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

Ahmed Helmy regional ambassador UNICEFAhmed Helmy is an Egyptian actor, comedian and TV personality. Best known for his work in films such as “Molasses,” “Zaki Chan” and “Scarecrow,” Helmy is famous throughout Egypt and the Middle East, with more than 15 million followers on Instagram. Furthermore, he has served as a popular judge on Arabs Got Talent and a Samsung ambassador. While he is beloved for his acting skills and charisma, Helmy’s work with UNICEF has also received positive attention from fans. In 2017, the actor was named an ambassador for the Egypt branch of the charity. In June 2021, Ahmed Helmy became the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.

Social Media Campaigns on Childhood Development Issues

As UNICEF’s Egypt ambassador, Helmy participated in a number of social media projects, such as the #FightUnfair campaign. #FightUnfair sought to draw attention to issues impacting Egyptian youth, such as poverty and child labor. Another campaign that Helmy participated in was the #EarlyMomentsMatter movement, which highlighted the importance of early childhood development and establishing healthy parenting habits early in a child’s life. The campaign was widely successful and featured other famous UNICEF ambassadors, such as David Beckham.

Helmy’s work with UNICEF has often involved his own family, as his wife, actress Mona Zaki, is a UNICEF Egypt ambassador herself. Together, the couple made videos discouraging violent forms of disciplinary action toward children. A collaboration between UNICEF, The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and the European Union allowed the campaign to reach more than 80 million people.

Visiting Refugee Children

In addition to social media campaigns, Helmy’s humanitarian work included visits to communities served by UNICEF. For example, in November of 2018, the actor visited Syrian refugee children at Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. At the camp, UNICEF supports the quality education of more than 19,000 children. Following the visit, Helmy reflected on the experience, saying, “By ensuring every child can receive an education, healthcare, clean water and access to spaces where they feel protected and nurtured, UNICEF is giving vulnerable children hope for a better future, one where they can truly fulfill their potential.”

Helmy’s New Role as Regional Ambassador

In his new role as the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa, Ahmed Helmy hopes to continue to help children reach their potential. Specifically, he plans to focus on standing up for children’s rights and promoting awareness of early childhood development issues. Helmy’s work with UNICEF is an example of a celebrity harnessing their social influence for good. In his new role, Helmy has the potential to promote even more positive social change for the many children impacted by UNICEF’s work.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in the Cocoa Industry
Tony’s Chocolonely, a chocolate company in the Netherlands, emerged in 2005. When police arrested a journalist by the name of Teun van de Keuken, he asked to go to prison. He hired a lawyer to help send him to prison and asked a judge to convict him of driving child slavery. However, the judge would not convict him, stating that his crime was simply eating a bar of chocolate. Keuken was not satisfied with this decision and ventured to create a chocolate company that would both combat child labor and poverty in the cocoa industry.

A Better Idea

Instead, Keuken decided to try to stop child slavery from the inside. He wanted to do this by setting up a chocolate company with the mission of ending child slavery in general by fighting poverty in the cocoa industry. Since 2005, the company has grown, and with it, so have its missions. The brand is now the Netherlands’ favorite chocolate company and it has an international reach as many supermarkets in Europe sell its products. Additionally, it is inspiring cooperatives and chocolate companies across the world. Here are Tony’s Chocolonely’s five guiding principles.

Tony’s 5 Guiding Principles

  1. Traceable Cocoa Beans: The company does not buy large quantities of anonymous beans, but rather trades directly with farmers and cooperatives so that it knows the environmental and social conditions in which the beans grew. The company has implemented Tony’s Beantracker so that it knows exactly where the cocoa for its chocolate comes from. This is part of its transparency to ensure conscious consumption.
  2. A Higher Price: The company pays a higher price for its cocoa to ensure that cocoa farmers earn a living wage, which is enough to feed their families and run their farms. This has involved paying a premium; as the cocoa market can be so volatile, Tony’s pays farmers the same amount, even when prices drop. This helps ensure that farmers have enough funds to maintain their livelihoods. In 2019, cocoa prices fell and Tony’s increased its premium from $375 to $600 per tonne to ensure the security of farmers’ income.
  3. Strengthening Farmers: Tony’s Chocolonely is working to professionalize farming cooperatives. If farmers work together, they will be more empowered to structurally challenge the inequality in the value chain. When working together, farmers can stand up to middlemen in the production chain, negotiate better prices when buying production resources as a collection and raise concerns. Tony’s facilitates meetings where farmers can engage and raise concerns, empowering farmers to speak up.
  4. The Long Term: Normally in the cocoa industry, a buyer seeks out the cheapest price. However, Tony’s has committed itself to sign five-year contracts to tie it into longer deals. The longevity of these deals allows the company to build relationships with the farmers. It also ensures farmers a stable income for five years so that they have a steady source of income and can feed their children and pay the bills.
  5. Improved Quality and Productivity: Tony’s invests in agricultural knowledge and skills related to growing cocoa and other crops. The company wants to help farmers increase their crop productivity to give them more stability in sales, but also in subsistence agriculture so they have the crops they need to survive nutritionally. To help here, Tony’s works with Soil & More to help farmers develop and source compost and organic fertilizer.

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

Tony’s Chocolonely leads by example in how it is fighting poverty in the cocoa industry. However, it has extended its mission to raise awareness and inspire others to act in the same way. It is spreading its message to more people every day in an effort to acknowledge the problems of slavery and poverty in the cocoa industry so that citizens can be more conscious consumers. Such awareness promotion is having an effect; in the Netherlands, where the company is based, 75% of people now know about the problems of child slavery and poverty in the cocoa industry and say they will try to be more ethical consumers.

Advocacy

Tony’s Chocolonely’s advocacy aims to inspire others. This is evident in its partnership with the Netherlands’ largest supermarket Albert Heijn, which has worked to make the chocolate it sells slave-free. In 2019, Tony’s Chocolonely also broke into the markets of the U.K. and Germany.

The company is aiming to pressure big chocolate producers like Nestle and Cadburys to eliminate child slavery from their practices. Tony’s Chocolonely wants to get to that tipping point where ethical practice becomes necessary for business and would like this to occur either through law or by requirement. In fact, it would like it to be necessary for businesses to have a license to operate in the cocoa industry.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Children's Programs in VietnamChildren’s programs in Vietnam are vital to the country’s development. The country is home to 26.2 million children, 21.1% of whom currently live in multidimensional poverty, according to UNICEF. Vietnam has made progress on child welfare since 1990 when it was the first Asian country and the second global country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The majority of children in Vietnam attend primary and secondary school, have access to adequate healthcare and have a longer life expectancy than their parents had. But, a significant population of Vietnam’s children still live in impoverished conditions and are deprived of basic needs. Fortunately, there are several standout children’s programs in Vietnam addressing this issue.

Children of Vietnam

Children of Vietnam was founded in 1998 by two friends bringing essential items to children and families by scooter. These two individuals, Ben Wilson and Luong Thi Huong, rode all the way to the Vietnam countryside. They brought food, medicine and clothing to ensure a brighter future for children growing up in poverty.

Today, Children of Vietnam has grown into an NGO that aims to “assist children, families and communities in breaking the cycle of poverty, ill health and homelessness.” It has several initiatives offering aid to children in Vietnam including education, healthcare, housing and nutrition. It also offers support systems for struggling single mothers and children with disabilities.

In 2019, Children of Vietnam successfully completed its Cycling Out Child Poverty tour. The organization was able to raise $146,974 to help Vietnamese children living in poverty.

Room to Read

Room to Read is an organization that aims to empower millions of children in low-income communities by improving literacy and gender equality in education. It operates in developing countries like Tanzania, South Africa, Bangladesh and Cambodia. Almost 90% of the staff are from the countries the organization works in. The organization particularly prioritizes the education of girls, ensuring girls receive equal opportunities for education, no matter their financial background. Room to Read supports young girls so that they can finish secondary school and learn essential life skills that can help them progress and advance.

The organization launched in Vietnam in 2001. Since then, 1.1 million children in Vietnam have benefited from the program. Almost 1,000 schools in Vietnam partnered with the Room to Read Literacy Program and 98% of students passed the program’s “gatekeeping exam” and advanced to the next level in their schooling.

Save the Children

Another organization that works to help children in multiple countries is Save the Children. Founded in 1919, the mission of Save the Children is to ensure a future for children where they grow up healthy, safe and educated. Working in more than 100 different countries, Save the Children has helped more than 144 million children around the world in 2019 alone.

Working in Vietnam since 1990, Save the Children has launched several initiatives to give Vietnamese children the opportunity for quality education, a healthier life and protection from harm. Save the Children has positively affected more than seven million Vietnamese children in 2020. In specific, Save the Children ensured:

  • Roughly 7,110,000 children were healthy and nourished
  • About 179,000 children were educated and empowered
  • Approximately 64,000 children were protected from harm

These standout children’s programs in Vietnam have made significant strides in improving the lives of Vietnamese children over the years. From health to education and safety, organizations have committed to protecting vulnerable children.

Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Child Homelessness in Cameroon
A violent civil crisis over regional separatism, known as the Anglophone Crisis or Cameroonian Civil War, has decimated the Central African nation of Cameroon since 2017. One of the most disheartening consequences of the conflict is the extreme number of homeless children. As of 2019, Cameroon had over 900,000 internally displaced people, 51% of whom were children. Child homelessness in Cameroon has been a serious problem for many years, but the government has redoubled its efforts to combat housing shortages and population displacement.

Street Children

Homeless or impermanently housed “street children” are a growing problem in the urban centers of many developing countries. In Cameroon, where about 37.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, street children have been a prominent humanitarian concern for years. The escalation of the Anglophone crisis has produced significant increases in the number of children fending for themselves on the streets of Cameroon’s cities. In the past 10 years, the number of street children increased from around 1,000 to over 10,000.

A study that researchers at the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal conducted found that most street children in Cameroon subsist on less than $0.85 USD per day. Many street children rely on begging, drug use and sex work to survive their harsh conditions. Less than 1% of the street children who the researchers surveyed considered the public’s attitude toward them to be supportive. These children are dangerously vulnerable, especially in active war zones. Conflict-induced devastation is one of the most significant causes of child homelessness in Cameroon.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Cameroon, worsening conditions for all citizens but hitting street children especially hard. Urban centers are less sanitary and more harmful than ever before, something that the homeless and under-housed feel most keenly. Over 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred in Cameroon and over 600 deaths.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated the worst impacts of the Anglophone Crisis. As the global health crisis distracted the international community, both the military and armed separatist groups enacted more violence on civilians. This behavior endangers civilians directly but also causes many to flee their homes out of fear for their safety, increasing the number of Cameroon’s homeless dramatically. This surge in displaced individuals also stretches Cameroon’s already thin resources even more direly, worsening conditions for those already homeless.

Though the pandemic has increased the instability of living conditions for those on the streets, it has also given Cameroon’s government a stronger incentive to house street children, accelerating existing plans to provide housing to those who violence or poverty have displaced.

Initiatives to House Street Children

Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs is partnering with the Ministry of Health to house and support thousands of street children while screening them for COVID-19 in the process. It began clearing the streets in April 2020, with plans to find housing for 3,000 street children in the near future.

The children will either return to their families or enter housing or job training programs to develop skills like cooking and sewing. Regardless of their specifics, this program will provide shelter, safety and opportunities to thousands of street children. This initiative will house not only displaced or abandoned children but also orphans and children who are seeking asylum from nearby countries.

Street Child, a U.K. charity, is also working in Cameroon to help provide protection and education for homeless children. The organization emerged in 2008 and operates by partnering with local organizations in areas with high rates of child homelessness to make education more accessible. Street Child has helped over 330,000 children go to school. Now the initiative is working with local organizations and the Cameroonian government to help provide COVID-19 relief, and developing specific programs to improve the wellbeing of children who the conflict has directly affected. Street Child focuses on expanding access to education and alleviating the symptoms of child homelessness in Cameroon.

– Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Band Members from BTS who renewed LOVE MYSELF campaignGrammy-nominated, South Korean group, BTS recently announced the renewal of their partnership with UNICEF and their LOVE MYSELF campaign, which was first introduced on November 1, 2017. Originally, BTS used the partnership to sponsor UNICEF’s #ENDViolence campaign that sought to ensure safety for children everywhere in the world. UNICEF and BTS raised awareness for the recurrent issues of sexual assault and domestic violence for teens and children through the #ENDViolence and BTS’s LOVE MYSELF campaign.

Working with UNICEF

As the years went by, BTS hosted UNICEF booths around the world to educate the public about violence against children. The group also held a world tour under the campaign’s name. Their booth in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium was especially impactful and gathered the largest crowd in UNICEF’s event history. This places in perspective BTS’s critical role in assisting UNICEF in its goal of protecting children’s rights, especially children in poverty, across the world. BTS even took their influence to the United Nations, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York where they shared their own experiences and the importance of self-love, stating, “no matter who you are, where you are from, your skin color, gender identity: speak yourself.”

Renewing the UNICEF Partnership

As of March 2021, through an announcement video on their Youtube channel, BTS renewed their commitment to the cause, donating $1 million to UNICEF, as well as profits from the LOVE MYSELF campaign’s merchandise and a portion of the proceeds from their album sales of the same name. Since 2017, this partnership has raised $2.98 million for UNICEF’s global mission and the hashtag #BTSLoveMyself has been mentioned more than 11,800,000 times, showing significant impact and success in spreading awareness.

In their announcement video, the BTS members shared the importance of their campaign and partnership, making it clear they value the UNICEF partnership and the issues the humanitarian organization stands for. V, one of the beloved band members, said “LOVE MYSELF starts with a message to love yourself, but ultimately it’s a message of loving each other and loving everyone.” J-hope added his heartfelt comment, “If our campaign just gives people the chance to think about how they can love themselves and share love to others, I think that will have a great impact.”

LOVE MYSELF Campaign Amid COVID-19

With COVID-19 still affecting our daily lives, the LOVE MYSELF campaign’s renewal is especially significant. COVID-19 has a negative impact on children across the world. Approximately 168 million schoolchildren were home as a result of school closures, with one in three being unable to access remote learning through the pandemic. Furthermore, in November 2020, UNICEF estimated that the number of children living in poverty-stricken households would increase by 140 million by the end of 2020. Supportive and successful campaigns like LOVE MYSELF are crucial during these challenging times.

As UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, “COVID-19 is taking an enormous toll on all our lives and emotional well-being… Through their music and messages, BTS has said to their global audience, ‘You are not alone. This is a difficult time for all of us. And together, with love and kindness, we will get through it.’”

– Juan Vargas
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in the Democratic Republic
The Borgen Project spoke to Rafael Olivares, someone who had witnessed how child rights can overpower child labor in The Dominican Republic. He was born in The Dominican Republic and traveled back and forth between The Dominican Republic and the United States throughout his early life. Rafael Olivares lived in The Dominican Republic for six years from the ages of 11 to 16-years-old. He endured impressionable experiences while living in the country, witnessing intense child labor. He lived in Santiago, fully known as Santiago De Los Caballeros, for five years. This city is located in the northern region of the country. He has also lived in Puerto Plata, fully known as San Felipe de Puerto Plata, for one year. It is a port and city also located in the northern
region of the country.

As a high school student, while living in The Dominican Republic, Rafael Olivares noticed that “young children were working street corners and would sell water bottles and would clean windshields of different cars to get some spare change.” He believes the government in The Dominican Republic should support education efforts to a greater extent, especially considering The Dominican Republic’s low rating in education in Latin America. Rafael Olivares noted that during his time as a student, he never heard of anyone discussing mental health or offering it to youth. Rafael’s family left an impact on him. This was due to his family migrating to the United States in the 1980s in search of better work opportunities to provide for the family.

The Rights of Dominican Children

All children have their rights. However, unfortunately, their rights frequently depend on the kind of economic background they come from. Children from affluent families often have more rights than children with lower-status families because of their entitlement. Meanwhile, children from less wealthy families may have a harder time navigating life. Over 40% of the Dominican population lives below the poverty line. Children from single-mother households or with a family of immigrants become susceptible to child labor as a means of providing for their families.

There is a serious problem with child labor in The Dominican Republic since one out of 10 children has to work. Without strict policies and protections in place, children may become trafficking victims, having to work in exploitative scenarios. The rise of tourism in the country has deepened the issue. Most families support their children leaving school to work full-time so that they can better handle the finances.

Child Labor Facts

The Dominican Republic wants to improve its child labor laws. It has made improvements by hiring more labor inspectors in 2019, creating an increase of 57%.

Child labor in The Dominican Republic proves to be dangerous because of the hazardous working conditions in agriculture and human trafficking. The ages of the children range from 10 to 14-years-old. About 28% of child laborers in The Dominican Republic work in the agricultural field, which involves sugarcane production and processing, and the production of coffee, cocoa, rice, tomatoes, bananas, beans, corn, garlic, onions and potatoes. The children fish as well.

About 98% of the children attend school without having to work, whereas 2% of Dominican children attend both school and work. The Dominican government implemented the extended school day program. This included nearly 80% of schoolchildren in 2019. All children attend school until the age of 18 through the free, public education system, including children who are undocumented.

The DREAM Project

The DREAM project is a nonprofit located in both The Dominican Republic and the United States. Michel Zaleski gained inspiration for the program in 1995 when he witnessed classrooms in the Dominican Republic with no hydro, running water or libraries, and limited teachers. Finally, in 2002, the DREAM project came into existence. Michel Zaleski sent over college students from the United States to help facilitate teaching at two public schools in Puerto Plata. Michel secured funding to build facilities for the DREAM project. These facilities included classrooms, libraries and bathrooms. The DREAM project takes pride in opportunity and sustainability, two of their many core values. Junot Diaz, an award-winning author, and singer Leslie Grace support the organization’s efforts. Both serve as honorary chairpersons.

The DREAM Project: Programs

The DREAM project offers a variety of programs to improve literacy among children, along with the Montessori Academy and programs to promote youth leadership. It has also implemented the Bachata Academy, community programs and global connection groups. The DREAM project website states that “96 percent of third-graders in the Dominican Republic read below grade level.” The DREAM project aims to promote quality education to students of all ages and improve reading scores while aiding youth in advancing into higher education. Its reading and library program intends for young children to actively read and write creatively as this could help them build relationships among others in the community. Overall, the DREAM project’s literacy programs help prevent child labor from occurring by giving youth a safe space to engage in fulfilling life-changing experiences.

Ministry of Labor

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Labor sends children that it finds in unsafe working conditions to the National Council for Children and Adolescents. Other organizations in The Dominican Republic helping to end child labor include the Office of the Attorney General and the National Police’s Trafficking in Persons Unit. Hopefully, the government will create stricter laws for a fair and just environment for children.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

 

Child Refugees in MexicoIn recent years, Mexico has become an increasingly significant place of asylum. More than 70,000 refugees have submitted asylum applications in 2019, and despite an initial drop in applications in 2020 due to the pandemic, COVID-19 claims for asylum in December 2020 hit a record high. The well-being of child refugees in Mexico is of particular concern.

Child Refugees in Mexico

People are arriving in Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela in search of safety, local integration, Mexican residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. In 2020, one in five refugees were children. With such alarming demographics, it has been essential for Mexico to address its overwhelming influx of asylum-seekers and find solutions to protect those vulnerable, especially children.

COVID-19 has heightened poverty among child migrants. Child refugees in Mexico are escaping forced recruitment, gang violence and crime that is a daily reality in their Central American countries. This has resulted in displacement, food scarcity and poverty. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of insecurity amongst these children have only increased, with about 5,000 children (60% unaccompanied) returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

COVID-19 has devastated children and families as extended lockdowns, school closures, stalled essential economic activities, neglected migrant reparations and rising violence has escalated vulnerability. Children seeking asylum are most affected by the virus due to the lack of access to safe water, sanitation and other essential services. Restricted access to international protection and regular migration pathways are other obstacles they are facing as they search for safety.

UNICEF has responded with efforts guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action that focus on providing 2.3 million children and their families, including children affected by human mobility,  protection from the exposure of COVID-19.

Trump Policy Endangers Child Refugees

Since the Trump administration’s 2019 Remain-in-Mexico program, 70,000 non-Mexican refugees have been waiting in asylum camps for their U.S. court hearings in northern Mexico. Within this group, 700 children have crossed the U.S. border alone as their parents wanted them to escape the terrible camp conditions and show themselves to U.S. border officials since unaccompanied minors cannot be returned to Mexico under U.S. policy and law.

CBS News reported that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been able to house all children who had left their parents in Mexico and 643 of them have been released to family members in the U.S. Although this is good news, the Justice Action Center has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its plan to deport children with circumstances like these, threatening their safety if they go back to their home country. The NGO, Human Rights First, has complied more than 1,300 reports of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and assault against migrants returned by the U.S.

Mexico Enlists Reforms to Protect Child Refugees

As of November 2020, Mexico has approved reforms that apply to children in all migration contexts, accompanied or not. The reform will put an end to immigration detention centers for boys and girls and instead will be referred to alternative accommodation. It will also allow international protection and eligibility for temporary humanitarian visas to prevent deportation or return until the migrant child’s best interest can be resolved.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is collaborating with associated government agencies, U.N. sister agencies and civil society organizations to certify that referral procedures and appropriate shelter capacity are arranged.

Mexico’s Solidarity Plants Seeds for Progress

For a country that has been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants desperately seeking asylum, Mexico has responded with compassion and an assertion to reform its immigration policy. This combined with other humanitarian efforts will provide monumental aid and help eradicate the suffering of child refugees in Mexico.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr