primary microcephalyCouples and women commonly come to pray for fertility at the shrine of Shah Daula in Gujarat, Pakistan. According to certain beliefs, women who conceive after praying at the shrine donate their firstborn child to the shrine to prevent disabilities from appearing in the rest of their children. These children, dubbed the “rat children of Shah Daula,” largely suffer from primary microcephaly, a medical condition where the head’s circumference is smaller than average and the brain is smaller on average as well.

Many of these children beg around the shrine and surrounding cities. Theories in the past as to how these individuals came to be range from artificially-done microcephaly to genetics. Regardless, history and current issues of exploitation of the children and adults in the shrine of Shah Daula remain. Furthermore, addressing the cycle of poverty for these individuals stands as a critical priority.

Artificial or Genetic

One of the main conversations surrounding the “rat children” consists of the nature of primary microcephaly. The belief of artificially inflicting individuals with primary microcephaly has its roots in certain religious traditions connected to the Shah Daula shrine. The process involves putting an iron ring around a child’s head to restrict the growth of the head and brain, shaping their features to resemble rats. This typically forces these children to have to beg for a living.

Genetics also cause the deformities. Medline states that in Northern Pakistan, which has one of the highest rates recorded, primary microcephaly affects one in 10,000 newborns.  The high prevalence correlates to higher rates of intrafamilial marriages, which results in higher rates of genetic disorders.

However, despite debates on the causes, individuals born with primary microcephaly suffer a neurodevelopmental disorder. They bear the medical symptoms for the rest of their lives. Individuals with primary microcephaly typically experience the following in varying degrees: delayed speech and language skills along with delayed motor skills. It is these qualities that make the children and adults suffering from this neurological disorder vulnerable to exploitation. Many of the children and adults of the shrine of Shah Daula do not have anyone to depend upon and are largely left to beg on the streets for money.

Struggling with Exploitation

Origins of the condition aside, many people with primary microcephaly remain in poverty due to exploitation. In an academic study from the Quaid-e-Azam University of Pakistan, one interviewee describes how villagers in certain areas took advantage of disabled individuals for financial gain. “Villagers take these kids from their parents by giving them money and make them bareheaded.” The money the children receive from begging would then go into the villagers’ hands.

Many aspects of the mistreatment surrounding microcephalic children and adults remain illegal under the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 328 in the Pakistan Penal Code relates to the “[e]xposure and abandonment of a child under 12 years by a parent or person having care of it.” This means that mothers, fathers or guardians cannot leave a child anywhere with the intention to abandon the child.

Sections 332 and 335 make disfigurement, whether temporary or permanent, punishable by law. Section 374 separately states, “Whoever unlawfully compels any person to labor against the will of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment [or fines or both].” Nearly every aspect surrounding the treatment of microcephalic individuals in Pakistan can be considered illegal.

Offering Solutions

While there has not been major change concerning the treatment of microcephalic children and adults in Pakistan, new laws supporting the exploited and abandoned are a step in the right direction. In 2016, the parliament of Pakistan passed the Unattended Orphans (Rehabilitation and Welfare) Act, with the aim of “protecting the rights of unattended orphan and abandoned children” as well as “ensuring provision of facilities to them, including housing, education and healthcare.”

The Act also necessitates that the government “take other measures as may be necessary for their rehabilitation and welfare.” Importantly, the Act declares that anyone “who forces any unattended orphan to beg and commit petty crime or pick rags or any act which is injurious to health and dignity of an orphan will be punished with imprisonment of not less than four years, which may be extended to seven years and a fine of up to Rs200,000.”

Medical care for these individuals and providing for their basic needs so that they are not left vulnerable could improve fundamental conditions. The Technology Times suggests an increase in genetic counseling to address the role that genetics and “consanguineous” marriages play in the high rates of primary microcephaly in Pakistan.

An increased focus on helping those afflicted would benefit many in Pakistan. To lead to a point of positive change, the Pakistani government can evaluate from joint medical and policy standpoints to better help some of those most in need.

Grace Ingles
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Timor LesteHuman trafficking is the exploitation of a human being through the use of force or coercion in order to obtain labor or sexual acts. While human trafficking is a global issue with a large connection to poverty, it is important to recognize that trafficking may look different from country to country. Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is a Southeast nation occupying half of the island of Timor and has a significant problem with human trafficking that involves both foreign and domestic victims. According to a trafficking report by the U.S. Department of State, “poor economic conditions and limited educational opportunities create trafficking vulnerabilities for Timorese nationals.” Here are five facts to help explain human trafficking in Timor-Leste.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in Timor-Leste

  1. Timor-Leste is listed under the Tier 2 Watch List. The tiers, mandated from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, are based on the size of a country’s human trafficking problem along with government efforts to combat human trafficking. To grow in the rankings, a country has to increase anti-trafficking efforts and maintain acceptable progress. The Tier 2 Watch List is the third listed in the four overall tiers and is similar to Tier 2 except for the fact that the government has failed to show progress in combating forms of trafficking in comparison to previous years. Progress includes investigations, prosecution, and convictions into human trafficking cases. Timor-Leste only fell to the Tier 2 Watch List recently in 2020. From 2016-2019, Timor-Leste was listed under Tier 2 but did not report trafficking convictions; the only identification of a trafficking victim came from a non-governmental organization. It was in the fifth year when the government failed to increase their efforts to report trafficking convictions, that Timor-Leste fell to the Tier 2 Watch List.
  2. Timor-Leste is a destination country for human trafficking. A destination country is a country where there is a large demand for human trafficking. Most of these demands come from large cities. In Timor-Leste, many young men and women are lured to the capital through the promise of job prospects and educational opportunities, and end up in situations of forced labor and prostitution. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), “victims trafficked to Timor-Leste have originated from China, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines.”
  3. Timor-Leste is also an origin country. An origin country provides the supply of trafficked persons. The main outgoings of trafficking victims, according to the IOM, “is associated with labor migration out of East Nusa Tenggara Province in Indonesia.” Most of the victims sent to Indonesia are women and girls forced into domestic servitude.
  4. Children are among the victims of human trafficking. The children of Timor-Leste are among the many victims of human trafficking, often taken for sexual exploitation and dangerous agricultural tasks. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, data coming from all 13 municipalities in Timor-Leste show that 55.5% of children in child labor engage in dangerous, hazardous work. It was found that families will place children in household and agricultural labor both in Timor-Leste and in other countries in order to pay off debts.
  5. The majority of victims are women and girls. Many women and girls are vulnerable due to the lack of legal protection, starting from the time they are in school. Research strongly shows that while there are no laws that prohibit pregnant girls from attending school, there are also no laws on providing education for pregnant girls. As a result, many principals will deny the girls access to the school. Obtaining transfer documentation becomes a problem too, as principles control access to documents. The lack of education and access to proper education facilities leaves many women and girls particularly vulnerable to human traffickers.

Looking Ahead

While Timor-Leste has not significantly progressed in its efforts to fight human trafficking, there is still hope for the future. The government of Timor-Leste has used an anti-trafficking curriculum created by a foreign government in order to better inform and train its judicial and legal sections. Organizations and persons that have received training include the national police, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. The government of Timor-Leste is also making efforts to criminalize human trafficking, though many of these plans still stay in a drafted status. One such plan comes from the Ministry of Justice, which drafted a national action plan in 2018 that has not yet been presented to the Council of Ministers. Another drafted policy comes from the Ministry of Education. This policy would encourage girls to return to school after giving birth, though it has remained in draft form for years. Through increased government intervention, through enforcing the policies already made and increasing protection for the vulnerable, the tide can turn in the fight against human trafficking in Timor-Leste.

Grace Ingles

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Madagascar
Human trafficking, a form of unlawful exploitation of others for purpose of work and service, is a tremendous issue in Madagascar. With a Tier 2 ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2021, human trafficking in Madagascar is significant.

The Issue

Though human trafficking is undoubtedly a human rights issue in every place in which it occurs, Madagascar’s economy is exacerbating the issue. With a GDP of $523 per capita (within the bottom 20 countries in the world) and an average poverty rate of about 97.5%, Madagascar is certainly in an extremely impoverished state. Poverty has a tendency to make individuals more susceptible to becoming trafficking victims as they seek work.

Another notable contributing factor is the lack of proper education in Madagascar, which plays a role in child labor. This turns into a vicious cycle; people without a reliable education often end up as trafficking victims.

Sex Trafficking

A significant human rights issue that the world is facing today is the increasing amount of sex trafficking, more specifically involving children. Since children are easier to manipulate, traffickers often see them as the best means of exploitation. In this situation, traffickers lure children, particularly girls, between the ages of 12 and 17, with promises of better employment.

The sex trafficking of children in Madagascar has been an issue for quite some time, but there has been a sudden rise in cases including foreigners. In Madagascar, it is a sign of prestige for a young woman to have sexual relations with a foreigner, thus creating another door into the sex trafficking industry. This has resulted in foreigners, visiting Madagascar for cheap sex trafficking of mostly young women. Though there are more than 700 child-protection networks in Madagascar that have the intention of preventing these cases, not all of them have the resources they need.

Children are not the only victims of this kind of work; there has also been a rise in the trafficking of older women. In this case, traffickers may traffick the women, then murder them for their organs. In other situations, traffickers steal women from their homes before forcing their husbands and children to pay (sometimes up to $3,000) to get them back. Unfortunately, this situation is not improving with time and requires addressing.

Labor Trafficking

Human trafficking in Madagascar is also prevalent in its agriculture industry, with children working in the production of vanilla and other plants. In the entire country of Madagascar, about 22.1% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in child labor. In addition to this, Madagascar is one of the most significant exporters of mica sheets, resulting in more than 10,000 children working in dire conditions for food and water.

Human Trafficking During COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Madagascar’s economy. With the country implementing a stay-at-home order, a multitude of jobs in Madagascar underwent termination, thus leaving people looking for work. Along with Madagascar’s poverty, citizens became desperate for work in these drastic times, leading to an increase in human trafficking. In certain cases, parents even had to sell their children to traffickers in order to survive financially. In 2021, child-protection networks assisted 876 children, which is lower than the 1,666 in 2020. Child-protection services in Madagascar, such as UNICEF Madagascar, prevent child trafficking and violence by proposing and establishing legal frameworks which help with keeping children safe in their communities and away from potential traffickers.

Protection and Prevention

Though the results seem insignificant considering the large numbers of trafficked individuals in Madagascar, the authorities do not seem to take the issue as seriously as necessary. The current punishment for human trafficking for labor in Madagascar is a fine of $260 to $2,610 for offenses towards an adult victim, and between five and 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $520 to $5,230 for those towards a child victim. For comparison, the U.S. considers human trafficking slavery, thus resulting in between 20 years and life in prison. These numbers demonstrate the significance of human trafficking in Madagascar and the fact that the country should take it more seriously.

Though the situation of human trafficking in Madagascar is unpleasant, work is occurring to eliminate it. Through the efforts of child-protection networks in Madagascar, including UNICEF Madagascar, child victims of trafficking should continue to receive aid, while implementing legal frameworks to prevent child trafficking going forward.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty In SyriaFor the past decade, Syria has been the center of a brutal civil war. As a result, millions of Syrians face the everyday threats of violence, hunger and disease that wartime poverty brings about. Those most vulnerable to the effects of poverty include Syria’s children. A closer look at child poverty in Syria provides insight into the lives of Syrian children.

10 Facts About Child Poverty in Syria

  1. Roughly six million Syrian children rely on humanitarian assistance. Syrian children are among the most vulnerable groups in the Syrian civil war. The war has affected more than 11.1 million Syrians, almost half of whom are children.
  2. Children are unable to attend school. The civil war greatly fuels child poverty in Syria. As parents struggle to afford to send their children to school, many teachers are unpaid and destitute school buildings are collapsing. Nearly 2.5 million Syrian children are unable to attend school. This number does not include the 750,000 displaced Syrian children in nearby countries who also have no access to education. According to World Vision, the Syrian conflict has “reversed two decades of educational progress.”
  3. More than half of all Syrian children suffer from hunger. An estimated 60% of the nation’s children are suffering from hunger and 28% endure stunting as a consequence of malnutrition. The percentage of Syrian people suffering from food insecurity is currently the highest it has ever been since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. With 6.2 million children currently living in hunger, the numbers are only rising, having increased by roughly 35% from November 2020 to February 2021.
  4. Child labor is increasing. Faced with the threat of extreme child poverty in Syria, many school-aged boys drop out of school to support their families. These boys regularly work in unsafe situations for little pay. The research study “Survey on Child Labour in Agriculture in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon: The Case of Syrian Refugees” provides statistics on Syrian child labor. The 2019 study concluded that about 70% of Syrian refugee “children between 4 and 18 years old” were employed, “with an average age of 12.9 years.” Additionally, about 75% of these children worked in the agricultural sector. In this sector, about 30% of working children have experienced injuries.
  5. Boys are targets for child soldiers. As boys drop out of school to support their families, they are at higher risk of being recruited as child soldiers. With no income to provide for their children, many families resort to sending their young boys for training as child soldiers, believing that it is the best option. In 2021 alone, almost 840 children were recruited as child soldiers, among other roles, with 797 of these children being boys.
  6. Child marriage is rampant. Many families resort to child marriage to solve their economic situations. Sexual abuse of young girls also runs rampant in crowded refugee camps. Desperate to save their daughters from “child trafficking and sexual exploitation” and unable to economically provide for their children, many families arrange marriages for teenage girls. Out of girls aged 15-19, about 3.8% give birth every year.
  7. Weather has significant impacts. Millions of displaced and homeless children in Northwest Syria face brutal winters. Their only shelter from the harsh cold is often a tent or severely damaged and unsafe buildings that serve as emergency shelters. Roughly 75% of all Syrian children killed in 2020 came from this part of the country.
  8. COVID-19 exacerbates poverty: The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated child poverty in Syria. In addition to the 11.1 million Syrians already in need of urgent humanitarian aid, an additional 1.1 million Syrians have found themselves in poverty as a consequence of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also caused the gross domestic product to fall by up to 15% in the nation’s nearby countries, meaning that Syrian refugees seeking refuge in neighboring countries have fallen further into poverty.
  9. Infrastructure is failing. Only 53% of hospitals are currently in service, greatly adding to child poverty in Syria. Since the start of the war, more than 25,000 children have been killed, a number that is only increasing due to limited healthcare services and lack of access to clean water.
  10. Children are vulnerable to diseases. Poor sanitation caused by a lack of infrastructure, resources and clean water makes Syrian children vulnerable to cholera and other diarrheal diseases. The lack of accessible healthcare means many children miss their regular health checkups. Extremely cold weather in the northwest part of Syria also makes children susceptible to pneumonia.

Addressing Child Poverty in Syria

To address the issue of child poverty in Syria, UNICEF has sent humanitarian assistance on the ground. UNICEF’s efforts focus on children’s education, health and sanitation, among other goals. In 2020 alone, UNICEF “screened 2.6 million Syrian children and women for acute malnutrition,” improved water services for 3.2 million people and vaccinated roughly 2.6 million children against polio. UNICEF also “supported 2.2 million children with education services in formal settings.”

While the conflict in Syria continues, vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected. The efforts of UNICEF ensure the protection and well-being of millions of Syrian children, reducing child poverty in Syria.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Unsplash

child poverty in PeruLife in Peru is rich in indigenous culture and beautiful landmarks such as Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Amazon jungle. Livelihoods in Peru take different forms as people from the countryside live in more traditional means, partly because of their Quechua origins and the location in which they reside. In the working world of Peru, children often work beside adults. However, the prevalence of child labor means that child poverty in Peru is also prevalent.

Rural Children in Peru

The significantly mountainous geography of Peru affects how citizens travel and exert energy to accomplish daily tasks. The land in Peru creates a large gap between urban and rural lifestyles. For a person who lives in rural land, it is normal for whole families to provide for each other because it is the most efficient means for survival.

Everyone plays a part, including the children, who have obligations to the rural Peruvian household. Project Peru states that approximately “28.6% of children between the ages of 6-17 already receive wages or are paid in kind.” Fulfilling duties to support the household is not uncommon. Earning an income while trying to balance schooling is a norm for many Peruvian children. Yet, prioritizing income over education only serves to exacerbate child poverty in Peru since education is a proven tool for breaking cycles of poverty.

Children Providing for the Household

Roughly 90% of Peruvian children work in informal job sectors. These jobs are often unregulated, putting children at risk of exploitation and dangerous working conditions. Some of these children work more than 45 hours per week — more than an average adult’s work schedule in the United States. The informal sectors contribute to 73% of the economy’s labor.

In the same instance, child labor usage significantly benefits unregulated, informal businesses, and as such, employers consider children to be assets. Hence, child poverty in Peru is commonly present because informal sectors take advantage of underprivileged rural children, often underpaying, overworking and exploiting these children.

An April 2008 study by Alan Sanchez shows that almost one in every two Peruvians lives in poverty. Meanwhile, 60% of Peruvian children live in poverty. Urban children do not experience the same hardships because they often do not need to provide extensive income for the household through child labor. For children from the countryside, however, life is vastly different.

The prevalence of child labor links to high rates of poverty and minimal opportunities for well-paying, secure employment that can provide enough monetary support for the whole household. In addition, a lack of social support from the government means families struggle to meet their basic needs without the economic assistance of their children.

The United States Intervenes

In response to the high rates of child poverty in Peru, in July 2012, the U.S. donated $13 million to Peru to reduce the usage of child labor. The donation helped make educational resources more available for rural children. The pilot program created by Peru had plans to support rural families to increase their income without relying on the employment of a child in the household. The director of the project, Maro Guerrero, said Peru is not against children working. However, children’s work should not interfere with their education and well-being. The pilot program was expected to yield positive results, however, there is little data available on the official achievements of the program.

“Free of Child Labor” Certification

In 2019, the government of Peru partnered with an NGO “to create a new label to certify family businesses” as “free of child labor.” This effort serves to help eradicate child labor in Peru. In 2019, roughly “1,500 small producers” were “preparing to be evaluated and due to obtain certification by 2020.” María Gloria Barreiro, director of the Development and Self-Management NGO, states that “It’s not about children not helping at home, it’s about drawing that line that divides help at home, training and learning activities and what constitutes a danger.”

The Peruvian government hopes that these child labor-free certified products will sell at a higher price, as with organic goods, improving the income of impoverished Peruvians. Barreiro emphasizes that to truly eradicate child labor, the certification must exist alongside social initiatives “to improve the economic situation of small producers and ensure their children have access to education.”

With efforts from governments and organizations that aim to reduce child poverty in Peru, hope is on the horizon for the impoverished children of Peru.

– Trever Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF's pledge to help children The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it physical, social and economic impacts that have been felt worldwide. Developing countries, in particular, are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Furthermore, women and children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19. In September 2020, UNICEF called on the international community to take action “to prevent this health crisis from becoming a child-rights crisis.” UNICEF’s pledge to help children during the COVID-19 pandemic targets 192 vulnerable countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Health

Children are not as vulnerable to the direct physical impacts of COVID-19, but nevertheless, children worldwide suffer from the indirect impacts of COVID-19. The BBC reports that in South Asia, the disruption of essential services such as nutrition and immunization programs has led to 228,000 deaths of children younger than 5. During COVID-19, “the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal.”

Furthermore, “immunization among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan respectively.” In 2020, across South Asian nations, India experienced the highest increase in child mortality at 15.4%. The COVID-19 virus has abruptly halted many essential programs and services that helped safeguard the lives of vulnerable children in developing countries.

The disruption of health services has also affected adolescents battling diseases such as typhoid, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The BBC reports almost 6,000 deaths across South Asia stemming from the inability to access the required treatment. The deficiency in medical services also resulted in 400,000 unwanted pregnancies in teenagers due to inadequate access to contraception.

Child Labor and Child Marriage

The COVID -19 pandemic has resulted in widespread unemployment and reduced household income, causing a rise in cases of child labor, reports Human Rights Watch. Parental deaths stemming from COVID-19 leave children orphaned, unable to have their basic needs met. UNICEF warns the international community that “school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.” The organization estimates that 10 million more girls are now at risk of child marriage due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Impacts of School Closures

At the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, 91% of all students across more than 188 countries could not receive an education due to school closures. School closures deprive children “of physical learning opportunities, social and emotional support available in schools and extra services such as school meals.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds face more barriers than children from more affluent families. These vulnerable children are at risk of losing the most in terms of educational progress.

The UNICEF Pledge

UNICEF has committed to work alongside “governments, authorities and global health partners” to ensure medicines, vaccines, nutritional resources and other vital supplies reach the most vulnerable people. UNICEF is prioritizing safe school reopenings, ensuring all safety protocols are in place. Where schools cannot reopen, UNICEF is working to develop “innovative education solutions” and provide remote learning support.

Since a lack of internet connectivity and electricity presents a barrier to online learning in impoverished communities, UNICEF has committed to ” bridge the digital divide and bring internet connectivity to 3.5 billion children and young people by 2030.” UNICEF is also working with governments and partners to ensure that children’s rights form a central part of COVID-19 response plans.

As the pandemic continues, the future is still unclear. During an unprecedented global crisis, UNICEF’s pledge to help children during COVID-19 shows its ongoing commitment to upholding children’s rights globally.

– Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

child poverty in BoliviaBolivia is one of the most impoverished countries in Latin America. According to Children Incorporated, Bolivian children account for 2.5 million of nearly 60% of the total population living in poverty. Bolivian children face malnutrition, inadequate access to education and child labor. Several organizations are showing their commitment to addressing child poverty in Bolivia.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Bolivia

  1. Rural areas in Bolivia suffer higher rates of child poverty. People living outside urban areas have fewer opportunities for economic growth. Roughly three out of four residents of rural areas live in poverty. Higher poverty rates in rural areas mean families cannot adequately care for their children, intensifying child poverty rates. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), “almost one-third of Bolivians living in rural areas cannot afford the cost of a basic food basket.” In rural children younger than 5, the stunting rate is almost 24%.
  2. Poverty directly links to the mortality rates of children younger than 5. Poverty-ridden conditions lead to diarrheal diseases, which account for 36% of the total deaths of Bolivian children younger than 5. Malnutrition accounts for about 28% of the total mortality rate for children in this age group.

  3. Many Bolivian children are out of school and involved in child labor. Roughly 13% of Bolivian children are not enrolled in school and about 26% of children are involved in child labor to provide an income for their families. Although primary education is compulsory, free and available to children between the ages of 6 and 13, attendance is low. Fortunately, Save the Children implements early childhood learning programs, early literacy programs and innovative training for educators. The organization educated 68,000 Bolivian children in 2020 alone and promotes education, sustainable income and food security to help fight child poverty in Bolivia.
  4. Bolivian children are vulnerable to exploitation and sexual abuse. “Bolivia has the highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America,” especially among children. Equality Now estimates that one in three Bolivian girls experiences violence of a sexual nature before reaching 18.  As a result, Bolivia has “the highest adolescent pregnancy rate in Latin America.” At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, A Breeze of Hope, a nonprofit that supports sexually abused children, received several calls from children who were stuck with their abusers during the lockdown.
  5. Indigenous Bolivian children face high levels of marginalization. Bolivia is home to the largest group of Indigenous people in Latin America.  Indigenous people often lack access to healthcare and education due to disparities in culture, language and location. Schools in Indigenous communities have few or no libraries and school materials. Indigenous children also face violence, food insecurity and inadequate access to sanitation.

Fighting Child Poverty in Bolivia

In addition to the efforts of Save the Children and A Breeze of Hope, the WFP directly assists the Bolivian government in combating malnutrition and food insecurity. Children Incorporated works with 14 projects in the Bolivian cities of La Paz, Sucre and Santa Cruz. The organization provides children with basic necessities and school materials. Additionally, Canadian Feed the Children provides more than 355,000 nutritious snacks and meals to Bolivian children annually. It also sponsors classes to educate parents on “healthy child development” and children’s rights. Although there are still challenges to overcome, significant work is being done to eradicate child poverty in Bolivia.

– Cory Utsey
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Myanmar
Although the overall poverty rate in Myanmar reduced to around 25% in 2017, the child poverty rate has increased to 31%. More than 5.5 million children in Myanmar lived in poverty or extreme poverty in 2017. To make up for the lack of food and basic necessities in their households, these children are likely to take jobs in construction and factories, exposing them to hazardous working conditions. As a result of child poverty and child labor, Myanmar ranks 112 out of 172 countries in Save the Children’s End of Childhood Index, which measures the extent to which children are “missing out on childhood.”

Children’s Rights, Child Mortality and Rural Births

In the early 1960s, the world saw Myanmar as one of the most prosperous nations in South Asia due to its abundance of natural resources. However, in 1962, a coup d’état that established a military dictatorship under the Burma Socialist Programme Party pushed children’s rights aside.

Unsurprisingly, fundamental rights are not equally shared across Myanmar’s socioeconomic makeup. A high poverty rate is accompanied by high child mortality. As of 2019, the mortality rate for children under 5 was 44.7 per 1,000 live births compared to 5.6 deaths per 1,000 births in the United States. Additionally, the exact number of children born is unknown as around 65% of births are not officially reported due to midwives only registering rural births informally.

Limited Access to Education

The Myanmar government does not allocate sufficient funds to education and many families cannot afford to send their children to school. Consequently, around 3% of children in Myanmar have had no education and an estimated 8.6 million people older than 15 are illiterate. Without education or basic literacy skills, it is virtually impossible to find a high-paying job outside of factory or construction work.

Child Labor Working Conditions

In Myanmar, the poverty trap forces 1.1 million children aged 5-17 into dangerous working conditions. Unable to participate in both school and the formal workforce, these children find themselves stuck in an inescapable cycle of generational poverty. They work as porters, cleaners, cooks, field laborers and more, either due to coercion by the Burma National Armed Forces or to help supplement their household income.

Some employers are quick to exploit an influx of undereducated child workers who are unaware of the health and workers’ rights violations they face. The standard workweek in the United States is typically 40 hours, but a quarter of child workers in Myanmar aged 12-17 typically face workweeks of 60 hours or more. Most child labor takes place in rural areas and a minimum of 197 children work in dangerous conflict-ridden areas such as Kachin, Rakhine and Shan due to coercion.

Breaking the Cycle of Child Poverty

To break the brutal cycle of generational poverty that forces children to choose between putting food on the table and getting an education that will propel their success, it is crucial for impoverished families in Myanmar to receive consistent and sufficient resources from organizations and government agencies.

UNICEF is helping to break the child poverty cycle in Myanmar by teaming up with non-governmental organizations and focusing on improving access and quality of education. It is also working to shield children from violent coercion and abuse, especially children in marginalized communities. Providing Myanmar’s children with adequate education and protecting them from forced labor will allow them to live safer and more opportunity-filled lives.

Child poverty affects millions in Myanmar and poses a threat to generations to come. There is room for hope, however, as organizations such as Save the Children and UNICEF focus on alleviating the extreme conditions that many children of Myanmar face through building partnerships and delivering results on a large scale.

Melanie Goldsmith
Photo: Flickr

Uganda’s Economic Recovery
Uganda, like many other global nations, is battling the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic reversed a decade of economic progress for the country. On June 28, 2021, the executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $1 billion Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement for Uganda’s economic recovery in a critical time of need.

COVID-19’s Impact on Uganda’s Economy

According to the World Bank, Uganda’s real GDP grew less than half as much in 2020 than in the year before. A four-month nationwide lockdown deterred the economic activity of the industrial and service sectors. The country’s COVID-19 lockdown forced company closures and permanent layoffs, especially in the industry and services sectors. Many informal jobs were impacted, leading to a reliance on farming for income creation and food security.

A Rise in Child Labor

A 69-page report by the Human Rights Watch and the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights explains that many families’ household incomes dropped due to the pandemic’s effects. Furthermore, with schools shut down, the burden of decreased income fell on many children. Child labor surged as many children as young as 8 years old had to work in hazardous conditions in order to provide for their families.

Nearly half of the Ugandan children interviewed in the report worked at least 10 hours a day, sometimes every day of the week. Some children even reported working as much as 16 hours a day. Most of the children only earned a meager $2 a day while subject to dangerous work conditions. Children in agriculture were injured by sharp tools used in fieldwork and “the sharp edges of sugarcane stalks.”

Other children working in quarries “suffered injuries from flying stones.” Many children also reported violence, harassment and pay theft during their employment. Many employers try to exploit child labor and maximize production. Due to these circumstances, Human Rights Watch asserts that part of Uganda’s economic recovery must include targeted assistance to households with children.

Funding From the IMF

The three-year loan approved by the board under the ECF includes the immediate disbursement of $258 million for much-needed budget support. The disbursement follows the $491.5 million release of emergency funds in May 2020 to support the post-pandemic recovery of Uganda. In an effort to strengthen Uganda’s economic recovery, authorities seek to increase household income throughout the country. Authorities are encouraging inclusive growth by investing in the development of the private sector and enacting reforms in the public sector.

Uganda’s Economic Outlook

Uganda seeks to combat its financing issues as it goes forward. Hopefully, the crucial aid from the IMF will help create jobs by investing back into the industrial and service sectors. Also, the financing aid may help children return to school as parents find new work. Economic growth in 2021 and 2022 is estimated to climb to 4.3% before reaching pre-pandemic levels of growth. While some industries such as tourism may remain subdued for a while, other sectors such as “manufacturing, construction and retail and wholesale trade” expect to rebound in 2021. However, Uganda’s economic recovery is currently still tenuous. The government will need to tread carefully as the economy remains vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.

– Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bhutan Forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation of children are forms of human trafficking occurring around the world, including Bhutan. Limited research means precise statistics on human trafficking in Bhutan are hard to find. The Royal Government of Bhutan has not accepted the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, a treaty that 147 states signed and enforced in 2003. This often leads to Bhutanese courts dismissing charges that meet the international definition of human trafficking.

The Definition of Human Trafficking

The international definition of human trafficking is “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion) for an improper purpose.” Bhutan’s definition is an individual who “recruits, transports, sells or buys, harbors or receives a person through the use or threat of force or deception within, into or outside of Bhutan for any illegal purpose.”

Human Trafficking in Bhutan

According to the U.S. Department of State, “Bhutan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” The U.S. Department of State upgraded Bhutan to its Tier 2 Watch List because of several positive signs of progress. For instance, Bhutan convicted one person under the human trafficking statute and appealed dismissed trafficking charges in another case. Furthermore, Bhutan investigated “reports of labor exploitation” and worked to implement “anti-trafficking training and public awareness events.”

Bhutan is on the Tier 2 Watch List, which means that the country does not completely comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. However, it is making an effort to meet the standards set. Bhutan has this designation because there is not enough evidence supporting the successes of the government’s actions to combat trafficking and estimates determine that the number of victims is significant or increasing.

Tier 1 refers to countries that fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and Tier 3 includes countries that do not comply and are not making an effort to improve. Bhutan was designated as a Tier 3 country in 2019 and ranked as a Tier 2 country from 2013 to 2017. Bhutan has been on the Watch List as of 2018. While it appears the Royal Government of Bhutan is making strides, evidence is scarce regarding the success of its anti-trafficking measures.

Protecting and Assisting Victims

Project hope was founded in 2004 by Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck. In 2019, Project Hope changed to Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW). Project Hope formerly protected children from labor exploitation by providing shelters. However, the program expanded to RENEW, which not only gives shelter to both women and children but also provides counseling and rehabilitation to victims. Women and children are often the victims of human trafficking, necessitating a program with a special focus on them. From January 2020 to December 2020, the program provided counseling services to 39 people affected by human trafficking.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Office funded a $750,000 program to help the Bhutanese police investigate human trafficking in Bhutan. The UNODC is responsible for implementing the program. The program helps enforce the Standard Operating Procedure for Multi-Sectoral Response to Address Trafficking in Persons in Bhutan. So far, the program has provided training for 16 journalists, 82 police officers and 95 prosecutors. The program also includes training so that people know how to protect themselves from human trafficking when working overseas.

Communication Through Task Forces

Organization is essential for efficiency and the Child Labor Task Force focuses on organizing efforts from multiple agencies and ministries. Government officials, international organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector make up the Task Force. However, a lack of research on its activities means its efficiency is unclear.

Monitoring trends of human trafficking in Bhutan, advising policies to implement and organizing anti-trafficking efforts are some of the main responsibilities of the Trafficking in Persons Special Task Force. The Department of Law and Order leads it but other government agencies and civil society organizations help the task force.

Eliminating Human Trafficking in Bhutan

Continued improvements and diligence are essential to eliminating human trafficking in Bhutan. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of State recommends several possible and plausible solutions. These include:

  • Use the international definition of human trafficking
  • Train and educate people to improve proactive victim identification
  • Create and publish an assessment of any and all forms of human trafficking in Bhutan
  • Increase funding to projects helping victims
  • Educate labor inspectors to identify cases of forced labor
  • Increase investigations and prosecutions of traffickers and increase sentencing
  • Eliminate recruitment fees for workers and investigate contract switching or cases of not paying wages

Human trafficking in Bhutan can decrease even further with solutions created by organizations and programs already in place. Cooperation, organization, enforcement and education can and are undergoing improvement, especially in the last few years. However, more clear evidence is necessary to fully understand the full picture.

Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr