Building Toilets in IndiaKnown as the home of the magnificent Taj Mahal and the world’s largest democracy, the subcontinent of India lies in South Asia and borders both Pakistan and China.

Although India has significantly improved its infrastructure and is now one of the world’s fastest growing economies, much of the population continues to lack access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and clean running water. An astounding 500 million people in India resort to open defecation, accounting for 60 percent of the world’s population who do so. Unexpectedly, an Indian romantic comedy aptly named “Toilet, a Love Story” has been instrumental in pushing the need for building toilets in India into the spotlight.

With a renewed focus on providing more access to toilets, Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, has promised to build 100 million new toilets across the country. Additionally, he started a new cleanliness initiative called Clean India mission in 2014 that will attempt to make India open defecation-free by 2019. According to the Indian government, 47 million toilets have already been built in rural villages and public areas, but many have criticized the program for its many failures. New toilets are being built around the country so rapidly that many of them are not even connected to running water, rendering them dirty to the point that few use them. The Indian government must focus on adding additional sewage systems throughout the country in order to properly handle the increase in toilets.

Even if toilets are built, there needs to be an entire shift in mindset before open defection will stop. For many Indians, having a toilet inside a house is considered an unclean practice, so there needs to be tangible steps taken to confirm that the newly built toilets are actually being used. Educating communities, particularly rural ones, about the undeniable health benefits of utilizing toilets, is a worthwhile pursuit. With many families using toilets as a store house for fodder, India’s government must dedicate time and resources to bringing the serious harms of open defecation to the forefront of public health issues.

The lack of basic sanitation often leads to epidemics of dangerous diseases, including potentially fatal ones such as cholera, which are spread through fecal matter. Furthermore, water sources and crops are commonly contaminated by open defecation, but many lack the awareness or the resources to properly clean their food and water before consuming it, leading to thousands of deaths every year. In addition to the need for a larger effort into raising awareness of the benefits of building toilets in India, resources need to be invested into infrastructure for waste management.

Also, the lack of sanitation facilities has proven to be an issue for women’s rights and human dignity. Without access to toilets, women in rural villages are often forced to travel in groups and are only able to relieve themselves before the sun rises in order to ensure their safety. Unfortunately, these groups of women are often met with verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Sexual assault remains a frighteningly common occurrence for Indian women who are forced to relieve themselves in open fields.

Several studies have shown that lack of access to private toilets frequently make women significantly more susceptible to sexual violence. According to a senior police officer in the state of Bihar, about 400 women were raped while they relieved themselves outside simply because they did not have access to a private toilet. Rapidly and effectively ending open defecation must be of the utmost urgency, as millions of Indian women continue to endure vicious sexual violence on a daily basis.

With toilets being a taboo subject in India, there are undoubtedly serious obstacles to be overcome if India wishes to end open defecation, which is linked to sexual violence and the spread of disease. “Toilet, a Love Story” has gone a long way in helping Indians openly discuss and raise awareness of the dangers of continuing to avoid building toilets in India. If there is to be lasting success, the Indian government must prioritize shifting the public’s mindset away from believing that toilets are unclean as well as build an accompanying sewage system alongside the new toilets.

Akhil Reddy

Photo: Google

Providing Bicycles to Families in AfricaFor many children living in rural villages in Africa, the most valuable educational tool is not a pencil or a notebook: it is a bicycle. Several organizations are providing bicycles to families in Africa as a means of bringing education, health services and economic stability to entire communities.

In Zambia, children often have to walk miles to get to school. They might arrive late, miss early classes and face an embarrassing punishment from the teacher. This is a particular problem for girls, who are expected to complete household chores before even starting on their journey.

In 2014, World Bicycle Relief donated 100 bikes to students and faculty at a primary school in Zambia. Now that she rides her bike to school, one girl said she can put all of her energy into concentrating in class, and she has time to study in the evenings.

Providing bicycles to families in Africa also allows them to improve their economic situations. Steel workers and chicken farmers can carry larger and heavier loads to the market. In Zambia, dairy farmers have increased their deliveries by up to 25 percent. Mine workers and door-to-door salesmen use bicycles to shorten their commutes. They save time and energy and are able to afford necessities like food and school supplies.

Women in Sierra Leone and Ghana are responsible for the vast majority of the household chores. As with the men, women use the bicycles to balance heavy materials and travel long distances. For women and girls, however, owning a bike is a form of protection–against sexual assault. Put simply, no man can outrun them anymore.

Despite this, it is far more unlikely for a woman to have access to a bicycle. In places like Sierra Leone, women are discouraged from riding bikes in the belief that it causes them to lose their virginity. Boys and men commandeer the household bicycle, claiming that the women don’t have time to learn how to ride it. However, many organizations are working against this idea: for example, the Village Bicycle Project operates a month-long Learn to Ride program for women and girls in Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Presenting one woman with a bike can improve life for an entire community. In villages in Zambia where HIV is prevalent, taking care of the sick often falls to Community Healthcare Volunteers (CHVs). They care for elderly men and women, orphaned children and those suffering from AIDS. After receiving a bicycle, one female healthcare worker was able to increase the number of patients she visited per day from four to 18.

Providing bicycles to families in Africa not only empowers rural villagers, but it also has positive implications for the environment. The organization Ghana Bamboo Bikes constructs bicycles out of bamboo, an eco-friendly material that, unlike wood, will not result in damage to Ghana’s rainforests.
The bicycles are built to be light, yet stable–good for navigating the roads of rural Ghana. The organization also teaches young men and women with little education how to build the bikes, offering them a job skill that will prove valuable as the demand for bicycles in Africa continues to grow.

Emilia Otte

Human TraffickingHuman trafficking is a disturbing crisis that affects individuals of all ages, sexes and races at a global level. It is a crime that is often regarded as one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time. According to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, human trafficking in the United States rose 35.7 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Human trafficking is essentially a form of modern-day slavery, where traffickers will use force, fraud or coercion to control victims. The two most common forms of human trafficking are sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking has been found in a multitude of venues within the sex industry, including residential brothels, escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs and street prostitution. Labor trafficking is found in a variety of labor settings such as domestic work, small businesses, large farms and factories.

Trafficking exists due to two major factors: low risk and high profits. Human traffickers tend to see little risk in these criminal operations. Although there have been increasing investigations, penalties and prosecutions throughout the years, the high profit potential from committing these crimes makes them worth the risk for many. There is often a lack of government and law enforcement training with these situations, as well as many in a community not being aware of the threat, ineffective laws, scarce resources to help victims recover and even social blaming of victims. Many of these high profits include when individuals are willing to buy commercial sex, whether it be from children or adults, and many consumers are willing to buy services from industries that rely on forced labor.

 

Top Facts on Human Trafficking:

 

  1. Globally, the average cost of a slave is $90.
  2. While 19 percent of trafficking involves labor exploitation, 80 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation.
  3. There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today.
  4. About 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, and 80 percent are female while half are children.
  5. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry—just behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking—and reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Of the $32 billion, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized nations.
  6. According to the International Labour Organization, it is estimated that women and girls represent the largest share of trafficking victims when it comes to forced labor with 11.4 million (55 percent), compared to men at 9.5 million (45 percent).
  7. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the greatest numbers of traffickers stem from Asia, Central Europe, Southeastern Europe and Western Europe.

The Department of Homeland Security has a page that can help one recognize the signs of human trafficking, as well as a page on further identifying a victim with hotlines to call to report suspicious criminal activity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Being informed on human trafficking as well as the proper steps to take when potentially encountering a trafficking victim could save someone from an unfortunate and disturbing fate.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr

Female Victims of Sex Trafficking in India Get a Second ChanceMillions of women and children in India are victims of sex trafficking. The National Crimes Records Bureau states that a girl falls victim to sex trafficking every eight minutes in India. Many are told that they will be assisted in finding a job or even a potential marriage to alleviate them of their poverty, making them trusting of traffickers and easier targets for prostitution.

In 2014, police in India recorded 2,604 sex trafficking cases, but more than three-quarters of the traffickers accused went unpunished. The Better India states that “less than 50 child prostitution cases in a year lead to successful convictions on average.” Current laws are not effective enough in preventing human trafficking in India.

The Dutch anti-trafficking group Free a Girl created a new approach to the sex trafficking issue in India, called The School for Justice. It launched in April of this year with 19 women who were victims of sex trafficking in India. Not only are these women training to be lawyers but they are also gaining empowerment in a community in which they are ostracized.

The program financially and emotionally supports the process. It enrolls them into a university so that they can receive a bachelor’s degree in law. The rescued girls live in a house together while receiving food and an education to prepare them for a future career. For each student in The School for Justice program, it costs $3,400 per year which is covered by donors for the first two years.

Having women who were once trafficked as prostitutes become members of India’s legal system is a huge step for the country. Not only are females that are trafficked not welcome back with their families, they are also more likely to be arrested. These women are not receiving the help that they need once they escape sex trafficking in India.

The main goal of The School for Justice is to provide the help and resources needed to create prosecutors out of the victims of trafficking in India. This could be a small change that eventually leads to holding traffickers accountable for their actions and keeping women and children out of trafficking. Per The Better India, “not only will these brave women finally be able to chart a course of their own life but they will also be saving the lives of others like themselves in the process.”

Mackenzie Fielder
Photo: Flickr

Sex Workers in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia known for sex tourism. With the highest rate of HIV infection in Asia, sex workers in Cambodia are likely to contract HIV, which causes AIDS.

An estimated 10 to 40 million women sell sex around the world, the majority of whom are mothers looking for a way to support their families. In Cambodia, where 36% of the population lives below the poverty line and only 30% of girls attend schools, women are desperate to make a living for themselves and their families. Girls from poor, rural families come to cities where they can make a living in the sex industry. The average age of sex workers is 29.

Abortion and AIDS are the most common cause of death among sex workers in Cambodia. According to a study by Global Health Promise, a nonprofit based in Portland, sex workers are 12 times more likely to be infected with HIV than other women. HIV is passed from mother to child to during pregnancy, and children of sex workers are most likely to die from AIDS than any other cause.

Unprotected sex in brothels and entertainment hubs in Cambodia is common. Although abortion is legal in Cambodia, public clinics often do not provide the procedure. Women are forced to use other methods and may use traditional practices like deep massage abortion, which can cause fatal hemorrhages.

With in the next five years, it is expected that 200,000 children in Cambodia will be orphaned by AIDS, and at least 15,000 will be HIV-positive. Life-saving AIDS drugs cost $500 per year for a child. Drugs provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) are received by only 3,000 people out of the 170,000 infected with HIV.

With the assistance of the WHO, the Cambodian government is making efforts to reduce and treat HIV among sex workers. The 100% Condom Use Program (CUP) Pilot Project aims to prevent the transmission of HIV from high-risk groups, including sex workers, to low-risk groups, like housewives. It also aims to control STIs through condom use and provide access to outreach programs for all sex workers.

Organizations like Hope for Justice recognize the importance of education and have established schools for sex trafficking survivors. Sunrise New Hope is another organization that is working to restore hope, dignity and promise to sex workers and provides free education, medical and welfare services.

A commitment by local authorities is needed to help stop the spread of HIV.  Moreover, girls must have access to education to be able to find other employment with which they can support their families. Working to eliminate poverty is key to reducing the spread of HIV among sex workers in Cambodia.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr

sexual_health_and_reproduction
Access to sex education is not readily available in developing countries. Even more prevalent is the lack of access for younger people. Consequently, they do not receive information that could keep them safe.

Now, a new initiative is changing that.

Text messaging has remained a popular way for young people in Cambodia to communicate. According to a 2014 study conducted by BBC Media Action, 96 percent of Cambodian youth have access to a cellular device. Of that amount, 30 percent use text messaging.

OneWorld UK capitalized on this idea, launching a conversation about a previously considered taboo topic. Their “Smart Youth, Good Future” initiative prompts discussion about sexual health and reproduction through an SMS text messaging service.

“Youngsters using the service will be able to communicate on a level they are used to and comfortable with,” says Sanary Kaing, OneWorld’s project officer.

Before the service was launched, many young people felt uncomfortable talking about sex education. The absence of knowledge prevented people from educating themselves about ways to keep each other safe, resulting in pregnancy, STDs and unsafe abortions.

“Very few parents discuss sexual and reproductive health with their children, and teachers are also very hesitant to discuss issues related to sexuality, even though they are incorporated into the school curriculum,” says Jeffery Allen, global programme coordinator for OneWorld U.K., one of the three NGOs running the pioneering project.

Women, in particular, felt uncomfortable bringing up the topic.

“Many women do not feel safe or comfortable accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services at public health facilities because they are afraid of what family and community members will think or say about them,” Allen adds.

OneWorld not only relies on the fact that many teenagers have cell phones. It also owes its success to the projects anonymity.

“It is a great opportunity for teenagers to access accurate, non-judgmental and confidential information and counseling,” Allen says.

OneWorld hopes that the service will continue to spark conversations about sex. While it is still too early to assess the success of the program, Allen says that a similar project garners between 250 and 1,000 messages a day.

Alyson Atondo

Sources: One World, IPS News, Medium
Photo: Flickr

sexual_health
There are more than 1 billion teenagers worldwide. Seventy percent of them live in developing countries. According to the Demographic and Health Surveys and the AIDS Indicators Survey, the average age that young people in impoverished countries have their first sexual encounter is, at the lowest, age 16 or younger, and, at the highest, 19.6.

Just like in developed nations, with sexual activity comes the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Unlike wealthier nations, these impoverished countries lack adequate healthcare. In places such as Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDs is an epidemic. Two-thirds of those infected are adolescents.

Adolescent girls run the greatest risk for sexual and reproductive health threats. A young girl that becomes pregnant who lacks access to healthcare faces many serious health risks. Pregnancies, child-birth and abortions are all perilous. The likelihood that a 15-year-old girl in a developed nation could ultimately die of maternal complications is 1/3800. Compare this to just 1/150 in the developed world.

Meet Reem: she is a 15-year-old girl living as a refugee in a camp. Her two-month-old baby is underweight because it was born prematurely and because Reem was never taught how to breastfeed. She has no one to help her, her husband was killed before the baby was born, and her mother was separated from her in the national conflict.

In other instances, girls marry older men. Hibo is a 13-year-old girl living in a Somalian refugee camp. The oldest of five children, she is responsible for helping her mother care for the family. Her parents are planning to marry Hibo to a wealthy landowner that will bring the family much-needed money and honor. She has been told that it is her duty to marry, serve her husband, and bear him children.

Married women like Hibo are encouraged to have children as soon as possible. Their social status and identity are associated with raising children. Being childless is frowned upon. Unfortunately, wedding older men who have had previous partners bring the potential for STDs.

Young people also face the danger of sexual violence. A national survey in Swaziland revealed that one-third of girls aged 13-24 suffered sexual abuse before the age of 18. Boys face abuse as well but are reported as being less likely to reach out for help from healthcare providers.

Although young people are getting married at an older age, the amount of premarital intercourse is increasing. At the same time, contraceptive use for all teens is low. In Sub-Saharan Africa, contraceptives are used by a low of 3% of sexually active adolescents in Rwanda and a high 46% in Burkina Faso.

Due to the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, more youth have greater access to formal education. Health officials decided that school-based sexual/reproductive health programs were the perfect way to educate adolescents. Yet, a survey of these programs and their effects have produced varied results. Not all adolescents attend school, and the funding for these programs is not always there.

The Save the Children organization understands that if there are no programs that specifically reach young people with sexual health programs and education, they will never access the care and knowledge they need. The organization has set up teen-accessible places to teach them about safe sex and offer health services.

Their methods and the continuation of school-based programs have been yielding promising results in places like Mexico, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic. Young people are taking more measures to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

Lillian Sickler

Sources: Guttmacher Institute, Women and Children First (UK), Alliance for International Youth Development
Photo: The Times

Red Cards to Stop Rape - The Borgen Project
Sexual violence can be addressed by two different questions:

1. How can we empower women to prevent sexual violence?

2. How can we empower men to change their attitudes and practices related to sexual violence?

Programs often tend to focus on addressing one question or the other. However, research organizations, such as the International Center for Research on Women, support both methods.

FHI 360, Family Health International, cites international data indicating, “one in three women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non-partner in their lifetimes.”

The red card program has been used in Ethiopia and South Africa to address the first question of female empowerment.

When women attempt to avoid unwanted violence or contact from men, the word “no” often does not work. A comprehensive study by the ICRW indicates that the high prevalence of rape in Croatia, Mexico, Chile, Rwanda, and India is partially due to the fact that for some men, “no means yes”.

The red card programs train young women to be assertive in preventing unwanted sexual behavior from men. The analogy of the red card in soccer is used because both men and women associate the red card with the notion to stop some kind of action. Young women are provided with actual red cards that can help them be more assertive when they want to say “no” to unwanted behavior. Of course, “no” should mean “no,” and sexual violence can never be justified by a lack of “prevention” on the part of the victim. The only way to end rape is to have rapists stop raping.

The idea is that because the word “no” often does not work, the action of displaying the red card can be more effective. In Ethiopia, about half of the students who received training on the red card program have used it to “say no to sugar daddies, to abusive professors, to avoid violence, to refuse alcohol and other substances, and to insist on condom use.”

In South Africa, the program was implemented through Sonke Gender Justice Network, Grassroots Soccer and other NGOs. Mass media forms such as television and radio were used to target many people. Over 1,000 people completed the red card training with Sonke and over 12,000 people completed the program with Grassroots Soccer.

While the red card programs are innovative approaches to provide women with the power to avoid unwanted behavior in the immediate time, the ultimate goal would be for “no” to actually mean “no,” and for men to recognize and respect this. This is why institutions such as ICRW also support research and programs that will change the attitudes and practices of men.

– Iliana Lang

Sources: FHI 360 1, FHI 360 2, HCRW Publications, Africa Entertainment,
Photo: FHI 360

sierra_leone_banIn 2010, Sierra Leone banned visibly pregnant girls from attending school. Schools were shut down for nine months during the Ebola outbreak, but reopened again on April 14, 2015, with the ban still in place.

The ban is in effect because visibly pregnant girls supposedly set a bad example for their classmates. Sierra Leone’s minister of education, Minkailu Bah, argued that “innocent girls” could be influenced by those who are pregnant and pregnancy rates could increase.

Bah’s statement is far from the truth. Having pregnant classmates would most likely cause a drop in pregnancy rates. NPR explains that teen pregnancies in the United States dropped almost 6 percent from watching the MTV show, 16 and Pregnant. Girls who see their classmates pregnant would be less likely to become pregnant themselves.

Sierra Leone is one of the most dangerous places for expectant mothers, with high rates of maternal and child mortality. One-third of pregnant women in Sierra Leone are teenagers. The teenage pregnancy rates and incidences of maternal and child mortality were decreasing before Ebola, but have increased once again. Incidences of sexual violence rose during the Ebola epidemic, and girls, especially those who had lost a relative to Ebola, traded sex for supplies to help them survive.

The ban on educating pregnant girls is also detrimental because many girls see pregnancy as a turning point and are encouraged to work even harder to get an education because they know that they will have to support themselves as well as their children. The fact that girls who are inspired to get an education are not allowed to access it is extremely worrisome. If Sierra Leone lifts its ban, it will give these girls an opportunity to support themselves.

The ban also fails to acknowledge girls who are pregnant as a result of rape. Seventeen-year-old Isatu Gbanky was a student in Sierra Leone but was not allowed to return to school after it reopened because she was pregnant. Isatu said, “I was raped by a fellow student. He forced me to have sex while I was fetching water for my family. I hope the government makes an exception for girls like me.”

Isatu’s story is unfortunately not unique, but the government has yet to lift the ban on pregnancy for either rape victims or those who became pregnant through consensual sex. However, there is hope that the ban will end soon. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Irish Aid and the Department for International Development are working with Sierra Leone, and may be able to come to an agreement over a temporary solution which would involve pregnant girls getting a formal education outside the classroom. Since teenage pregnancy rates in Sierra Leone are so high, if this agreement is reached, it will be extremely significant for education levels throughout the country.

Pregnant girls attending school does not cause higher pregnancy rates. If Sierra Leone wants to lower its rate of teenage pregnancies, it needs to focus on making school cheaper and more accessible, rather than banning pregnant girls who want to attend. Girls who know that they can gain an education and have a future are less likely to get pregnant and more likely to focus on their schooling.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: The Guardian, NPR, VOA, NY Times
Photo: The Huffington Post

human trafficking

There are numerous causes of human trafficking, but the root of most causes is money. Reaping approximately $150 billion and victimizing close to 27 million people, human trafficking is the fastest-growing illicit industry in the world. It includes sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced child labor and the unlawful recruitment of soldiers. The common factor lurking behind the different causes of human trafficking is the victim’s vulnerability to exploitation.

Characterized by low costs and high returns, human trafficking is an extremely lucrative enterprise. Harvard’s Siddharth Kara discovered that the cost of today’s slaves is, on average, $420 and modern slaves can generate more than 500 percent in annual return on investment. In comparison, the cost of slaves in 1850, after adjusting for inflation, was between $9,500 and $11,000. During the time, the return on investment from a slave was significantly lower, around 15 to 20 percent in annual return on investment. Furthermore, traffickers face low risks, although more governments around the world are actively penalizing human traffickers, and have a steady stream of vulnerable people to exploit.

 

Poverty & Causes of Human Trafficking

 

Although the world successfully reduced global poverty by 35 percent in the past 27 years, 767 million people still live in poverty and make up a portion of the pool of those vulnerable to human trafficking. The structural causes of human trafficking are poverty, lawlessness, social instability, military conflict, natural disasters, weak law enforcement and racial and gender biases. These structural causes represent the broader, necessary requirement for human trafficking to thrive: vulnerability.

Many times, poor families will give their children away to traffickers posing as agents promising their children better lives. Refugee camps are prime locations for this kind of exploitation. Where displaced people lack many forms of proper care, shrewd traffickers build relationships with corrupt officials and freely prey on the weak.

In a more recent example, migrants who cross the Sahara to escape war and terrorism are often captured by traffickers in northern parts of Africa. The International Organization for Migration reported that many of these migrants are falsely promised jobs and then are sold publicly in Libyan slave markets. Many do not make it to Europe.

Human trafficking can happen anywhere, as long as the environment contains vulnerable conditions. The New York Times estimates that one-fifth of homeless youth are victims of human trafficking in the U.S. and Canada. In West Africa, traffickers pose as teachers and enslave optimistic students to become beggars. In 2015, the Associated Press discovered that young migrants and impoverished Thais were forced to catch seafood that later ended up in the world’s seafood supply, including on the shelves of America’s major retailers and supermarkets. Thai agents recruited children and the disabled, some of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in the world.

Today, many countries are collaborating together to reduce the causes of human trafficking. The U.S. State Department Trafficking-in-Persons Report is the world’s most comprehensive resource on anti-trafficking efforts, including 188 countries and territories. Countries that fail to meet the report’s minimum requirements fall to tier three status, which can result in sanctions on the country. In 2016, Thailand was recognized for making significant strides in eliminating human trafficking.

Locally, ordinary people and nonprofits are continually impacting their communities. Nonprofits, such as Mango House in Chiang Mai, Thailand or FOREFRONT in India, continue to address these structural issues that breed vulnerability.

– Andy Jung
Photo: Flickr