Child Marriage in the Ivory Coast
Child marriage in the Ivory Coast remains a prevalent issue. The Marriage Act of 1983 states that the legal age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. However, 27% of women marry before the legal age of 18 and 7% marry before the age of 15. The numbers are less extreme on the male side where 4% marry before the age of 18.

Driving Factors

There are a few factors that lead to child marriage in the Ivory Coast. According to Girls Not Brides, poverty and education drive child marriage. Child marriage is often a survival mechanism to escape poverty especially when parents cannot afford to pay for education. Education is limited in the Ivory Coast. Secondary schools are scarce and oftentimes girls must board or find temporary living situations to attend them. As a result, they end up without parental or guardian supervision and are vulnerable to sexual violence and child marriage.

The third factor that can lead to child marriage in the Ivory Coast is adolescent pregnancy. In fact, according to Girls Not Brides, one in four women have their first child before the age of 18 and after pregnancy, many end up in a forced marriage. This attitude towards marriage ties into traditional religious beliefs that many leaders in the Ivory Coast have promoted. Many communities still abide by traditional beliefs regarding child marriage instead of the actual law.

Early Progress

In the early years of combatting child marriage in the Ivory Coast, there was steep progress. The government funded the development of more than 9,000 preschools and primary schools between 2011 and 2013 along with 38 secondary schools. In addition, in 2013, it also passed a law to allow students without birth certificates to attend primary school. In 2017, there was an initiative following the law to allow students in primary schools to acquire birth certificates through their school directors.

Between 2013 and 2015, the national government tried to enforce a plan to engage the community and religious leaders to address the child marriage issue. The President endorsed the plan. However, it fell through due to a lack of resources and budget.

Current Progress

The Ivory Coast government does not have a current plan or strategy to tackle the child marriage issue. However, there are organizations that focus on improving education, especially for girls which could have a direct impact on the child marriage rates. One such organization is Girls Not Brides. Girls Not Brides has a national partnership with the Ivory Coast which includes 17 member organizations working together to end child marriage.

Réseau Ivoirien pour la Défense des Droits de L’Enfant et de la Femme (RIDDEF) is a local non-governmental organization that originated in 2013. It has committed itself to women’s and children’s rights in the Ivory Coast. In partnership with the Embassy to Canada in the Ivory Coast, RIDDEF conducted a project addressing child marriage. RIDDEF brought sexual education campaigns to more than 20 schools and reached more than 6,000 students.

In addition, RIDDEF started a program where older women are partnered with younger girls to talk through sensitive conversations. The project also mobilized community leaders in both religious and education sectors to speak out against child marriage.

Ending child marriage means granting human rights to young people and especially young girls. When progress on the governmental level is slow, tackling issues that have direct impacts on the child marriage rates such as increasing education and shifting traditional attitudes are crucial.

In addition to improving human rights, ending child marriage could lead to more economic and social opportunities. Therefore, there is great potential for both social and economic growth in communities within developing nations such as the Ivory Coast.

– Jordan Oh
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Malawi“After feeling pity with my situation, my friend asked [me] to go where she works. Upon reaching there, I was disturbed to see that it was sex work. I could not object because I needed money.” According to the Voice of America (VOA), that was the reason 17-year-old Hilda became a victim of sex trafficking after the death of her parents. Unfortunately, the wish to escape poverty fuels human trafficking in Malawi.

Five Reasons for Human Trafficking in Malawi

Located in Southeastern Africa, Malawi spans over 45,000 square miles and has an estimated population of 19 million. Although the government passed the Trafficking in Persons Act in 2015, human trafficking in Malawi remains rampant for many reasons, including Malawi’s extreme poverty, cultural practices and lack of law enforcement. Of course, the effects of COVID-19 also exacerbate this problem. Here are five reasons why Malawi is a source of trafficking:

  1. Poverty fuels human trafficking. According to the World Bank, more than half of the Malawi population lives below the national poverty rate. In fact, as one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi ranks 174 out of 189 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. This is partly because, as a developing nation, Malawi’s main business and export continues to be agricultural products, making the nation particularly susceptible to weather shocks and climate changes.
  2. Food insecurity plagues Malawi. Despite record harvests, 1.1 million Malawians faced high-level acute food insecurity in 2021. The agricultural sector struggles with productivity, and there are few economic opportunities beyond farming. Together, this creates extensive rural unemployment. It also makes rural residents exceptionally vulnerable to promises of good work and pay in bigger cities—the most common ruse used for human trafficking.
  3. Cultural practices put girls at risk. Despite the fact it banned child marriage in 2017, Malawi still has a high child marriage rate. Long-established cultural practices drive the continuation of child marriage and sex trafficking. For example, families marry off young girls as payment for repaying debts or dowries. Another common custom called “kutomera” involves an older (and often wealthy) man choosing a young girl to be his future wife. After negotiating payment, the girl waits until she is sexually mature and then they take her to her designated husband. Also, sex traffickers recruit girls for “domestic service” but instead force the girls into marriages in which their husbands then force them into sex trafficking.
  4. Laws are often not enforced. In a giant step towards ending human trafficking in Malawi, the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized human trafficking and prescribed punishments of up to 14 or 21 years in prison. The government also endorsed several international human rights treaties. These include the Maputo Protocol which obligates the government to protect women and girls from sex trafficking. Unfortunately, according to Equality Now, the Malawian government often fails to adequately enforce these laws. Furthermore, poverty fuels the high levels of corruption that still exist among numerous local officials. This means many human trafficking organizations operate without fear of the law.  Even in the rare case perpetrators are apprehended, many are not held accountable through prosecution.
  5. The effects of COVID-19. Human trafficking in Malawi has worsened since the start of the pandemic. Before COVID-19, PSGR saw around two to three cases a week. During the pandemic, the number increased to seven cases a week, with some weeks seeing up to 10 or 15. This is because the economic downturns created by COVID-19 have exacerbated unemployment. This, in turn, makes people even more desperate to escape chronic poverty and vulnerable to sex traffickers.

PSGR:  Combatting Human Trafficking

Although human trafficking in Malawi continues to be a huge issue, numerous social organizations are on the ground attempting to tackle the problem. In 2020, People Serving Girls at Risk (PSGR), a local NGO helping trafficking survivors, handled more than 600 cases of sex trafficking. Yet the Malawi Police Services only reported the arrest of 48 suspects and convicted only 30 of them. That’s one reason PSGR recently launched a six-year project to mentor sex workers to learn income-generating skills so they will become less vulnerable to sex trafficking. PSGR Team Leader Caleb Ng’omba said, “Our core purpose is to empower them with vocational and other skills that they could use to generate income to reduce their vulnerability to sex work, early marriages or child labour.”

The five causes of human trafficking listed above are no doubt serious hurdles that the Malawian government face, but the continuous effort of both the administration and the NGOs could result in significant progress in the near future.

-Emilie Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Effects of Child Marriage in Afghanistan
Child marriage is a centuries-long tradition that is prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia. More specifically, it is very common in the rural regions of Afghanistan. Child marriage is a type of forced marriage where there is only parental consent instead of the child’s consent. Some families resort to child marriage with the aim of “strengthening ties with rival families and tribes” in order to settle debts or arguments while other low-income families sell their daughters for money to survive. In a November 2021 article, UNICEF estimates that about 28% of Afghan females between 15 and 49 entered into marriage before reaching their 18th birthday. Furthermore, UNICEF has received “credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry.” Understanding the cause and effects of child marriage in Afghanistan enables organizations to develop effective solutions.

Cause: Economic Necessity

Afghanistan’s economic instability pushes families into poverty, leaving desperate families with no choice but to consider child marriage as a means of escaping their financial circumstances. Before the Taliban’s return to power in 2021, about 50% of Afghanistan lived in circumstances of poverty. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) has warned that “97% [of Afghans] could fall below the poverty line by mid-2022.” In 2021 alone, 700,000 Afghans faced drought, internal displacement and other crises. These dire circumstances push families to marry off their daughters to survive.

UNICEF noted a link between the rise of child marriage in Afghanistan and the occurrence of unfavorable droughts. The year 2018 brought “unprecedented levels of drought and food insecurity.” The drought in 2021 has led to more than 12 million Afghans facing a crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. Astrid Sletten, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) country director in Afghanistan, explained this crisis as “the final straw for millions of Afghans struggling to survive after decades of conflict and more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Afghanistan is an agrarian society that is dependent on agriculture, so the droughts, on top of the political and economic instability, create newfound desperation. UNICEF noted in a report that the drought had increased the prevalence of child marriages. A minimum of 161 children “from drought-affected population[s] in Badghis and Herat provinces” faced child marriage in 2018.

Effect: Increased Risk of Violence

Child marriage in Afghanistan significantly increases the risk of domestic abuse. A study that came out in 2021 looked at the relationship between child marriage and domestic violence in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers concluded that “girls aged 20-24 years who married before they turned 18 were 20% more likely to experience intimate partner violence than those who married as adults.”

Male Victims of Child Marriage

In Afghanistan, it is common for boys to enter into marriages with women more than twice their age for financial reasons. However, no one tracks this information, and thus, stands as an untold story. Without this data, one cannot understand the full extent of child marriage in Afghanistan. Farzan Hussaini, UNICEF’s child protection chief for western Afghanistan, explained how “The research that has been conducted does not highlight the situation for boys. This is now a point for us that we definitely will consider as we design future studies on child marriage.”

How Afghanaid is Helping

Although Afghanistan faces ongoing political instability, grassroots nonprofits have filled the gap in supporting Afghans through community building and poverty reduction. Efforts focusing on economic empowerment will reduce the likelihood of impoverished families resorting to child marriage.

Afghanaid is a British organization providing humanitarian aid to people in Afghanistan for about 40 years. The organization aims to “ build basic services, improve livelihoods, strengthen the rights of women and children, help communities protect against natural disasters” and assist communities in adapting to extreme weather conditions while addressing humanitarian crises. Its community-based approach helps lessen the impact of poverty in Afghanistan and builds lifelong skills that create financial independence. In 2021 alone, Afghanaid helped more than 1.2 million people.

Afghanaid’s efforts include reducing the risk and impacts of environmental disasters, such as droughts and floods. To help in this regard, the organization has constructed 126 infrastructures, “benefiting more than 60,015 households.” Afghanaid has also planted more than 570,000 trees to protect the soil and provide households with produce to sell at markets.

Looking Ahead

As devastating as the high child marriage rates in Afghanistan are, it is vital to understand the full scope of the causes and effects of child marriage in Afghanistan for organizations to begin formulating effective solutions that have long-lasting impacts. Nonprofits can provide the support that a crisis-stricken government is unable to through community building.

– Imaan Chaudhry
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Mauritania
Two horizontal stripes of red sandwich a large swath of green. Over the green is a five-pointed yellow star, centered above an upward-pointing yellow crescent moon. Mauritania’s flag is not just beautiful, it is also symbolic. The green, in particular, symbolizes hope. However, not all Mauritanians have hope. Child marriage in Mauritania diminishes hope for around 37% of Mauritanian girls. The country’s legal age for marriage is 18, but lax enforcement undermines the law, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Facts about Child Marriage in Mauritania

International human rights groups, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have advocated for measures to prohibit child marriage. The practice correlates with some adverse outcomes and creates a cycle of effects that often mirror those outcomes. Some of these are:

  • Lack of Education – Child marriage consistently correlates to a lack of education. Getting an education becomes even more difficult after marriage. When girls must manage a household and raise children, they have little time for school. The opportunities that an education provides, including the chance for financial independence, dwindle. Beyond that, the problem is cyclical: Research shows that interrupting a child’s education may have a negative educational impact on the next generation.
  • Poverty – The poorest Mauritanian girls are almost twice as likely to marry before age 18 than their wealthier peers. Because married children are also likely to have financial prospects hindered by incomplete education, child marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
  • Less Autonomy and Agency – According to an article published in J Women Polit Policy, in Mauritania, more than 50% of married girls have spouses that are a decade older. Research shows that this age gap, along with the educational disparities, results in less autonomy for the girls. This power imbalance typically persists throughout the union.
  • Psychological Distress and Isolation – These married girls leave familiar surroundings to live many miles away from friends and family. Alone and away from the familiar, they find themselves without a support system when they most need it.

Efforts to Address Child Marriage in Mauritania

Change takes time, but Mauritania has taken some steps to address the issue. Mauritania’s 2001 law making marriage under 18 illegal is not a solution on its own, but it is a first step that acknowledges the inherent problems with the practice. But guardians can circumvent the law by granting permission for a child under 18 to marry. The child must also agree, but his or her silence is considered consent. By eliminating this exception, the government would show an even greater commitment to ending child marriage in Mauritania.

Mauritania is one of several countries that has committed to ending child marriage by 2030, which aligns with target 5.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. According to Girls Not Brides, the country demonstrated this commitment by addressing its progress in the 2019 Voluntary National Review, a government report delivered during a political forum. Mauritania has implemented the Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD). SWEDD aims to keep girls in school, recognizing that lack of education is a key correlate to child marriage. It also aspires to stigmatize child marriage through education.

Some may question the impact of these seemingly symbolic steps, but a research study submitted to the Ford Foundation found that “the failure to view early marriage as a problem is chiefly what accounts for the persistence of this harmful traditional practice.” As Mauritanians like to say, “A hen cannot lay eggs and hatch them on the same day.” With each signed agreement, each law and each international commitment, Mauritania is that much closer to stigmatizing and ending child marriage.

– Vickie Melograno
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mobile Phones Can Fight Child Marriage
A March 2021 report by UNICEF indicates that as many as 100 million girls in the world could experience child marriage in the next 10 years. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted school shutdowns, financial distress, parental mortality and early pregnancy, putting millions of girls at risk of child marriage. Several organizations have created initiatives to reduce child marriage amid the pandemic and many of the initiatives revolve around mobile phone use. Mobile phones can fight child marriage and gender discrimination by raising awareness with hotlines, social media and apps designed to educate and empower young women.

Driving Forces Behind Child Marriage

In countries where child marriage is prevalent, many parents feel social and economic pressures to marry off their young daughters. Parents who do not have the resources to support all of their children may feel that pushing their daughters into marriage is the only financial option. Patriarchal norms, economic instability, lack of educational opportunities and poverty can all increase the commonality of child marriages in developing countries. According to Girls Not Brides, many parents believe child marriage will increase their daughters’ safety and reduce the risk of sexual and physical abuse, even though this is quite the contrary — spousal abuse is quite common in child marriages. Mobile phones can fight child marriage by raising awareness about laws, rights, job opportunities and alternatives to child marriage.

The Naubat Baja Project

The National Family Health Survey 2020-21 (NFHS-5) revealed that, in Rajasthan, 25.4% of females between 20 and 24 years old entered into marriages before the age of 18. In rural areas of Rajasthan, child marriage rates of females are higher at 28.3% in comparison to 15.1% in urban areas.

The Naubat Baja project began on International Women’s Day in 2019 to reduce child marriage in Rajasthan and empower girls through mobile phones. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) worked in collaboration with the Government of Rajasthan, the Directorate of Women Empowerment and the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) Foundation to launch the initiative. The idea behind the project is to target youth using their “favorite” technological devices: mobile phones.

When girls call the Naubat Baja number, they receive a phone call back that contains a recording about government welfare schemes, job opportunities and information about child marriage, health, hygiene, COVID-19 protocols and other themes that are relevant to girls in Rajasthan. Various forms of entertainment, such as songs, stories and short audio dramas, which Naubat Baja updates regularly, relay much of this information. Initiatives like the Naubat Baja project model how mobile phones can fight child marriage and gender discrimination by providing girls with access to empowering resources and information.

Apps and Social Media

Many mobile phones support apps and social media that can fight child marriage and uplift girls who are at risk of it. The creators of the Naubat Baja project used social media and graffiti to popularize the initiative among young people. While many low-income areas lack access to the internet, launching a project like Naubat Baja on social media can help gain national and global support from communities that do have internet access.

Several developers have also created apps that prevent child marriage. Bangladesh has a child marriage prevalence of 51%, ranking in the top 10 nations with the highest rates of child marriage globally. An organization called Plan International Bangladesh designed an app for marriage registrars to verify young women’s ages before entering into marriage. In its first six months of use, the app prevented more than 3,700 child marriages.

Between apps, social media and hotlines, mobile phones offer a range of technological resources that can empower girls and fight child marriage. The rising popularity of mobile phones makes their influence increasingly widespread, especially among youth. The Naubat Baja project exemplifies how technology can lead to social development and spread awareness about pressing issues like child marriage.

Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Child Marriage in Yemen
Child marriage in Yemen is a centuries-old human rights violation. Adults, especially those living in poverty, force young teenage girls to marry men decades older than them due to reasons such as the relief of costs in caring for a child and for the heightened protection of a husband’s family. Perhaps worse than the basic psychological harm of having to enter into marriage, child brides endure abuse and face life-threatening risks. According to a 2019 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 4 million Yemeni girls are child brides and 1.4 million of these brides are younger than 15 years old. This practice needs to end to protect young girls physically and emotionally. Banning child marriage in Yemen would ensure young women the human rights they deserve.

The Impacts of Child Marriage

Because they are so young, when child brides experience intercourse or pregnancy, it often leads to physical complications. As Sarah Ferguson from UNICEF USA states in an article, “Child marriage increases a girl’s risk of violence and abuse and jeopardizes her health. Sometimes, it’s fatal.”

Yemeni child brides also lose their education rights. Young girls with dreams and aspirations should be able to endure a life of growth and opportunities. Further, husbands and family members expect young girls who marry to know how to handle managing a household. This factor influences parents in pulling daughters out of school to learn how to do so.

In a 2018 CNN interview, a 12-year-old girl named Halima spoke out about how her father forced her sisters to enter marriages and then pressured her to do the same. She spoke about how all of her friends’ families took their daughters out of school to get married. Unfortunately, Halima’s father also pushed her to ignore her desire and passion to become a physician.

The Government’s Failure to Protect Young Women

The government of Yemen has not been able to pass an effective civil agreement to curb child marriage. On February 11, 2009, the Parliament agreed to set the minimum age of marriage at 17. However, the Sharia Legislative Committee overruled that effort. In March 2010, the Parliament redrafted the bill, however, the Sharia Legislative Committee rejected it once again. When asked about why there is no minimum age limit for marriage, the Sharia Legislative Committee stated that having a minimum age for marriage is “un-Islamic.”  Twelve years later, in 2022, there is still no minimum age for marriage in Yemen.

Financial Desperation Leads to Child Marriage

In addition to Sharia law, financial hardship also pushes families to resort to marrying off their daughters. Whether it is because they cannot afford to take care of their daughter or because the family will receive a sum of money, many parents turn to child marriage as a way to ease their financial situations. To this degree, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said at a virtual briefing in May 2020, “We are seeing a growing number of families resorting to harmful coping mechanisms such as begging, child labor and marrying off children to survive.”

The Solution to Child Marriage

Child marriage in Yemen has been an issue for centuries, but currently, there are human rights advocates who are taking strong stances against it. For example, UNICEF delivers life-saving services and supplies to Yemeni child brides. UNICEF also promotes awareness. For example, it does this by sharing stories of young girls who have had to fight for their lives in violent marriages, and how they have been able to survive, and eventually thrive, due to programs promoting their independence.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are urging governments, including Yemen, to immediately take steps to eradicate the practice. Among other rights violations, the committees specifically argue that child marriage is a setback to women’s rights and the ability to receive an education.

There are also individual human rights advocates who are taking up the issue. Nada al-Ahdal is a young Yemeni woman who escaped child marriage. She created an online video about her story that went viral. After that, she founded the Nada Foundation with the prime minister of Yemen to support young women in child marriages.

She also wrote a book published in several languages that advocates against the practice. Now based in London, she speaks around the world to encourage everyone to fight against the practice. In a 2021 IMIX story about her, she says, “I have met so many brave girls from across the world; Serbia, Pakistan, India, Morocco, Egypt. They are working so hard to change their communities. It’s not just their duty, it’s all of us, all of our duty.”

Looking Ahead: Advocacy for Policy Change

As child brides, young girls in Yemen are having their hopes, dreams and rights dissolved. Child marriage increases the risk of physical and emotional abuse as well as maternal mortality. However, with the help of advocacy within and beyond Yemen, the Yemeni government should eventually glean the power to establish effective change.

– Hayat Nagi
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Indonesia
Young children between the ages of 0 and 14 made up almost 26% of the population in Indonesia in 2020. Moreover, according to UNICEF, about 2.1 million children endure child poverty in Indonesia in 2021. Taking a closer at the country’s circumstances of child poverty provides insight into the severity of the situation.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Indonesia

  1. Secondary Education Completion Lags Behind. In Indonesia, the net primary school enrollment rate stood at 93% in 2018, however, in that same year, the net secondary school enrollment rate stood at 78%. The reason for this disparity stems from the fact that Indonesia offers free education only up until grade 9, meaning, the next three years of secondary education that follow are not free. This serves as a barrier to secondary school completion as many impoverished families cannot afford the costs. Additionally, some families suffer from such severe poverty that they require their children to work to add to the household income instead of going to school. Many parents also pull their daughters out of school to shoulder the burden of household responsibilities because they do not see girls’ education as valuable in comparison to boys’ education. In addition, in impoverished communities, child marriage is prevalent. Many families resort to taking their daughters out of school and pushing them into a child marriage to ease the economic burden on the family.
  2. Child Labor is Rife in Indonesia. In 2020, the number of child laborers in Indonesia equated to 1.17 million, with many working in agriculture. The prevalence of child labor stems from circumstances of poverty as well as a lack of access to education. Indonesia pledged to eradicate child labor by 2022, and although it has not fully achieved this goal, it has made significant progress. Between 2009 and 2018, Indonesia reduced the number of child laborers from 4 million to 2.9 million by improving access to quality education to prevent children from dropping out of school and engaging in labor. The nation also has a commitment to informing parents about the importance of children’s education.
  3. Child Marriage is Prevalent. Child marriage is more common in impoverished/rural communities. According to UNICEF, Indonesian girls from families “with the lowest levels of expenditure” are nearly “five times more likely” to enter a marriage or union before the age of 18. In addition, girls from rural Indonesia “are three times more likely to marry before age 18” in comparison to urban Indonesian girls. Over a span of 10 years, child marriage rates in Indonesia reduced by 3.5%, although this rate is still far from the goal of 8.74% for 2024. UNICEF also states that one in nine Indonesian girls enter into marriage before the age of 18, which equates to 375 girls marrying each day.
  4. Poverty Impacts Future Earnings. According to a study that the Asian Development Bank Institute published in September 2019, Indonesian children who grow up in circumstances of poverty are likely to earn less in their adulthood. The study says, “Our instrumental variables estimation shows that a child who lived in [an impoverished] family when aged between 8 and 17 years old suffers an 87% earnings penalty relative to a child who did not grow up in [an impoverished] family.”
  5. Save the Children Addresses Child Poverty in Indonesia. The global children’s organization has provided assistance to Indonesia’s impoverished children for more than 30 years. Save the Children has also provided emergency assistance for almost all of Indonesia’s natural disasters. When a severe earthquake and tsunami hit Sulawesi Island in Indonesia, Save the Children supplied water, shelter, hygiene supplies and healthcare to children and families. Emergency responders provided assistance to more than 70,000 affected children. Child sponsorship programs beginning in 2014 ensure children learn the knowledge and skills necessary for success and ensure the overall health and nutrition of children. All in all, Save the Children has provided more than 23,000 “[Indonesian] children with a healthy start in life” and “protected 45,079 children from harm” while supporting more than 11,000 families in meeting their children’s basic needs.

Looking Ahead

Although the situation of child poverty in Indonesia is improving, disparities remain. Geographical differences lead to inequalities between different regions, which directly affects the country’s children. The fact that the nation comprises 17,000 islands spanning about 3,200 miles makes it very difficult to assist all population groups. Regarding the nation’s economic development, since 2016, Indonesia maintained annual GDP growth of around 5% until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With ongoing efforts to reduce child poverty in Indonesia, impoverished Indonesian children can look to a brighter future.

– Ander Moreno
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Niger 
Niger, one of the largest countries in West Africa, holds the highest rate of child marriages compared to the rest of the world. In fact, 75% of young girls marry before turning 18. This is because the nation’s legal marital age is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. Although Niger has made efforts to reduce child marriage, the country has noted only minimal progress in the last 20 years. As a result, many consequences have arisen from child marriage.

Why Does Niger Have a High Child Marriage Rate?

First, child marriage in Niger harshly affects girls deprived of attending school because they need to rely on others to survive. In addition, many young girls choose to drop out of school because of the unsafe learning environments. As a result, they cannot live an independent life due to the lack of income and confidence to make rational decisions. Due to few other options for their futures, many families decide to marry their daughters off for financial stability.

According to the World Bank, Niger has a poverty rate of 42.9%. However, Niger’s population continues to increase, causing the number of people in poverty to grow. Currently, many families are struggling financially, so they view child marriage as a way to alleviate their financial burdens. Because of this, marriage becomes “a strategy for economic survival” due to the lack of social protection, according to Save the Children.

Moreover, child marriage in Niger is common because many communities believe a woman’s purpose is to become a housewife and bear children. Due to this belief, families tend to prioritize the education of sons over daughters. To add, marrying young is a way that Niger communities attempt to prevent pregnancy before marriage, which is “a source of shame for the family,” Save the Children reports.

Consequences of Child Marriage in Niger

Although families aim to avoid pregnancy before marriage and look for financial stability by marrying their daughters off at a young age, this only causes more damage in the long run. For example, without education, young girls are unaware of the risks of early pregnancy. In fact, these young girls are at greater risk because 30% of the young girls show signs of malnutrition. As a result, “maternal mortality constitutes 35% of all adolescent deaths between ages 15 and 19,” according to Save the Children.

Not only do women face physical challenges but they also face mental health challenges caused by marrying at a young age. This is because young girls have to abruptly transition to adult life and take on responsibilities they are not mentally prepared to tackle. They are still at an age that requires guidance from a guardian. In a BMC Public Health study, many Nigerian girls expressed emotional distress and depression due to fulfilling their marital responsibilities and sexual demands from their husbands.

Due to the common practice of child marriage in Niger, young girls do not have the opportunity to have a childhood and face threats to their lives and health. For instance, some experience domestic violence and cannot return to school to escape these living conditions. Unfortunately, young married girls “have worse economic health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which are eventually passed down [sic] to their own children,” UNICEF reported.

How is Niger Receiving Help to End Child Marriage?

UNICEF is working to help implement laws and policies to help end child marriage and work within Nigerian communities to address the social norms that encourage child marriage. UNICEF partnered with the Niger Traditional Leaders and Association and the Islamic Congregation because they are well respected in their communities and can create new rules for people to follow.

Due to these advocacy efforts, the Niger Government created a national action plan, “Towards the End of Child Marriage in Niger,” that convenes every month to discuss what the community needs to do to advocate for better treatment of young boys and girls. Fortunately, “Education sessions by the Village Child Protection Committees were able to prevent cases of child marriage through direct mediation with parents and assisted girls to return to school,” UNICEF reported.

Lastly, Plan International Niger is helping girls establish confidence to fight child marriage in their communities. As a result, the young girls are using their voices and asking their leaders to end child marriage and provide them with an education to gain independence through employment. The Plan International Niger placed child protection committees throughout Niger and provided them with the tools to protect the rights of young girls to ensure change.

Child marriage is common in Niger, but it has far-reaching negative impacts on girls, such as emotional stress and depression. To add, young girls are at risk of domestic violence and pregnancy complications due to their age and malnutrition. These young girls have to become adults at an early age, which strips them of their childhood experiences. Fortunately, many young Nigerian girls are receiving help in an attempt to end the cycle of child marriage.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Afghanistan
With limited resources and an absence of income to support themselves, Afghan families may sell their children to make ends meet, resulting in a significant level of child marriage in Afghanistan. To illustrate, the 9-year-old Parwana Malik family sold her to Qorban, a 55-year-old man, for $2,200 in an arrangement of sheep, land and cash. Thinking about what her future holds as a wife to Qorban, Parwana fears her husband will beat her and force her to work in his house. Regrettably, however, Parwana’s family does not have enough money to afford necessities to keep all its members alive and healthy. In fact, before her family sold her, it sold Parwana’s 12-year-old sister.

Background of Child Marriages in Afghanistan

Child marriage in Afghanistan can cause suffering and damage in a child’s life. For example, many child brides experience domestic violence, discrimination, abuse and poor mental health. Child marriage in Afghanistan is common but illegal. The minimum age for marriage is 15 or 16 years old for women and 18 years old for men. In the past, many families opted for child marriages to pay back any personal debts, settle disputes, or create friendships with rival families to decrease their enemy count.

In 2016, the National Ministry of Women and the Ministry of Information and Culture created the National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage, bringing organizations from 90 different countries together to help end child marriage in Afghanistan and ensure the legal age of marriage be 18.

However, this act was short-lived. Now, with the increasing hardships of acquiring money and jobs, Afghanistan families are selling their young daughters “for large dowries from wealthy people, and the husbands are usually much older,” according to UNFPA.

Afghanistan is a country that has always relied on foreign aid, with 75% of its finances coming from grants from the United States and other countries. Unfortunately, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the country’s economy worsened, leading to difficult living conditions for many people.

Poor Economy Causing an Increase in Child Marriages

When the United States military withdrew, the Western powers and international organizations stopped sending humanitarian aid by blocking overseas equipment and valuables to focus their time on taking the Taliban away from power.

Additionally, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) halted payments. As a result, Afghanistan workers and people are not receiving income to feed themselves and pay for other expenses, leading to families selling their children for money.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), “recent surveys have revealed that only 5% of families have enough to eat every day.” Not only are they not receiving enough money to support themselves, but there has also been an increase in food and cooking oil prices and the country has lost about 40% of its wheat crops.

As winter approaches, WFP mentions that Afghanistan families will run out of food, pushing them further to the brink of starvation. For example, to avoid selling his daughter, Parwana’s father would travel to the main cities of Afghanistan hoping to find a job, but he was always unsuccessful.

In addition, he would ask for money from other family members, while his wife would beg their neighbors for food, but they received little assistance. Having to take care of eight other family members, Parwana’s father felt obligated to sell Parwana to keep the rest alive, according to CNN.

Where Afghanistan is Receiving Help

Fortunately, WFP is helping Afghanistan’s dire situation and improving their nutrition to rebuild their strength. According to WFP, it has “provided 6.4 million people with food assistance, including more than 1.4 million people since the Taliban takeover.”

In September 2021, WFP sent 10 trucks into the country with nutritional supplements for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Currently, WFP has a team of people in the most remote parts of Afghanistan to deliver food to communities they might not reach in the winter months due to blockades of snow.

Not only is WFP asking for $2.6 billion in 2022 in aid for Afghanistan, but the U.N. has made an emergency appeal for $606 million to meet areas that need it the most. Although the United States and other countries are not sending any aid into the country, Afghanistan is receiving relief elsewhere, improving the lives of many and decreasing the number of child marriages in Afghanistan.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Sri Lanka
Through a landmark decision by the Cabinet of Ministers in Sri Lanka, Muslims now have the option to marry under the Sri Lankan Marriage Registration Ordinance, the common law that governs marriages and divorces. This is a significant change because the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) that has governed Muslim marriage and divorce discriminates against Muslim women. Additionally, Sri Lanka’s justice minister Ali Sabry has proposed legislation to raise the minimum age for marriage under the MMDA to 18. These two reforms are crucial steps in addressing child marriage in Sri Lanka.

Child Marriage and Its Impact

Child marriage is the practice of marriage in which one or both parties are under 18. This practice presents severe risks to children, especially young girls. Married children are less likely to complete their education. According to World Vision, girls are three times more likely to marry before 18 when they do not receive schooling, as opposed to those who attend school beyond the elementary level.

Child marriage also comes with physical risks including complications with early pregnancies, or exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Those entering into child marriage are also more likely to become victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence. Around the world, girls are 50% more likely to experience physical or sexual abuse if they marry before they turn 15 than those who marry after 18.  This underlines the fact that some child marriages occur as a way to cover up a sexual assault to avoid scandal. The effects of child marriage are psychologically and physically damaging to children and violate their free will.

In addition to cultivating human rights violations, child marriage is also both a big driver and a significant consequence of poverty. Some families marry their children off because it gives them one less child to fund. In other communities, it is a way to offset debt because dowries for a younger girl are lower. Marriage may keep young brides from accessing their education and better jobs or professions. Economic dependence on their partner may also trap them in long-term financial insecurity. Child marriage limits the growth of individuals and by proxy, the growth of communities.

Child Marriage in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, poverty and lack of education have contributed to the practice of child marriage, but traditional laws have fueled its continuation. Sri Lanka has a lower rate of child marriage than other countries in South Asia. However, it is still prevalent, mostly within some Muslim communities. Passed in 1951, the MMDA has relegated Muslim marriage governance to Islamic law versus common law. Sri Lankan common law does not allow marriage under 18, but the MMDA has set the minimum marriage age at 12. Further, Islamic officials have permitted the marriage age to be even lower. Additionally, if females married under the MMDA could not sign their marriage contract, a “wali,” or male guardian needed to do so. With virtually no previous protection against child marriage for Muslims in Sri Lanka, the recent governmental reforms should make a significant difference.

Progress in Ending Sri Lankan Child Marriage

The new marriage contract alternative now protects children from entering into marriages by force. Additionally, the fact that the MMDA has raised the marriage age to 18 has made all child marriages in Sri Lanka illegal. Further, this will prevent any registered child marriages. Various past appeals, especially from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), prompted these reforms.

In collaboration with the Sri Lankan government and other organizations, UNICEF signed the June Declaration to End Violence Against Children in Sri Lanka by 2030. This declaration is part of the National Partnership to End Violence Against Children, which began in June 2017. UNICEF’s work launched on-the-ground efforts to give community leaders, police and government officials training on the effects of child marriage. The organization has also worked to provide economic support for women and initiate policy reform. These efforts have helped reduce the overall child marriage rate to 25 million, which is fewer than predictions from 10 years ago.

Despite UNICEF’s achievements, its most significant obstacle has been government cooperation. For several years, UNICEF pressed the Sri Lankan government to involve legal action against the practice of child marriage. Now, the new legislation that the Sri Lankan Cabinet has implemented will address this call to action.

Issues like child marriage require a multifaceted approach that addresses its enabling factors. Because Muslim law allowed child marriage, the practice continued even with UNICEF’s efforts to address it. Yet, the new legal action combined with continuing on-ground efforts brings hope to Sri Lanka. Thanks to the new legislation by the Sri Lankan Cabinet of Ministers, a significant decline of  Sri Lankan child marriage seems within reach.

– Hariana Sethi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons