Child Labor in MyanmarChild labor in Myanmar continues to be a concern for one of the poorest nations in Asia. It is estimated that 1.13 million children, ages 5 through 17 work as laborers in Myanmar. This amounts to 9.3 percent of the child population. Said conditions are a violation of human rights and deprivation of well being.

Impact of Poverty

The prime factor of involvement of children in the workforce is poverty. With more than 32 percent of the nation living below the national poverty line, children work to supplement low household incomes.

However, employers exploit children and pay extremely low rates. In some cases, children as young as 14, working in garment-producing factories, make as little as 17  cents per hour; Yet, the nation’s minimum wage is $3.60.

Government Involvement in Child Trafficking

In August 2017, it was estimated 690,000 people fled from Myanmar due to acts of violence caused by the Myanmar government. Of those, nearly 400,000 were children.

In Myanmar, there is an abundance of trafficking, with little to no intervention. Frequently, the displacement of young girls to China is due to trafficking, for work, or marriage to Chinese men as child brides.

Additionally, Myanmar also has the highest number of child soldiers globally. In these cases, young boys against their will have to comply with captor commands. These commands are in sync with militarization goals and tactics.

Impact of Child Labor

One prominent consequence of child labor in Myanmar is the lack of education among children. One in five children drops out of school in order to work. In Myanmar culture, it is socially acceptable and common to see children working, rather than in school. Also, children who are in the workforce usually have little awareness, nor education about their safety and health rights in the workplace, leading to a high risk of fatal injuries.

The agricultural industry employs 60.5 percent of children in the workforce. Construction and fellow small-scale industries also have a significant role in employing child laborers. Just over half of these children perform potentially hazardous work that is likely to harm their physical or psychological health. Children as young as 15 to 17 make up 74.6 percent of the child workforce exposed to hazardous jobs.

The Intervention of Child Trafficking in Myanmar

Although child labor in Myanmar is widespread, the government of Myanmar is addressing this issue with the support of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The Myanmar Program on the Elimination of Child Labor Project was a four-year program (2013-2017) funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, overseen by the ILO. The goals of this project were to increase awareness of children in the workforce while improving the legal and institutional laws concerning child labor.

The Myanmar government ratified the ILO Convention No.182 which prohibits the worst forms of childhood labor and is in the process of finalizing the country’s first National Action Plan. This proposal outlines ways to reduce child labor in Myanmar while improving the lives of the children all together.

Child labor in Myanmar is a prominent issue as it affects millions of lives. There is, however, a reason to be optimistic, as the Myanmar government and fellow organizations have begun prevention protocols, ensuring a better future for the children of Myanmar.

– Marissa Pekular

 

Photo: Flickr

Women Activists in Developing CountriesThere are many reasons for people around the world to use their voices and advocate for social equality. Here is a list of five women activists in developing countries.

Top 5 Women Activists in Developing Countries

  1. Kriti Bharti
    The founder of the Girls Not Brides movement in Rajasthan, northern India, Kriti Bharti prevented over 900 child marriages. Kriti established the Saarthi Trust in 2011 to pull girls from forced child marriages and to educate them on their societal rights. Bharti is both a social activist and a rehabilitation psychologist. She set up rehabilitation programs for the girls released from child marriage.The Girls Not Brides movement has forums that provide food, shelter and water for girls banished from their families. The forums also include educating girls on their societal rights and providing them with life skills such as sowing. Twenty-seven percent of girls in India marry before the age of 18 resulting in India being the highest country with child brides. The Saarthi Trust was the first organization in India to annul a marriage and annulled 31 other child marriages since 2012.

    Poverty is a leading cause that resolves itself in child marriage. Usually, families marry off their young daughter to help alleviate finances; the younger the bride, the lower the dowry (a form of payment). Gender norms also play a key factor in child marriages. A girl is of lower value in general. Typically, females are not able to contribute to society because of this, leading their value to be held in household chores and motherhood. Moreover, a woman’s value is upheld in her benefitting her marital family more than her blood family. Thus, the family will usually educate their sons rather than their daughters.

    The South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) takes local action against abuse towards children by providing shelter with food and water and by educating girls in jobs. The Sustainable Development Goals stated that India is striving to end child marriages and forced labor by the year 2030.

  2. Malala Yousafzai
    Malala is now a household name across the world. The youngest person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014; she now uses her voice and her story to speak for the women around the globe who could not. “I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls,” Yousafzai said.After she spoke out against education oppression towards girls in 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala in the head in 2012. Then, she began the Malala Fund. The Malala Fund now reaches six different countries; Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. In each country, it recruits female teachers and tries to bridge the gap between gender disparity in education. It also educates teachers and students on gender discrimination, teaches girls how to speak about their rights, gives free secondary schooling and campaigns for new policies advocating for girls’ education. The goal of Malala’s Fund is to give girls “12 years of free, safe, quality education.”
  3. Holida, Suci and Ria
    The Yes I Do project of Indonesia began with three girls advocating against child marriage in their village and country. Holida, Suci, both 18, and Ria, 16, advocated that the abuse’s of child marriage is everyone’s responsibility to end. The Yes I Do project strives to prevent child abuse and forced sexual acts due to the selling of young girls into marriage. The project exposes the effects that sexual abuse has and the ways it affects reproductive health.Through village forums and discussions, the girls highlighted with their fellow neighbors that they have the same rights as boys do. Through their voices, child marriage cannot go unnoticed. Now, when a girl is forced or marries young, people talk about it. This gives fire to Holida, Suci and Ria’s campaign. The girls plan on making a movie to take to other villages around their own. “We want everyone to know why child marriage is wrong so that girls everywhere can achieve their dreams,” Suci said.
  4. Manal al-Sharif
    Manal al-Sharif, an Iraqi woman, co-founded the Women to Drive movement bringing awareness to the oppression of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and bringing back the ability for women to drive. In 1957, Saudi Arabia decreed that women could no longer drive. In 1990, a large protest took place where 47 women drove around the country’s capital. Over 20 years later, in 2011, Manal al-Sharif started the Facebook campaign called Women to Drive to spread awareness of their oppression.Later that same year, al-Sharif and fellow co-founder, Wajeha al-Huwaider, recorded a video of themselves driving and speaking out against the difficulty of being a woman and commuting. In June 2018, King Salman issued a decree that Saudi women could obtain a driver’s license. Al-Sharif and the women advocating for years for freedom for their gender are making progress. Since the summer of 2018, women can take to the road, something they were not able to do for 62 years.
  5. Zahra’ Langhi
    The Lybian Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP) is an organization that puts pressure on the government to give opportunities to women to uphold sociopolitical places within government and society. Zahra’ Langhi is a co-founder and feminist activist who started speaking out in 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi’s reign ended after decades of abusing his power over the country. The leading effects after the uprising resulted in 35 women joining together to form LWPP. The state of Libya is dangerous and unbalanced, especially for women advocating to eliminate corruption in politics. Langhi never gave up her voice and continues to speak for compassion and understanding to infiltrate her country. “We need to start acting as agents of compassion and mercy. We need to develop a feminine discourse that not only honors but also implements mercy instead of revenge, collaboration instead of competition, inclusion instead of exclusion,” Langhi said.

These five women activists in developing countries spread their knowledge to their fellow neighbors and friends. From halfway across the globe, people Western countries can stand next to these women activists in developing countries and let them know they have support.

Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Flickr

Five Ways to Fight Gender InequalityThe struggle to attain global gender equality has been a centuries-long battle. Although the world has significantly progressed in women’s advancement and its goal of gender equality, women and girls disproportionately suffer from discrimination and violence. These injustices do, however, have a chance to be corrected through these five ways to fight gender inequality.

Five Ways to Fight Gender Inequality

    1. Give girls access to education.
      There are 130 million girls in the world who are not in school. Although there has been a significant boost in girls’ enrollment in schools, there is still much progress to be made. Girls are more likely than boys to never receive an education. There are 15 million girls in the world of primary-school age who will never enter a classroom, compared to about 10 million boys. Although there are countless boys and girls worldwide who face barriers when trying to receive an education, there are several specific forms of discrimination that only affect girls. These include forced marriages at a young age, gender-based violence in school settings and certain cultural or religious norms that restrict girls’ access to education.

      Education is an extremely valuable resource for girls. According to the World Bank, better-educated women tend to be healthier, participate in formal labor markets, earn higher incomes and marry at a later age. By receiving an education, girls can develop fundamental skills and gain invaluable knowledge that allows them to thrive in their careers and simply make decisions that will improve their lives.

      The Borgen Project is currently building support for the Keeping Girls in School Act (H.R.2153/ S.1071) which requires the Department of State and USAID to review and update the U.S. global strategy to empower adolescent girls. Click here to ask your Member of Congress to cosponsor the Keeping Girls in School Act: Email Congress

    2. Give women platforms to be in power and achieve economic success.
      Globally, women have less political representation than men. Around the world, 62 percent of countries have never had a female head of government or state for at least one year in the past half-century, including the United States. The number of women in political positions compared to men is alarmingly disproportionate. In global legislatures, women are outnumbered four to one. Gender equality in political positions is a rarity as only three countries have 50 percent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses. By having an equal presence of women in politics or leadership positions, the interests and values of females will be better represented on the political level.

      For many women, it is hard to achieve economic success and move up the socioeconomic scale. Throughout the world, women work for long hours of unpaid domestic jobs. In some places, females do not have the right to own land, earn an income and progress their careers due to job discrimination.

      The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act (S.2347) — signed into law in January 2019 — is one initiative that is aimed at removing several of these barriers through a number of policy objectives. One such policy change has to do with expanding support for small and medium-sized enterprises that are owned, managed and controlled by women.

    3. End violence and sexual assault against women.
      An unprecedented number of countries have laws against domestic violence and sexual assault. However, these laws often go ignored, jeopardizing women and girls’ rights to their safety and justice. Every day, 137 women across the world are killed by a family member or intimate partner. This statistic is a disturbing example of the severity of violence toward women.Females are more likely to experience sexual violence than men.

      Approximately 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide have been raped at some point in their lives. Beyond sexual harassment, women and girls are vulnerable to human trafficking as they account for 71 percent of all human trafficking victims. In many cases, females are trafficked as child brides and/or sold as sex slaves. The extent of sexual violence toward women and young girls is an extreme violation of human rights.

    4. Assure girls and women have access to menstrual health facilities.
      Menstrual hygiene management is necessary for girls and young women to attend school and participate in their daily lives, however, this necessity is not always guaranteed. The women most affected by ineffective menstrual care live in poverty. Often, girls will stay home from school when on their periods because they do not have access to sanitary products and/or their schools lack the necessary facilities.

      Dangerous ignorance and societal judgments about menstruation exist worldwide. Some cultures believe a menstruating girl causes harm to everything she touches. For instance, in rural Nepal, girls on their periods are sometimes forced out of their homes, forbidden from being in contact with people, animals and even plants. These girls are forced to stay in “menstrual huts” which can be harmful and potentially fatal. These misleading cultural taboos lead to ostracism, early marriage and the endangerment of girls’ futures. Young women in refugee camps also have a difficult time accessing safe and security sanitary products.

      Fortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act (H.R.615) which “amends current standards of care for refugee women and children to include providing safe and secure access to sanitation facilities, especially for women, girls and vulnerable populations.”

    5. End child marriage.
      In some cultures, it is acceptable if not expected for girls to marry at a young age. Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18 worldwide. Child marriage most affects girls and is mainly fueled by gender inequality and poverty. This practice is a violation of human rights as it prohibits women from making decisions about their own lives. It deprives young girls of a childhood and an education, but it also has other disturbing effects.

      Girls who are forced into marriage may be sexually harassed by their partner and have an increased risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, malaria and death from childbirth. Girls Not Brides is one of the most prominent organizations working to raise awareness on these issues by partnering with more than 1,000 civil societies across the globe.

These five ways to fight gender inequality are crucial to help women and girls around the world reach their full potential and ultimately attain gender equality.

– Marissa Pekular
Photo: Flickr

maternal mortality mozambique

Maternal health in Mozambique is a constant concern as the nation’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. While some progress has been made, there is still much that needs to be done to ensure that mothers in Mozambique have to access high-quality healthcare. Recently, two initiatives have been created, the Mozambique-Canada Maternal Health Project and a project by the Maternal and Child Survival Program. They are working to improve maternal health in Mozambique.

The Current State of Maternal Health

In 2015, the maternal mortality rate was 489 deaths per 100,000 live births. Approximately one-fifth of these deaths are women under the age of 20. Maternal mortality has declined since 1990 when there were approximately 1390 deaths per 100,000 live births; however, maternal deaths remain high. It is clear that continued efforts are needed to improve the quality of maternal health in Mozambique. Each day, approximately 800 pregnant women die from preventable causes.

One of the primary factors determining maternal mortality rates is the availability of antenatal care. In regions where more women receive four or more antenatal visits, the maternal mortality rate is generally lower. Globally, 62 percent of pregnant women have at least four antenatal visits with a skilled health professional, while 86 percent of women have at least one. In Mozambique, only 51 percent of expectant mothers have at least four antenatal visits.

Additionally, only 54 percent of births are attended by skilled health personnel. Age is also a factor, with 40 percent of women 20-24 years old reporting that they gave birth before the age of 18. Younger mothers have an increased risk of death during childbirth, particularly if there is not someone with medical training present.

Early marriage logically leads to childbirth at a younger age and improving maternal mortality rates in the nation relies on protecting young women. In response to this, the government of Mozambique created the National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Early Marriage in 2016. This program includes better education about sexual and reproductive rights with the goal of empowering women to seek out appropriate care and understand their legal rights. For poorer women, this knowledge is often not enough, however, as they may not have the autonomy to make a legal case or have a healthcare facility readily available to them.

Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP)

The Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) has launched a project in Mozambique’s Zambézia Province focused on treating pregnant women with malaria. Malaria currently accounts for 9.6 percent of deaths in the nation, and the rate in the Zambézia Province higher than the average. This project seeks to improve maternal health in Mozambique by tackling maternal and newborn deaths due to malaria.

Malaria during pregnancy has many consequences, including higher rates of maternal anemia and low birthweight babies. These factors increase the likelihood of maternal death as well as stillbirth. A treatment known as IPTs-SP exists that can prevent malaria in expectant mothers, but fewer than 22 percent of women in Mozambique receive adequate dosages during their pregnancy.

The MCSP project is empowering healthcare providers in Mozambique to treat malaria cases in pregnant women regardless of their complexity. For example, a young pregnant woman who had malaria but was also HIV-positive could not receive IPTp-SP treatments because the drug is incompatible with her HIV treatment. However, a different medication was able to be prescribed by an MCSP-trained nurse who had been trained on how to handle a variety of malaria cases.

The project also implemented a Standards-Based Management and Recognition for Malaria program in 58 health facilities in the Zambézia Province. This program is working to collect better data about malaria cases and more effectively implement initiatives for prevention and treatment.

Mozambique-Canada Maternal Health Project

Improving maternal health in Mozambique is a priority for the University of Saskatchewan as well. Researchers from the university are working with Mozambique’s health ministry and the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) to empower women in 20 different communities through the Mozambique-Canada Maternal Health Project.

Education is a key piece to this project, providing information on maternal, reproductive and sexual health to community members in a way that is participatory and engaging for adolescents and adults. The project is also prioritizing the education of health practitioners to improve the quality of care for mothers in Mozambique.

Additionally, the project seeks to improve resources in the community that can improve maternal and newborn health. They intend to provide local ambulances, establish maternal waiting homes nearby to clinics and support local midwives. The latter is the most important, as having locals who are trained health personnel can greatly benefit rural women who may not have the time or financial resources (particularly in situations of poverty) to travel to a clinic.

These efforts indicate that maternal health in Mozambique is continuing to be a priority. The work that these organizations are doing is focused on empowering women to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, ensuring health personnel are properly trained and accessible and meeting the needs of poorer women.

Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Africa
Child marriage, defined as a situation in which a person is married before the age of 18, is considered to be a violation of fundamental human rights. Child marriage generally affects more girls than boys and has been found to limit educational attainment and work opportunities, result in early pregnancy, lead to social isolation and increase the risk of domestic violence.

Globally, child marriage occurs at the highest rate in sub-Saharan Africa, where four in 10 young women are married before the age of 18. While some African countries have been able to make significant progress in reducing child marriage, overall progress throughout the continent has been slow, making child marriage in Africa a primary concern of UNICEF and other international humanitarian organizations.

Global and Regional Trends

The child marriage rate in sub-Saharan Africa is 10 percent higher than in any other region in the world. These figures vary in various regions, with 30 percent of young women married under the age of 18 in South Asia, 25 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 17 percent in the Middle East and North Africa and 11 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Within sub-Saharan Africa, child marriage occurs most frequently in West Africa, where 41 percent of young women are married before 18. This rate is 38 percent in Central Africa, 36 percent in Southern Africa and 34 percent in Eastern Africa.

Regionally, some progress has been made in reducing child marriage in Africa, as the rate in Western Africa was 44 percent in the early 2000s, the rates in Central and Eastern Africa were 42 percent. Only Southern Africa has shown no regional progress, remaining at 36 percent for the past 15 years. These reductions are not occurring quickly enough and UNICEF predicts that child marriage rates will remain above 30 percent in Western and Central Africa and above 20 percent in Eastern and Southern Africa even until 2030.

Age and Gender of Child Marriage in Africa

While a majority of child marriages occur between the ages of 15 and 18, there are many women who were married before the age of 15 as well. In sub-Saharan Africa, 12 percent of young women were either married or in a union prior to being 15 years old.

Data on boys affected by child marriage in Africa is limited, but it is still recognized to be a significant problem in some countries. The Central African Republic has one of the highest rates of child marriage for boys in the world, with 28 percent of young men married by the age of 18. This rate is 13 percent in Madagascar and 12 percent in Comoros.

Progress in African Countries

There are some African countries with low levels of child marriage, however, including Algeria, Djibouti, Eswatini, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia, that all have rates of child marriages under 10 percent. In the early 2000s, only Algeria, Djibouti, Namibia and Tunisia were under 10 percent. Notably, child marriage is the lowest in Tunisia, the country that has a rate of child marriage at 2 percent.

There have also been countries with high child marriage rates that have made significant progress over the last 15 years. Ethiopia had a child marriage rate of 60 percent in the early 2000s, that has since decreased to 40 percent. Zambia decreased their rate from 46 to 31 percent, and Guinea-Bissau decreased its rate from 44 to 24 percent.

Child Marriage in Ethiopia and Tanzania

Ethiopia provides an interesting case study for child marriage in Africa. Research conducted by the Forward UK, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of girls and women in Africa, reveals the cultural beliefs that cause child marriage to remain prevalent. Marrying girls young is a social norm in the nation, and families whose daughters are not married as children are often viewed in a negative light.

In part, this stems from the importance placed on virginity, and many believe that the earlier a girl is married the more likely she is to be a virgin. Girls may also be married to priests, as this is a way for religious leaders to gain respect. Priests must marry virgins, however, and therefore tend to have the youngest brides. Families also often perceive child marriage as a way out of poverty, as they receive a bride price and no longer carry the financial burden of caring for their married daughter. Some families also want to ensure they will have grandchildren before they die.

The organization conducted similar research in Tanzania, where girls may be married as young as 11 and where most marriages are arranged by the girl’s father without consideration of what she wants. Domestic violence is widespread in the nation, greatly impacting the health and wellbeing of child brides. Husbands generally do not have patience with child brides who may be too young to effectively complete the domestic tasks required of them, making them more likely to beat younger wives. Polygamy is also legal in Tanzania, which can negatively impact young brides.

Moving Forward

To effectively reduce child marriage, Forward UK recommends increasing community programs aimed at raising awareness about the negative impacts of child marriage, providing programs that will empower girls, improving girls’ access to education and establishing legal and medical services aimed towards girls and young women.

It remains to be seen whether progress in reducing child marriage in Africa will begin to occur at a faster rate. This progress would have a large impact and could help millions of girls across the continent.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in India
India is one of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage. Approximately 27 percent of women are married in the country by the time they turn 18. Out of the total of 29 states in India, the states of Bihar and Rajasthan lead the country with 69 percent and 65 percent of girls married under the legal age, respectively. The mean age when girls marry in these regions is only 16.6 years and more than 13 million girls in India remain child brides.

Causes of Child Marriage in India

The prevalence of child marriage in India is caused mainly by social traditions and poverty within many states. Young girls are often deemed an economic burden by their parents. The greatest expenses that families must bear are paying for education and housing and these expenses increase as a child gets older. To alleviate the economic pressure that female children create, they are transferred to a husband, that can be viewed as a guardian.

The rates of these unions have decreased in girls under 15 years of age, but have increased between in girls aged between 15 and 18. After the marriage, the male guardian becomes responsible for the female child. The child is often subjected to domestic violence and sexual abuse. Nearly 39 percent of husbands report either sexual or physical abuse toward their wives.

Health Risks and Education

The health of the child is put at greater risk because of sexual violence. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are two times more likely to die in childbirth. The lack of protection also exposes them to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. Young women aged from 15 to 24 years are 44 percent more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than men from the same age group. This is due to many factors including lack of access to adequate health care services and inter-partner violence resulting in unsafe sex.

In addition, these child brides have less educational opportunities than girls who are not subjected to early marriages. They are directly correlated due to the fact that new brides are expected to be mothers and homemakers. This relationship goes both ways, as girls who have access to secondary and higher education are three times less likely to marry by the age of 18.

Preventing Child Marriage in India

India itself only reports that 27 percent of girls were married in the country by the time they are 18. This percentage has decreased from 50 percent in the last decade. India lowered child marriage rates drastically with new legislation. The country began improving the situation in 2006 with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. This act outlawed marriage in girls below the age of 18 and boys under the age of 21.

However, this act has had negative effects on the regulation of child marriage. Marriages in states like Bihar and Rajasthan are more of a social construct rather than a matter of legal documentation. The rates of child marriage remain high in these regions due to cohabitation of an older male guardian and a female child. This cohabitation is usually accompanied by a ceremony declaring martial union without registering it with the state.

It is much more difficult to regulate cohabitation, but the country drafted legislation to prevent this type of union. In 2013, the National Action Plan to Prevent Child Marriage was introduced nationally. This strategy aims to effectively end child marriage in India and make it a child protection issue. While the act is not yet finalized, as of 2017, men can be held legally accountable if they are involved in child marriages. India’s Supreme Court ruled that sex with an underage wife is considered rape. This offers an opportunity to regulate child marriage, even when it is performed as a social exchange without official documentation.

Moreover, India has joined the South Asian Initiative to End Violence against Child Marriage and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. The country is making great strides to prevent this violation of human rights.

Women Peer Groups

When the state fails to protect the children, the women of India rise up. An activist grassroots movement of boycotting underage marriages has been incredibly effective. Over 100 Women Peer Groups are set up across five rural Indian states. These independent groups and individuals work to stop marriages in person, lobby for legislation against child marriage and improve resources for children that find themselves in these situations. Malti Tudu is one of the members of these groups that now comprise of over 2,800 women dedicated to ending illegal unions.

Child marriage is a definitive issue that the Indian government is focusing on. Through new legislation and governmental strategies, along with the aid of grassroots movements, the country can effectively create a safe landscape for children, especially young girls, to grow in.

Emily Triolet
Photo: Pixabay

Child Marriage in Mexico
Child marriage in Mexico is more common than most people realize. In comparison to Mexico’s regional counterparts — specifically the United States and Canada — child marriage is a large problem that contributes to, and is caused by, Mexico’s poverty crisis.

Ages of Consent

In comparison to other NAFTA countries, the rate of child marriage in the United States — a much more densely populated country — is highest in West Virginia. Between 2000 and 2010, 248,000 children were married in the United States.

Canada’s data on this topic is not comprehensive; however, the government of Canada has taken massive steps to mitigate the problem of child marriage; in fact, most said marriages actually take place and are moved to other countries.

In Mexico, one out of every four girls is married before the age of 18. This is permitted by Mexican law, as the age of consent in Mexico is 14 years old (with parental consent). This is a striking difference compared to the U.S. and Canada, where the age of consent is averaged at 18 years in most parts of both countries.

Child Marriage in Mexico

Child marriage in Mexico is directly related to the pervasive poverty levels in Mexico, both in that the socioeconomic status causes child marriage, and child marriage, in turn, contributes to poverty levels.

The high levels of child marriage in Mexico are highly correlated with teenage pregnancy. Teen pregnancy is a large driver of negative economics and individual poverty.

Teenage pregnancy is highly correlated with not finishing education (which creates a lower likelihood of finding a stable career), a higher likelihood of ending up impoverished and increased healthcare costs.

Poverty’s Power

The main driver of child marriage in Mexico is poverty. The poverty in Mexico has caused unprecedented levels of violence, and many see marriage as a way of fleeing such brutality. Such behavior applies to the girls within the 20 million impoverished children of Mexico, as they often fall into the peculiar consent and marriage laws as a means to flee poverty.

Lack of job stability, education and political omission are all factors that drive the high levels of child marriage in Mexico.

Such a complex topic, which derives from various socioeconomic and cultural baggage, requires complex problem solving, of which the lack thereof perpetuates the moral crisis. Making recommendations to Mexican policymakers cannot just involve raising the age of consent, as various cultural factors also drive the state of affairs.

Methods of Mitigation

Actions to mitigate the problem of child marriage in Mexico started with the Mexican government outlawing the practice in 2014. This alone will not help; women’s empowerment must also go hand-in-hand when such legislation. Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education has joined with the Mexican Academy of Science and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development to promote STEM in girls’ education in Mexico.

The University of Texas at San Antonio is working with Mexican Universities to teach various concepts of STEM. The U.S. Mexico foundation has also taken up a program called “Mujeres en STEM” to encourage more women to be involved in the STEM fields.

Girls’ education in Mexico is improving slowly, and will ultimately lead to women’s empowerment and slow down the prevalence of child marriage in Mexico. Women are increasingly enrolling in universities, even with the current levels of insufficient gender equality.

Improvement in Female Education and Employment

Women are also seeking paid employment, and the fact that about 20 percent of senators have been female since 2006 suggests the influence of women in politics is also increasing. If such development continues, these efforts will work to help eliminate child marriage in Mexico.

Policymakers need to also take geography into consideration — poverty occurs in mostly rural areas, therefore most of the resources designed to mitigate the problem must be litigated toward these communities. As the late Christopher Hitchens once said: “The cure for poverty has a name: it’s called the empowerment of women.

Mexico lacks sufficient women’s empowerment — women are told to drop out of school to assume household duties; rates of violence against women are high; and indeed many of these early marriages are forced. Promoting women’s empowerment will work for, as Hitchens also said: “it works everywhere it has been implemented”.

– Daniel Lehewych
Photo: Flickr

FGM/C and Poverty
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is a practice that has occurred for generations — a female, often in childhood, is subjected to some form of cutting to her genitalia in the promotion of religious following and the detraction of desire for sexual interaction. Its purpose is to reduce sexual desire in women, thereby making them less likely to be interested in intercourse outside of marriage. It is also highly symbolic to many groups of people who practice it as a religious necessity; however, there is no known religion that demands this practice.

FGM/C and Poverty

FGM/C and poverty are connected in developing countries as the girls who undergo FGM/C are often from poor families who are then married as children, never continue their education and subsequently repeat the cycle of poverty. Recently, there has been a decline in FGM/C practitioners, which should lead to lower levels of extreme poverty on an individual basis.

Countries such as Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia and Togo have experienced a decline in FGM/C prevalence, with Egypt reducing prevalence from 69 percent to 55 percent between ages of 2005 and 2014. As the correlation with lower education becomes more well-known, it can be inferred that the decline in FGM/C victims has led to a higher attendance rate for girls at school, which can, in turn, affect the poverty in the region.

Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a program designed to create social equality throughout the world, works to end poverty in developing countries. A primary focus of the organization is to work to end FGM/C and poverty because the list of side effects and results of the practice leave women often unable to contribute in their society because they are traumatized, physically incapacitated, unable to maintain strength and nutrition, and in some cases, do not survive the procedure.

When injuries or death result, the cost of caring for these women or paying for their funeral causes strain on family members and communities. Such a responsibility can, in turn, increase the poverty issues already at play. Disability due to the trauma from FGM/C can also lead to a woman’s decreased productivity level, thereby bringing in less money for the family and continuing the cycle of poverty.

The Beginning of the End

The decline of the practice is increasing in developing countries, with more people wanting FGM/C to end. In 2010, a Burkina Faso survey determined that 90.6 percent of women wanted FGM/C to end, a staggering increase from 75.1 percent in 1999. With such a trend beginning, countries should encourage education, discourage FGM/C and lower the poverty levels by introducing a new way of thinking.

FGM/C and poverty are both declining, but it can be agreed that the decline is not occurring quickly enough. More must be done to protect young girls from the sexual alterations that are often completed without consent.

By not cutting into perfectly healthy and innocent girls, developing nations can promote a stronger and healthier workforce. FGM/C and poverty are connected, and one cannot be reduced in isolation — it is imperative that both be tackled to end the other.

– Kayleigh Mattoon
Photo: Flickr