Forced Child Begging in SenegalMaison de la Gare is a non-governmental organization that aims to tackle forced child begging in Senegal by reintegrating talibé children into Senegalese society. Talibés are young boys and girls who study the Quran at unregulated “daaras” (residential Quranic schools) supported by their teachers, known as marabouts. Most often, the conditions that these children live and study in are deplorable and teachers often subject students to acts of abuse. Within daaras in remote rural areas, children lack proper shelter, water, sanitation and even food. Some teachers, force children, sometimes as young as 5, into begging.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) considers forced child begging to be one of the “worst forms of child labor” as it is a violation of the basic human rights protections outlined in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Human Trafficking Search explains that forced child begging is “one of the most visible forms of human trafficking in existence: the exploited children are in plain sight, impossible to miss for any pedestrian walking by.”

A Closer Look at Forced Child Begging in Senegal

As the majority of daaras do not receive any support from the government and do not charge for food, education or accommodation, some Quranic teachers force their students to make up for it by begging for food or a few coins on the streets of Senegal. When failing to meet the specific quota for each day, these teachers subject talibés to severe abuse, Human Rights Watch reports.

The charity that children receive is passed on to their “teachers” and sometimes the leftovers they collect “may be the only food they have all day,” according to a 2021 piece by writer Fatoumata Ouedrago.

Estimates by Maison de la Gare place the number of forced child beggars in Senegal at around 15,000. “These boys are beaten into submission, punished for trying to run away and deprived of all basic human rights by their abusers.”

For families dealing with poverty, sometimes sending their children to daaras is a solution to some of their financial problems — it provides free education for their children but also makes sense logistically as often the selected school is close to their family home.

Hope for the Future

Organizations like Maison de la Gare are tackling forced child begging in Saint Louis, Senegal, by providing access to proper education in a nurturing environment and teaching skills that help children become well-equipped for their futures.

The organization started its work in 2007 and established a community center funded by international supporters. Its mission is challenging and arduous but not impossible. The main goal is to accommodate talibés into the “formal school system and prepare them to be productive members of Senegalese society.”

In order to achieve this, Maison de la Gare provides “literacy classes, hygiene instruction and nutritional support,” supplying vital medical care that talibés do not have access to and developing apprenticeship programs for older children.

Advocacy Efforts to End Child Begging in Senegal

Maison de la Gare lobbies for an end to the abuse and exploitation faced by talibés and “works to make this a central issue of political debate both within Senegal and internationally,” according to its website. To achieve these goals, Maison de la Gare strives to establish “collaborative relationships” with other NGOs, government authorities and, most importantly, “with the marabouts who are the key to realizing real change.”

As part of the “Hope for begging talibé children campaign,” the organization has managed to raise more than $190,000 to fund its efforts to support children through its welcome center, constructed in 2010.

According to its annual report, in 2021, Maison de la Gare accommodated 128 talibés, reintegrated 50 children and reunited 58 others with their families. Every month the organization provides medical treatment to 195 children and equips 102 daaras with hygiene kits.

Looking Ahead

Modern slavery occurs in almost every country in the world but is most prevalent in nations with high poverty rates. According to the World Bank’s estimates, 9.3% of Senegal’s population lived under the poverty line of $2.15 per person per day in 2018.

The most dominant form of slavery in Senegal takes the form of forced child begging and is a result of “government inaction, distorted traditions and desperate families,” Ouedrago highlights in her publication.

In addition to providing educational programs, Maison de la Gare believes that in order to significantly reduce the number of begging talibé children, the state should introduce modern regulated daaras and improve the enforcement of existing anti-forced begging legislation.

– Ralitsa Pashkuleva
Photo: Flickr

Fighting against statelessness
Being stateless happens when a person does not enjoy any nationality. Therefore, not having citizenship means that a person does not have
any bonds to the legal obligations and rights of any country. In a world where nations are still the dominant players, nationality is one of the core aspects of forming one’s identity. Currently, more than 10 million people around the world are stateless. It is important to see how statelessness enhances other problems, such as economic uncertainty, and how the international community acts in order to improve this situation.

Why is Statelessness a Problem?

Nationals from a country receive certain rights. Participating in political and social tasks, such as a right to social security, freedom of movement and voting are rights that citizens take for granted. However, in some countries, there are residents which are stateless and so they have no access to these basic rights. If a state denies a stateless person protection, it is denying him or her basic human rights. As a result, they have limited access to development and have challenges progressing in life successfully. This situation leads on many occasions to perpetual economic instability. Stateless people have no legal right to work in their country of residence, which makes it very difficult for them to have reliable job opportunities. Residents which the formal economy largely ignores, are vulnerable victims of exploitation such as forced labor and prostitution.

Moreover, statelessness is often the result of discriminatory laws against women. More than 20 countries around the world still have gender-discriminatory laws that make both women and children more vulnerable to becoming stateless. Unequal legislation such as the Qatari does not allow mothers to pass their nationality to their children, even if there is no recognized father and it will render the child stateless. Another example is Jordan, where women married to non-nationals cannot pass their Jordanian nationality to their children. Fighting against statelessness and avoiding the risk in countries with gender-discriminatory legislation, reduces the prevalence of other problems, such as the perpetuation of patriarchal societies and domestic violence. It also helps reduce the risk of child marriage for girls whose only opportunity is to acquire their spouse’s nationality.

International Law is a Key to Change

The main issue for people fighting statelessness is that they cannot count on the protection of a specific nation, so the international community becomes an important ally to monitor statelessness and help people going through the toughest challenges. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an agency to which The United States is the largest donor, is also dedicated to helping reduce statelessness worldwide. UNHCR drafted the 1954 and 1961 Conventions, through which stateless people received recognition and a guideline focused on reducing statelessness.

Based on Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 1961 convention has as a core objective to avoid statelessness as a result of deprivation of nationality, as everyone has the right to a nationality. While the loss of nationality is a possibility and the national legislation contemplates it, what the 1961 Convention attempts to eliminate is the deprivation of nationality based on discriminatory laws. Therefore, based on Article 9 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention established that both men and women should have the same right to acquire and pass on their nationality.

What is Improving?

In 2014, UNHCR launched the #IBelong Campaign, an action plan focused on fighting against statelessness and optimally eliminating it within 10 years. The most important actions taken are the following:

  • Solve major cases of statelessness
  • Ensure every child has a nationality
  • Fight against gender discrimination
  • Increase the number of members to the 1961 Convention

The latest data revealed by UNHCR in 2021 shows that 96 states are party to the 1954 Convention and 77 are party to the 1961 Convention. This suggests that ever more countries worldwide are committed to the process of fighting against statelessness. Furthermore, since the #IBelong Campaign:

  • Kyrgyzstan reduced the number of statelessness cases to zero.
  • Eleven countries made significant reductions.
  • Seventeen countries implemented efforts to identify and help stateless people in their territory.
  • Twelve countries facilitated the naturalization process.
  • Fourteen countries compromised to give every child the right to a nationality.
  • Two countries improved their gender discriminatory laws in favor of mothers’ rights to transfer their nationality to their children.

Looking Ahead

Recent action regarding statelessness proves that the international community is making a significant effort to improve the situation. The extent to which international law can make a difference is limited to member states. States are independent to decide if the Conventions regarding statelessness become binding in their legislation. Thus, even though it is difficult for international law to make a difference, the growing commitment to solving statelessness is mainly what allows international law to play a crucial role in fighting statelessness globally.

– Carla Tomas Laserna
Photo: Flickr

polio vaccination in Tajikistan
In recent years, vaccine misinformation has arisen rapidly, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; this has become a serious health concern. Polio vaccination in Tajikistan was successful for decades, but the country experienced a sudden outbreak in 2021. With the help of UNICEF, the country immediately responded to the crisis and introduced mass polio vaccination in Tajikistan which helped approximately 1.4 million children in the country. The community health centers and healthcare workers of the country played a major role in the success of this vaccination program. Their efforts provide a great model on how to combat vaccine misinformation through community and education.

Polio in Tajikistan

Polio, also referred to as poliomyelitis, typically impacts children under 5, and can spread either through people or contaminated water supplies. Since 1988, cases of polio globally have been reduced by 99.8% and the only countries that are still endemic are Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although there is no cure for the disease, effective vaccines for polio exist and are the primary way of fighting it.

Tajikistan, a country that had been free of polio for decades and was certified polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020, experienced a sudden emergence of the disease in 2021. That year, 34 children contracted polio and became paralyzed, while 26 more tested positive without developing paralysis. For diseases like polio, even one case could be an outbreak and thus, necessitates an immediate response. The type of polio detected in Tajikistan was the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2).

Organized Response to the Crisis

Response to the polio outbreak was swift and effective. UNICEF coordinated with the Tajikistan government and provided 4.6 million doses of an oral polio vaccine and a mass immunization program began quickly. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection of the Population increased poliovirus surveillance, conducted a thorough risk assessment regarding the scale of outbreak and kind of vaccine response required and was quick in verifying the preparedness of the immunization program.

The first wave of polio vaccination in Tajikistan began in February 2021, with a second round beginning a few months later in June and lasting until September 2021. With both waves, an extensive program of social mobilization began to reach groups most at risk of infection such as internal migrants and unregistered children, according to WHO.

Community health centers played a critical role in the success of the immunization program by providing the necessary vaccine education to the population. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the centers thrived and helped to foster an organized response to the health crises.

Learning from Tajikistan

Since the immunization program began, 1.4 million children got their vaccine against polio, and Tajikistan once again became a polio-free zone in April 2022 according to WHO. Healthcare workers and community health centers played integral roles in the success of the immunization program by reaching the most vulnerable segments of the Tajik population. Moreover, the government of Tajikistan did its part by responding to the polio crisis in a timely manner. Tajikistan’s eradication of polio is an illustrious example of how governments and global organizations can work together to end polio.

– Umaima Munir
Photo: Flickr

Early School Dropouts
Education is one of the most fundamental rights a child must have, no matter where they live. A free, equitable and good-quality education is also one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations designed. Education allows a student to be literate and articulate, and gain proper knowledge of various subjects. Unfortunately, many students experience early school dropouts drop out of school due to financial, social and political reasons.

Rates and Statistics

According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, more than 64 million primary school students dropped out of their education in 2020. The rates are even more extensive in low and middle-income countries. For example, in Ethiopia, more than 2 million students dropped out of primary school whereas, in India, more than 6 million left primary schools. The dropout ratio between female and male students differs in countries. Boys in India abandoned school nearly two times more than girls in 2020, while female students were two times more likely to leave school in Ethiopia in the same year.

Reasons Why Students Drop Out

There are several reasons for early school dropouts in developing countries. The most common causes are:

  • Child Labour: Based on UNICEF estimations, one in 10 of all children around the world are victims of child labor. COVID-19 has worsened this crisis by forcing them to work for longer hours.
  • Child Marriage: Even though marriage under the legal age of 18 is a contravention against human rights, almost four out of 10 teenage girls marry before 18 in West and Central Africa. Female child marriage rates are lower in Eastern and Southern Africa (32%). Boys also face early marriages. Based on the reports, 115 million young males marry before the age of 18 around the world, with Belize, Suriname and Nicaragua having the highest child groom rates in 2022.
  • Conflict: Schools should be a safe place for pupils to study and learn, but this is not often the case in developing countries. In fact, many students miss out on school due to periods of conflict.
  • Funding: There is a substantial issue regarding low prioritization and underfunding of the education sector in countries facing a crisis. Only 2.6% of humanitarian funds go to education. Moreover, government funding related to education is distributed inequitably, with children of poor households receiving as low as 10% or less of the public education spending. This funding crisis will deprive students of the opportunity to study in developing countries.

Addressing Early School Dropouts

Many organizations, charities and institutes are raising funds and implementing strategies to prevent and end the global education crisis. UNICEF, UNESCO, Education International and The Global Partnership for Education are some organizations that serve and support this cause. UNICEF is currently working with various partners and officials to remove current barriers along girls’ education paths. UNICEF’s priority is to enable girls to complete their secondary education.

Keeping Girls in School Act

Keeping Girls in School Act is a bipartisan (H.R.4134 / S.2276) to employ and direct the U.S. government to create solutions to address the global education crisis and barriers in the way of female students. The Keeping Girls in School Act empowers girls around the globe by increasing educational opportunities and economic security.

Conclusion

Even though many efforts are helping girls obtain an education, there is still much work to do. Every little contribution can improve the educational crisis that girls face. Moreover, free education can give equal opportunities to the future community of girls who can be the leaders of tomorrow. Equality in education can lead to stable and civilized communities around the globe and put an end to early school dropouts.

– Hasti Mighati
Photo: Flickr

Child mortality in Nepal
According to a 2018 USAID article, annually, 2.6 million infants “die within their first month of life.” In addition, about 15% of these deaths come about through complications stemming from “severe infections.” Many of these infections-induced deaths are easily preventable through one simple solution: chlorhexidine. In Nepal, the government of Nepal and USAID piloted a chlorhexidine initiative in 2009. In 2011, Nepal introduced the antiseptic into “routine care nationwide.” The introduction of the antiseptic has safeguarded the lives of more than 1.3 million newborns in Nepal, decreasing levels of child mortality in Nepal. Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also introduced the solution to reduce child mortality rates.

Facts About Child Mortality

  • Under 5 Mortality. Child mortality, which people also know as the under-five mortality rate, is the likelihood of a child dying before reaching 5 years of age and is usually calculated per 1,000 live births.
  • Child Mortality in Numbers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 5 million children under the age of 5 died in 2020. Newborns accounted for around half of those deaths — about 2.4 million neonatal deaths. Compared to data from 1990, the global child mortality rate has decreased by about 60%. UNICEF estimates that compared to 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, in 2020, the world noted 37 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • Highest Burdens. Child mortality is most severe in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where more than 80% of the 5 million deaths of children occurred in 2020.
  • Leading Causes. According to WHO, the leading causes of child mortality are infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria as well as complications arising from premature birth. The majority of infections are avoidable with simple and affordable health and sanitation solutions.

Child Mortality in Nepal

Nepal stands out in particular within the region of South Asia when it comes to child mortality rates. According to World Bank data, in 1960, Nepal recorded 325 under-5 deaths per 1,000 live births, whereas, in 2020, this number significantly reduced to 28 deaths per 1,000 live births. This is a significant improvement, especially in comparison to other countries. For instance, Pakistan reports 65 deaths per 1,000 live births and Afghanistan reports 58 deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2020.

The reasons for child mortality rates continuing to persist in Nepal are multifold. Lack of preventative measures against infectious diseases like malaria and pneumonia plays a major role in many babies not surviving. Many times, complications at birth occur, which are easily preventable with adequate medical care. Lastly, unhygienic medical conditions result in infections that claim the lives of babies. The adoption of simple and cost-effective solutions, one of which is chlorhexidine, can easily prevent unhygienic conditions and infections.

How Chlorhexidine Helps

Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic that hospitals widely use to disinfect skin and sterilize surgical equipment, comes in both liquid and gel form and is generally affordable. A study in Nepal showed that the use of chlorhexidine significantly reduced the risk of infection by 68% and minimized child deaths by 23%, USAID reported. The study led to the start of the 2009 USAID-led chlorhexidine program, supported by the Government of Nepal. Following the successful results visible in the program, chlorhexidine became a part of the entire nation’s medical care in 2011. In regions where people prefer home birth and use risky methods of birthing, chlorhexidine has helped save the lives of numerous children.

The application of this solution has decreased child mortality in Nepal and could impact the entire region’s child mortality rate. Chlorhexidine could also benefit regions like sub-Saharan Africa where infant deaths remain a concern.

– Umaima Munir
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Mauritania
Two horizontal stripes of red sandwich a large swath of green. Over the green is a five-pointed yellow star, centered above an upward-pointing yellow crescent moon. Mauritania’s flag is not just beautiful, it is also symbolic. The green, in particular, symbolizes hope. However, not all Mauritanians have hope. Child marriage in Mauritania diminishes hope for around 37% of Mauritanian girls. The country’s legal age for marriage is 18, but lax enforcement undermines the law, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Facts about Child Marriage in Mauritania

International human rights groups, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have advocated for measures to prohibit child marriage. The practice correlates with some adverse outcomes and creates a cycle of effects that often mirror those outcomes. Some of these are:

  • Lack of Education – Child marriage consistently correlates to a lack of education. Getting an education becomes even more difficult after marriage. When girls must manage a household and raise children, they have little time for school. The opportunities that an education provides, including the chance for financial independence, dwindle. Beyond that, the problem is cyclical: Research shows that interrupting a child’s education may have a negative educational impact on the next generation.
  • Poverty – The poorest Mauritanian girls are almost twice as likely to marry before age 18 than their wealthier peers. Because married children are also likely to have financial prospects hindered by incomplete education, child marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
  • Less Autonomy and Agency – According to an article published in J Women Polit Policy, in Mauritania, more than 50% of married girls have spouses that are a decade older. Research shows that this age gap, along with the educational disparities, results in less autonomy for the girls. This power imbalance typically persists throughout the union.
  • Psychological Distress and Isolation – These married girls leave familiar surroundings to live many miles away from friends and family. Alone and away from the familiar, they find themselves without a support system when they most need it.

Efforts to Address Child Marriage in Mauritania

Change takes time, but Mauritania has taken some steps to address the issue. Mauritania’s 2001 law making marriage under 18 illegal is not a solution on its own, but it is a first step that acknowledges the inherent problems with the practice. But guardians can circumvent the law by granting permission for a child under 18 to marry. The child must also agree, but his or her silence is considered consent. By eliminating this exception, the government would show an even greater commitment to ending child marriage in Mauritania.

Mauritania is one of several countries that has committed to ending child marriage by 2030, which aligns with target 5.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. According to Girls Not Brides, the country demonstrated this commitment by addressing its progress in the 2019 Voluntary National Review, a government report delivered during a political forum. Mauritania has implemented the Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD). SWEDD aims to keep girls in school, recognizing that lack of education is a key correlate to child marriage. It also aspires to stigmatize child marriage through education.

Some may question the impact of these seemingly symbolic steps, but a research study submitted to the Ford Foundation found that “the failure to view early marriage as a problem is chiefly what accounts for the persistence of this harmful traditional practice.” As Mauritanians like to say, “A hen cannot lay eggs and hatch them on the same day.” With each signed agreement, each law and each international commitment, Mauritania is that much closer to stigmatizing and ending child marriage.

– Vickie Melograno
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Inclusive Education Programs
UNICEF is working alongside NGO Zhan, a software development company and a youth center to help children in Kazakhstan who have visual impairments gain more out of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program teaches children with visual impairments how to access useful learning resources and maximize the benefits of technology. Inclusive education programs are particularly valuable in developing countries where many often stigmatize disabilities and those with disabilities do not receive accommodation from schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has made inclusive education even more essential due to an expansive surge in digital learning, which is rarely accessible to children with disabilities.

UNICEF’s Approach

UNICEF and NGO Zhan program taught children how to navigate smartphones, computers, web resources and messenger and navigation apps. The children also learned the basics of programming and became familiar with several software programs, as UNICEF reported.

Children who participated in the program ended up with heightened abilities to communicate with their teachers, peers and families, both inside and outside of school. Children with visual impairments who learn technological skills like computer programming have better chances of finding stable jobs later in life. Inclusive education programs like UNICEF’s help provide opportunities to children with disabilities who may otherwise lack access to education altogether, especially in developing countries.

Educational Benefits

Children with disabilities are often marginalized within educational systems, which makes it difficult to find career opportunities as adults. Children with disabilities face disproportionate amounts of exclusion in low-income areas, according to the World Bank. Educational programs that provide learning resources for children with disabilities help put them on level playing fields with their classmates.

Teachers in developing countries often lack the training and resources to assist children with disabilities, so outside organizations like UNICEF can help make schools more inclusive. According to the World Bank, inclusive education programs may involve teacher training, removing physical barriers for students and obtaining accessible learning materials. These resources allow children with disabilities the opportunity to learn the same material as their classmates without falling behind in school or missing out on job opportunities in the future.

Socioeconomic Benefits

Around the world, 57 million children lack access to primary education. While many children with disabilities struggle to keep up in school without accommodations, others lack access to education altogether. Educational disparities in low-income areas are particularly common among young girls.

Inclusive education programs and policies can improve child literacy, gender equality and educational opportunities at large for children with disabilities. When more children have access to positive educational experiences, more children can enter the workforce and contribute to their local and national economies.

UNICEF’s program for children with visual impairments is a prime example of how inclusive education can benefit children’s education and social lives. Inclusive education accepts and embraces all children, allowing them to succeed in school and pursue their ambitions for the future.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

The Tomorrow School
Schooling is a proven pathway out of poverty, paving the way for higher-paying, skilled employment opportunities. However, impoverished nations, such as Ethiopia, face barriers to education and struggle with issues such as food insecurity, a lack of access to clean water and a lack of access to proper hygiene and sanitation facilities. By addressing all of these factors, impoverished people can live a better quality of life. With education, impoverished people can break generational cycles of poverty. The Tomorrow School, a German nonprofit organization formed in 2019, aims to “empower children in Ethiopia to shape their own future and to pursue their dreams on the basis of education.” By centering its work around four focal areas, the organization aims to create “a more dignified learning environment in Ethiopian schools.” Here is some information about how The Tomorrow School alleviates poverty in Ethiopia through education.

Education in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s education sector has made strides over the past decade “with primary school net enrollment” reaching a remarkable rate of 100%. Educational progress is vital for Ethiopia’s children who make up almost 50% of the population. However, while many children in Ethiopia enroll in school, only 54% go further than the eighth grade. In addition, approximately “[63%] of students in lower primary school are not achieving the basic learning outcomes needed to succeed higher up the education ladder.”

Cultural gender norms, domestic work responsibilities, “long distances to schools” and “climate-induced and conflict-related emergencies” form the education barriers present in the country. The Tomorrow School works to provide Ethiopian children with the necessary resources to aid in their educational success. Here are four focal areas to demonstrate how The Tomorrow School alleviates poverty in Ethiopia.

4 Focal Areas of The Tomorrow School

  1. Clean Water: Of the 2.1 billion individuals in the world who are without access to clean drinking water, Ethiopia makes up 61 million. Girls and women shoulder the burden of walking hours to collect water, a time-consuming endeavor that leaves them with no time for paid employment or education. Often, this water comes from contaminated sources that increase the risk of waterborne diseases like typhoid fever and bilharzia. The Tomorrow School funds the construction and maintenance of safe water sources in schools to “supply the sanitary facilities, ensure a higher hygiene practice and support the school food program.”
  2. School Supplies: The  READ II program in Ethiopia, which the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), conducted a survey across six Ethiopian regions and found that school supplies stand as the “second-most important factor” in reducing school dropout rates in the country. The survey also finds that school supply inadequacies are “one of the top four reasons for absenteeism” in schools. Writing utensils, paper and textbooks are essential for student engagement in classrooms. With these tools, a student can share educational information with his/her family, manage finances and problem solve outside of the school environment. According to The Tomorrow School, only 7.5% of primary school students in Ethiopia pass the national exam that allows for them to proceed to secondary education. A contributing factor to this low rate is a lack of access to school supplies and study materials that would better prepare students.
  3. Food: Food insecurity and hunger have severe developmental consequences for children, such as stunting, which “can affect a child’s cognitive abilities as well as their focus and concentration in school.” These impacts on brain development can equal a loss of up to four school grades. Furthermore, “stunted children are 19% less likely to be able to read by age 8.” Most recently, the World Food Programme reports that 3.9 million Ethiopian women and children are facing nutritional vulnerabilities. The Tomorrow School aims to not only provide food for students but also teach them how to cook balanced meals through a food program in Ethiopian schools where “children cook for each other.”
  4. Sanitation: The organization aims to improve the hygiene of students and the sanitation of schools in Ethiopia. The organization has reported that 25 million children in Ethiopia experience exposure to illness-causing germs due to inadequate hygiene facilities and supplies. A 2014 report shows that “73% of Ethiopia’s urban and 77% of its rural population used unimproved sanitation facilities.” By providing sanitary facilities, sustainable waste management and educating teachers and students on sanitary practices, The Tomorrow School helps to reduce infections and illnesses so students can continue to attend school.

Ensuring a Bright Future Through Education

Proper schooling has a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, bringing benefits that can impact communities and entire nations. The Tomorrow School’s efforts to improve the learning environment in Ethiopian schools play a significant role in ending cycles of generational poverty in Ethiopia. The Tomorrow School alleviates poverty in Ethiopia by aiding children through education to provide clean water, school supplies, improved sanitation and food.

– Katelyn Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Marcus Rashford's CampaignMany 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 adults and 30% of children in Britain living in poverty, this is an important issue, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coming from a background of poverty himself, Marcus Rashford’s campaign gives a voice to the impoverished youth.

Marcus Rashford’s Campaign Combats Child Hunger

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

In May 2021, the Sunday Times Giving List notably recognized Rashford as the youngest person to top its 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 more than £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.

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: Flickr

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
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