection rate of HIV/AIDS in the country, noting that the report made no mention of a national plan to deal with it.
Along with Gints Jegermanis, Representative of the Latvian Mission to the United Nations, and Deputy Permanent Representative Aiga Liepiņa, Latvias delegation included: Maris Badovskis, Director of the Department of European and Legal Affairs, Ministry of Welfare; Sandra Falka, Senior Desk Officer for Curriculum Development and Examinations, Ministry of Education and Science; Inga Reine, Government Representative to International Human Rights Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ronalds Rozkalns, Deputy Head of Division, Health-Care Organization, Ministry of Health, and Arturs Vaisla, Head of the Anti-Trafficking Unit of the State Police Department.
The Committee will meet again at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 July, to consider the periodic report of the Dominican Republic.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the situation of women in Latvia, for which it had before it that countrys combined initial, second and third periodic report (document CEDAW/C/LVA/1-3). A special task force was set up to elaborate the present report. It consisted of representatives of the Foreign Ministry, as well as the ministries of justice, the interior, welfare, and culture. The report was examined and adopted by the Cabinet on 16 April 2003.
The report finds that since the restoration of independence, Latvia has ratified many international human rights instruments prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including discrimination against women in all of its social, economic and political manifestations. The constitution stipulates that all people in Latvia are equal before the law and court, and that human rights shall be exercised without any discrimination. Thus, Latvian women enjoy all rights in various areas of human rights prescribed by the Chapter of the Constitution on Fundamental Human Rights.
In addition, the report notes, Latvia has established a normative base for promoting gender equality. Since January 1999, the Department on Social Policy Development at the Ministry of Welfare has been responsible for coordinating the gender equality issue throughout the country. In 2000, the Division on Public Integration and Gender Equality was established. The main tasks of the coordinator include: to coordinate the gender equality issue at the Ministry of Welfare; to cooperate with international organizations and their experts on issues related to gender equality; and to formulate proposals and projects concerning gender equality issues. On 16 October 2001, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a concept for the implementation of gender equality in Latvia, which incorporates the institutional mechanisms for addressing gender equality issues.
The report recalls that, at the end of 2001, a working party on coordination of the gender equality issue was established. It consists of representatives from ministries, non-governmental organizations and research institutions. Its tasks include elaborating a draft programme for implementation of gender equality, and coordinating efforts to include the gender equality principle in policy documents and legal acts, both existing and planned.
In the course of the combined reports review of article-by-article compliance with the Convention, attention is paid to article 6, concerning the suppression of trafficking and prostitution. Although national legislation prescribes liability for encouraging prostitution and human trafficking, tourism prostitution and trafficking in persons has become more active in Latvia. Criminal groups involved in human trafficking bring into Latvia women from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania. When these women find themselves in a helpless situation, they are involved in prostitution or they are used as models for erotic and pornographic publications. Women, among them under age girls, are taken out to other countries to practice prostitution there, in most cases to the countries of Central Europe and Scandinavia.
Facts about the involvement of minors in prostitution in Latvia give rise to concern, the report further states. About 10 to 12 per cent of all prostitutes in the country are under age girls. Research shows that prostitutes under the age of 16 are in the highest demand at intimate clubs (clubs offering sexual services). Social research data show that most of the girls and women who engage in prostitution were sexually abused in their childhood. They have no permanent residence, employment and income, or sufficient education. This risk group requires timely rehabilitation and social integration, but due to the countrys socio-economic conditions, Latvia is not in a position to provide these services on a full-scale.
The report highlights several measures that have been taken to limit trafficking for sexual exploitation, as follows: Latvian legislation has been harmonized with European Union requirements; a special police unit has been set up; international cooperation among law enforcement institutions is being strengthened; informative events are held aimed at potential victims; and cooperation with non-governmental organizations is promoted.
On education, which is the subject of article 10 of the Convention, the report notes that the current content in general and special study subjects envisages the elimination of the concept of male and female stereotypes. The Centre for Education and Curriculum Development has developed a project within the framework of the national basic educational standards and the study standard, which envisages that pupils will acquire notions and understanding on relevant social political issues in the course of social studies-civil studies. The course will also focus on issues related to womens rights and responsibilities. Teachers who have respectively upgraded their qualifications or obtained respective higher education in law or social sciences teach these courses.
Regarding the elimination of the stereotype of male and female roles at all levels of education, the report notes that Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers no. 462 stipulates that one of the main tasks of programmes for basic education is to form an understanding about the main natural and social processes, and moral and ethical values, to ensure that citizens of Latvia acquire the knowledge and values needed in a democracy. Related regulations identify as a main task of general education the formation of the skill of participating in processes of civic society with a positive and respectful attitude towards oneself and others. The Latvian Association for Gender Equality is of the opinion that roles of both genders, as reflected in textbooks and different materials, are not balanced and that further efforts are required in that area.
With respect to labour, which is covered under article 11, the report provides information of the Central Bureau on Statistics, which indicates that the average gross monthly salary for women is lower than for men in all professions. These problems are related to the gender segregation of the labour market -- the division of employment in the so-called male and female industries. At present, mostly women are employed in such industries as education, health care and social care, and their average remuneration, as well as opportunities for promotion, is lower than in industries where men dominate.
Statistics also show that the majority of women choose to work at public or municipal enterprises that have stable and secure social guarantees although their remuneration is lower, the report states. This is one example where indirect discrimination that manifests itself as unequal responsibilities between genders transforms itself into indirect discrimination in economic life. Due to social causes, women have fewer possibilities of having access to work that is better paid.
Concerning employment and pregnancy, the report refers to calculations that show that in 2000, 47 per cent of all mothers who had given birth had received maternity benefits, which was up 7 per cent from the previous year. Still, however, the majority of children are born to women who neither work nor make compulsory social insurance contribution payments and, thus, do not receive the maternity benefit. In Latvias economic situation women often lose their jobs during pregnancy or while expecting their child, cannot find a new place of work and are forced into unemployment. Under the law entitled On Maternity and Sickness Insurance, the maternity benefit is granted for women who have been dismissed due to the liquidation of an institution or organization, in accordance with the general procedure, if the right to the maternity leave has set in not later than 210 days after their dismissal.
Introduction of Report
INA DRUVIETE, Chair of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Latvia, introducing her countrys report, noted that Latvia had set up the legislation to promote gender equality and prohibit gender discrimination. Among adopted laws were the law on labour protection and the new labour code, and the law on sexual and reproductive health. In January 1999, the Department on Social Policy Development at the Ministry of Welfare became the agency responsible for coordinating gender equality in the country. In 2000, the Division on Public Integration and Gender Equality was established.
She said that the Soviet period had cultivated a brutal concept of gender equality, which often disregarded the specific physiological and psychological needs of women. Since independence in 1991, the attitude towards gender equality had been slowly changing, but much needed to be done by the Government, non-governmental organizations and Latvian society in the coming years.
Particular attention had been paid to gender equality at all levels of decision-making, she said, and no restrictions existed on active and passive electoral rights. Compared to the sixth and seventh Saeima (parliament), the number of women elected to the eighth Saeima had increased -- 18 women (28.9 per cent) had been elected to the 100-seat body. Latvian legislation also allowed women to participate in formulating national policy, hold public offices, become members of the Cabinet of Ministers, and serve in the diplomatic service. Women also had the same right to work as men, and the labour law prohibited unequal treatment in employment. In the event of any violation in the right to employment, an individual could seek redress in the countrys courts. However, economic activity was much lower among women than among men, and women traditionally performed most of the functions related to family care.
Although the countrys labour code established equal remuneration for men and women for the same type of work, the average gross monthly salary for women was lower than for men in all professions, she said. In 2002, it was 81.5 per cent of mens salary. The disparity was related to the division of employment in so-called male and female industries. Currently, women were mainly employed in such areas as education, health care and social care, where their average salaries and opportunities for promotion were lower than in industries where men dominated. In the event of unemployment, women were given the same rights as men to collect social insurance. At the end of 2003, 58.4 per cent of the total number of the registered unemployed were women. To prevent discrimination in employment against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity, the labour law prohibited questions on pregnancy during job interviews, as well as the dismissal of pregnant women and women with a child under the age of three.
In the field of health, she said, a law on sexual and reproductive health of the Population had entered into force in July 2002. The Health Promotion Centre, the National Family Health Centre, Latvias Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health provided information on family health, ways of ensuring the welfare of the family, and family planning. Unfortunately, the country suffered from a growing dependency on narcotic and psychotropic substances, and increasing instances of HIV/AIDS. As of June 2004, 745 HIV-infected women were registered, most between the ages of 15 and 49.
Turning to domestic violence, Ms. DRUVIETE said the National Human Rights Office had received a small number of complaints concerning family violence. There were also a few complaints or reports of tragic cases of family violence and personal violence against women, which were of great concern. Although physical violence against women was punishable by law, Latvian law enforcement institutions had not always paid proper attention to the problem or acted quickly enough. Moreover, the laws did not recognize psychological violence against women.
In order to change the attitude of police forces towards family violence, the central criminal police board has for the past few years joined the crisis centre Skalbes in a series of campaigns to raise awareness. Educational seminars on family violence were also held. As a result, women who had been sexually abused could now speak directly to female police officers skilled in dealing with such cases.
On prostitution and trafficking in human beings, she said Latvia adhered to the major international conventions and treaties on preventing those scourges. Although current national legislation did not fully comply with all those instruments, steps were being taken to improve that situation, namely with the establishment of the National Programme for Prevention of Human Trafficking (2004-2008). Along with a focus on improving legislation, that Programme also aimed to address rehabilitation of victims and raising awareness. She noted that even though encouraging prostitution, human trafficking and sexual tourism were punishable under the law, those scourges had increased. Criminal networks in neighbouring countries were smuggling women into Latvia and those women fell into the sex industry or prostitution.
In order to limit trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation, the Government had undertaken a host of measures, including creating a special police unit, strengthening cooperation with neighbouring countries and cooperating with non-governmental organizations. Turning to education, she said that the Latvian Constitution guaranteed womens right to education without discrimination. During the 2002-2003 year, some 61 per cent of the students at institutions of higher learning were women. Particular attention was being paid to the elimination of gender stereotypes, she added.
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, stressed the importance of giving priority in international commitments to the Convention rather than European instruments.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, noted that the Committee had not seen a report from Latvia for 10 years, and asked for an explanation. She also asked whether the report had been translated into Latvian, and whether non-governmental organizations had been involved in its preparation. Also, how were non-governmental organizations funded by the Latvian Government? She stressed the need to inform the countrys Parliament about the Convention and its implementation. She requested information on women in the judiciary, and queried whether the Government planned to adopt the Conventions Optional Protocol.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked for information on the countrys projects on gender equality and their results. How many womens non-governmental organizations did the country have, and what did they do? How were they funded? Were there open tenders for funding? How much money was spent in the last few years to support non-governmental organizations?
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether reference had been made to Convention articles in formulating new labour and human rights laws in the country. Did the countrys constitution and gender equality plan allow for temporary special measures? She also stressed the need to educate the countrys judges in gender equality, and to encourage women to seek justice.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked whether the Convention had been applied by the countrys national or constitutional court. Was the Convention included in law school curricula?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether Latvias constitution would be reviewed to bring the definition of discrimination in line with the Convention. She also asked for a description of gender equality projects in the country. What efforts were ongoing to ensure proper implementation of gender equality laws that had been enacted? Was there any data on women who had benefited from the legal aid system? How many women worked in the judicial system?
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked for more information on the Human Rights Office, particularly how many cases had been brought before the body, whether it then referred cases to national courts, how well known were its procedures, what was its budget and what role did it play in the countrys education system? He also wondered what relationship that body had with the other levels of Government.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that she was unclear about Latvias womens rights and gender equality machinery. Who was in charge? Was there a single ministry that coordinated all gender mainstreaming? What was the overall budget? She said that perhaps the Government could provide a flow chart detailing the functions of the various ministries.
MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, was also concerned about the seemingly countless institutions that were involved in the womens anti-discrimination area. How did all those organs interact? she asked. She also asked the Latvian representative to provide an update on the outcomes of the national anti-discrimination plans and programmes.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, repeated the request for clarification on the national machinery. She also wanted to know the status of the Centre for the Promotion of Gender Equality. From the report, it was not clear that an overall plan of action for gender equality had been adopted, but the Governments presentation today confirmed that such a plan had been approved. What was the status of the action plan? What was the Governments relationship with non-governmental organizations?
Ms. SHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, reiterated her concerns about the implementation of temporary special measures in the national gender equality plan. Had all the Committees general recommendations been integrated into gender equality legislation? She noted that the Government had stressed that a number of human rights publications had been published. Why had there not been any specific publications on womens rights? Did any of the publications have specific sections on gender equality?
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, was very concerned about negative stereotypes and the need to raise awareness of womens rights and the Convention, so that womens voices -- as well as mens voices -- could be heard on the issue of anti-discrimination.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, observed that Latvia had a woman President, but that women were still not participating on an equal basis in political life. The report noted a significant increase, but the figure for womens participation was still under 30 per cent.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, expressed concern over the lack of data on violence against women. Such violence was a form of discrimination that seriously impeded womens ability to enjoy their rights. Was the lack of data due to the Government attitude that domestic violence existed in the private sphere? The report had provided no new information on domestic violence. Did the country plan to introduce any legislation to address the problem? She urged the Latvian Government to enact laws against domestic violence, to protect women against it, and provide support services for victims. How many crisis centres were there in the country and did they provide shelter services? How many female police officers were there? How did the National Human Rights Office deal with complaints on family violence?
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, stressed that equality of opportunity in the country should be carefully monitored. She noted that the National Human Rights Office had recommended amendments to the countrys criminal law. What was the Government doing to amend the law relating to domestic violence? She emphasized the importance of some kind of national machinery for women. What had been done to involve women in the media?
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked for figures on the incidence of domestic violence. How many women had been killed by husbands or partners? Were there any orders of protection or restraining orders under the countrys legal system? If so, how often were the orders applied each year? If there were no orders, how many arrests were made each year in cases of domestic violence? She also noted that figures for abortion in the country were extremely high. What was the country doing to address that issue?
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noted a lack of understanding of the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination in the report. She suggested that the country needed some urgent measures to correct that, such as gender sensitive education, or temporary special measures. Did the countrys media portray women as sexual objects? Which organ was responsible for disseminating the Convention?
DORCAS ARNA FREMA COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked what training programmes were in place to sensitize law enforcement officials and judges to the plight of victims of domestic violence. Were there similar media campaigns aimed at educating the wider citizenry?
Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, was concerned that the campaigns to raise awareness mentioned in the report were just one-time events, rather than ongoing programmes aimed at all levels of Latvian society. She added that non-governmental organizations should not be the only organizations dealing with raising awareness and training on eradicating negative stereotypes, and disseminating information on the Convention.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, highlighted the sad and serious situation of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of women smuggled or brought in from other countries. That situation was even more tragic because there did not seem to be any programmes in place to rehabilitate those women once they were removed from those harmful situations. The report said that there were some cooperative initiatives underway with neighbouring and transit countries, but the issue needed to be made a national priority. She also wondered if the new plan for the prevention of human trafficking was in effect.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, echoed those sentiments and asked for statistics on trafficking, particularly on the number of clients. She urged the Government to move quickly to target that side of the equation -- usually middle-aged, married men. She wondered about child prostitution and how many clients had been prosecuted.
Ms. SHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, urged the delegation to really address the causes of trafficking. Why and how were young women and girls being lured into those situations? Were Latvian girls being warned about the dangers posed by trafficking networks in schools or in the media, she wondered?
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked for clarification of the number of women currently in the Latvian Parliament. What was the percentage of women recently elected to the European Parliament?
Ms. BELMIHOUD-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, also had concerns about the percentages of women in the Latvian Parliament. The drastic change in the figures deserved some explanation. She noted that there were few women in the Executive Branch. If that were to change, perhaps some of the legislation on gender equality that had been stalled could be pushed forward. She also wondered how judges were appointed. Could more of them be women? Could there be more women involved in law enforcement?
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked for information on acquiring Latvian citizenship. Could a Latvian woman pass on citizenship to a foreign-born spouse?
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said non-citizens in the country enjoyed various rights, but were lacking others accorded to those with full citizenship. Did Russian women, for example, enjoy rights outlined in the Convention? He then asked for clarification on restrictions to citizenship when applicants had committed a crime and been imprisoned for five years. Also, had women been more successful than men in applying for citizenship, as suggested by the report?
ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked which courses women focused on in higher education in Latvia. She noted that the report lacked information on professorships given to women or on women in administrative posts in universities. Did the country plan to remedy that situation? Also, what mechanisms existed to ensure that textbooks did away with traditional stereotyping?
Ms. ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, asked for statistics about educational attendance by sex and age, as well rural, urban and ethnic groups. She also noted that an increasing number of women were unemployed. Was that due to the courses they studied or to discrimination?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked about educational programmes to encourage girls to move into scientific or technical careers. She suggested that the countrys next report include more sex-disaggregated data.
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked about womens employment in the public sector, and the involvement of trade unions in employment. She commented on the wage difference between rural and urban areas, and asked what was being done to address that gap. She also asked for employment data on Russian and other ethnic women, compared to Latvian women.
On gender bias on the job, Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked whether there were types of work designated exclusively for men or women. If that were the case, the countrys labour code could provide a loophole that would allow employers to pass over women for certain jobs.
HUGETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, was concerned that employers might try to avoid hiring certain categories of women -- young pregnant women, or mothers of large families, for instance. She had also noted that womens wages tended to be lower than mens. Job benefits also seemed to be lacking for rural women or women in the informal sectors. The report had listed a national plan that was aimed at dealing with those issues. When would it go into effect? What was its budget? What alternatives were there for those without benefits?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, wondered if there were special tribunals that tried labour cases. Did Latvias labour code address on the job bias and discrimination? Were there legal literacy campaigns regarding womens employment rights in effect? What was the mandate of the National Human Rights Office in dealing with violations of the labour code? She also asked what steps were being taken to overcome gender segregation and pay gaps in the labour market. Were there agencies addressing the equal remuneration for equal work issues?
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, was a bit concerned about the hidden gender discrimination in the workplace. She suggested that Latvia adopt some of the initiatives that had been successful in the United States and Scandinavia, in that regard. She also asked for clarification on the factors which set the scale for benefit payments.
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, wanted more information about plans and programmes underway to improve the position of women in the labour market.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said the issue of the spread of HIV/AIDS was alarming. The Governments report had shown a nearly 100 per cent increase in the infection rate, but its presentation today did not mention that any national plan to deal with the issue was in place. Was that just an oversight? Was there such an action plans in effect?
Ms. BELMIHOUD-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, was very concerned about family planning in Latvia. Did young girls have the right to use contraceptives? If so, at what age could they acquire them? Were they provided free of charge or at low cost? Were programmes underway to bring men and women together to discuss family planning and the fight against discrimination?
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked for more information on health care for older women, particularly since they often outlived their husbands and had lower pensions, or even no pension at all if they lived in rural areas.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for clarification on stipulations for the recognition of paternity, since the information in the report conflicted with the information provided by non-governmental organizations.
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