Information and stories addressing children.

Breaking the Poverty Cycle by Early Childhood Development

Insufficient early childhood development is an epidemic in the developing world. It is the engine that propels the cycle of poverty. According to the World Bank, 250 million children around the globe are at risk of not reaching their full potential due to poverty as well as physical and cognitive stunting. Of note, only half of all 3-to-6-year-olds around the world have access to primary school. The Global Partnership for Education reports that there are over 175 million children not enrolled in pre-primary education worldwide. When it comes to breaking the poverty cycle, early childhood development cannot be ignored.

According to a Wyoming Scholars Repository report, childhood poverty can change the structure of a developing brain, potentially impacting the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus and neurotransmitter. This means that a child’s attention, inhibition, emotional regulation, motivation, planning and decision-making skills are all at risk of not reaching their full potential. The same report found that low socioeconomic status is responsible for around 20 percent of the variance in childhood IQ.

Furthermore, according to the Childhood Poverty Policy and Research Centre, approximately 1 billion children will be growing up with stunted mental development by 2020. This is why early childhood development is the key to breaking the poverty cycle.

Two Components of Early Childhood Development

There are two main components of early childhood development that many impoverished children lack which are essential to brain development. The first is education and stimulation. According to UNICEF, early childhood education builds cognitive and language skills, increases social competence and supports emotional development. Early childhood stimulation and care boost the brain’s capacity to function by sparking neural connections across multiple regions of the brain. According to the World Bank, a 20-year study of children in Jamaica showed that early stimulation interventions for infants and toddlers increased their future earnings by 25 percent. In addition, a World Bank Group analysis in 12 countries found that children involved in early education are more likely to be employed in high-skill jobs as adults.

The second component is health and nutrition. Sufficient early childhood health begins with prenatal care. The Wyoming Scholars Repository reports that deficiencies in nutrients such as folate, choline, B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and iron are commonly noted in pregnant women living in poverty. These deficiencies can increase the risk of defects such as oral-facial clefts, spina bifida and stunting in eye and brain development.

According to the Childhood Poverty Policy and Research Centre, childhood malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies also increase a child’s vulnerability to diseases both in childhood and adulthood, which greatly decreases the likelihood of breaking the poverty cycle. Some gains can be made in adulthood to combat the consequences of insufficient early childhood development, but many effects, especially those related to cognitive development, are irreversible. Mitigating the stunting of children in poverty is crucial to reducing global poverty. According to the World Bank, children in a long-term study in Guatemala who suffered from stunting were much more likely to break the poverty cycle and earned up to 50 percent higher wages in adulthood.

Economic Benefits of Early Childhood Development

Research shows that investing in early childhood development has economic benefits at an individual and societal level. A RAND Corporation analysis found that targeted early interventions like education, health services, parent skill training and child abuse recognition create positive economic and societal outcomes such as:

  • Improvements in educational process and outcomes for the child
  • Increased economic self-sufficiency, initially for the parent and later for the child, through greater labor force participation, higher income and lower welfare usage
  • Reduced criminal activity
  • Improvements in health-related indicators, such as child abuse, maternal reproductive health and maternal substance abuse

Early childhood development proves to be a cost-efficient investment. According to the World Bank, for every $1 invested, there is a return of between $6 and $17. A report conducted by the Copenhagen Consensus and the Indian Consensus Prioritization Project found that implementing cash incentives to increase enrollment in pre-school education and passing policies to improve the quality of pre-school both show positive benefit-to-cost ratios.

Liberia is a good example of a country that has taken notice of the value of the investment in early childhood development.

In 2010, Liberia’s Ministry of Education implemented the Education Sector Plan for 2010-2020 with a grant from the Global Partnership for Education. The plan committed to cross-sectoral efforts around early childhood development and the expansion of access to pre-primary education. In 2011 the government established the Bureau for Early Childhood Education and approved its National Inter-Sectoral Policy on Early Childhood Development.

However, according to the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Early Childhood Development Community Education and Awareness Programme (ECDCEAP) passed in 2012 has been the most effective in raising awareness about the importance of early childhood development. The program trains mental health professionals, pre-school teachers on childhood development knowledge and health workers and midwives to provide proper support to pregnant women and new mothers. There has yet to be a formal analysis of the ECDCEAP. However, the Bernard van Leer Foundation states that anecdotal evidence suggests an improvement in the comprehension and action surrounding early childhood development.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a non-governmental organization that focuses on bringing education and early childhood development to the developing world. The organization has invested $270 million in early childhood education in 35 countries and two-thirds of the organization’s grants in 2018 included support for early childhood care and education. According to a GPE report, enrollment in pre-primary education doubled from 2002 to 2016 in the countries partnering with the organization.

Early childhood development is the key to breaking the poverty cycle. It gets the root cause of poverty’s cyclical behavior. Although organizations like The Global Partnership for Education are making large strides, early childhood development is not as recognized as it should be for reducing poverty. According to the same GPE report, 40 percent of countries with data allocate less than 2 percent of their education budget to early childhood education and less than one percent of global aid is invested in pre-primary education. To end the cycle of poverty, early childhood development needs to move up the hierarchy of foreign aid, government expenditure and international focus.

Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr

 

Labor reforms in Qatar
In the prelude to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar received relentless criticism on migrants’ working conditions from the international community and mass media, causing the government to transform its labor system and uphold the rights of migrant workers through sweeping reforms.

Kafala System

Qatar’s kafala system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers by requiring them to obtain their permission (a no-objection certificate) in order to change jobs. This, in turn, gives the employer entire control over the exit visa of his employees. This sponsorship and visa system not only leads to abuses and exploitation of labor practices, including the confiscation of migrant workers’ passports, but it also prevents a local domestic labor market from operating. Thus, radical labor reforms in Qatar are necessary in order for the country to develop itself according to international standards and to modernize its economy.

Recent Reforms

One of the significant steps Qatar made in 2017 was concluding a cooperation accord with the International Labor Organization (ILO). It stated that it would set a minimum wage and promised to repeal the kafala system. Later in 2017, Qatar introduced a temporary minimum wage of 750 Qatari Rial (approximately $200) and plans on introducing a non-discriminatory minimum wage by the end of 2019, making it the first country in the Gulf region to do so. These labor reforms in Qatar will improve migrant workers’ rights significantly, which will not only increase their working conditions but also their motivation to work, resulting in a more efficient and productive economy. In addition, Law No. 13 entered into force in October 2018, stating that migrant workers would no longer need their employers’ permission to enter and exit the country. These laws contribute to transforming Qatar’s current system into a modern industrial relations system.

Ending the Kafala System

However, Qatar still has not abolished the kafala system which caused hundreds of workers to go on strike and protest in August 2019. This is barring the fact that Qatari law strictly bans joining unions and participating in strikes. Protesting workers have reported that they have not received pay for months and are not receiving their renewed working permits from their employers, making it illegal for them to stay in the country. Consequently, Qatar’s Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs announced that the reform ending the Kafala system will enter into force in January 2020, facilitating the efficacy of the other recently introduced reforms as a whole.

Issue of Irregular Migration

Although positive, these reforms and Labor Laws do not cover migrant domestic workers with a local Qatari contract, meaning that the Labor Law does not protect them and they cannot seek assistance from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. By excluding migrant domestic workers, Qatar is not tackling the issue of irregular migrants and the illegality of employment, which is a major concern for the local authorities. The Sponsorship Law binds domestic migrant workers to their employers, and so, if they suffer abuse, they are likely to abscond and either seek illegal work in the country or attempt to return to their home country. An underground informal labor market developed in Qatar due to the high number of irregular workers looking for work, which is a predominant issue for the government. Indeed, one of the key objectives included in the Qatar National Vision 2030 is to develop a knowledge-based economy consisting of highly skilled people and reduce Qatar’s dependency on low-skilled foreign nationals. Therefore, the inclusion of domestic migrant workers and resolving the issue of irregular/illegal workers is essential for Qatar’s plan to become a modern economy with highly-skilled people.

The current labor reforms in Qatar are a major step towards improving the human rights of the millions of migrant workers living in the country, in addition to contributing to the development of Qatar’s fast-growing economy. Despite the implementation of these laws seeming interminable, Qatar focuses on long-lasting and profound changes in its labor market with the help and recognition of international organizations such as the ILO and the United Nations.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Pixabay

Child Labor in China
Child labor in China has influenced programs like The International Labour Organization. This organization put forward conventions 182 and 138 (1973; 1999) to eliminate child labor around the globe. Nobel Prize winners like Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi sought to focus efforts on ameliorating the risks associated with child labor; however, incidences still exist throughout the world. Presented here are 10 facts about child labor in China. It is particularly important to understand the threats that make some children more likely to be child laborers than others.

10 Facts About Child Labor in China

  1. About 8 percent of Chinese children between 10 and 15-years old work as child laborers. Children from rural areas are more likely to be child laborers. Farms need laborers and children are inexpensive to employ.
  2. A child laborer in China is any employee under 16 years. Under Chinese law, no one under the age of 16 can work and those who do employ children are breaking the law. Luckily, this trend is decreasing with the help of other legislature favoring strict policies in which the Chinese constitution intends to protect children from maltreatment.
  3. Millions of children across China are laborers. This is more common outside the cities where the population is less dense. Families migrate from the cities to rural areas for farmland, but hundreds of millions of families move from rural areas to the city and leave their children behind. Children left behind are more susceptible to become child laborers because they do not have families to protect them.
  4. Traffickers often buy child laborers who receive commissions and finders’ fees. Child labor can be a form of human trafficking where employers buy and sell children as employees. Parents sell their children to traffickers while traffickers either kidnap or lure others to drop out of school with the promise of a lucrative life. The United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons works to prevent trafficking by raising awareness of the tricks and trade techniques that traffickers use to recruit children. These methods are more appealing to children living in poverty because it involves the promise of money and resources that they could otherwise not afford.
  5. Children who drop out of school are more likely to be child laborers. When children spend less time in school, they are more likely to act out or engage in risky behaviors. Child labor in China means the children enter the workforce at a young age. Clothing and shoe manufacturers are more likely to employ child laborers and other manufacturers that benefit from using smaller hands.
  6. Child labor can occur in the home. Parents sell their children to acrobat schools, which live-stream their performances on the internet. These schools put children on display by forcing them to participate in acrobatics. The schools can gain money by selling performances online. Families who live in poverty are more likely to use this as a means of gaining money. They often do not have the skills to work well-paying jobs and thus look for ways their children can provide support.
  7. Child labor in China has made many strides. The International Labour Organization (ILO) advocated for World Day Against Child Labour, marked by June 12th, and this day brings together millions from different companies, government groups, advocacy organizations and the United Nations in order to share news about child workers. This day recognizes efforts that schools have made to improve education services, which results in fewer dropouts.
  8. Over 250 million children ages 5 to 14 years across the world are laborers and 61 percent of them live in Asia. Developing and developed nations alike attract child labor forces and child labor is, unfortunately, occurring all over the world. One can participate in Child Labour Day to raise awareness of their area about the tragedies affecting child laborers.
  9. Children whose parents have migrated are more likely to be child laborers. Migration in China typically occurs from the cities to rural areas. These migrant families can find work easier on farms or as field hands and their children can easily find similar jobs to support their families. These children are more likely to drop out of school in order to work with their families.
  10. Child labor in china is on the decline. China has passed legislation to improve working conditions and has restricted the working age. Legislation to reduce child labor includes the Chinese Labour Law, the Law on the Protection of Minors, Regulations on the Prohibition of Child Labour and the Notice on the Prohibition of Child Labour.

Child labor is not a unique phenomenon in China. Child labor occurs across the globe in both developing and developed nations. While child labor is against the law in most places, it still happens in remote areas and where the population is sparse. In China, the government is working hard to reduce the incidences of child labor. With advocacy and awareness, both China and the world should be able to make strides to end child labor.

–  Kaylee Seddio
Photo: Flickr

Global Infancia

Global Infancia is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that specializes in protecting children from abuse in Paraguay. It was founded in 1995, “Global Infancia works towards creating a culture which respects the rights of children and adolescents in Paraguay.”

It has attempted to promote the human rights of children in a myriad of ways, ranging from creating a branch of the government tasked with protecting children to founding a news agency focusing on children’s rights. Global Infancia represents the blueprint for a successful NGO because of its ability to form partnerships with governments, influence local communities, and follow through with its goals.

Partnerships with Governments

Studies have estimated that roughly 60 percent of children in Paraguay have been victims of violence. Faced with this fact, Global Infancia worked with the National Secretariat for Childhood and Adolescence along with the Paraguayan Government to pass a law stating “all children and adolescents have the right to be treated properly and with respect for their physical, psychological and emotional well-being. This includes protections for their image, identity, autonomy, ideas, emotions, dignity and individual values”.

Additionally, Global Infancia spearheaded the forming of Municipal Councils for the Rights of Children and Adolescence who have become instrumental in protecting children’s rights throughout Paraguay. Global Infancia’s work is proof of how a successful NGO can form fruitful partnerships with local governments.

Integration into the Local Community

Since the end of authoritarian rule in Paraguay, it has been working to integrate itself into local communities and promote the recognition of children’s rights. In the town of Remansito, Global Infancia is providing supplementary nutrition and school support to over 1,000 children. Approximately 22 percent of Paraguayans live below the poverty line. The child labor force of participation with a rate of 25 percent, shows that the conditions for many children in Paraguay are not ideal.

However, Global Infancia recognized these problems and has created national media campaigns to raise awareness for children’s rights and used training forums around the country to educate the public that violence against children will no longer be tolerated. Finally, Global Infancia has harnessed the power of local communities by “installing an alert system which reduces the demand for childhood labor”. These actions illustrate how a successful NGO employs the power of the communities they are working in.

Accomplishing Goals

At its inception, it was primarily focused on fighting the trafficking of babies and children. Today it has evolved into a children’s rights organization with a bevy of goals. Whether it be their success at establishing legal rights for children in Paraguay or the founding of CODENIS bodies which protect children throughout the country today, Global Infancia has had a considerable impact on Paraguayan society. In a 2017 report by the United States Department of Labor, experts found significant advancement in Paraguay’s fight to end child labor.

However, the current situation still puts many children in danger, requiring more resources to fully end child labor. With the help of Global Infancia and the multitude of other successful NGO’s, there are no doubts that Paraguay will continue to see improvements to children’s rights.

Overall, Global Infancia is a perfect example of how a successful NGO operates. From its crucial government and community partnerships to their impressive track record of accomplishing its goals.

Myles McBride Roach

Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of the leaders in education within the European Union. With a national initiative to have accessible education to all of its citizens, the Swiss education system ranks number six on the Study E.U. education ranking of 2018. So what exactly is it that allows for such a praiseworthy education system? These eight facts about education in Switzerland show why the country is so successful in the education of its people.

8 Facts About Education in Switzerland

  1. Canton School Systems: Each canton – a Swiss state – has primary responsibility for how the schools in their area are run. Effectively each canton runs their own education system, though there is an overruling federal educational system: The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). Each canton can create its own structures such as school calendars and education plans. There is, however, an agreement among the cantons to keep a baseline level of continuity. This opens individuals up to the ability to shop the public schools that fit their own and their child’s needs.
  2. International Schools: Switzerland has a host of schools that cater to international families, operate bilingually or are privatized. This creates a smoother transition for English speaking individuals who can then benefit from education in Switzerland.
  3. Number of Schools: There are currently around 44 schools in Switzerland that specifically accommodate international students and are a part of the Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS). This schooling goes from primary up to secondary and offers both day and boarding options. Many of the schools follow the Swiss canton curriculum, but many also provide curriculums based on the individual’s home country.
  4. Homeschooling: Homeschooling is not a common practice within Switzerland; some cantons have even outlawed it. In August 2019, the Swiss supreme court rejected a mother’s appeal to the right to homeschool her child. It declared “the right to private life does not confer any right to private home education.” The court also stated that the cantons have the right to decide what forms of schooling they will allow and are in the best interest of the children that reside within their districts. Only 1,000 children receive homeschooling throughout all of Switzerland, a country with more than 8.5 million citizens. Many are against homeschooling in Switzerland because they believe it to be a deprivation to the child’s social education. They believe that a child can only achieve this through daily peer interactions. Further, many believe that homeschooling causes inequality within society because not every family can afford its costs.
  5. Compulsory Education: Education in Switzerland is compulsory for all who reside in the country, regardless of legal residency status. Though it varies by canton, most children have mandatory education for 9 to 11 years. Children begin schooling anywhere from ages 4 to 6 and must stay in school until about the age of 15. Education is typically more sympathetic to the individual in Switzerland. Switzerland has adopted the idea that every child learns differently and requires different support structures within school.
  6. Formal, Vocational and Apprenticeship Training: After their compulsory education, children have the option to continue on with formal education or begin vocational and apprenticeship training. Even though attending a university is comparably more affordable in Switzerland than in other countries, many students opt for vocational and apprenticeship education. Apprenticeships and vocational training can last anywhere from two to four years and can equate to a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. This depends on the duration and weekly hours of involvement in the individual’s education.
  7. Specialized Education: Special education in Switzerland is a right. Specialized education professionals give individuals living with special needs free support until the age of 20. The cantons vary but typically offer special needs students access to both mainstream schools and special needs schools. The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (EASIE) assesses children before entering the special education system. It does this in order to determine and advise parents on what may be best for their child. Switzerland joined the EASIE in 2000 in an attempt to better integrate its special needs citizens into mainstream society.
  8. Free Schooling: Schooling is free—kind of. Though compulsory education is free, it does equate to higher taxes for citizens. Further, schools often ask many parents to help with providing school utensils for the classrooms. Many argue that Switzerland’s excellent educational system is because of the country’s vast amount of wealth and higher tax rates. After all, in 2019, a global report listed Switzerland as the wealthiest country in the world, accounting for 2.3 percent of the world’s top 1 percent of global wealth.

Switzerland’s educational system is the ultimate goal for what education should be across the world. These eight facts about education in Switzerland show how the country is striving to create a more learned and prosperous future for its youth. Switzerland is a fantastic example of a country that has met the fourth goal on the global goals for sustainable development: quality education.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

Breastfeeding in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is an African country located in the southern region of the continent. It has beautiful landscapes and wildlife that attract many people every year, but the country is still intensely poverty-stricken. In fact, it is one of the poorest nations in the world with a whopping 70 percent of the entire nation living under the poverty line.Many of the downsides that come with poverty are present in the country, but one downside that people often do not consider is how poverty affects breastfeeding in Zimbabwe. While people often see breastfeeding as a natural process that even the poorest populations do, breastfeeding is limited in Zimbabwe. About 66.8 percent of Zimbabwean women exclusively breastfed their newborns between the first six months of life with only 32 percent starting breastfeeding within the first day of life. In a country of malnourished people and food scarcity, this article will explore why women do not frequently breastfeed in Zimbabwe.

The Reason Women Do Not Breastfeed in Zimbabwe

One can attribute the lack of exclusive breastfeeding in Zimbabwe to a set of issues that include low education, low income and traditional practices as well as the country having a patriarchal society. Women said what they were only comfortable exclusively breastfeeding for the first three months of their child’s life and this directly relates to the fact that there is intense pressure from in-laws to include different foods in their babies’ diets which stems from long uninformed traditions. With little to no support from the male partner, mothers can find it difficult to resist this pressure.

In combination with these factors, there is also the simple fact that many Zimbabwean women suffer extreme malnourishment. Some reports also stated that many mothers who did not engage in exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first three months of life were simply unable to produce enough milk to fully nourish their babies.

The Effect On Zimbabwean Babies

Zimbabwe has an infant mortality rate of 50 deaths per 1,000 births. For perspective, the infant mortality rate in the United States is five deaths per 1,000 births. Reports determined that 10 percent of all mortality in children aged 5 years was because of non-exclusive breastfeeding at the beginning of life, which is quite significant.

In conjunction with this high infant mortality rate, there is also chronic malnutrition and stunting. Approximately 27 percent of children under the age of 5 in Zimbabwe suffer from chronic malnutrition. Stunting also occurs in Zimbabwean children but varies by region from 19 percent to 31 percent.

There is a correlation between education and breastfeeding in Zimbabwe as well. People have observed a connection between education and breastfeeding not only in the patterns of the mother but also in how it affects her children.

Solutions

Some are making efforts to bring more awareness and education to the people of Zimbabwe. One of these efforts is the initiation of World Breastfeeding Week which representatives from WHO, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health and Child Care launched due to concerns about the low exclusive breastfeeding rates. Only 48 percent of babies below the age of 6 months received exclusive breastfeeding at the time of this event which is significantly lower than the 66.8 percent in 2019.

The improved statistics show that efforts to combat the misinformation and societal pressures among Zimbabwean women to improve rates of exclusive breastfeeding are working. While poverty negatively affects breastfeeding in Zimbabwe, others are slowly combating it.

– Samira Darwich
Photo: Pixabay

Education in Vietnam
Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has taken various steps to make good on its constitutional promises of free, quality education for all. However, there is still much work to be done for the southeast Asian country to ensure that every citizen has an opportunity to earn a quality education. These seven facts demonstrate the challenges and improvements made in regards to education in Vietnam.

7 Facts About Education in Vietnam

  1. In recent years, the Vietnamese government prioritized quality education nationwide. According to UNESCO, in 2010, the government spent 19.8 percent of its state budget on education alone. This number is significantly higher than the 13.7 percent spent on education across all of East Asia. However, Mitsue Uemura, chief of UNICEF Vietnam’s education section, calls for the government to ensure they are spending their education budget in the most efficient ways possible in order to reach the most vulnerable.
  2. About 95 percent of Vietnamese children are enrolled in primary school by the age of six. However, only 88.2 percent of those children complete their primary education. Historically, primary schools would often charge parents fees for textbooks, sanitation, traffic guards and even building maintenance. These fees made it near impossible for children in disadvantaged and rural communities to stay enrolled long enough to complete primary school. According to a CIA World Factbook evaluation, in 2001, only two-thirds of children were able to complete the fifth grade due to monetary challenges.
  3. Vietnam is successfully closing the enrollment gap between rural and urban regions. Specifically, the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta areas increased their net elementary intake of 58 and 80 percent in 2000 to 99 and 94 percent in 2012. In the same 12-year span, the intake rates for lower-secondary education in these areas grew from 69.5 percent to 92 percent.
  4. Despite various challenges, the percentage of children pursuing a secondary education in Vietnam has grown considerably over the years. In the early 1990s, only 1.7 percent of students 15 years of age and older completed at least a junior college education. That number increased to 4.4 percent within two decades.
  5. The number of students enrolled in institutions of higher education in Vietnam, such as universities, colleges and vocational schools, is increasing. In 2015, 2.12 million students were enrolled in these institutions, a large increase when stacked against 133,000 student enrollments in 1987. 
  6. Literacy among young adults in Vietnam is on a steady upswing. In 1989, Vietnam’s literacy rate for students aged 15 and older was 87.2 percent, and by 2015, the literacy rate for the same demographic was 94.5 percent.
  7. In 2012, Vietnam participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for the first time. The results demonstrated that education in Vietnam has a strong focus on instilling basic cognitive skills in its students, such as numeracy and literacy. Vietnamese students not only performed with the same success as countries like Austria and Germany, but they also outperformed two-thirds of the other countries who participated in PISA that year, ranking 17th out 65 countries. 

Educational reform, closing enrollment gaps, active teaching practices and the like have played major roles in the evolution of Vietnam’s education system over the last two decades. While there is still work to be done, Vietnam has taken large steps in recent years to prove its willingness to make quality education for all a top priority. 

– Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

Bacha Posh girls

Afghanistan’s patriarchal society forces parents to make tough decisions as daughters are viewed as a burden while sons can earn money, care for their aging parents, and carry on the family legacy. To counter economic dependency on males and social stigma surrounding daughters, some Afghan families practice “bacha posh,” a centuries-old tradition reassigning their daughter’s gender at birth, which allows girls to experience the same freedom as boys.

Bacha posh girls are raised as sons. They dress in boys’ clothes and may go outside alone, bring their siblings from school, go shopping, and play a sport. These girls act as sons and do what the sons would do. While the roots of the tradition are unknown, it is becoming increasingly practiced.

Life For Girls In Afghanistan

Afghanistan is one of the most challenging countries to live in as a woman. Eighty-five percent of Afghan women have no formal education or are illiterate, 50 percent are married or engaged by the age of 12 and 60 percent are married by 16. Three decades of war have led to increased risk of rape and kidnapping of females which has prompted families to force child marriage. Some are forced into marriage to settle a dispute or repay a debt. Many men were killed in armed conflict, leaving the child brides as widows. Most young widows have four children to support and are often forced to beg or participate in prostitution. Child marriage increases the risk of health problems and death because of childbirth in the teenage years. Young wives are also more likely to be abused by their older husbands. Females also have lower legal standing and fewer economic opportunities. Women are hidden from society unless accompanied by a male relative and fully covered.

Widespread poverty encourages families to get their daughters married to avoid having to care for them. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world with 42 percent of both urban and rural populations living below the national poverty line. An additional 20 percent are at risk of falling into poverty.

Bacha Posh Girls

In poverty-stricken families, bacha posh becomes a normal thing to do. Because boys have a higher status, they are more desirable. The tradition allows families to avoid social stigma affiliated with not having any male children by enabling their daughters to take on the role of a boy in society.

Life for bacha posh girls becomes difficult as puberty reveals their biological gender. The girls often face harassment, risks to their safety, humiliation, and separation from their communities. Others call them transsexuals and Anti-Islamic. Some girls even stop going to school because of the harassment. Families also want their girls to start dressing and behaving like women during puberty, but bacha posh girls do not want to live as a woman in a country that gives them little possibility after experiencing the freedom of males.

Women for Afghan Women, an Afghanistan advocacy group, sees at least two bacha posh girls’ cases at its women shelters throughout the country each year. Most girls, between the ages of 14 – 18, are struggling emotionally, mentally and financially.

NGOs and Government Organizations Leading the Fight

USAID has had direct involvement in Afghanistan’s moves toward gender equality. While the problem of gender inequality remains, there have been positive strides in women’s health and education. Over the past 15 years, the life expectancy for a female in the Middle Eastern nation has “increased from 47 years old to over 60.” Female education has also seen a spike as 3.5 million girls are in school, and 100,000 attend university. USAID aims to continue to develop gender equality by assisting Afghan girls through programs offering support for survivors of sex trafficking, increasing educational opportunities, assisting female entrepreneurs with economic growth and infrastructure, and partnering with the Afghan government to focus on women’s rights.

Mullahs and volunteers from the United Nations have partnered together to travel throughout Afghanistan to conquer cultural and social norms to work towards gender equality in both rural and urban regions. The advocacy groups travel around the country in hopes to eliminate violence against women, increase female access to healthcare and education, and economic equality for women. Volunteers from the UN are working to strengthen the Enhancing Gender Equality and Mainstreaming in Afghanistan which hopes to bolster the Ministry of Women Affairs.

– Gwen Shemm
Photo: Flickr

Sonita Alizadeh’s Feminist Advocacy
Sonita Alizadeh is a 22-year-old rapper from Herat, Afghanistan. She became an advocate for humanitarian issues such as child marriage in 2014 after winning $1,000 in a U.S. music competition where she wrote a song encouraging Afgan people to vote. Sonita’s music video “Brides for Sale” also premiered in 2014 on YouTube, kickstarting her career and garnering over one million views as of 2019. This article will focus on Afghanistan’s policies on child marriage, Sonita’s history and how Sonita’s advocacy is making an impact. All of these aspects highlight the importance of Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Afganistan and Child Marriage

In 1997, the Republic of Afghanistan permitted girls under the age of 16 to marry with the consent of their father or a judge under a civil code. In 1994, the Afghanistan government set the minimum age of marriage to 18, and in 2009 passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law; yet people often do not implement protections. The advocacy organization against child marriage, Girls Not Brides, cites UNICEF’s statistics for child marriage in Afganistan as of 2017: 9 percent of girls marry by 15 and 35 percent marry by 18.

Child marriages that still happen in Afghanistan often occur for several reasons including a lack of female education, displacement, dispute settlements for rival families and traditional family values and practices.

Afghanistan has made progress such as making ending child marriage a sustainable development (SDG) goal by 2030. Afghan women, such as Sonita Alizadeh, are speaking out when the government is not helping them effectively. That is why Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy is vital; it gives the people that child marriage affects a chance to speak for themselves.

Sonita Alizadeh’s History

Sonita Alizadeh and members of her family escaped Taliban rule in Afghanistan and journeyed to Tehran, Iran. There, Sonita began creating music, although it is illegal for women to sing a solo in the country. Her music was about the hardships she had seen her friends endure in Afghanistan when their parents encouraged them to marry as young as 12.

Sonita had to advocate for herself at 16 when her mother visited her from Afghanistan. Sonita received the opportunity to return to her home country if agreed to marry. Her mother planned to have a dowry set with a man for $9,000 for Sonita as a bride. This prompted Sonita to make her first YouTube video in response to her predicament, the video “Brides for Sale.” The video got the attention of the Strongheart organization in the U.S. The group sponsored 17-year-old Sonita in 2014 with a student visa to attend Wasatch Academy in Utah on a full scholarship. Sonita’s first concert in America was in May 2015, and she began sending money home to her mother living in Afghanistan.

Sonita’s Activism

After moving to the U.S., Sonita Alizadeh used her platform to speak about child marriage. Her YouTube channel has 12 videos that range from her music to interviews to Sonita’s graduation speech from Wasatch Academy in 2018. Sonita uses her platform to educate the 11.1 thousand subscribers she had as of 2019. BBC listed Sonita as one of its 100 women people should recognize in 2015 and inspired a European documentary based on her life that premiered in 2016 and won a NETPAC Award.

Recently, Sonita debuted a new song at the 2018 Social Good Summit concert in New York City. As of 2019, Sonita attends Bard College in New York where she represented her school in the Women Warriors: The Voices of Change concert event at the Lincoln Center in September 2019. Organizations such as the Strongheart Group, Global Citizen and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization support Sonita’s Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Conclusion

The voices of Afghan women are vital in battling injustice. Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy highlights the determination of one woman to empower women forced into child marriages. The light Sonita sheds on the hardships Afghan women are also valuable as a form of advocacy, making those who did not grow up with her background understand the needs of women in dire situations.

Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Flickr

Reduce Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is a criminal activity that reaches every country. Today, trafficking affects over 40 million people. The regions that suffer the most from this inhumane transgression are those poorest in the world. People in impoverished countries have limited access to education and well-paying jobs, making them naive and desperate. The demand for cheap labor around the world creates profitable markets for criminals who then target and trick the vulnerable with false promises of better lives. Those victims become lost in the complex networks of human trafficking, and many times people never hear from them from again. One nonprofit is making it its mission to reduce human trafficking.

Traffickers Have Expanded Their Arsenal

In this age of rapidly expanding technology, many perpetrators use technology to enhance their modern slavery rings. Examples of this include controlling those already captured through mobile phones and webcam surveillance. Also, human traffickers recruit potential victims via online grooming scams.

Since criminals have begun to incorporate technology in how they traffic victims, it has become imperative for others to use technology to reduce human trafficking. Each incident of trafficking can be unique, but each case happens within the same three steps; acquisition, transportation and then forced labor. Technology can help disrupt each of these phases and save victims.

Using Technology to Advantage Instead

Specific technological solutions that people use today include directly connecting workers with safe employers in order to eliminate an intermediary who could exploit the worker. A great example of this application is the site, Contratados. As more resolutions like this develop, the ability for traffickers to obtain victims significantly diminishes.

Global imaging has enhanced the capability of identifying human trafficking routes. The company DigitalGlobe produces high-quality images of the earth to expose slave ships in the seas. Applying its powerful satellites in this way allows law enforcement to police seas like never before. DigitalGlobe also combats against child labor by investigating brick kilns in Inda and fisheries in Ghana.

Technology can also provide a way out for those already trapped in forced labor situations. Carrying a mobile phone has given people the ability to call for help after they went to prison wrongfully. That is if migrants have access to the funds for a mobile phone. It is uncommon for migrants to carry such devices if they are from impoverished countries where human trafficking is most rapid.

Technology has many solutions that can reduce human trafficking, but the most significant obstacle is its availability. Migrants of impoverished regions are not the only ones suffering isolation from helpful technology, their governments are too. Without the resources to combat this intricate crime, little improvements happen. Nevertheless, there is still good news for these nations.

How BSR is Doing its Part

In recent years, big tech companies have banded together in order to address this worldwide crisis and reduce human trafficking. Because of the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), the big players in this initiative have formed a group called Tech Against Trafficking. These companies include Amazon, AT&T, BT, Microsoft Corporation, Nokia, Salesforce.org and Vodafone.

The mission of this collaboration is to work “with global experts to help eradicate human trafficking using technology.” BSR wants all possible parties to become involved. Everyone from survivors and academia to law enforcement and technologists. With all these forces combined, BSR hopes to advance technology in order to reduce, disrupt and even completely prevent human trafficking. Of course, it also plans to provide resources for survivors.

The first action Tech Against Trafficking took in its mission consisted of mapping out the landscape that currently exists. After the initial review, the group identified over 200 different technologies to use as tools to reduce human trafficking. However, the gaps in the effectiveness of the tech implemented were evident. Specifically, in the Southern hemisphere, there is massive room for improvement in technological applications. Tech Against Trafficking’s next step is to work with those on the ground in these regions to better serve them with tech aid.

The U.S. government is also using cutting edge technology in its fight against global trafficking through the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This agency uses a sophisticated data analytics program called Memex. The agency uses it to search the dark web for potential leads on trafficking rings, both domestic and internationally.

How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe

While big tech companies and government agencies do a large part to be at the forefront of fighting trafficking with technology, consumers can do the same. Using applications such as GoodGuide can help people be conscientious about the impacts of how their money is spent. Spreading awareness is the greatest ally to reduce human trafficking. Communicating via apps and social media is a simple call to action for this humanitarian cause that can easily disrupt human trafficking and save many lives.

– Ariana Kiessling
Photo: Flickr