Facts About Child Labor in Iraq

Iraq is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. It has been wracked by violence for decades. Children in Irag are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in this violent situation. These 10 facts about child labor in Iraq demonstrate just how dangerous it can be.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Iraq

  1. More than 575,000 children worked instead of going to school in Iraq in 2016. This is an increase of more than 250,000 since 1990 when the First Gulf War began and the ongoing violence within Iraq started. Approximately 75 percent of Iraqi children age 5 to 14 attend school, but attendance rates are unevenly distributed. In governates that have experienced violence, up to 90 percent of children are out of school.
  2. Children are coerced into various kinds of work. Some work in agriculture or industries such as construction, factory work and brick making. Children also work in the service industry and are involved in domestic work and street work, such as selling goods and pushing carts. It is estimated that 2 percent of children age 12-14 spend 28 hours or more a week on housework. The same number of children perform unpaid work for someone other than an immediate family member. About 12 percent work for their family’s businesses.
  3. Many children in Iraq are coerced into the “worst forms of child labor” as identified by the International Labour Organization (ILO). These include recruitment into armed conflict, use in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, forced begging, domestic work as a result of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Forces on both sides of the current conflict in Iraq have used child soldiers, one of the worst forms of child labor. In 2018, ISIL was responsible for recruiting 39 children and detaining more than 900.
  4. The Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia officially endorsed by the Iraqi state, has reportedly trained more than 200 children to join the fight against ISIS. Human Rights Watch has documented 38 cases of children being recruited into forces affiliated with the PKK, some as young as 12. On the other side of the conflict, ISIS has consistently used children as suicide bombers and soldiers. ISIS recruits children as they are easiest to indoctrinate. Sometimes they will pay impoverished families hundreds of dollars a month to send their children to military training camps.
  5. Although the minimum age requirement to work in Iraq is 15, laws are not evenly enforced. Additionally, while forced labor and sexual exploitation of children are prohibited, there are no laws prohibiting human trafficking. Adding to the problem, children are only required to be in school for six years. This would typically end their education at age 12. This makes children age 12 to 15 especially at risk for exploitation since they are often out of school but cannot work legally.
  6. Problems such as poverty, lack of education and a shortage of economic opportunities increase child labor. Children living in rural areas are more likely to work than those living in cities due to the stark divide in poverty levels. About 39 percent of people living in rural areas in Iraq live in poverty while only 16 percent of urban dwellers are impoverished. Poverty is a driving factor behind child labor, as impoverished parents often need income from their children so the family can get by.
  7. Sexual exploitation is also one of the worst forms of child labor. In some parts of Iraq, girls are used as “gifts” to settle disputes between tribes. Additionally, growing poverty has increased the number of parents force girls into marriages. At least 5 percent of girls in Iraq are married before the age of 15. In regions controlled by ISIS, the terrorist group runs markets in which captured girls and women are sold as sex slaves. Yezidi women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, facing capture and trafficking by ISIS fighters. Gender-based discrimination also contributes to the problem of the sexual exploitation of young girls.
  8. The worst forms of child labor can have physical and psychological effects on children. Because children are still developing, children risk stunted growth and physical atrophy as well as behavioral issues from performing physical labor. Performing hard labor in industries such as agriculture also involves working with dangerous equipment, carrying overly heavy loads and working with dangerous chemicals and pesticides. Being exposed to violence and cruelty as a young child can also result in psychological problems. Spending time at work instead of with their peers can also result in delayed social development, depression and isolation.
  9. Iraq has made efforts to get rid of child labor. It has opened 80 schools in West Mosul and created educational opportunities for Syrian refuges children. This has resulted in 60,000 more children attending school. Iraq has also created new policies meant to address child labor through education and social services. These include the creation of informal education programs, subsidies for law oncome families so that children do not have to work and shelters for human trafficking victims.
  10. Organizations such as UNICEF have been working with the Iraqi government to protect children and keep them in school. UNICEF is striving to expand access to schools and increase the quality of education within Iraq. The agency has provided e-learning for children in areas without schools and assisted the Iraqi government with the Accelerated Learning Programme for children who have missed school. UNICEF continues to work with Iraq to improve the quality of education within the country. Together, they are making revisions to curriculums and materials and extended training for teachers. Additionally, the organization calls for the strengthening of institutions meant to protect children. It wants to increase case management and other services meant to serve children and combat social norms that prevent children and their families from seeking help.

The ILO has declared that the long-term solution to child labor “lies in sustained economic growth leading to social progress, in particular, poverty alleviation and universal education.” This means that the U.S. has an opportunity to end child labor in Iraq through poverty-reducing measures. Currently, 80 percent of U.S. aid to Iraq goes to military assistance, with only 20 percent used to address humanitarian needs.

These 10 facts about child labor in Iraq demonstrate that an increase in aid focused on poverty-reduction and education could change the lives of thousands of children. By reducing poverty, there is a stronger chance of reducing child labor.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Saudi Arabia
Many know Saudi Arabia as one of the richest countries in the world. With the second largest natural oil reserve underground, Saudi Arabia is rapidly accumulating wealth and political power in international affairs. However, there is a dark side to the flashy urban lights of Saudi Arabia. The wealth gap that exists between the rich and the poor, coupled with the country’s patriarchal tradition and its recent conflict with the Houthi movement in Yemen, puts many Saudi and immigrant children in danger of child labor, violence and economic exploitation. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Saudi Arabia.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Saudi Arabia

  1. Poverty is the main cause of Saudi Arabia’s Child Labor. While Saudi Arabia is famous for its wealth, thanks in large part to the second-largest oil deposits in the world, there is a big economic disparity between the poor and the rich. According to a study that the Saudi Arabian government funded in 2015, 22 percent of families in Saudi Arabia depend on their children’s income.
  2. The minimum employment age is 13. In the royal decree of 1969, Saudi Arabia enacted a law that set the minimum employment age to 13 years old and banned children from working in hazardous conditions. This does not apply to works in the family business, domestic labor and agricultural work. Some employers of Saudi Arabia exploit a loophole in the law. For example, this law does not address the child brides of Saudi Arabia. If a child bride does any house chores or agricultural work for her husband’s family, it will not be a violation of the minimum employment age law.
  3. There are cases of child labor trafficking from neighboring countries. Stemming from Saudi Arabia’s recent conflict with Yemen, which left Yemen devastated, wartorn and practically lawless, some Yemeni parents are seeking illegal agents who will traffick their children to Saudi Arabia. While some Yemeni parents traffick their children to Saudi Arabia to save them from the desperate conditions in Yemen, other parents traffick their children in hopes of economic relief provided by their children’s labor in Saudi Arabia. While deportation is the main concern of many Yemeni parents for their trafficked children, many trafficked Yemeni children are in danger of violence, hunger and sexual abuse.
  4. Child workers usually have parents who have low professional and education level. The low education and professional level of child workers’ parents, coupled with economic disparity, make poverty in Saudi Arabia hereditary. Saudi Arabia is taking steps to ameliorate this issue. In early 2018, the Saudi government declared that it aims to eradicate adult illiteracy by 2024. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education established adult education centers across the country and launched the Learning Neighborhood program in 2006 in pursuit of this goal.
  5. Children of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia do not have protection under a law that prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Saudi Arabia’s labor law does prohibit forced labor, however, these measures do not extend to over 12 million migrant workers in the country. Some employers exploit this loophole in the labor laws, which sometimes results in physical, mental and sexual abuse of migrant workers and their children.
  6. Saudi Arabia’s citizenship requirement puts Saudi children in danger of child labor and human trafficking. A Saudi child’s citizenship comes from his or her father. If a child has a citizen mother and a non-citizen father, or from a mother who is not legally married to a citizen father, there is a chance that the country will consider the child a stateless person. As a result of being stateless, Saudi Arabia can deny a child state education, and in certain cases, medical attention. According to the U.S. Department of State, about 5 percent of street begging children in Saudi Arabia are Saudi nationals of unknown parents.
  7. The Saudi government is working with the international community to combat child labor. In 2016, with technical advisory services support from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Saudi Arabia ratified its report for ILO’s Minimum Age Convention of 1973. According to the United Nations’ 2016 report on Saudi Arabia’s adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia adopted and implemented regulations against child abuse and human trafficking. As part of the new labor reforms and regulations in 2015, for example, the Labor Ministry of Saudi Arabia can impose SR $20,000 ($5,333) on employers who employ children under 15-years old.
  8. In 2014, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) launched a campaign against child labor in Saudi Arabia. For 19-days, WWSF campaigned to raise awareness for child labor, abuse and violence against children and youth. The National Family Safety Program of Saudi Arabia also launched its four-day program which raised awareness for economic exploitation and abuse of children in Saudi Arabia. Through these campaigns, both WWSF and the Saudi government aimed to reduce child labor in Saudi Arabia by highlighting that child labor contributes to the abuse of children by harming children’s health, physical development, psychological health and access to education.
  9. UNICEF and the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs opened a reception center for trafficked Yemeni children. Many trafficked Yemeni children end up in the streets of Saudi Arabian cities as beggars or street vendors. In the worst cases, these trafficked children are under severe danger of exploitation and abuse. When the Saudi authorities detained them, these Yemeni children usually went to prison or open-air enclosures with adult deportees. The center provides shelter for these children.
  10. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aims to address the country’s poverty. Launched in April 2016, the Saudi government plans to address the country’s poverty by improving state education and empowering nonprofit organizations. These improvements can lead to making more opportunities available for the children and parents of poor economic background, potentially reducing child labor in Saudi Arabia. In this pursuit, the Saudi government granted $51 billion to the education sector. The Ministry of education established educational centers all around the country to improve adult literacy and theories determine that this improvement in adult literacy will also improve child literacy.

Child labor in Saudi Arabia is both a local and international issue. While the stateless and poor children of Saudi Arabia turn to street vending and begging to support their families, many trafficked Yemeni children in the country are under constant threat of violence and exploitation. These 10 facts about child labor in Saudi Arabia show that with the help of the international community and the Saudi government’s increasing awareness of its less fortunate populace, a better future awaits for the children of Saudi Arabia.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Health in IndiaWomen’s health in India is still vulnerable to several risks such as high maternal mortality rates, lack of preventative care and misinformation about family planning and contraception. Despite this, India has proven itself a pioneer in technological innovation among developing countries and it is putting its new innovations towards improving women’s healthcare. 

Maternal Health and Newborn Development

Although maternal mortality rates in India have declined substantially in the last decade, the number of recorded deaths related to pregnancy complications in the country is still remarkably high. A report by UNICEF estimates that 44,000 women die due to preventable pregnancy-complications in India yearly. These complications often stem from a lack of knowledge and inherently the inability to understand that their baby isn’t developing correctly. This lack of knowledge results in fewer women seeking treatment that could save their lives. To combat this, organizations are developing innovative mobile apps to help women stay proactive and educated about the health of their babies and the status of their pregnancies. 

For example, in 2014, MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), an organization dedicated to women’s maternal health in developing countries, developed a digital service called mMitra. The service sends recordings and SMS messages to new and expectant mothers with crucial information about the early stages of pregnancy and child development within the first year of life. The app, which collected 50,000 subscribers within months of its launch, sends educational content to women in their native languages and at times of their choosing. The app,  mMitra ultimately aims to help women pick up on pregnancy and child development issues early and seek treatment before symptoms escalate or endanger the mother and child. 

Breast Exams and Preventative Care

Mammograms are an essential part of preventative care for women globally. Despite this, it is estimated that over 90 percent of women in the developing world go without this essential screening examination. Particularly, in India, high-costs, unsustainable electricity and lack of properly trained radiologists are major causes for the inaccessibility to mammograms and other procedures like it. More women die of breast cancer in the country than anywhere else in the world (around 70,000 women annually). While these high death rates due to inaccessibility to preventive care are tragic, they’ve inspired innovative medical devices that have revolutionized women’s health in India. 

One such device, known as iBreastExam was invented by computer engineer Mihir Shah. Shah invented the device to ensure that women in even the most rural parts of India could get affordable, accurate breast exams and seek treatments as needed. The battery-operated wireless machine is designed to record variations in breast elasticity and performs full examinations in five minutes, posting and recording results through a mobile app. Not only that, the exams are painless, radiation-free and are extremely affordable at $1 to $4 per exam.

Family Planning and Contraceptive Options

Lack of family planning and knowledge of contraceptive options is another challenge in improving women’s health in India. Many Indian women shy away from modern family planning and contraception due to things like familial expectations, cultural influence and a general fear stemming from misinformation from disreputable resources. Family planning and the use of contraception could reduce India’s high maternal mortality rates. However, without proper education on these matters, it is difficult for young Indian women to make informed decisions about what options are best for them. But, in the midst of India’s technological revolution, an increase in accessibility to mobile devices is steadily transforming the way women are gaining health awareness in India. 

There is a particular mobile app that is playing a huge role in improving women’s health awareness in India. Known as Gyan Jyoti, the mobile app provides credible information through educational films, TV advertisements and expert testimonials from doctors. It also acts as a counseling tool for ASHAS (appointed health counselors). The app allows ASHAS to expand their knowledge of family planning through an e-learning feature, customize their counseling plan according to the needs of clients and monitor and store client activity in order to provide the best information possible. 

Overall, while there are still many challenges in improving women’s health in India, the country has proven itself to be a pioneer in technological innovation. Just as well, it’s proven that transformation is possible by putting its innovations towards women’s health awareness through mobile apps, life-saving hand-held devices, and educational platforms that can be accessed at the click of a button. 

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

 

Project Healthy Children

Global hunger is one of the most pressing and visible poverty-related issues in our world today. People can easily recognize the defined ribs, sunken eyes and bone-thin limbs of starvation. However, there is another side to hunger that is not as obvious: micronutrient deficiency.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals such as zinc, iron, iodine, vitamin A and folic acid. In developed nations like the United States, most people get these critical nutrients from maintaining a well-rounded diet or taking a daily supplement. But it isn’t always that simple in some other parts of the world. In fact, micronutrient deficiency remains a big problem in Eastern and Southern Africa but often does not get the attention it deserves because the effects are not immediately visible. For this reason, micronutrient deficiency has been nicknamed “hidden hunger.”

Hidden hunger has real and long-lasting consequences. Insufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals can result in learning disabilities, mental retardation, low work capacity, blindness and premature birth. These deficiencies lower overall health and weaken the immune system, thus making it much harder to survive infections like HIV and measles. They can cause extreme birth defects in children and are the leading cause of maternal death during childbirth.

Background

Clearly, micronutrient deficiency is a pressing issue that deserves the attention necessary to mitigate it. An organization called Sanku’s Project Healthy Children (PHC) is doing just that through a process known as food fortification: essentially, they add critical micronutrients to the flour people already consume.

PHC is based in Tanzania and currently supplies almost 2 million people with fortified flour to help them get the vitamins and minerals they need. Flour is a staple food that many people consume regularly; according to the PHC website, “over 50 million Tanzanians eat maize flour every day,” but more than 95 percent of it is produced without added nutrients in small, rural mills. Countries like Tanzania are in desperate need of better access to micronutrients—here, about 35 percent of children under 5 years old have stunted growth due to under-nutrition. Project Healthy Children uses the mills and distribution systems already in place to simply add essential micronutrients to the flour with no additional cost for the consumer. This way, people can get the nutrition they need without changing their eating or purchasing habits.

Why Food Fortification?

  1.  It is cheap: Food fortification is very inexpensive, typically costing no more than $0.25 per person annually. In other words, one quarter donated is enough to supply someone with adequate nutrients for an entire year.
  2. It is effective: Improving nutrition can be highly beneficial to overall health, work capacity and productivity. Women who sustain good nutrition before getting pregnant greatly reduce the risk of maternal death and birth defects.
  3. It has a huge payback: The economic rewards of food fortification are astounding. The WHO estimates that the consequences of micronutrient deficiency (birth defects, learning disabilities, premature death, etc.) can cost a country about 5 percent of its GDP per year. Supplying people with critical vitamins and minerals puts less pressure on a country’s health care system and allows for a more productive workforce. In addition, the Copenhagen Consensus estimated that for every dollar spent on nutrition in young children, a country will save an average of $45 and sometimes as much as $166.

The Future of Project Healthy Children

In the past few years, Project Healthy Children has become even more streamlined in its approach to food fortification. A partnership with Vodafone, a mobile network based in the United Kingdom, allows PHC staff to remotely monitor flour mills so that they instantly know when a machine is down or a mill is low on nutrients. The partnership saves money, time and manpower, allowing PHC to run more smoothly.

Project Healthy Children currently helps nourish about 1.7 million people in sub-Saharan Africa but hopes to reach 100 million people by 2025, an ambitious goal that would be instrumental in lifting communities in Southern and Eastern Africa out of extreme poverty.

– Morgan Johnson
Photo: Flickr

symphony for peruJuan Diego Flórez is a highly-recognized, award-winning Peruvian tenor, who has sung on the most coveted stages, including Covent Garden and Milan’s La Scala. He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and in 2011, he started Symphony for Peru. The foundation offers music classes and activities for children in low-income families, giving them a chance to develop their talent, teach them values through the arts and pull them away from at-risk situations.

The Need for Creativity

After struggling in the 80s and 90s with terrorism, hyperinflation and corruption, Peru started recovering and achieving steady economic growth from the beginning of 2005 to 2013. Poverty rates decreased and the stable economy gave Peruvians hope of improving their quality of life. This growth, however, has not been able to translate into proper educational or social development. Although it no longer stands in the last place of the PISA rankings, there is still much work to be done. With this in mind, Flórez stepped in and decided to help in the best way he knew: through music.

Juan Diego Flórez created Symphony for Peru, or Sinfonía por el Perú in Spanish, in 2011 to promote musical education in Peru’s most distant and poorest communities, throughout Coastal, Andean and Amazon regions. Flórez used the structure of the Venezuelan government’s music program as inspiration for Symphony for Peru; José Antonio Abreu created this program, who linked musical skills as a route to improve social and personal development.

Music to Peru’s Ears

Symphony for Peru aims to help children in low-income communities. The organization provides music education not only for children to develop their creative skills, but also to provide a different form of entertainment or hobby, taking them away from the risks of the streets, including drugs, crime and teenage pregnancy, and into the classroom.

As it is spread out throughout the country, the Symphony for Peru created different core groups of around 400 and 600 children who participate in either choirs, orchestras or jazz bands. It also works to have two luthier workshops, where children can practice instrument development by learning how to build and tune their own instruments. Another important aspect of the organization is their main Symphony Orchestra, which performs a couple of times per year and has recently recorded and released its own Christmas album.

Perhaps the most innovative way to show the results of the work Symphony for Peru is doing is by letting the children speak for themselves. Students in the organization can show their improvement and talent with patrons and the general audience in free concerts that Flórez organized. These often happen in July, Peru’s independence month.

An Impact through Music

More than 8,000 children have developed their skills as part of the program, and as a result, perseverance and efficacy at school has improved, as well as their behavior and ability to focus in the classroom. Additionally, the organization has proven to be a useful and more productive way for children to spend their time, and the levels of both psychological and physical abuse in the families of students have drastically decreased.

There is no doubt that Flórez is one of Peru’s most important cultural ambassadors. His talent and work ethic lead him to the top, and music critics compare him to some of the best opera tenors in the world like Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. His greatest gift, though, may not be his musical talent, but his selflessness and generosity, as well as his will to give back to his country and share his skills with the people who need it the most.

– Luciana Schreier
Photo: Flickr

 Abandoned Infants in PakistanAt just over a month old, Fatima was given away on live television. Fatima is just one of many children orphaned in Pakistan after being abandoned in trashcans and dirty alleyways. Placed in piles of rubbish, these infants are dying by the hundreds every year. On his show, “Amaan Ramzan,” Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain famously gives away cars and other luxury items to families in need. However, the show made world news after giving Fatima and another baby girl to a family who are unable to have children. As he explains, “These children are not a part of garbage, are not a part of trash, so we took these children from the garbage, from the trash and delivered them to the needy people, the needy parents.” Fatima’s new mother, Tanzeem Ud Din, said that she hopes the show will help encourage others to adopt children in need.

While the cause of the trend to abandon children remains unknown, many have their theories. One father who adopted two of these afflicted children and wishes to remain unnamed said, “it could be people not wanting children, women on their own or a couple that did not go through with an abortion.” He says religious belief plays a great roll in this. Many perish in the litter before they can be rescued. The lucky ones make it to orphanages dedicated to helping abandoned children. The father described his visit to the orphanage he adopted from sites of children with fear on their faces, crying because they had been dropped off two days ago when their mother died and their father left to remarry. Many of the children here live without a birth certificate or any paperwork for identification.

While the situation is horrific, many are working on solutions that will help save these children’s lives.

  1. Improvements to legislation: According to Director of the Imkaan Welfare Organization, Tahera Hasan, “Solutions don’t lie with philanthropic institutions and they never will. We are literally a drop in the ocean as far as the larger landscape is concerned.” In 2016, the Upper House of Parliament passed its first-ever bill to help abandoned children. Un-attended Orphans Rehabilitation and Welfare Act was written to protect the rights of orphaned children and ensure housing, education and healthcare.
  2. Decreasing poverty rates throughout Pakistan: According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015–2016, 39 percent of the population lives in poverty. In contrast, the country has a total fertility rate of 2.55, according to the CIA Factbook, putting it at number 76 for world fertility rates. As a comparison, the United States is 142 on this list. Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms says poverty reduction is one of the main objectives of Pakistan’s Vision 2025.
  3. Improving adoption services: According to Hasan, “There is no formal structure for adoption in place here, it is not recognized by the state.” Hansan is dedicated to the support of families adopting in Pakistan with the Imkaan Welfare Organization. Adoption remains mainly unregulated in Pakistan, with no paperwork for these children.

Social worker Ramzan Chippa said, “Parents who are adopting babies want healthy babies.” However, many orphaned children are described as severely mentally ill, one father even noticing a boy tied up in his orphanage to prevent him from taking bites out of his own arm. As a result, organizations such as Imkaan Welfare Organization are necessary to help these children become adoptable and find homes to be placed in.

The unnamed adoptive father referred to the child crisis in Pakistan as “unfinished business.” For countless children abandoned in dumpsters and litter, that is what their life is. Until Pakistan can adequately care for the thousands of unwanted children born every year, their existence will seem unfinished as they are homeless, purposeless and without a family.

Maura Byrne
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in the GambiaMaternal health continues to be a concern in developing countries around the world. Although overall maternal mortality decreased by 44 percent from 1990 to 2015, many nations still have a long way to go if the goal of fewer than 70 deaths per 100,000 live births is to be reached by 2030. Of note, despite improvements, the maternal mortality in The Gambia remains one of the highest in the world, with 706 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Maternal mortality is a reflection of the disparities between the rich and the poor, with 94 percent of all maternal deaths occurring in developing countries. The fact that 50 percent of The Gambia’s population lives below the poverty line contributes to the high rates of maternal mortality in the nation.

A majority of the complications that lead to maternal deaths are preventable or treatable. However, either because the mother is giving birth outside of a health care facility or due to a lack of supplies or expertise, the necessary care is not always provided.

The main causes of maternal deaths are severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure and delivery complications. Other deaths are caused by malaria, AIDS and other diseases.

Contributing Factors

In The Gambia, the national maternal mortality ratio decreased by 46 percent between 1995 and 2015. This can, in part, be attributed to an increase in antenatal care coverage, as 86.2 percent of Gambian women now receive antenatal care from a skilled health professional.

For deliveries, however, only 57.2 percent take place in the presence of a skilled health professional. Most women deliver at home with a traditional birth attendant; the main barriers to giving birth in a health care facility being insufficient time to travel and lack of transportation.

Maternal health in The Gambia is further complicated by social and cultural factors that contribute to pregnancy complications and the low percentage of women who give birth at a health facility or with a health professional. A study done in rural Gambia found that there were four interrelated factors that impacted maternal health:

  • Pregnant women’s heavy workload
  • The gendered division of labor
  • Women’s inferior status in the household
  • Limited access to and utilization of health care

Women in rural Gambia generally work alongside their husbands on farms, a fact that does not change even with pregnancy. Gambian women described being physically and emotionally exhausted from physical labor in the field and the house, noting that they did not get sufficient rest at any point during their pregnancy.

This is connected to the way labor is divided between men and women, as women often work longer hours than their husbands, regardless of whether they are pregnant or not. Social practices prevent men from doing certain household chores while their wives are pregnant to allow them to get more rest, which contributes to poor maternal health in The Gambia.

The activities that women continue to perform can also have negative impacts. Women noted that they had to fetch and carry water from long distances, pick groundnuts and cook with firewood, all of which are health risks for pregnant women.

Additionally, women have less control than their husbands, largely because they are economically dependent on them. Despite doing equal work in the field and more work in the house, women receive no financial benefits. This keeps them from becoming economically independent and forces them to rely on their husbands, giving their husbands more power.

As a result, many women who wanted to stop working could not unless their husbands allowed it. They also could not make certain decisions, including where to give birth, without the oversight of their husbands, contributing to a lack of utilization of health care facilities. As women are often required to work up until they give birth, their workload prevents them from being able to travel to a health care facility in time for delivery.

Improving maternal health in The Gambia, therefore, is connected to women’s autonomy. In addition to improving access to health care facilities and ensuring adequate supplies are available, work needs to be done to ensure that families are educated about the dangers of working during pregnancy and that women have the ability to make decisions for themselves about where to give birth.

Improvement Efforts

Other efforts are also important to decreasing maternal mortality in The Gambia. Within the last decade, the Horizons Trust Gambia and The Gambian Ministry of Health partnered with an organization called Soapbox to launch the Maternal Cleanliness Champions Initiative aimed at reducing infections from childbirth.

One of the main projects of this initiative is the distribution of Clean Birth Kits, which include soap, a clean blade and a clean plastic sheet to help ensure that expectant mothers have sanitary materials regardless of whether they are giving birth at a hospital or at home.

The Maternal Cleanliness Champions Initiative also worked to create a manual for cleanliness standards at health care facilities in The Gambia, adapting the manual to work with the local context of each hospital. The program also supported the training of facility staff to ensure that they knew how to adequately clean to prevent infections and other health complications.

These important efforts need to be combined with others to form a holistic approach to improving maternal health in The Gambia. Only coordinated efforts that are adapted to cultural and social contexts will be successful in significantly reducing maternal mortality in the nation.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

 

How early childhood education in Kenya could combat lifelong povertyThere is no one cure for poverty and no way to guarantee that a child will have a successful future, but a good education is a solid start. Poverty is especially bad in Kenya where 42 percent of residents live below the poverty line. A new program in Kenya is testing a model that would prepare young children for school and ultimately prepare them to be successful adults. Early childhood education in Kenya may prove crucial for the success of young Kenyans since such programs have been proven to help children worldwide.

The Tayari Program

In 2014, Kenya introduced a new pilot program for children aged four to six who were enrolled in both public and private education. The program, named “Tayari” after the Kiswahili word for “readiness,” is a “cost-effective, scalable” program with three facets to prepare young children for successful educations. It includes a learning model to help children gain mathematical, reading and even emotional development skills. Teachers receive specific training, guides and materials. In addition to specific teaching styles and a rigid curriculum, children are taught about healthy eating and personal hygiene, specifically the importance of handwashing.

Understanding the actual significance of the program is crucial, which is why Moses Ngware, a senior research scientist at the African Population and Health Research Centre, conducted extensive research on Tayari. His team looked at the impact, cost and scalability of the program. Using randomized controls, they found that students had a three-month advantage over their classmates who were not part of the program. They also found that improving a student’s scores 8 percentage points through Tayari only cost policymakers about $7 per year.

The program addresses important shortcomings within the education system in Kenya, such as “ inadequate provision of age-appropriate and context relevant quality teaching and learning materials.” There is also a shortage of teachers who can guide their students in the classroom. The program was found to be so successful in Kenyan classrooms that it has the potential to change lives throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. While the research is overwhelmingly positive, more data and more time in the program is necessary to know its ultimate effects. The program, like its learners, is still very young.

Education and Poverty Reduction

Improving a child’s chance for a good education is always a good thing, but it could be worth something even more. Could early access to the skills needed to succeed in school lead to a better life in terms of income and wealth? The data shows that early childhood programs and education are already part of strategies to alleviate poverty because of its success rates.

A study in Ypsilanti, Michigan found that at-risk children who were placed in a pilot preschool program achieved greater success than the control group. By 19, they possessed a better economic potential and had better social skills. By 27, they had fewer arrests and higher incomes. The older these children got, the more noticeable their academic and economic achievements were when compared to the control group.

The Carolina Abecedarian Project is one of the oldest programs in this field.  Originally conducted between 1972 and 1985 in North Carolina, the comprehensive early education program was for young children at risk for developmental delays and dropping out of school. Not only did participants do better academically than their control peers, but as adults, they had significantly higher incomes, were more likely to have been “consistently employed” and less likely to engage in criminal behavior. The program was so successful that the organization rolled it out to other states and it is now international.

Early childhood programs are not going to eliminate poverty, but by giving children the social and academic skills needed to better succeed at life, they’re offering a real foundation upon which to build future success. Tayari, the program for early childhood education in Kenya, is cheap, easy to roll out and may really help the poorest of Kenya, maybe even the poorest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sarah Stanley

Photo: Unsplash

International Children’s Peace Prize WinnersThe International Children’s Peace Prize, which was launched in 2005 by KidsRights, recognizes young people who are actively fighting for children’s rights. The mission behind the award is to provide children with a platform where they can express their ideas, stories and personal involvement so that more children can gain access to the basic human rights they deserve.

Each year, the winner of this prestigious award receives a study and care grant and a platform to promote their ideas to help other children around the world. Also, KidsRights invests £100,000 in a project fund in the winner’s area of work in their home country.

Here are three children who have won the International Children’s Peace Prize.

3 International Children’s Peace Prize Winners

  1. Nkosi Johnson was the first winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize, receiving the honor posthumously. The statuette that the organization gives out each year is named in his memory. Johnson was born HIV positive and died at the age of 12. However, in his short life, he actively fought for his and other children’s right to attend school and be treated equally. He opened a home for poor mothers and children with HIV/AIDS and encouraged the South African government to provide HIV/AIDS mothers with treatment options.
  2. At age 5, Om Prakash Gurjar and his family were forced to work on a farm to pay off the money his father owed to his landlord. Gurjar only received two meals a day and was beaten on a daily basis. He was not able to pursue his education further because he was working many hours a day to help his family. However, when he turned 8 years old, he was rescued by Kailash Satyarthi who was part of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. This organization educated Gurjar about children’s rights and he received an opportunity to continue his education. At this point, he started advocating for the rights of other children and through many activities raised awareness for children’s rights and the importance of education. By the time he turned 12 years old, he was elected Chair of the Child Parliament of his school. When his school started demanding fees from parents, he sued and won a court case which required the school to refund his parents in his full. Gurjar won the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2006.
  3. Kesz Valdez became the first Southeast Asian to receive the International Children’s Peace Prize. At a young age, he was surrounded by poverty. When Valdez was just 2 years old, his abusive father forced him to collect garbage to earn money. At the age of 4 years old, he ran away from home and ended up begging on the streets. The turning point in his life came when he fell into a burning pile of garbage at a dump site and a social worker took him to the hospital. From that point on, the social worker took care of Valdez and took him under his wing. He got the opportunity to go to school for the first time and made the most of it.But he never forgot his roots. Once he was in a position to do so, he began distributing gifts to children living on the streets. This is how ‘Gifts of Hope’ started which signified Valdez’s first step in advocating for children’s rights. Gifts of Hope started with only seven boxes during its first year and now about 1,000 boxes are distributed every year.

Each year, the International Children’s Peace Prize recognizes children that have done extraordinary things to change their own destinies as well as help other young people around the world. 

Komalpreet Kaur
Photo: Unsplash

top 10 facts about girls’ education in Indonesia
Education in Indonesia has reached gender parity, with no significant gender gap in enrollment percentages. However, the schools there continue to reinforce gender stereotypes through their teachings. The top 10 facts about girls’ education in Indonesia explore issues within the gender-biased curriculum as well as the changes being made to combat them.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Indonesia

  1. In Indonesia, students’ enrollment in school seems no longer influenced by gender. According to UNICEF, 92.8 percent of girls and 92.7 percent of boys are enrolled in primary school. Also, 62.4 percent of girls and 60.9 percent of boys are enrolled in secondary school. Therefore, gender parity is a notable accomplishment among the top 10 facts about girls’ education in Indonesia.
  2. However, schools in Indonesia tend to have gender-biased textbooks. In these textbooks, men are cited more often than women and there are more illustrations of boys than girls. Within the illustrations, boys are shown in more diverse roles while girls are shown in more stereotypically feminine roles.
  3. Gender stereotyping is also projected in the way students are conditioned to choose their subjects of interest. Women in Indonesia prefer subjects like Social Sciences while men prefer subjects like Technical Sciences. While women are discouraged to choose subjects such as Math or Biology, men are discouraged to choose subjects such as Humanities as they are considered feminine in nature.
  4. In Indonesia, girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school. According to UNICEF, for every 10 children that drop out of school at the secondary level, seven are girls. One of the primary reasons for this is early marriage and the stereotypical mindset of society.
  5. Close to 84 percent of men in Indonesia are in the labor force, while only around 51 percent of women occupy the same position. Also, most of the top government and private positions are held by men. As a result, there is a huge difference in pay between men and women in Indonesia. While the gross national per capita income for men stands at 13.391, for women it is as low as 6.668.
  6. On the brighter side, the PAUD KM 0 ‘Mekar Asih’ is an early education model that seeks to educate students equally without any gender discrimination. They provide a gender-neutral curriculum where children can see themselves in any role irrespective of their sex.
  7. Centers like PAUD ensure that both mother and father be equally involved in their child’s academic development. It is one of the ways in which they try to convey the idea of equality between the sexes to the children. For instance, the centers invite fathers to come in for storytelling in order to shatter the stereotypical image of women as caregivers.
  8. The PAUD KM 0 early education model has been adopted in over 300 districts and 34 provinces. The program also engages women and mothers by forming groups at various locations. They provide them with training by organizing workshops and through campaigning.
  9. According to Kurniati Restuningsih, Head of the Sub-Directorate of Curriculum, “The Ministry of Education and Culture promotes gender mainstreaming at an early age as a way to improve equality and diversity and eliminate gender discrimination which unfortunately still occurs in many communities.” The program seeks to empower girls at a young age to stay in education and pursue careers they would otherwise be stopped from pursuing.
  10. The Ministry of Education and Culture also conducts a Mothers of Early Childhood Education program called ‘Bunda PAUD’. The specialty of this program is that it is fully run by women, from First Lady, Irina Jokowi, to wives of governors, mayors, and regents. This is to provide girls with a strong female role model in a significant leadership position.

These top 10 facts about girls’ education in Indonesia highlight the issues with the gender-biased curriculum in Indonesia and also emphasizes the various efforts put forth by the Ministry of Education and Culture in order to close the gender gap.

– Anna Power
Photo: Flickr