Marcus Rashford's Campaign
Many know Marcus Rashford for his role on the soccer field as a player for the famous Manchester United team. However, Rashford is also an activist in the fight against child poverty in the United Kingdom. With 22% of people and 30% of children in Britain living in poverty, this is an important issue, especially with the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Coming from a background of poverty himself, Rashford’s campaign has been a passionate voice for the impoverished youth.

Combating Hunger Among Children

One of Rashford’s most significant passions is combating child hunger. In June 2020, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the soccer star launched a campaign asking the government to continue using food vouchers for students during summer vacations. For many impoverished children, school lunches are a necessary resource to receive proper daily nutrition. Marcus Rashford’s campaign provided vouchers to underprivileged families, allowing children and families to access school lunches and groceries during the summer. Additionally, he raised £20 million with FareShare, a U.K. organization that has provided 131.9 million meals to charities and vulnerable people.

The public has shown fantastic support for Marcus Rashford’s campaign. During his initial campaign, the government rejected his ideas. However, the people rallied in his support, causing the government to backtrack, providing 1.3 million students with meal vouchers for a six-week summer break period. His October 2020 petition calling for the government to extend free school meals to other vacations and expand eligibility garnered over 500,000 signatures. Although this request was not successful, local businesses followed with their support, even businesses that the pandemic hit hard. Additionally, Rashford used his Twitter account, with more than 3.5 million followers, as a directory of food banks, providing valuable information for those the government denied food.

Educational Resources

Along with his work against child food poverty, Rashford has also worked to provide underprivileged children with educational resources. Rashford has said he only started reading at age 17 because his family never had the budget for it. After learning that over 380,000 children in the U.K. never owned a book of their own, Rashford sought to change that. In the fall of 2020, he launched a book club with Macmillian’s Children’s Books that provide the books to children. Through Marcus Rashford’s campaign, thousands of children now have access to a new hobby that they have previously viewed as a privilege.

In May 2021, the Sunday Times Giving List notably recognized Rashford as the youngest person to top their list of British philanthropists. This accolade was due to Rashford’s generous donations to various food, poverty and community charities. The soccer player has raised over £20 million in donations, putting his “Giving Index” rating at 125%; his wealth is £16 million. Due to the additional waves of COVID-19, there is a high demand for donations.

Marcus Rashford has proven himself to be a valuable contributor both on and off the field. Through his hard work and dedication, millions of children across the U.K. have had access to food and books. With his substantial passion, Rashford shows no signs of slowing down in his philanthropic efforts.

– Carly Johnson
Photo: Unsplash

Child Soldiers in Syria
In June 2021, the United Nations released its yearly 2020 report on children in armed conflict, confirming the ongoing recruitment of children by various Syrian militant groups. These groups include the Syrian National Army, the Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and other Syrian armed opposition groups. By June 2021, militant groups recruited almost 840 children to work as child soldiers in Syria, among other roles, meaning child soldier numbers will likely increase by the end of the year.

Child Soldiers in Syria

With conflict raging since 2011, these groups turn to child populations to manage their shortage of combatants. By exploiting children in impoverished communities, groups use adults and other child victims to coerce and manipulate children into joining the armed forces. The child soldiers in Syria become spies, combatants and checkpoint guards, among other roles, enduring sexual exploitation and harsh military punishments. By using children as combatants, these groups continue to violate international laws with few repercussions.

Syrian Democratic Forces

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has a long history as a critical perpetrator of recruiting child soldiers in Syria. In 2019, the SDF signed a United Nations Action Plan intending to prevent the use of child soldiers, making it appear as though the SDF was attempting to adhere to international law. Under this plan, anyone younger than the age of 18 would be unable to join the SDF.

However, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center reported that the SDF continues to recruit young boys and girls, some as young as age 11. Additionally, a U.N. report in April 2021 explains that the SDF and its branches are responsible for about 35% of confirmed child recruitments in Northern Syria.

Due to the United Nations Action Plan and international pressure, the SDF is increasingly reuniting recruited children with their families, but only after those specific families put constant pressure on the SDF. Since the creation of the SDF’s Child Protection Office, families have complained about the issue of child soldier recruitment 150 times. However, as of March 2021, the SDF has only demobilized 50 children. In December 2020, the SDF held a press conference, reuniting 16-year-old S. Jam Harran and 15-year-old G. Muhyiddin with their families.

Law No. 21 – Child Rights Law

On Aug. 15, 2021, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad presented Law No. 21 to regulate child rights and welfare throughout the country. The law prohibits the practice of trafficking children, including the use of child soldiers in Syria. The government will take action in response to reports of such practices but does not mention specifics in this regard. While this legislation seems like a significant step in the right direction, many groups, such as the Syrian Accountability and Justice Center, are skeptical about the law’s true ability to end the militant groups’ use of child soldiers. This is due to the existence of a vast number of groups that recruit children, including the Syrian government.

Addressing the Issue of Child Soldiers

Despite the skeptics, the new Syrian legislation on child rights and welfare is a promising step for children throughout the country. Enforcing these new laws nationally will take time, but various groups are working to alleviate the current child soldier situation until then.

UNICEF is responsible for aiding more than 8,700 children following their release from armed forces globally through counseling, education, medical services and safe living arrangements. These rehabilitation and poverty-fighting efforts allow for proper healing from trauma, allowing these children to become functioning members of society. Additionally, UNICEF specifically aids Syrian children, thus impacting communities directly by assisting in medical care, education and improving living situations.

In reducing the number of child soldiers in Syria, the investment by wealthy nations through humanitarian aid may be the most powerful tool as those countries could positively influence local dynamics by helping to lift populations out of extreme poverty. Armed groups have a more difficult time recruiting educated children from stable environments. Nonprofits like Save the Children work to aid impoverished child populations. Save the Children establishes programs and services for families to develop economic stability, preventing child exploitation by increasing the standard of living.

Because children are one of the most at-risk populations, militant groups often use them to sustain extreme military operations through indoctrination and community approval. With emerging Syrian legislation and organizations tackling the issue of child soldiers in Syria, the future of Syrian child welfare could be moving in a positive direction. These efforts combined with international advocacy and education on the issue of child use by armed forces could significantly change the lives of children in Syria.

– Hannah Eliason
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Mali
Mali is a country where human trafficking is widespread, according to the U.S. State Department. This suggests that the government of the western African country is failing to achieve the bare minimum for abolishing the practice. Instead, Mali has increased some of its prevention efforts — at least since 2017. Mali is not overlooking trafficking, according to many observers. In fact, the government is attempting to stop human trafficking in Mali.

The Situation in Mali

Despite its ranking, the Malian government is making strides to remedy its human trafficking conundrum. These initiatives include educating judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers on human trafficking, as well as issuing a directive prohibiting minors from entering military installations.

Further actions aimed at combating human trafficking include government collaboration with international groups such as the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action, and the Ministry of Women, Children and Families. In addition, the government has concentrated efforts amending an old anti-trafficking law as recently as 2019.

Mali’s justice minister has issued an order requiring judicial officials to give priority to cases brought under the original statute. Due to the absence of an integrated process to gather anti-trafficking statistics, law enforcement material previously was fragmentary and thereby challenging to access. The 2019 amendment sought to establish a unified strategy for data collection.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 42% of its total population living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t help, as a recession dropped Mali’s gross domestic product by nearly 2%. Additionally, nearly seven in 10 adults in Mali cannot read or write, indicating a scarcity of education.

The Correlation Between Malian Poverty and Human Trafficking

Mali has been beset by instability and violence since a 2012 military coup d’état and the capture of the northern territory. The country remains in a state of desperation due to its economic and social crises. The financial insecurity has made it simple — as many observers viewed — to fall victim to human trafficking practices.

Mali falls short of meeting the minimal benchmarks for the abolition of human trafficking. As a result, human traffickers can continue to exploit both internal and international victims. Many of these migrants are fleeing crisis zones in Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

Mali is a supplier, route and destination country for international trafficking, according to the State Department. Lured to Mali with assurances of high-paying jobs, organizations, which include violent fundamentalists like Al-Qaeda “affiliates” abduct many of them. Job seekers also labor to “pay off” fictitious debts that the organizations that invited them to the country in the first place tell them they owe.

Why Mali?

Despite its poverty, Mali is rich in gold and oil. Yet, to benefit from those resources, Mali needs miners. This attracts refugees, women and children, who traffickers could ultimately coerce. Juvenile prostitution and child sex trafficking are common at mining sites. In fact, more than 12% of sex workers at these locations are as young as 15 and as old as 19, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

A disproportionate number of males work in certain mines, exposing them to the most heinous types of child labor, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse. “Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude or married off,” Gillian Triggs, the Refugee Agency’s assistant high commissioner for protection, told Reuters in December 2020.

Assistance to Mali

There are many human trafficking solutions, yet they are difficult to implement. Global attention and vigorous effort to alleviate Mali’s exploited and trafficked workers dilemma remain in initial phases. While the U.N., the State Department and a number of non-governmental organizations said they are aware of trafficking issues in Mali, the magnitude and precise volume of trafficking and coerced laborers continue to remain unclear.

To help with these issues, the Roman Catholic Church-affiliated Caritas Mali has assembled an international team to build an initiative alongside the International Catholic Migration Commission,  providing underprivileged individuals and children with alternative income and skill development opportunities.

Mali’s education system is deficient, and this new initiative may make fewer people desire to work in deplorable conditions. Many believe that human trafficking thrives on the instability that poverty creates. Thus, eliminating poverty could then, in turn, mitigate trafficking problems.

Many groups are attempting to assist those in poverty in Mali including Action Against Hunger. To date, it has helped more than 400,000 people gain access to nutrition and health programs, food security programs and sanitation programs. Another organization providing aid is the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace, which collaborates with the U.N. World Food Program to deliver financial assistance and meals to families that dislocation, violence, environmental catastrophes and other crises have impacted.

Save the Children is another organization helping nearly 1.5 million Malian children in 2020 by giving food and protection. The organization says it effectively raised 232,000 children out of poverty.

The work of Save the Children, Action Against Hunger and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace are helping reduce the symptoms of poverty such as food insecurity and poor sanitation. These efforts should subsequently reduce people’s vulnerability and eliminate human trafficking in Mali.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Emotional Support Programs Save Lives in Low-Income Communities
Emotional support programs for children and pregnant women in low-income communities can improve participants’ mental and physical health. Daily challenges of living below the poverty line often result in high-stress levels that can lead to a variety of health complications in children, pregnant women and babies. Emotional support programs save lives in low-income communities by reducing stress and resultant health issues.

The Benefits for Pregnant Women and Babies

Emotional support groups for pregnant women can make impactful differences in their lifestyles and health. A study by psychologist Greg Miller found that pregnant women who took part in a support group called Centering Pregnancy had less inflammation in their placentas than pregnant women who received standard prenatal care. Inflammation within the placenta can restrict the flow of nutrients, oxygen and blood from mother to child, potentially leading to health complications. Within Centering Pregnancy, pregnant women received guidance on nutrition, stress management and parenting. As a result, they had lower stress levels and less inflammation in their placentas, allowing them to have more relaxed and healthy pregnancies.

Groups like Centering Pregnancy can be particularly valuable in low-income communities where women experience high-stress levels from everyday challenges linked to poverty. For example, a study that a teaching hospital in Lahore, Pakistan conducted found that during their pregnancies, 25% of women in the antenatal clinic experienced depression and 34.5% experienced anxiety. In developing countries like Pakistan, emotional support programs save lives by improving pregnant women’s health and, in turn, the health of their babies.

The Benefits for Children

According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, conditions with links to poverty, such as “‘overcrowding, noise, substandard housing, separation from parent(s), exposure to violence, [and] family turmoil’” can have toxic effects on the developing human brain, just like drug abuse and alcoholism. Cortisol, a hormone that helps manage stress, can be overly abundant in children who grow up in poverty, which can lead to stunted brain development over time. As a solution, mentorship programs for children in low-income communities can improve kids’ emotional and physical wellbeing. A study by Miller and fellow Psychologist Edith Chen found that a single supportive, high-quality relationship with someone like a teacher, friend or mentor can substantially minimize a child’s risk of cardiovascular disease in a low-income community. Mentorship programs help children relieve stress and resolve social conflicts, potentially leading to fewer long-term health concerns.

Organizations at Work

Mental health organizations work across the globe to help people of every age improve their mental, emotional and sometimes even physical health. For example, United for Global Mental Health is an international organization that began in 2017 to improve mental health around the world, including in Pakistan, Nigeria, France, Canada and Japan. The website provides an extensive list of international mental health resources, including organizations that specifically focus on supporting children. United for Global Mental Health’s goal is to improve mental health globally and make mental health resources accessible to everyone, despite socioeconomic status. The organization works alongside partners such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to advocate for rights, financing, systems and educational resources that improve mental health around the world.

Organizations like Mothers2Mothers (M2M) also work to help pregnant women and new mothers to achieve the best mental and physical health possible in developing countries. M2M began in 2001 when South Africa was facing a record number of HIV infections. The organization employs women with HIV in nine African countries, including Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, to work as Mentor Mothers. Mentor Mothers are community health workers who serve women and adolescents in 10 countries across Africa by providing support, education and medical services. M2M has created more than 11,000 jobs for women with HIV and has provided over 13.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa with crucial health services. The organization models how emotional support programs save lives in developing countries.

Spread around the world with a variety of causes, emotional support programs save lives by relieving stress and the health complications that result from it. People experiencing poverty often experience heightened levels of stress, so emotional support programs can be particularly useful to people in low-income areas.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Pixabay

Julian Lennon’s White Feather Foundation: Improving Children's Literacy Rates
Julian Lennon, a well-known singer, songwriter and filmmaker, is also a philanthropist who created the White Feather Foundation (TWFF). Lennon founded TWFF in 2007, and the organization addresses humanitarian issues. Recently, the World Literacy Foundation announced that Lennon and his Foundation would be honored for work done to improve children’s literacy rates, especially in still-developing nations and among those who cannot afford an education.

Julian Lennon’s Path to The Foundation

The Foundation’s ideals, and its name, come from the same source: Julian Lennon’s father, John Lennon. A white feather is typically a symbol of peace and goodwill. Before his death, John Lennon told his son that one day he would receive a message as a white feather, and it would be a way of letting Julian know that his father was at peace.

Then on tour in Australia, Julian met with a tribe of aboriginals, the Mirning tribe, and they asked for his help to tell the story of their tribe. As an offering, they presented him with a white feather, and Lennon recognized it as a symbol of peace. Inspired and motivated, he helped the tribe create a documentary to tell their history, with all proceeds going to the tribe. From there, the White Feather Foundation was born.

About The White Feather Foundation

The White Feather Foundation promotes and funds clean water projects, efforts dedicated to improving child literacy rates and work to address humanitarian issues across the globe. Lennon has authored several books, the proceeds of many going to help the foundation or the programs it runs. Money that Lennon’s work acquires helps fund TWFF. The organization is entirely nonprofit and is a non-government organization as well.

TWFF has countless projects running. As of October 2021, it had programs including a clean water project in Cameroon and a campaign for earthquake relief in Nepal. In addition, TWFF continuously has applications for Cynthia Lennon’s Scholarship for Girls.

Improved Children’s Education

The Cynthia Lennon Scholarship for Girls is awarded based on location and need. Lennon established the scholarship in 2015 after the passing of Cynthia Lennon, his mother. Julian added the Cynthia Lennon Scholarship to the Foundation’s recurring programs to honor her memory.

As a result of the scholarship, TWFF has sent almost 40 girls to school since 2015. Working with different projects, the scholarship aims to fulfill “educational support” for girls. It has covered housing, uniforms, textbooks and transportation. It funds all years of high school or continued education for each girl. This scholarship has worked to improve female child literacy rates since 2015.

 Improving Girls’ Education and Literacy Rates

In Kenya, children receive free primary and secondary education, but economic costs weigh down the ability to attend secondary school, potentially in costs like textbooks. Moreover, girls have historically been disadvantaged in completing their education, which has been particularly notable during the pandemic. In Kenya, girls can face challenges from pregnancy to sexual violence, damaging educational prospects as a consequence.

TWFF has begun funding girls’ educations in Kenya, working to further a growing trend regarding the gender gap in schools. Between 2015-2020, the female population in schools surpassed the male population. Between 2000-2018, the youth literacy rates have improved, especially in closing the gender gap.

In 2007, girls’ childhood literacy rates stood at 81.6% and boys’ at 82.3%. In 2014, the rates were 86.1% and 86.6% respectively. Then, in 2018, a few years into the funding provided by TWFF, the rates grew to 88.1% and 87.6% respectively.

The World Literacy Foundation Award

As recognition for efforts toward improvements in child literacy and education across the globe, the World Literacy Foundation (TWLF) honored Julian Lennon and TWFF with the World Literacy Award. The Award works to “[p]ut a spotlight on people and organizations who are doing exemplary and innovative work in the literacy sector.”

This award comes from a panel of 16 judges, who deemed Lennon’s work crucial and worthy of recognition. One judge, Lord Julian Fellows, stated that “Literacy is the ticket to learning, opportunity, and empowerment.”

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Somalia
Among Somalia’s numerous human rights crises is the recruitment of child soldiers. Not only is Somalia one of the countries with the most child soldiers, but its living standards are not improving. This article discusses five facts about Somalia’s child soldiers, along with hopeful measures which could improve the situation in the foreseeable future.

5 Facts About Child Soldiers in Somalia

  1. Somalia possesses the largest number of children who have died during war in the world. Somalia’s ongoing civil war led to drastic measures, including child recruitment into armed forces. In 2017, Somalia recorded 931 children killed at war, along with 2,127 children used in conflict. Additionally, Somalia verified the recruitment of 6,163 children between 2010 and 2016.
  2. There are many different ways to recruit child soldiers. Children’s rights in Somalia rank a 3.6/10 on the Children’s Rights Index. This ranking places Somalia in the Black Level for children’s rights, within the worst conditions in the world. This is due to several prominent factors, including the lack of education, forced displacement, sexual abuse and lack of food. All of these things happen to the majority of child soldiers in Somalia. Children as young as 9 years old suffer enlistment into Somali armed forces, both willingly and forcefully. According to reports, a majority of these children actually recruit themselves voluntarily. Often, militant groups trick child soldiers into believing that they are helping their country by doing so. Additionally, in many cases, militant groups kidnap these children and forced them into armed services. The abduction of children occurs strategically. The children targeted usually congregate in places where they are vulnerable and in large numbers, including churches, schools and orphanages. Others choose them based on their height and physical conditions.
  3. Militant terrorist organizations recruit most child soldiers. Many believe that Somalia’s government willingly allows the military to recruit children. However, this is not true. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the military that recruits these children, but, instead, terrorist groups fighting against the Somali government. The most prominent of these groups, Al-Shabaab, defines itself as an independent militant group that broke away from the Union of Islamic Courts. Al-Shabaab often demands teachers, elders and rural communities to provide them with children 8 years old and older to help them fight. Al-Shabaab has taken the most extreme measures, such as beating, raping, torturing and killing people who refused to give away their children. Over the past 10 years, Al-Shabaab recruited thousands of children to be child soldiers. In total, Al-Shabaab recruited 70% of all child soldiers in Somalia.
  4. Militant groups choose child soldiers for various strategic reasons. One might question why groups like Al-Shabaab target children since children are physically weaker than adults and lack fighting skills. However, targeting children as recruits supports Al-Shabaab’s goal to oust Somalia’s government. Firstly, children are likely to be more vulnerable than adults. Others can easily persuade them to fight for their country, thus making them believe that their contribution is voluntary and will benefit Somalia. The children who become child soldiers do not only serve as frontline fighters. Militant groups use many children as looters, spies, messengers or informants. Additionally, the physical weakness of children makes them prone to sexual assault from their terrorist leaders, who entrap some children as sexual slaves. Lastly, children present better targets than adults since they require less food and water to live. Groups like Al-Shabaab feed child soldiers just enough to survive and function in the war while remaining weak enough for physical manipulation.
  5. Organizations working against child soldiers in Somalia are making progress. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an organization that supports residents from areas liberated from Al-Shabaab. Recently, its work focuses on helping residents resettle after losing their homes in battle. Since child soldiers have a high risk of re-recruitment unless properly reintegrated into society, its initiative to take on such a difficult issue demonstrates progress. The AMISOM Civil Affairs Officer, Christopher Ogwang, speaking about recent developments, stated, “Our responsibility is to do reconstruction where necessary. We are also extending our services to rehabilitate social facilities like schools, hospitals and police stations.”

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, this treacherous issue will not undergo resolution overnight. However, organizations like AMISOM are doing their part in saving Somalian children from becoming child soldiers. The rest of us can contribute to the struggle by keeping informed about these issues and spreading information. Doing as little as this can help take a huge step towards saving child soldiers in Somalia.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Central American Women and Children Protection ActOn June 10, 2021, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2021 in the Senate. On June 17, Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA) introduced the act in the House of Representatives. Although the bill was originally introduced in 2019, it was later integrated into another bill, the US-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. The act passed the House of Representatives but was not able to move past the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Representative Torres stated in a press release that the reintroduced Act would “help […] prevent the domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect that plague the region.”

The Context Behind the Act

The act focuses on Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; as it explains, the three countries have some of the “highest rates of femicide” within “the Latin America and Caribbean region.” El Salvador and Honduras also have some of the highest child murder rates in the world. In April 2021, a Deutsche Welle article reported that there had been 161 femicides in Guatemala since the year began. In March 2021, women gathered to protest in Guatemala City, carrying signs with messages ranging from “I’m marching because I’m alive and I don’t know until when” to “This isn’t a country, it’s a cemetery.” 

Lubia Sasvin Pérez, who spoke with the New York Times in 2019 about her experiences in Guatemala, left her abusive boyfriend to stay with her parents. The boyfriend, Gehovany Ramirez, tracked her down and murdered her mother in front of her. His brother said that Ramirez was “right to go back and try to claim [Pérez].” Ramirez was sentenced to an unusually short term of “only four years in prison,” the New York Times explained, and was entitled to visitation with his and Pérez’s son “upon release.” Meanwhile, Pérez has faced “blame” and “stigma” from the people around her. “There’s no justice here,” she stated.

The Act’s Goals

If passed, the Central American Women and Children Protection Act would allow the U.S. to form “compacts,” or agreements, with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to fight violence against women and children. More specifically, the compacts’ goals would include expanding supportive resources for survivors, establishing safe environments in schools and communities and improving the justice system’s responses to these crimes. Each compact would set out a “3- to 6-year […] strategy” to accomplish the goals and would list actions the government of the country concerned would take, along with methods for “[measuring] progress.” 

In addition, the House version of the Central American Women and Children Protection Act allocates $25 million each year for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The Senate version allocates $15 million each year for those two years and the money would be given to support the prevention of violence against women and children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. However, the U.S. would retain the right to stop the funding if the countries failed to make “sufficient progress” or went against U.S. “national security interests.” 

Supporting Women for Many Reasons

Correcting injustices and promoting equality for women has economic benefits as well. According to an Atlantic Council article, Latin America has been hit hard by the pandemic economically, but “reducing gender inequalities will ignite productivity, boost economic growth, and reduce poverty” in the region. According to a World Bank report, women’s increasing presence in the labor force helped reduce poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2000 and 2010. The report also found that women’s earnings were “crucial to reducing the pressures on the poorest of the poor” by helping families stay afloat in the “2009 crisis.” 

Over the past several years, the U.S. has been criticized for deserting Central American women and children in violent situations. The U.S. has slashed aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador while excluding survivors of domestic violence from asylum. The Central American Women and Children Protection Act, if passed, would mark a turn toward aiding rather than abandoning survivors of violence.

– Victoria Albert

Photo: Flickr

Child marriage in MoroccoChild marriage in Morocco is still widely prevalent in 2021, though there are efforts to expand girls’ rights and empower women. A worldwide issue, child marriage is an issue Morocco has long struggled with because of various legal frameworks. But, there is hope for the country’s girls as activists and groups work to reform laws and curb child marriage in Morocco.

Child Marriage and Poverty

There are many reasons why child marriage in Morocco is so prevalent. Most significantly, it is a longstanding cultural tradition as well as a widespread practice in Islam. Once a girl starts menstruating, according to Moroccan society, she has reached “the marriageable age.” Additionally, girls in rural Morocco must preserve their virginity until they become wed. Since the act of reproduction is so signifcant, families marry off their daughters at early ages because it “allows young women to have more children than those married later.”

Child marriage also enforces economic and social stability as marriage comes with money, status and property. Often, these girls come from families suffering in poverty. Because girls get married off early, they miss out on educational opportunities, making them completely dependent on their husbands. Consequently, poverty and illiteracy are driving factors in the girls’ futures, exacerbating cycles of poverty even further.

Moudawana

According to Morocco World News, Morocco’s Family Code, also known as Moudawana, is the root of the problem in permitting child marriage. In 1958, Morocco established Moudawana, a traditional family law that permits practices such as “polygamy and forced marriage.” The traditional family law was the main legal framework responsible for legitimizing forced child marriage.

However, the Family Code was officially reformed in 2004 to raise the minimum marriageable age of girls to 18 and provide more rights to women in marriages. This includes rights to inheritance and the sharing of marital property. While the law still permits polygamy, it is legal only under strict conditions. Activist groups like the Moroccan Women’s Rights Movement have been advocating for these changes to allow more rights to women and girls. Nonetheless, challenges persist.

Looking at the Numbers

According to Reuters, 16% of Moroccan girls younger than the age of 18 marry illegally, despite the revised Family Code law prohibiting this. Since the 2004 reform, the number of underage marriages surged by almost 50% by 2016, though some activists claim this statistic should be higher. Families get around the Moudawana through loopholes in the law, allowing them to marry off their daughters at earlier ages. According to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, in 2019, 98% of requests for marriage to underage girls came from rural regions. This exemplifies the difference in ideology and practice between rural and urban areas as well as how circumstances of poverty increase the likelihood of child marriage.

Hope for the Future

Despite these statistics, there is hope for combating child marriage in Morocco. In 2020, the National Council for Human Rights and the United Nations Population Fund partnered for “a collaborative effort to end child marriage and promote sexual and reproductive health in Morocco.” Through education and awareness, the organizations’ joint missions will ensure poverty is alleviated alongside ending child marriage.

Additionally, the Moroccan organization called Droits & Justice is also working to end child marriage in the country. The organization launched the Combatting Underage Marriage through Legal Awareness (CUMLA) Project in 2014. The initiative educates young girls, parents and entire communities about the severe consequences of child marriage.

By partnering and collaborating with local associations, Droits & Justice hopes to increase local awareness and create large-scale change. With these methods, the organization is hoping to get closer to eradicating child marriage in Morocco. Droits & Justice “has succeeded in educating more than 500 women, including 250 underage girls.” The organization also helped with almost 30 child marriage cases.

Although child marriage has been a longstanding issue in Morocco, legal reform and the efforts of activist groups are encouraging. These are signs that Morocco is approaching a culture free of child marriage, and consequently, a future free of poverty.

– Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Unsplash

child marriage in iraq
Child marriage consists of a formal or an informal union between two participants where at least one participant is younger than 18, according to UNICEF. Forced child marriage mostly occurs in countries where poverty is prevalent such as India, Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq.

Child Marriage Statistics in Iraq

According to The World, a public radio program, Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by $38 million from 2013 to 2017 due to decreasing oil prices and economic collapse in its struggle against ISIS. Many associated the decrease in GDP with an increase in the percentage of child marriages, which rose to 24% in 2016, surpassing the percentage of child marriages in 1997 by 9%. The trends in these percentages indicate that there is a correlation between the percentage of child marriage in Iraq and the country’s economic state.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the percentage of women aged 20-24 who married before the age of 18 was 27% in 2018, indicating that the current female population of those married before the age of 18 in Iraq consists of 5.6 million out of 20.7 million women. FIGO also reports that child marriage is more common among impoverished families who reside in rural areas, rather than among wealthy families who live in urban areas. The percentage of child marriages in rural versus urban areas differs by 1%, signifying that approximately 207,000 more young girls enter into early marriage in rural areas than urban areas.

Iraq’s Personal Status Law

Iraq’s Personal Status Law forbids child marriage and increases women’s marriage and custody rights. Despite the sound solidarity of this law, article 8 of Iraq’s Personal Status Law allows for a judge to authorize an underage marriage if the judge concludes that the action is urgently necessary or if the father of the bride gives his approval of the marriage.

Child marriage supporters in Iraq continuously push for proposed amendments to the Personal Status Law to abolish legal difficulties when forcing children into marriage. The parliament in Iraq has rejected these proposals, including an amendment that would allow for families to have their own laws in religious communities, thereby authorizing the families to offer their 8-year-old daughters for marriage.

Article 8 of the Personal Status Law allows a loophole for judges to authorize underage marriages with or without permission from a father, even though the article is noncompliant with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which works to gain equality for women and eliminate patriarchal norms that discriminate against women.

Risks Associated with Child Marriage

Young girls who enter child marriage are not only susceptible to physical health risks including rape, early pregnancy and early delivery, but they are also vulnerable to psychological risks, including experiencing social shielding from their families and domestic violence. Due to substandard responses by officials, violence and rape continue to present themselves as consistent issues in child marriages.

Although Iraq has criminalized rape, the government can drop charges as long as the victim and perpetrator get married. Since Iraq has not criminalized rape between spouses, the government receives few reports of domestic violence issues and families of the two spouses usually discuss resolutions.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Iraq

Oftentimes, families force young female family members into marriage for financial benefit or to settle feuds and make amends with another family. Additionally, the monetary benefits that follow a marriage may reduce an economic burden or provide more income to a family living in poverty. In communities where schools are available for women, families may marry off their daughters earlier to avoid payments for schooling. On the contrary, some parents believe that marrying their daughters early will protect them and ensure that their futures are stable.

Organizations Fighting Child Marriage

In 2016, the United Nations announced an initiative called the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which has assisted 7.9 million girls from 2016 to 2019. The program increases education and healthcare access for young girls, educates families about the risks of child marriage and supports governments in developing strategies to end child marriage.

Additionally, Girls Not Brides is a program that has committed itself to put an end to child marriage. Girls Not Brides ensures that girls in more than 100 different countries, including countries in the Middle East, are able to achieve their life goals. Girls Not Brides consists of approximately 1,500 member organizations that raise awareness about child marriage, hold governments accountable to create national strategies to end child marriage and share solutions with communities and families. UNICEF reports that the combined efforts of organizations that combat child marriage, including Girls Not Brides, have prevented 25 million arranged child marriages.

The Road Ahead

Child marriage in Iraq is a controversial, ongoing practice despite Iraq’s Personal Status Law that emerged to prevent the occurrence of underage marriage. Young girls in Iraq who enter into marriage provide monetary gain for their families, especially those living in poverty, but experience physical and psychological damage that lasts a lifetime. Organizations such as the United Nations and Girls Not Brides continue to aid victims of child marriage in Iraq by providing healthcare, education and support. Hopefully, with the continued efforts of various NGOs, incidents of child marriage in Iraq will significantly reduce.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Children in GazaMalala Yousafzai is an activist who works to provide educational opportunities to girls around the world. Yousafzai began the Malala Fund in 2013. The Malala Fund helps girls gain access to 12 years of free, quality education in a safe environment. Today, Yousafzai continues to help children in developing countries with access to education. In May 2021, Yousafzai made a significant donation to safeguard children in Gaza. With the assistance of Save the Children, Defense for Children International Palestine and KinderUSA, Yousafzai’s $150,000 donation will help children and families in Gaza rebuild their lives.

The Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

The Gaza bombings since May 10, 2021, caused devastating damage to infrastructure and depleted resources for the two million people living in Gaza. The violence between Israel and Palestine is worse than it was during the Gaza War in 2014. While the tensions reached a ceasefire on May 20, 2021, the conflict stems from more than 25 years of issues between Israel and Palestine. The U.N. reports that 72,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in search of safety in the aftermath of the violent outbreak. Gaza’s hospitals are running low on resources to treat the thousands of wounded victims impacted by the bombings and violence. Many of these victims include children.

Malala Yousafzai Supports Children in Gaza

In May 2021, it was reported that “six hospitals, nine health clinics and about 50 education facilities were damaged in Gaza.” Furthermore, crucial infrastructures were destroyed and water pipes burst, all while hospitals struggle to care for those in need of medical attention. In order to address these issues, Yousafzai donated a total of $150,000 to three nonprofit organizations in order to help children in Gaza. These organizations are working to provide clean water for children and rebuild schools that were damaged during the conflict. The organizations will also provide medical resources for the children in Gaza.

Organizations Helping Children in Gaza

Yousafzai donated $100,000 to Save the Children, a global nonprofit organization addressing the needs of children in areas where children receive few resources. Save the Children creates programs with families, community leaders and local councils to foster successful and long-term change. As a result of Yousafzai’s donation, Save the Children will provide clean water access and food vouchers for children in Gaza. Moreover, the children will receive mental health support. The organization will also provide nutritional support for pregnant women and new mothers.

Other organizations aiding Gaza are Defense for Children International Palestine (DCI Palestine) and KinderUSA. Yousafzai donated $25,000 to each. DCI Palestine safeguards the rights of Palestinian children. Additionally, KinderUSA is an American Muslim organization with a goal to help “children in crisis through development and emergency relief.” KinderUSA responds to emergencies involving children in Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda, Somalia, Syria and beyond. In 2013, the organization provided winter clothes to Syrian children to protect them from the potential impacts of the harsh weather.

Hope for Children in Gaza

Save the Children asserts that a ceasefire on its own is not enough and that more must be done to safeguard the fundamental rights of children in Gaza. Yousafzai believes that Palestinian children deserve to live in peace and safety with opportunities to pursue an education and reach their full potential. With the help of organizations fighting to protect children’s rights, children living in Gaza have hope of a better tomorrow.

Nia Owens
Photo: Wikimedia