Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
10 November 2017
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Guatemala on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Ana Leticia Aguilar Theissen, Guatemala’s Presidential Secretary for Women, introducing the reports, said that the Presidential Secretariat for Women had been repositioned in 2016 to align it with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the national vision Our Guatemala 2032 to advance the status of women in Guatemala and close the gaps between women and men, especially in access to education and employment, equal pay and political representation. The Secretariat aimed to ensure that gender was a cross-cutting approach in all the State’s policies, including through the development of methodological and technical tools to assist public authorities in ensuring that gender equality was part and parcel of designing and implementing all public programmes. Guatemala had one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean and one of the root causes was a high rate of teenage pregnancy. Women continued to be poorly represented in politics. Sexual violence also remained a major concern.
Committee Experts recognized the important challenges that Guatemala continued to face in the wake of the long lasting civil war, and noted that the root causes of this conflict, namely the stark inequality between the few privileged rich and the many poor, and the very high levels of violence, had not yet been resolved. The delegation was asked why Guatemala did not use the definition of discrimination as prescribed in article 1 of the Convention, and about steps taken to give constitutional recognition to indigenous peoples and recognize Afro-Guatemalans as a category in the next population census. Experts raised concern about the abusive criminalization of legal activities of women human rights defenders and journalists and the fact that the judiciary seemed complicit with the perpetrators. What support system was available for pregnant girls and adolescents, especially in ensuring their return to school after the birth of the child and in preventing pregnancies in the first place? Criminalization of abortion - which was only allowed if the mother’s life was in danger – forced women to seek unsafe termination of pregnancy and, after malnutrition and lack of medicine, was the third leading cause of maternal mortality, Experts said.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Aguilar Theissen said that this dialogue and the Committee’s concluding observations would be most helpful in strengthening actions in the areas in which Guatemala was still lagging behind.
Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, commended Guatemala for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.
The delegation of Guatemala included representatives of the Presidential Secretariat for Women, Ministry for Labour and Social Security, Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance, Ministry of Governance, Congress of Guatemala, Congressional Commission for Women, Presidential Commission for Coordinating Executive Policy in the Field of Human Rights, Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism, Human Rights Directorate, and the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 17 November, at 4 p.m. to publicly close its sixty-eighth session.
The combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Guatemala can be read here: CEDAW/C/GTM/8-9.
Presentation of the Report
ANA LETICIA AGUILAR THEISSEN, Guatemala’s Presidential Secretary for Women, said that in the 35 years since the ratification of the Convention, Guatemala had taken substantive steps to strengthen the legal and policy frameworks for the advancement of the status of women, and acknowledged challenges that remained in ensuring the full enjoyment of women’s rights in the country. The Presidential Secretariat for Women, the key mechanism to advance the status of women in Guatemala, had been repositioned in August 2016 to align it with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and with the national development plan and vision Our Guatemala 2032. The Secretariat aimed to ensure that gender was a cross-cutting approach in all the State’s policies, including through the development of methodological and technical tools to assist public authorities in ensuring that gender equality was part and parcel of designing and implementing all public programmes. Another challenge that was being addressed at the moment was constructing budgets for gender equality to ensure the allocation of sufficient financial resources to close the development gaps between women and men, especially in access to education and employment, equal pay and political representation.
The Presidential Secretary said that more than half of the country’s population – 54 per cent - lived in general poverty, with 58 per cent of women living in general poverty and 28 per cent in extreme poverty. Women represented the majority of employees in the poorly paid sectors and industries, particularly paid domestic work, agriculture and the private sector; at the same time, 88 per cent of unpaid work was being carried out by women. As for access to education, 80 per cent of girls of primary school age – those aged seven to 12 - were enrolled in school, while girls’ school dropout was related to the lack of financial resources of their families, girls’ household chores, teenage pregnancy, difficult access to schools, and lack of a possibility to pursue higher level of studies. In terms of fertility rates, women without access to education and living in poverty continued to have five children on average, the same as in 1995, while for those with education, the number of children per woman dropped to three. Maternal mortality rates had dropped from 153 per 100,000 live birth in 2000 to 113 in 2013, but remained among the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. One of the reasons of such an elevated number of maternal deaths was the high rate of teenage pregnancy, which remained among major social and health issues of concerns. In 2016, there had been 37,000 teenage pregnancies in girls aged 10 to 19, of which four per cent had occurred in girls aged 10 to 14.
Women continued to be poorly represented in elected and appointed bodies: only two out of 14 Cabinet members were women, and only 22 women were members of the Congress which had 158 representatives. Progress had been achieved in the judiciary where women held seven of the 13 seats on the Supreme Court. Sexual violence remained a major concern. Since the adoption of the law against femicide and other forms of violence against women in 2008 which had recognized femicide as a crime, 1,988 complaints had been registered, of which 200 in 2016. While child marriage had been taken off the statute books, that was only the first step in dealing with the problem, said Ms. Aguilar Theissen, adding that Guatemala was aware of the need to strengthen regulatory and legal frameworks for the protection of children and girls in particular, especially in the context of early and forced marriages and its links with violence against women and girls and teenage pregnancies. In rural areas, where poverty and extreme poverty were prevalent, those phenomena prevailed also due to some traditional attitudes and practices that persisted, such as the belief of parents that girls would be better protected in a marriage.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert appreciated the progress made in Guatemala and the numerous challenges due to the long lasting civil war that was ended by the 1996 Agreement for firm and lasting peace and the upheavals that the country had suffered since. The root causes of the civil war had not been addressed, namely the stark inequality between the few privileged rich and the many poor persons, and very high levels of violence.
The Constitution guaranteed the superiority of ratified treaties over national laws, but the definition of discrimination, direct and indirect, and the prohibition of discrimination as contained in articles 1 and 2 of the Convention, were not being fully implemented. What measures were being taken to ensure that laws had complementary regulations and adequate budgets to ensure they were better implemented? Could the delegation explain the steps taken to re-activate the efforts on the normative framework on gender equality and measures to reinforce the justice system?
What was being done to give constitutional recognition to indigenous people, recognize the category of Afro-Guatemalans in future censuses and anti-discrimination laws, and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons from discrimination and violence?
On access to justice, the delegation was asked whether national reparation programmes for women affected by conflict addressed all women in a culturally appropriate manner, particularly indigenous women, and whether the budget for this programme was sufficient given the significant budgetary cuts in 2016.
Abusive criminalization of legal activities of women human rights defenders was a constant threat and the justice system seemed complicit with the perpetrators of violence. What had been done to protect women human rights defenders and journalists in accordance to the Universal Periodic Review recommendations that Guatemala had accepted in 2012?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that Guatemala had made significant changes in court rulings in matters covered by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Since 1996, the Constitution contained a principle of equality, which had been used as a basis to all matters on gender equality, said another delegate. There were gender units and departments which applied the principle of gender equality in ministries, the judiciary, prosecution, and other areas of public action.
Discrimination was criminalized and as a result, all indigenous people and Afro-descendants were recognized. After many years, Guatemala was implementing procedures for a census and an intervention had been made with the census committee to ensure that adequate gender-related data was going to be collected. A law on indigenous people and Afro-descendants was being developed, together with the national policy for its implementation, in consultation with indigenous people. There was an annual congress on promoting the rights of people of African descent, which was linked to the International Decade for People of African Descent.
Entrenched attitudes towards discrimination, particularly among the State’s officials, including in the judiciary, represented a barrier. This was why the Presidential Secretariat for Women was fully committed to raising awareness about the Convention and rights of women, which so far had not been sufficiently done.
In 2016, the President had made a firm commitment to set up a body for the protection of journalists. This year, the budget was being allocated for the protection of journalists, and it was hoped that shortly, Guatemala would be able to present proactive measures to protect those who were active in the protection of the rights of Guatemalan people.
Guatemala was very happy to see civil society organizations becoming more vocal in defending the rights of people. A specialized justice system was being developed to ensure access to justice to vulnerable persons, for example through the provision of translation and socio-economic support to individuals. In 2018, an instrument would be put in place to include an ethnically and socio-culturally sensitive approach by the judiciary.
The State was aware that the situation in the penitentiary system required urgent attention. The reform of the prison system had been underway and a model had been developed which aimed to give a priority to women, and to change the paradigm and the approach from punitive to rehabilitative; this rehabilitation and reintegration model was now being rolled out in four other prisons throughout the country. Efforts were ongoing to provide greater support to women in detention who had children under the age of four, and improve their conditions of detention. Additionally, alternatives to detentions were being developed, such as electronic bracelets or the use of guarantees.
The Ombudsman for indigenous women helped them in 14 centres by providing legal, psychological and other forms of assistance. In 2016, over 3,000 indigenous women had been assisted through this mechanism.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert commended the efforts of Guatemala to set up the machinery to advance gender equality taken prior to 2012 and regretted that the mechanisms had suffered serious setbacks due to budgetary cuts during the 2012 to 2014 period.
In order to advance gender equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, it was crucial to strengthen those mechanisms, increase their capacity, and improve the coordination between them. What was the budget for the Presidential Secretariat for Women from 2016 onwards, and how would it promote the agenda on strengthening the rights of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of women?
Why was Guatemala removing the budget of the national coordination office for the prevention of domestic violence against women from the Presidential Secretariat for Women and placing it under the Ministry of Interior? As of 2016, 32 gender units had been established within ministries and departments, said the Expert and asked about their strategic programme to advance women’s human rights and substantive equality.
In which fields were temporary special measures being applied – or would be applied – to advance the status and situation of Guatemalan women, particularly indigenous women and women of African descent?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegate acknowledged the significant weakening of the gender equality machinery during the previous administration and said that the new Government had undertaken efforts, in cooperation with civil society, to revive the mechanisms. In 2016, an analysis had been undertaken by the Presidential Secretariat for Women on the basis of which a strategy for gender equality had been put in place, thanks to which gender equality had been taken as an overall goal of development policy. The Secretariat was now being revamped, and this was a significant challenge.
The Presidential Secretariat for Women was also working on ensuring that financial resources for advancing gender equality were available. The current budgetary allocation stood at 0.3 per cent of the country’s national budget, and the focus was not so much on increasing it as much as it was on ensuring that the available resources were being efficiently used.
The Presidential Secretariat for Women had almost finalized the strategy for women with disabilities in cooperation with the National Council for Persons with disabilities, and this would shortly be fully up and running as an official policy in the country. The work was ongoing on a strategy for sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. As of this year, the Presidential Secretariat was taking a significant role in planning for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and hoped that gender equality and violence against women would be established as a matter of priority.
In 2016, the first steps had been taken to set up the national coordination office for the prevention of domestic violence against women, which was a difficult process; a strategic plan with timetables and goals was being developed, as well as its legal framework and a mechanism to ensure that the body was sufficiently enforced.
Guatemala indeed faced a challenge in fully understanding the nature and purpose of temporary special measures and putting them in place. The national system for public information was a real area of weakness and Guatemala wanted to ensure that a mainstream statistics agency which provided gender-relevant data was in place, which could be considered as a temporary special measure.
The institutional bureau for budgeting for gender equality had been recently set up and one if its aims was to identify areas where additional financial resources for gender equality could be raised. The body was coordinated by the Presidential Secretariat on Women.
In 2016, a dialogue had been opened with civil society on strengthening the institutional architecture and placement of the national coordination office for the prevention of domestic violence against women, and to expand its structure to also include representatives of the prosecutorial and judicial authorities. Many elected members were against the creation of a separate ministry for women; civil society was also analysing this process and considering alternatives to the mechanism becoming a ministry at the highest level.
Questions from the Experts
Despite positive steps taken, Guatemala continued to face negative stereotypes which were at the root of violence against women, and a climate of impunity prevailed, said an Expert in the next round of questions.
What was being done to investigate the tragic event earlier this year in which 40 girls had been killed in a fire in a children’s home, bring the perpetrators to book and reform child protection laws and policies?
How were medical staff being trained to demystify stereotypes concerning disability and stop forced sterilization of women with disabilities? What mechanisms were in place to protect lesbian, bisexual and transwomen?
Had the efforts to remove gender stereotypes from the curriculum and textbooks been evaluated and had a code of conduct for racial discrimination by the media been put in place?
Another Expert commended steps to strengthen the legal, institutional and policy framework to address and prevent the crime of human trafficking, however, the laws often remained gender-blind. The weak economic conditions made women and girls, particularly from indigenous communities, vulnerable to internal trafficking, including for labour exploitation.
What was being done to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Labour and labour inspectors to identify and protect victims of labour exploitation? What proactive measures were in place to train the judiciary, the police and border officials on gender-sensitive victims’ identification and referral? What was in place to ensure strict adherence and transparency of adoption procedures and prevent the sale of babies?
There was a high prevalence of prostitution and child prostitution seemed to be on the rise, with girls as young as 12 being forced to serve the clients in brothels where they were kept in conditions akin to sexual slavery. What was being done to address these problems and ensure that prostitutes were treated as victims and not criminals?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the judiciary was very concerned about the institutionalization of children who were under the care of the State. The deinstitutionalization process had started in 2015 and currently some 600 children remained in institutions and shelters. Guatemala apologized for the tragic event in which 40 girls had died in a fire in a children’s home, and said that two Supreme Court magistrates had immediately started the investigation.
A bill on preventing obstetric violence was being developed, as was the law on sexual violence, and a law on paedophilia.
Guatemala had recently approved a decree which gave the Ministry of Labour more authority to inspect places of work, increase the number of labour inspectors, and also increase the budget. In 2016, the Ministry had identified 137 children who were exploited for labour. The first trade union of sex workers in Guatemala had been approved recently, and the Congress had been asked to pass a law regulating sex work in the country.
Guatemala was striving to ensure that women’s issues were a part of the public agenda, including stereotypes which stood in the way of women being truly able to enjoy their rights. Over the past several years, efforts had been ongoing to influence decision-makers and civil servants from the judiciary and the executive branch, and change attitudes. Entrenched stereotypes were the major challenge to achieving gender equality, particularly in terms of women’s political and public participation, which contributed to the exclusion and marginalization of women from the public life of the country. Guatemala was aware that the stereotypes could not be changed before the social and institutional structure that discriminated against women had been removed.
The first phase of the National Action Plan on the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security had been completed and had seen consultations and the putting in place of the institutional framework. The challenge was in ensuring that the actions requested by the resolution 1325 were internalized by various State and public bodies, and implemented. The judiciary was being trained on the use of justice for restitution to women victims of the conflict, not only in terms of compensation but also the return of their dignity.
Questions from the Experts
In a series of questions on the participation of women in political and public life, an Expert noted that it was very weak and that indigenous women were poorly represented. At the same time, there were efforts to increase the documentation of women, as seen in the increase of women registered for a vote from 49 per cent in 2010 to 61 per cent in 2014.
Was there universal access to identity documents for all women in Guatemala? Why was the Congress reluctant to adopt quotas for women in the electoral law? There were fewer and fewer women in political life – what was being done to encourage the approval of reforms to the electoral law and the law of political parties which would call for parity in electoral lists for women and indigenous people?
The delegation was asked to provide sex disaggregated data on leadership positions in the Foreign Service, and on the participation of Guatemalans in international and regional organizations.
Guatemalan women who opted for the nationality of their husbands lost their nationality unless dual citizenship was allowed by the country of their husband – did this rule apply to Guatemalan men as well? Could women automatically transmit their nationality to their children?
How many children were not included in the national register of birth and what facilities were in place to assist indigenous women in registering their children?
Responses by the Delegation
Responding, a delegate said that there were women in ministerial and vice-ministerial positions, and in 2017, 49 per cent of diplomatic posts were occupied by women, including 16 posts at the highest levels.
As far as the nationality was concerned, another delegate said that a child born to Guatemalan citizens abroad received the nationality automatically.
The struggle to achieve parity in the electoral law and the law on political parties was an important undertaking not only of civil society but of women in the Congress, where out of 158 elected members of the Congress only 26 were women. Parity had not been achieved while a bill to amend the electoral law was still being discussed. A framework law to eradicate and sanction political violence in Guatemala was being developed to enable women to stand for elections, and cast their vote, in order to increase the number of women standing for election and being elected during the next electoral cycle.
People in charge of birth registration had to approach the communities, and use their language, which in a multilingual society such as Guatemala was a challenge. To date, 239 round tables had been organized to identify unregistered children and some 400,000 registrations had been obtained in this way.
A law on gender identity was being developed, to protect the political and civil rights of transwomen who currently, because of the sex change or non-identification with the sex on official documents, did not have the right to vote.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert raised concern about education and asked about the main challenges in an effort to increase school completion rates for girls, and to increase literacy among indigenous women?
There were 13 programmes to prevent school dropout, including support to families, said the Expert and asked whether the efficiency of educational policies and programmes and advocacy efforts to raise awareness of parents about the importance of education for girls, had been assessed. Were there incentives for parents who sent their daughters to school, and sanctions for those who did not?
What were the results of the 2012 roadmap for caring for pregnant girls and adolescents, and what happened if educational centres refused to accept girl-mothers? What was the situation with age-appropriate sexuality education, was it included in schools and was it taught by parents to their children? What access to mainstream education was there for children with disabilities, particularly girls?
On employment, the delegation was asked whether its efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals included increasing access to formal employment and labour markets for women, the strategy to gradually eliminate informal employment, the status of ratification of the International Labour Organization Convention 189 on domestic workers, and whether sexual harassment at work was criminalized.
What was being done to eliminate child labour and ensure that all children were in school?
The Committee was very concerned about the very high maternal mortality rates and other shortcomings in the health sector, including high malnutrition rates among children in rural and remote areas – 45 per cent according to some reports, while the low resource allocation for health did not allow for the delivery of health care services to the population of which more than half lived in poverty.
Criminalization of abortion - which was only allowed if the mother’s life was in danger – forced women to seek unsafe termination of pregnancy and, after malnutrition and lack of medicine, was the third leading cause of maternal mortality.
What was being done to reduce malnutrition and especially chronic malnutrition among children, and to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services, education and information, as well as contraception?
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that ensuring bilingual education in a country as diverse as Guatemala was a challenge and reassured the Committee that all efforts were being taken to ensure access for all to culturally appropriate education. The National Committee for Literacy was in place and was working to ensure that education was provided in 70 Mayan languages. A three-year-long teacher training programme was in place to ensure that teachers were versed in bilingual and inter-cultural education.
During the 2012 to 2016 period, over 4,000 grants for education of children with disabilities had been allocated.
The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health were working on developing a public policy to restore the dignity of girls following forced pregnancies, which would ensure their return to school and education, as well as reparations and compensation.
The overriding challenge in Guatemala was to understand that chronic malnutrition was a public health challenge which had to be tackled head on in a holistic manner. The Food Security Council worked on ensuring intervention by different institutions, in a gender-sensitive and culturally appropriate manner.
On abortion, the delegation stressed the need to hold a dialogue with stakeholders and understand it as a social and public health problem.
The national economic policy had defined five priorities for the inclusion of women in the economy and women’s economic empowerment. This issue was the most urgent, and Guatemala was lagging behind, especially given its history of exclusion of large parts of the population. Efforts were ongoing to identify cornerstones for the economic empowerment of women and to collect statistics and data on women in formal and informal sectors, all in the effort to implement the Panama Declaration which defined a roadmap for Latin America on women’s economic empowerment.
The decent employment policy was in place and it was very supportive of women, particularly those who started their own businesses.
Around 15 per cent of abortions occurred outside of health facilities, and were a major cause of maternal deaths, said a delegate, adding that it was simply not possible to collect detailed data on those deaths. Guatemala recognized the formal role of midwives who were of strategic importance in delivering material health services in communities throughout the country, particularly in indigenous communities where midwives guaranteed that health services were delivered in a culturally appropriate manner.
Questions from the Experts
Despite the almost three per cent growth in the gross domestic product, a large part of the population - 59.3 per cent, remained poor, said an Expert, noting that women, especially those from disadvantaged groups such as indigenous and Afro-descendants, were affected.
What was being done to promote female entrepreneurship, including by improving access of women to credit and tax breaks?
Only 23 per cent of housing units were owned by women – what was being done to increase female home ownership? Had the 2015 gender equality policy improved the access of women to land?
The delegation was asked about the achievements of the 2014-2020 agrarian policy and its impact on rural women, the implementation of the principle of free, prior and informed consent for all foreign investments in indigenous and rural areas, and how refugee and asylum-seeking women were dealt with. Did the 2016 migrant code respect the principle of non-refoulement and were the persons in charge of its implementation adequately trained?
Responses by the Delegation
In terms of the development mechanism in Guatemala and the public policies and specific measures to improve the situation of rural women and women in the labour market, the delegate reiterated that the country was facing serious structural problems in managing its development and ensuring that all the policies were being actively implemented throughout the country. This of course had serious implications on the socio-economic development opportunities offered to women in Guatemala.
In the implementation of agrarian policies, Guatemala tried to stress the importance of the political implementation of those measures, and had focused on awareness raising, dissemination of existing texts, and the setting up of mechanisms, but it had not yet looked at the technical implementation of the agrarian policies, which was essential to making headway.
In terms of the implementation of the principle of free, prior and informed consent, the Government had published a guidebook for compliance with the International Labour Organization Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples. The Congress was looking at the law on consultations, which would hopefully be put to vote in six months’ time.
The Government was focused on promoting women’s access to credit and more than 25,000 loans had been given. Credit opportunities were available for poor families, as well as subsidies for further economic empowerment.
Over 60 per cent of workers were in the informal economy which meant that they were not covered by social protection. Under its dignified employment policy, the Government was supporting their move to the formal sector, including by introducing more lax conditions, where they could access social protection and benefits.
The water act had been held up in parliament for many years, resulting in a lack of regulation of property of water and access to water, explained a delegate, adding that last year criteria had been defined for public investments in development and water and sanitation had been included.
Questions from the Experts
In the next round of questions, the delegation was asked about the legal capacity of girls with disabilities, and who looked after those who were abandoned by their families.
Would the new civil code repeal the provisions which were discriminatory against women, particularly the chapter on family life and marriage, would it remove the concepts such as “good behaviour” and “orderly life”, and no longer use terminology of “kidnapper and kidnapped” when referring to early marriage.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the delegation said that Guatemala had invested important efforts to raise the age of adulthood for girls and also raise the age of marriage to 18. The most serious stereotype that persisted in the country at all levels was that the body of a woman was for the pleasure of a man.
Judges determined which girls were authorised to marry, but they faced situations in which many did not speak the same language as the judge and they were often under pressure from their families to marry. Raising of age of marriage would do away with early marriage and would allow girls themselves, and not judges or the State, to decide when they were ready to marry.
Penalties would be imposed on anyone responsible for the marriage of a minor.
Plans were underway to create a sex offenders register so that proof was available for any further prosecution.
ANA LETICIA AGUILAR THEISSEN, Presidential Secretary for Women, said that this dialogue and the Committee’s concluding observations would be most helpful in strengthening actions in the areas in which Guatemala was still lagging behind. The national development policies must be harmonized with international commitments and public policies must be put in practice. Even though much remained to empower women, certain processes had been put in place, including increasing human rights capacity and data collection, which were essential for decision-making in the public policy.
DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended Guatemala for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.
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