Poverty and Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business of enslaving and transporting unwilling individuals into lives of sexual exploitation through violence and coercion. It directly links to poverty, which is an extreme living condition in which a person or a community lacks the financial resources for an adequate standard of living. Although both men and women can be victims of trafficking, traffickers are predominately selling adult and adolescent females into modern slavery by promising them wealth, the fulfillment of outstanding debt or false promises of opportunities that could result in better living conditions. Although poverty and sex trafficking is an issue globally, it is especially prevalent in foreign countries.

In June 2019, the U.S. Department of State published its annual investigation report that documents human trafficking from the year prior. According to the report’s tier placements, the number one countries on the best and the worst tier level are Argentina and Belarus. Tier placement is a four-level ranking that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) created that documents a country’s acknowledgment of human trafficking and the extent of its efforts to eliminate it. Tier 1 includes countries with governments that fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watchlist involves countries with governments that do not currently comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to ensure that,  they do one day; the two levels are similar, but the difference is that Tier 2 Watchlist countries either currently have a significant number of trafficking victims or the number of victims is significantly increasing. Tier 3 consists of countries with governments that do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards nor are they making significant efforts to do so.

Argentina

Argentina is a vast country located in the southern half of South America. As the eighth-largest country in the world, and the second-largest country in South America after Brazil, estimates determine that Argentina had a population of 44.6 million in July 2018. After a year of economic turmoil in 2018, poverty had increased from 25.7 percent to 33.6 percent by the end of the year with 13.6 million people living in poverty.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Argentina is a “source, transit, and destination [country] for the trafficking of men, women, and girls.” Women and adolescent girls who traffickers traffick in Argentina often come from impoverished communities. Often, they migrate to Argentina under false pretenses for employment opportunities, such as agriculture or nightlife, that would result in better lives. Since 2008, over 10,000 trafficking victims received rescue with 48 percent of rescued women and girls being poverty and sex trafficking victims.

Argentina’s Ranking and Efforts to Eliminate Human Trafficking

Argentina has skyrocketed to a Tier 1 placement through various actions to eliminate sex trafficking and prosecute individuals who perpetuate this unlawful crime. In reference to the U.S. Department of State, the Argentinian government’s General Prosecutor’s Office for Human Trafficking and Sex Exploitation and the National Rescue Program operate a national 24-hour human trafficking hotline, Linea 145, which has helped simplify investigations of trafficking allegations. In addition, the National Rescue Program coordinates emergency services for sex trafficking victims. The Argentinian government has also prosecuted and convicted complicit officials; identified, assisted and established additional legal protections for victims; and provided additional training to government officials and civil society members when encountering victims or perpetrators of sex trafficking.

Belarus

Belarus, formerly Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country located in Eastern Europe. As of December 2018, estimates determined that Belarus has a population of 9.7 million after losing approximately 14,000 people due to migration and the death rate exceeding the birth rate. Although Belarus has relatively low levels of poverty with only 5.6 percent of the population living in extreme poverty, the victims of sexual exploitation in this country are amongst a vulnerable population of individuals who live in extreme poverty and have low levels of education.

According to the U.S. Department of State, more victims of poverty and sex trafficking receive exploitation within Belarus than abroad due to its weak law enforcement efforts and nonsensical laws. One of these laws is Article 181 which deems sex trafficking illegal only under the demonstration of coercion, thereby dismissing sex trafficking cases that do not involve coercion and making Belarus a destination country for women, men and children to suffer subjection to forced labor and commercial sex. Traffickers typically transport victims who originate in Belarus to various countries in Europe such as Germany, Poland, Russia and Turkey. Victims who suffer exploitation within the country are usually foreigners, originating from countries such as Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Belarus government has not made significant efforts to rescue victims or eliminate sex trafficking from its nation.

Belarus’ Ranking

The U.S. Department of State credited Belarus as one of the top five worst offenders of human trafficking. After receiving a rank on the Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years, Belarus dropped to Tier 3 after making no progress to execute effective practices to combat human trafficking. The Belarusian government attempted to combat trafficking by participating in multilateral projects in an effort to eliminate sex trafficking and protect victims, and it repealed a decree that required unemployed persons to either pay a tax to the state or perform obligatory community service. However, a report from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) mentioned that government efforts to repeal forced labor policies and domestic trafficking were inadequate. In fact, the number of investigations progressively declined between 2005-2014, resulting in no convictions in 2014 and insufficient practices to protect trafficking victims.

The United States Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report allows the world to remain updated on the current state of human trafficking in both the U.S. and foreign countries. When countries receive a Tier 3 ranking, they may undergo sanctions, which could encourage them to implement more plans to eliminate sex trafficking. By acknowledging the issue and the connection between poverty and sex trafficking, educating the public and taking advantage of the resources to raise awareness, the world could one day eliminate human trafficking from all nations.

– Arielle Pugh
Photo: Flickr

Oral Health Literacy

Belarus, since 1991 an independent state in northeast Europe, remains somewhat isolated from the European mainstream as one of several successor states to the Soviet Union. Though the country hosts 4.08 physicians per 1,000 people, a figure comparable to many developed nations, there remain areas of the healthcare system that require improvement, and one such area is the dental health sector. For a dental health sector to treat the maximum number of citizens effectively, the population must attain a minimally competent level of oral health literacy. Several oral health literacy studies have diagnosed the quality of dental hygiene knowledge and provide strategies for improving oral literacy in the general population. Though data has been sparse since these studies, they suggest a continuing improvement in dental health and therefore in oral health literacy within the populace.

Oral Health Literacy in Post-Soviet Belarus

In 1996, several years after the dissolution of the USSR, oral health survey data established that tooth decay and periodontal disease affected approximately 85 percent of children and 100 percent of adults. Since then, these findings incentivized research into the development of successful and economical disease prevention strategies. Chief among these is ensuring oral health literacy.

A 2004 epidemiological study sought to uncover the link between urban or rural status and level of education on oral health literacy. The scope of the study encompassed randomly selected subjects from all six regions of Belarus, entailing administration of dental health examinations on six and 12 year-old children, questionnaires directed to mothers and primary school teachers and subsequent processing and interpretation of the data collected.

Of the children surveyed, 93 percent of tested six year-olds and 85 percent of tested 1- year-olds showed signs of tooth decay, with both 12- and six-year-old urban students less likely to have experienced tooth decay than their rural counterparts, although the contrast was more dramatic for 12-year-old test subjects. The questionnaires directed to mothers established that urban mothers were more likely than rural mothers to exhibit oral health literacy, and this knowledge disparity was likewise reflected in better oral hygiene habits in urban families. However, primary school teacher respondents provided generally accurate answers to the questionnaire, with no major knowledge disparity on based on the urban-rural divide.

This study concludes that a strong correlation existed between the knowledge and habits of parents and the dental health of their children. Both six- and 12-year-olds exhibited rates of tooth decay surpassing the 2000 goal set by World Health Organization for Europe, attributable to a myriad of factors encompassing diet, lifestyle change, inadequate parental involvement and mere lack of knowledge. Though primary school institutions should continue to play a pivotal role in dental hygiene education, parents must increase and improve their own role, facilitated through strategies promoting better access to updated dental health information.

Progress in Pediatric Oral Health Literacy since 2009

In order to determine whether progress has been made in oral literacy since these studies, one must consider the most recently released dental health statistics. Perhaps the most striking available data is that of pediatric dental patients’ DMFT index measurements. Dental epidemiologists record the degree to which a patient’s teeth suffer decay, are missing or filled, using a measurement called the DMFT index, which assigns values from zero to 28 or 32. On this scale, a lower score indicates less tooth damage.

In 2009, the Belarusian government determined that the mean DMFT of the country’s 12 year-olds rested at 2.1, while another study the same year found that 30.6 percent of children of the same age rested at zero in the DMFT index. Though the results of this DMFT study are now a decade old, they constitute a significant improvement over the prior decade, in which (as of 1998) only ten percent of 12 year-olds were cavity-free with a mean DMFT of 3.8.

NGO Involvement and a Trajectory for Improvement

Global Dental Ambassadors, an NGO comprised of dental health professionals committed to the exchange of data and improvement of oral health literacy, annually holds academic exchanges throughout the world. From 19 September to 21 September 2019, this organization held an international academic exchange summit at Belarusian State Medical University involving professionals from the United States and Belarus, with 523 second and third year students of the Belarusian State Medical University witnessing the proceedings. Conventions of this sort hold great promise for ensuring that the dental sector in Belarus remains fully literate on the latest developments within the profession.

Established in 2006 by Chernobyl Children International co-founder Mary Sugrue and dentist Marcas Mac Domhnaill, the Chernobyl Children International Dental Programme focuses primarily on improving the hygiene standard and general oral literacy of Belarusian pediatric dentistry. As Mary Sugrue attests, pediatric tooth extraction procedures did not involve the use of anaesthetic when the organization began working in Belarus. Since then, the organization has done much to decrease the infection rate through educating dentists and patients alike, including children.

Substantial progress has been made in the cause of Belarusian oral health literacy over the past several decades. The most recent data and international NGO involvement gives reason for optimism and incentivizes further investment in improving oral health literacy in Belarus.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Women in Belarus
Belarus, located in Eastern Europe, finds itself ranked among other third world countries. People can identify many different issues about Belarus but one major problem that the country recognizes and is fighting to change is the autonomy of women. In many third world countries, women are at many more disadvantages in men. With the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the successes of women in Belarus are growing to transform the country.

The Gender Gap in Belarus

Women in Belarus did not always have the upper hand when it came to running businesses and having their foot in the working world. As for gender gaps, Belarus was never the worst country on the list. As of 2017, the latest Global Gender Gap Index ranked the country 26 out of 144 countries. This means that there is quite a high level of gender equality in Belarus.

Almost 100 percent of girls attend school because primary and secondary education is compulsory in the country. Women also face barriers in the labor market, so they strive to get more education, which causes them to have higher tertiary enrollment compared to men. Although this is true, women in Belarus still tend to face more discrimination in the labor market than men. Women are approximately 2.5 times less likely to receive a managerial position. Seventeen percent of women and 41 percent of men tend to hold top hierarchical positions. Employers also pay women less than men with the wage gap at 25 percent as of 2017.

USAID in Belarus

USAID noticed an issue with discrimination and wage gaps and decided to step in and transform the business and social landscapes for women in Belarus. Belarus Country Office Director Victoria Mitchell Avdiu spoke on a panel about women’s representation in entrepreneurship. Over 100 women were in attendance, wanting to know how to build confidence, where to find mentors and how to pursue meaningful professional partnerships.

USAID’s objective is to empower women and girls. In doing this, it created the Community Connections Exchange Program. As of 2018, the participants were 60 percent women, and in the last 10 years, 400 women have benefited from this program. The program entails people from Belarus participating in a short-term exchange to the United States. While in the United States, participants learn about practices in a variety of professional fields, participate in entrepreneurship programs, teach business to youth and empower women to resolve community issues.

The Karat Coalition

USAID is not the only organization working to develop pathways for women. The Karat Coalition works to advance legal protections of women’s human rights in Belarus through the adoption of the law on gender equality. Beginning on February 1, 2014, the coalition began a project called Advancing Gender Equality in Belarus. There were three main objectives of this project:

  1. To develop a draft law on gender equality.
  2. To create a strategy for advocacy for the adoption of the law on gender equality.
  3. To empower and mobilize women’s human rights defenders.

The Karat Coalition completed this project on June 20, 2014. It managed to:

  1. Strengthen the capacity of the Belarusian experts’ group to create the draft law.
  2. Strengthen the capacity of Belarusian experts to advocate for the implementation of gender equality laws and standards.
  3. Develop materials to share with the women’s rights advocates community which encompasses information on formulating effective law on gender equality.

Successful Women

With the work of organizations like USAID and the Karat Coalition, women are able to make milestones and be their own person in their own countries. Three women have stood out after taking advantage of opportunities in Belarus.

  1. Margarita Lazarenkova: People know Lazarenkova for her development of creative industries in Belarus. She has developed NGO Creative Belarus that began in response to a worldwide growing trend.
  2. Ludmila Antonauskaya: Antonauskaya has decided to defy the stereotype that women and business do not go together by creating a small company that competes with international giants. In the Top 100 Successful Businesspeople in Belarus, Antonauskaya falls at number 65, the first among women. She created her business, Polimaster, to improve people’s health and save their lives.
  3. Evgeniya Dubeshhuk: Dubeshhuk is the head of the youth exchange organization, Fialta. Fialta helps young people develop critical thinking, broaden their horizons and take on an active role in society.

With the help of organizations creating law and advocating for women to have basic rights in their own country, Belarus is at the start of its transformation. Women in Belarus are beginning to have more opportunities and take control of their own lives.

– Lari’onna Green
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus
Belarus is a former member of the Soviet Union, located between Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Like most post-Soviet states, Belarus has experienced substantial economic and societal problems since attaining sovereignty. The country has developed under a dictatorship and today Belarus has virtually full employment and an official poverty rate of less than six percent. However, the country still faces significant obstacles to public health and economic development. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus

  1. There is a Stark Gender Gap: The first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus is that the average life expectancy is 73 years, but there is a significant disparity in life expectancy between males and females. While women in Belarus have an average life expectancy of 79 years, men in the country live until only 67.8 on average. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus. While a genetic predisposition is typically the leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, lifestyle choices are commonly to blame in Belarus. The biggest risk factors for both Belarusian men and women are alcohol consumption, tobacco use and a lack of exercise.
  2. Alcoholism is a Major Problem: Belarus is one of the heaviest alcohol consuming countries in the world. In 2010, Belarusian males consumed an average of almost 29 liters of pure alcohol per capita annually. By 2016, this number was down to 18 liters per capita, which was still triple the global average. Alcohol abuse has concrete consequences for life expectancy in Belarus as alcohol consumption was the cause of over half of liver disease in Belarus in 2016.
  3. There is a Culture of Male Tobacco Use: Almost half of all adult men in Belarus smoke daily, while less than 10 percent of women do. Despite laws establishing an age minimum of 18 for purchasing tobacco, one in every 20 boys between 10 and 14 years old identified themselves as daily smokers in 2016 alone. That same year, tobacco use related to over a quarter of deaths from non-communicable diseases among males in Belarus.
  4. Men Often Die Early: Premature death is very common, particularly among males, skewing data for the average life expectancy for men in Belarus. In contemporary Belarus, an average of close to 40 percent of men dies prematurely between the ages of 30 and 70. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus, accounting for almost 90 percent of all mortalities and the vast majority of premature deaths.
  5. Belarus Guarantees Health Care: The Constitution of Belarus guarantees that the government will provide free, accessible health care to all Belarusians. This does not translate into universally free health care but does include free emergency care, vaccinations, hospital stays and childbirth. According to the 2019 Bloomberg Health Efficiency Index, Belarus ranks within the top 50 most efficient health care systems globally.
  6. Suicide is Prevalent: In 2019, Belarus had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the world. Further, men were reportedly six times more at risk than women. This is largely linked to alcoholism, which is far more common among Belarusian men than women.
  7. Premature Death Hurts Economically and Demographically: According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, the loss of productivity and government expenditure associated with premature deaths cost the Belarusian economy over five percent of its GDP every year. Belarus is one of the fastest shrinking countries due to its net population decline of 750,000 since 1990.
  8. Substance Abuse is a Rural Problem: Rural regions of Belarus, particularly those bordering Russia and Lithuania, experience many alcohol-related deaths at a disproportionate level. This is largely due to increased poverty, which fuels the widespread production of homemade alcohol. One of the first-ever studies on rural alcoholism and homemade alcohol took place in 2016, but due to its significant impact on life expectancy in Belarus, as well as its unregulated nature, the government has made the alcohol black market a legislative priority.
  9. Many Slavic Countries Have Similar Problems: Russia, Belarus’s closest ally, has higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and premature mortality than its neighbor. It has a similar gender gap in life expectancy and is also experiencing a decline in population. Belarus’ cultural, political and geographic proximity to countries like Russia, which have similar cultures of unhealthiness, strengthen may of its problems.
  10. The Government Has Made Steps: The government of Belarus has taken action recently to improve the country’s health standards. In 2018, the World Health Organization reported that the total alcohol consumption per capita had fallen to just 10 liters. In February 2019, the Belarusian president instituted new regulations on the tobacco industry in order to decrease its use, particularly around children.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus show that the tradition of substance abuse impacts the country’s life expectancy gravely, which Belarus largely ignored until recent years. Belarus’ robust health care system shows that the government has an interest in public health. Until recent years, state-run and international health organizations alike had difficulty combating the country’s culture of unhealthiness. This has become a clear governmental priority as reflected in the gradual shift toward more restricted access to tobacco and alcohol.

Since 2015, more studies on alcoholism in Belarus have published than ever before, and the issues of premature death and life expectancy have become common pieces of the national dialogue. Although Belarus has not yet definitively solved the problem of premature death and substance abuse, the country is certainly on the right path to reversing its health trends.

Daniel Rothberg
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Healthcare in Belarus
Fewer than 30 years ago, maternal health care in Belarus was not treated as a top priority in the country and the numbers show it. In 1990, 33 out of every 100,000 live births resulted in the death of the mother. By 2015, that number had decreased to four out of every 100,000.

Reasons for Bad Maternal Health Care in Belarus

The reasons for this precipitous drop are numerous, but some stand out more than others. For a long time, public health in Belarus revolved around containing the fallout from two momentous events. One was the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that directly affected more than 2.2 million people in Belarus, half a million of whom were children. Charities, nongovernmental organizations and United Nations system organizations focused on providing emergency care to those who had been exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation.

The other event was the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health care in Soviet-era Belarus was centered on the Semashko system. In this system, industrial workers, believed to be the source of productivity and prosperity for the Soviet Union, were essentially considered more important than the rest of the population. This resulted in addressing their immediate health needs first while overlooking larger public health concerns and it also meant that health care professionals were not as highly regarded as industrial workers. Low pay and little respect for medical workers perpetuated a cycle of subpar health care in Belarus.

Government Initiatives

Independence from Russia brought economic decline for Belarus in the short-term, but it also created an opportunity to revamp the country’s approach to public health. Maternal health care in Belarus received some overdue attention. Between 2005 and 2010, several health resolutions were initiated under the new Government of the Republic of Belarus, including a greater focus on reducing maternal mortality rates.

One such initiative was to build health facilities in rural areas, so that expectant Belarusian mothers in agricultural townships would have the same access to care as their urban counterparts. Another was to create a multileveled perinatal care system, made possible with the support of the head of state who approved the allocation of funds to improve maternal health care in Belarus. This included employing almost 2,700 obstetrician-gynecologists to treat a population of roughly 4.8 million women of fertile age. This initiative was implemented in 2005.

The Progress of Maternal Health Care in Belarus

A doctor visit at the earliest point in a known pregnancy is optimal for the health of mother and child. To ensure that expectant mothers would adhere to this guideline, a monetary allowance was given to them as an incentive for seeing a doctor within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy. As a result of this bold initiative, prenatal visits within the first trimester increased by approximately 93.5 percent.

Paid maternity leave in Belarus lasts between 126 and 140 days, depending on the difficulty of the labor. Fathers are encouraged to play an active role in the birthing process, with maternity wards made to accommodate families. Today, maternal health care in Belarus ranks 26th in the world. Belarus is a shining example of how a country can evolve over a matter of mere decades and transcend seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

With a maternal mortality rate among the lowest in the world and a compassionate and comprehensive maternal health care system, Belarus has defied expectations across the board. The aid provided to the country during the low points in Belarusian history following the Chernobyl disaster and the fall of the Soviet Union was an important stepping stone toward a healthier and more independent Belarus. The state of maternal health care in Belarus is a magnificent reflection of that.

– Raquel Ramos

Photo: Google

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Belarus
The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked nation located in Eastern Europe and a former satellite state of the Soviet Union (USSR). Despite independence and development that came after the USSR’s collapse, Belarus is one of the most repressive countries in Europe. Furthermore, democratic institutions often taken for granted in the West are mostly absent. In the article below, top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus are presented.

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Belarus

  1. Belarus’ economy remains largely state-controlled. According to the Heritage Foundation, 70 percent of the state’s economy is managed by the government. A lack of private ownership inhibits innovation and contributes to government inefficiency.
  2. An aspect of Belarus’ economy that has made its citizens relatively well off is the country’s oil reserves and capacity for refinement. It exports refined petroleum, mainly to Russia, in return for inexpensive natural gas. Trade in fossil fuels contributes to Belarussians having a GDP per capita of $18,100, ranking it 66th out of 214 nations.
  3. Despite Belarus having an above average standard of living, its people are far from free. The country is run by authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the man that is in power since 1994. Widely regarded as the “last dictator in Europe,” his crackdown on dissidents, along with widespread human rights violations, are condemned by the West. A particularly appalling fact about Belarus is the lack of press freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks Belarus 155th out of 180 in this category, and this is partially due to the imprisonment of 100 journalists in 2017.
  4. Belarus performs reasonably well in major public health indicators. For example, over 99 percent of the country has access to improved drinking water, 94 percent to improved sanitation and its infant mortality rate is a mere 3.6 deaths per 1,000 births. In comparison, the United States has an infant mortality rate of 5.7 per 1,000 births.
  5. A major public health crisis represents disparity between male and female life expectancy. Male life expectancy sits at 66.5, compared to the female rate of 78. Public health experts cite alcohol abuse as a major factor of low life expectancy for Belarussian men. The average man drinks 27.5 liters per year, compared with the worldwide average of 6.2.
  6. Unlike some of its post-Soviet counterparts, such as the Baltic States, Belarus is not closely aligned with the European Union (EU). This isolation has a noticeable impact on Belarus’ economy. EU members have access to one of the largest common markets in the world. Furthermore, citizens of EU member states are generally free to live and work throughout the bloc. Millions of people are taking this advantage and bettering themselves, an option Belarussians do not have.
  7. Overall, the population of Belarus appears to be adequately educated. Adult literacy rates are nearly 100 percent and students spend an average of 15 years in the educational system.
  8. Belarus’ economy is recovering after years of decline. It experienced 2.9 percent annual GDP growth in 2017, with this trend expected to continue through the decade. However, for sustained growth to occur, experts argue that structural reforms must be implemented. These include reducing the debt to GDP ratio and efficiently allocating Belarus’ rich reserves of capital, both physical and human.
  9. Belarus’ leader quells dissent by intimidating and censoring the media. Recently, he has been receiving help from Russia, in the form of state-sponsored propaganda dominating Belarus’ airwaves. The goal of Russia’s campaign, according to World Policy magazine, is to mobilize Belarus’ sizeable Russian population against anti-Russian, pro-Belarussian nationalism. As the Baltic States and unoccupied Ukraine are unequivocally pro-democracy, Russia wants to maintain a friendly neighbor in a region increasingly allied with the West.
  10. The Human Development Index (HDI) ranks nations based on an aggregation of quality of life statistics, including life expectancy, per capita income and education. Based on the quality of these indicators, a country is awarded a score from 0-1. Belarus’ HDI score stands at 0.80, which places the country in 53rd place worldwide. Despite their lack of political freedom, Belarussians have a standard of living well above the world average.

The top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus presented above show a clear dependence of the country on both European Union and Russia, both economically and politically. Despite having autocratic government and being one of the most repressive countries in Europe, the country has seen an increase in economic development that benefited all citizens of the country.

– Joseph Banish
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Belarus
Belarus is a country in Eastern Europe bordering Russia and Ukraine. Instead of integrating with the rest of the region, the country, known popularly as “White Russia”, is the last dictatorship in Europe. In the text below, top 10 facts about poverty in Belarus are presented.

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Belarus

  1. In the 1990s, Belarus was one of the poorest countries in Europe due to the collapse of the USSR socialist system. Around 50 percent of the population lived below the poverty line at the time. It concerned the population so much that the campaign slogan of Belarus politician Aliaksandr Lukashenka in 1994 was to “take people away from the abyss”. He was a presidential candidate and he won the election that year.
  2. The proportion of people living in poverty fell from 60 percent in 2000 to less than 1 percent in 2013. This decrease in poverty headcount outpaced the general rate in Europe and Central Asia that started with 47 percent of people living in poverty in 2000 and decreased to 14 percent in 2013.
  3. The highest rate of economic growth that Belarus underwent was during the 2006-2011 period when many countries in Europe experienced the effects of the financial crisis. The bottom 40 percent of the people in most of the European countries saw their incomes fall massively, but in Belarus, the expenditures amongst the bottom 40 percent actually increased.
  4. The main causes of economic growth have been Russia’s favorable pricing of energy as well as economic growth that country’s nearby trading partners achieved. This fact heavily stimulated the agricultural and mining industries.
  5. Not everyone has reaped the benefits of this so-called “inclusive” growth. Recently, the distribution of wealth has begun to favor the already rich people with the poorest people still remaining economically immobile. In 2010, 20 percent of the richest Belarusians owned 36.7 percent of the total wealth. In 2016, this figure has jumped to 38.8 percent.
  6. Unemployment is a major problem in Belarus especially considering that less than 10 percent of unemployed people are not receiving welfare benefits. The benefits themselves are meager in real terms, ranging between $12 to $24, according to economist Aliksandr Chubrik.
  7. There is also a widening gap in the incomes between those who live in Minsk, the capital city of the country, and the outlying regions. According to the data released by the government, the poor constitute only 1.4 percent of the population in Minsk whereas they constitute 5.9 percent of those in the Homiel Region.
  8. In 2017, plans were announced to introduce a “social parasite tax” for the unemployed to discourage them from being work-shy and to instill discipline in those without jobs. It was first signed into law in 2015, then known as “freeloaders tax” that proposed a fine for people who went 6 months without a job. If one failed to pay the levy or find a job within 6 months, that person would be jailed.
  9. Belarus also faces challenges in containing tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS crises. Fortunately, the UNDP is providing health care assistance to those affected in the country. The government has recently received grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS and the Ministry of Health in Belarus.
  10. Human trafficking in Belarus has been in the constant decrease. This has been achieved by collaboration between the World Bank and the Government of Belarus and by creating the Country Partnership Strategy. This strategy was designed to increase employment in the energy, transport, forestry and public finance management sectors to attract more people into those that risk their lives in trafficking.

Despite the reforms and efforts that have been achieved, Belarus is in desperate need of internal and external reform. It needs to create a stable social security system that will allow social mobility rather than punishing people for being poor and reaching a more equitable society for all.

– Maneesha Khalae

Photo: Flickr

Belarus
Although much of Europe has changed since the end of the Cold War, Belarus certainly has not. The leadership of this tiny-landlocked country of more than 9.5 million people has forcefully held onto its Soviet-style economy. So much so that Belarus is often described as Europe’s last dictatorship. Despite this, U.S. foreign aid to Belarus could help foster a new economy and a new partnership.

Belarus Holding Russian Standards

Belarus is a relatively new country, gaining independence from The Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994, Belarus’ first president, Alexander Lukashenko, was elected and has subsequently been the nation’s only president so far. His reign has seen a steady consolidation of power and a weakening of a democratic institution. Because of this, the West has experienced tense relations in regards to aiding and working with the Belarusian government.

Moreover, the state’s economy is comparable to the Soviet model of a centralized economy. Around 50 percent of Belarus’ workforce is employed by state-owned entities, which make up 75 percent of the country’s GDP. This has produced an extremely rigid economic structure that is not rational in a highly globalized world.

While poverty had fallen from 60 percent in 2001 to around 1 percent in 2013, Belarus was still not on steady ground. It was able to reduce poverty rapidly because of favorable energy pricing and productivity growth with its largest trading partner, Russia.

Belarus in Crisis

However, these factors are no longer in play for the benefit of Belarus. Productivity in Russia has dropped while energy prices have increased alongside the accumulation of debt to Russia. Hit by a recession in 2014-2016, the economy’s fragile structure was exposed when poverty increased by 3 percent in Belarus overall with 6 percent in rural areas.

On top of this, the Belarusian state has been unable to adapt to national and transnational health and safety issues. First, Belarus is currently experiencing an epidemic of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The U.N. Development Program reports that 89 percent of all deaths in the country are due to NCDs.

Second, human trafficking has become such a significant problem that The U.S. Dept. of State labeled Belarus as a tier 3 country when it comes to trafficking (the worst tier attainable). Here, Belarus serves as an important ‘gate-keeper’ that buffers The E.U. from, or exposes it to, the spread of human and drug trafficking.

What can be done about this situation? E.U., U.N. and U.S. foreign aid to Belarus have begun to answer this question.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

The first focus of USAID is strengthening the private sector. USAID has implemented numerous projects over the years that have been tasked with helping build a stronger Belarusian economy. One project, called TechMinsk, is a technical and business boot camp for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. As of 2017, $7 million has been invested in 200 entrepreneurs and 90 start-ups newly introduced to Belarus’ economy. Through educational training and international programs, more than 6,000 enterprises have been strengthened and/or created.

The second focus of USAID is to create a stronger civil society in order for a freer form of government to flourish. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are an essential part of this plan. CSOs are meant to increase the involvement of the general public in policy-making decisions. As of 2016, 140 CSOS had been trained and funded, totaling more than 8,000 hours. Each year, more than 60 Belarusian professionals from different sectors (business, law, education, government and civil society) are selected for exchange programs in The U.S. These professionals are exposed to the innovations of U.S. nongovernmental organizations and how to apply these innovations in Belarus.

United Nations Development Program & the European Union

The U.N. has been at the forefront of engaging Belarus with the rest of the world. While free-market businesses only form about 30 percent of the Belarusian economy, the government has invited The U.N. to provide aid and expertise in expanding this percentage. Although Belarus ranks poorly for its control of human trafficking, its government has joined The U.N. Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking. Here, the Belarusian government will receive foreign aid and advice on how to best stop the surge of trafficking through Eastern Europe

The E.U. and Belarus have continued trade relations, although, relations have been strained. However, in 2014, Belarus and The E.U. initiated a new relationship. After years of tense relations and sanctions, 2014 saw the renewed interest on both sides for important talks regarding visa liberalization.

Belarus Working Toward a Better Tomorrow

While Belarus hasn’t let go of its tightly controlled government and economy, foreign aid is changing the narrative. These national and international bodies listed above have all taken steps to open Belarus up to the greater world and expose its people to ideas of different societies and freer economies.

Here, interests overlap on both sides. On the West’s side, it has a vested interest in stopping the spread of human trafficking throughout Europe and The U.S. In comparison, Belarus needs a counterbalance against its dependency on the Russian government and economy. Foreign aid has slowly opened up Belarus to build a sturdier and freer nation. However, more U.S. foreign aid to Belarus will be needed in order to create a strong, new ally in Eastern Europe.

Tanner Helem

Photo: Flickr

BelarusThe Republic of Belarus is an Eastern European nation that boasts a free and universal education system, required for ages 6-14. Belarusian youth attend primary school from ages 6-9 and secondary school from 10-14, most remaining an additional 1.4 years until graduation. In Belarus, education is as accessible to girls as it is to boys.

Gender Discrimination in Society

Despite its accessibility, girls’ education in Belarus does not guarantee that girls will have the same opportunities as boys in adulthood. In 2016, the National Statistics Committee of the Republic of Belarus reported that women earned only 76.2 percent of the salary of men. In addition, many of the nation’s most profitable professions, namely in manufacturing, experience horizontal segregation with a majority of leadership positions being held by men regardless of female employees’ qualifications. This encourages high-skilled women to enter into low-wage public service jobs like education and health care, which are occupied almost exclusively by women.

The Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) and the Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) attribute gender discrimination in Belarus to traditional, patriarchal notions that are ubiquitous throughout Belarusian society. These notions portray childbirth and motherhood as women’s greatest value and devalue the importance of their professional success.

The media, aspects of the compulsory education system, politicians and other government officials all contribute to the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. In a 2014 analysis, the OEEC describes the media in Belarus as “gender non-sensitive” and lacks an understanding of ideas concerning gender issues that they put out into their society. The ADC echoed these concerns in its 2016 report, pointing out that media outlets often refuse to acknowledge misbehavior when criticized for producing gender-biased content.

Gender Discrimination in Education

Belarusian schools, private and public, are at the will of the state and considered political bodies. The Education Code of the Republic of Belarus requires instruction in “the role and purpose of men and women in contemporary society.” Boys and girls attend separate classes to teach them their respective roles in society, reinforcing stereotypes rather than promoting individual development. Girls are instructed in matters of homemaking and boys are taught activities such as woodworking and carpentry.

In 2009, Deputy Education Minister Tatsiana Kavalyova highlighted the importance of ideology in schools, calling it “the backbone” of Belarusian education. According to Kavalyova, every educational institution in the country has an ideology department. As of 2009, the government has continued banning teachers and democratic activists in opposition to the government.

Government agencies have failed to enforce anti-discrimination legislation despite having signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration, among other U.N. documents that commit the country to working toward gender equality. As of 2012, 68 percent of government officials and politicians in control of these policies are men.

The OEEC found in 2014 that 86.6 percent of the general public viewed women’s lack of representation in politics as either the natural order of things or as a necessary consequence of their primary roles as wives and mothers. Some men in government have publicly expressed the same sentiment, claiming that “gender equality is perverting society,” that women are “apolitical by nature” or that they should “sit at home and make borscht, not roam around squares.” Yet, in the face of these challenges, there is promise that more progress will be made.

Hope for Girls’ Education in Belarus

The data that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has published paints girls’ education in Belarus in a favorable light. In the organization’s most recent statistics, Belarusian girls have consistently, if only slightly, come to surpass Belarusian boys in academia:

  • In 2015 and 2016, Belarusian girls had higher net enrollment rates in primary and secondary education. Rates for both girls and boys have steadily climbed from the low to high nineties since 2008, and the difference between boys and girls is less than one percentage point.
  • The 2015 transition rate from primary to secondary education was 0.34 percent higher for girls at 98.25 percent.
  • As of 2009, girls 15-24 years old have a 99.85 percent literacy rate, compared to the boys’ rate of 99.8 percent.
  • In 2016, 6,747 girls and 7,654 boys were out of school. Although these numbers fluctuate, there have been more boys out of school each year since 2010.
  • According to ADC’s 2016 report, 56.1 percent of women, compared to 43.9 percent of men, had a higher education.

With girls’ education in Belarus set firmly in place, NGOs have been able to focus on gaining gender equality in other ways. These organizations are able to focus their efforts on both preventing domestic violence and human trafficking and helping victims. Their work has also led to the National Scientific Research Institute of Labor’s development of a concept of gender equality and a gender assessment of current legislation by the National Center of Legislation and Legal Research.

One such NGO is Gender Perspectives, established in 2010. Gender Perspectives offers social, psychological and legal help to victims of domestic violence in Belarus, either directly or by referring them to other organizations and institutions. The organization created a hotline for victims in 2012, which responded to over four thousand calls in 2012 and 2013 and provided 117 with direct assistance.

In 2012, 54 women were selected for the National Assembly in 2012, which consists of 174 total delegates. Although they comprise only 32 percent and their admission was a result of a quota, women’s presence in the government offers hope that the state, with the help of NGOs, will establish gender equality that reaches beyond the sphere of education.

– Ashley Wagner
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in BelarusBelarus, located in Eastern Europe, is one of the world’s worst offenders of human trafficking. Belarus is a 3rd tier country, meaning it requires severe interference in addressing this issue and exploitation of its citizens. While human trafficking in Belarus has decreased since 2006, it still remains a big problem.

  • Human trafficking violations in Belarus have dropped from 555 in 2004 to 184 in 2016. While crimes are declining, there is still a great need within the Government of Belarus to create legislation that will eliminate human trafficking.
  • Belarusian women are most likely to be exported to countries of Western Europe but also to Russia and the Middle East.
  • Women are victims of trafficking more than men.
  • There were more than 20,000 sex workers in 2016.
  • In the 2018 Trafficking in Person report, Belarus did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.
  • Vulnerable unemployed families find informal ads and notices guaranteeing them a steady job with high wages. Human trafficking offenders design these ads to lure in women, men and children and force them to work in dangerous, low-paying jobs.

Good News

  • Belarus has cooperated with human trafficking organizations to set billboards across the region that highlight the dangers of trafficking and provide a hotline number for victims.
  • Belarus is working with other Western countries to set foreign policies that will downgrade human trafficking crimes across the globe.
  • Non-governmental organizations received more than $11,000 from Government to provide victims of human trafficking with psychological and medical assistance.
  • IomX is a campaign that encourages safe migration and put an end to exploitation and human trafficking. The organization teaches journalists how to effectively report trafficking in a way that would not only raise public awareness but offer treatment for victims as well.
  • Belarus continues to host international conferences that define human trafficking as a concern and outline actions for combatting these problems in Belarus and overseas. At the first forum on human trafficking, 20 international organizations and over 100 non-governmental organizations came to speak against the trafficking crimes.

Solutions

  • Belarusians migrate to Russia in hopes of finding work, only to fall victim to forced labor and severe exploitation. Before the Government of Belarus investigates issues in other countries, they must fix the state-sponsored labor. Forced labor of soldiers and prisoners violates workers rights and allows the corruption to take place inside the country. Not only does the Government needs to open more jobs in Belarus, but there should also be regulations of the labor force to prevent exploitation of workers.
  • There are limited treatment centers and mental health support for victims of human trafficking. To ensure these victims receive substantial care, services need to be accessible to all victims and treatment centers should focus on specific needs to combat further mental trauma.
  • In 2014, no trafficking offenders were convicted. The Government of Belarus needs to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes and investigate offenders on their knowledge of other human trafficking sites.

While Belarus is still a 3rd Tier country, measures taken from the Government of Belarus and NGO’s will ensure a steady decline of human trafficking crimes for the years to come.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a national, toll-free hotline, available for calls, texts, and live chats from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in more than 200 languages. If you are in need of assistance, call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233722).

– Lilly Hershey-Webb
Photo: Google