In places like the United States of America, marriage seems to be an exciting event for a majority of people. A celebratory get-together with family and close friends, surrounded by food, music, dancing and all the “selfies and photos” one could dream up.  However, marriage customs differ around the world depending on culture, family, tradition and even the economy. In Guinea, Africa, 76 percent of girls marry before turning 18, but this occurrence is far from just being a tradition; in fact, the high level of poverty impacts child marriage more than one might think.
 

People of Guinea

In Guinea, mining, minerals and fuel resources are what keep the economy alive and thriving. However, it is one of the poorest nations in West Africa and often struggles to share what wealth it does have with neighboring countries.   

While the economy works to aid both citizens and refugees within the country, health concerns also take a toll on Guinea. Polio, Measles, Ebola and HIV/AIDS affect many women and children and can leave children orphaned or separated from family. Such a traumatic event can make them vulnerable to marriage at a young age. 

Poverty and Child Marriage

Lack of access to resources such as education, literacy, health, well-being, job status and living in rural areas creates poverty and impacts child marriage, especially for young girlsIn many situations, girls are considered an economic or financial burden — a status that often leads families to marry their daughters/sisters off for economic benefit. If economic resources are available for education, more girls may utilize their education as a means to aspire for goals beyond marriage.

Poor areas often lead to poor interactions and respect among individuals who oftentimes have to fight for survival against one another. Children married at young ages will frequently experience marital and gender-based violence as a result. 

Government Involvement in Guinea’s Future

Like most countries, Guinea’s government plays a role in future change and helps discern the answer to the question: what is being done about child marriage in their country? 

As of 2018, Guinea is now a part of the African Union Commission, which helps make child marriage a priority social issue. In 2015, the Guinea Civil Union code established that men and women must equally consent to a marriage, consent must be free and valid and the marriage must be part of the civil registrar.  

Advocates For Change

Legislation also states that “promises of marriage” do not make a marriage mandatory. People under 21 years of age cannot enter into marriage without their father’s permission or someone who is an “acting father” for the household. However, legislation relating to marriage refusal is still in process, mostly due to sociocultural pressures. 

Other groups, partnerships, NGOs and organizations — such as the Pan-African Women’s organization — work diligently to break social stigmas and provide more support and liberation regardless of sex, race, religion or political affiliation. These advocates also utilize relationship and collaboration development to help fight against and provide awareness on how poverty impacts child marriage in the region. 

– Ashley Cooper

Photo: Flickr


Though we often associate slavery with the past, it is still widely practiced throughout the world today. Estimates put the number of currently enslaved people at almost 21 million. Modern day slavery, otherwise known as human trafficking, occurs when individuals are exploited through coercion or deception and typically involves restricted freedom of movement. It can take many forms that we often do not think of as slavery. Below are six specific forms of modern day slavery.

6 Types of Modern Day Slavery That Cannot Be Ignored

  1. Forced Labor: Forced labor includes all types of enslavement that involve coercion against one’s will and a threat of punishment. The practice is typically found in industries with little regulation and many workers. It is commonly used in global supply chains by the private economy to make products. This form of slavery is also used by governments, particularly in state prisons. If the work is not voluntary and involves a threat of penalty, it can be considered forced labor. Forced labor can occur even without the presence of physical violence because it is highly ingrained in some cultures.
  2. Bonded Labor: Debt bondage occurs when an individual is forced to work to repay a debt. As the worker labors to repay their debt, the employer can add other expenses making repayment impossible and enslavement permanent. This type of slavery is often used to make consumer products. It particularly targets migrant workers looking for an economic opportunity who incur debt for travel or housing expenses. The debt involved can also be generational, so children can be born into a situation where they must work to repay a debt incurred by their parents.
  3. Domestic Servitude: This type of slavery consists of live-in domestic workers who cannot leave of their own free will. Since authorities are unable to easily inspect homes, this modern day slavery is easy to hide. It is also extremely difficult to detect because enslaved individuals can appear to be nannies or other types of domestic workers. As a form of bonded labor, domestic servitude often affects migrant workers who incur a debt to their employer for travel or recruitment that they are unable to pay back.
  4. Sex Trafficking: Sex trafficking occurs when women, men, or children are forced to engage in commercial sex acts. Commercial sex involving children under age eighteen is always considered sex trafficking. Those living in extreme poverty are particularly vulnerable to this practice because of their economic marginalization and lack of education. They can be lured overseas through false employment opportunities. Victims suffer physical and psychological trauma and potential legal charges.
  5. Forced Marriage: This type of slavery occurs when an individual lacks the option to refuse marriage or is married to someone else by relatives. Forced marriage can also happen when a wife is married in exchange for payment. This practice is characterized by a lack of consent by at least one party. A major motivation of this type of slavery is cultural tradition or threats. Forced marriage of a child under the age of eighteen is called early marriage. Girls are more common targets for this because they can be controlled through sexual violence.
  6. Child Labor: Any form of modern day slavery that involves children under 18 is considered child labor. More than a quarter of slaves today are children, and many are involved in occupations that are harmful mentally or physically. The demand for cheap labor and specific physical characteristics increases the use of child workers. Children are also easier to control and usually do not demand better working conditions or wages. Those living in poverty are especially vulnerable because of the desire or need to support their families due to a lack of education and employment opportunities.

These are six of the most common types of modern day slavery, but the practice is not limited to just these forms. Slavery still occurs throughout the world in practices that are not always easily recognizable. Governments and organizations must remain informed about the occurrence of modern day slavery to be able to stop it in its tracks.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

Church of BangladeshThe Diocese of Kushtia (a sector of the Church of Bangladesh) has been making great strides towards educating women throughout the country, especially in the Meherpur region.

Traditional child marriages are one factor which keeps girls from finishing their schooling. According to the Daily Sun, girls who are married before the age 18 are one and a half times more likely to drop out of school than women who are married after becoming adults.

Meherpur used to be infamous for having the highest child marriage rate in the whole country, peaking at around 64 percent. However, this past year, citizens of the region pledged to remain child marriage free to protect local children and allow them to stay in school.

The Diocese of Kushtia, part of the Church of Bangladesh, owns two hostels where they host over 20 female students during their college studies. The students attend the nearby Women’s Degree College in Meherpur, which they would not be able to afford without the Church’s financial help.

Historically, female students in Bangladesh have faced higher dropout rates than their male counterparts. This means that women are less likely to continue onto secondary educational pursuits. In 2003, over 86 percent of women enrolled in secondary education throughout the country dropped out compared with 81 percent for men. Dropout rates are even higher in more rural regions like Meherpur.

The Bishop of Kushtia, Samuel Mankhin believes the focus on women’s education is very important because ”very few are higher educated. Both Muslims and Christian parents just ignored girls’ education even a few years ago, but things have been changing.” The diocese urges parents to support higher education pursuits for their daughters.

Mankhin is quick to point out the high quality living conditions in the hostel, sharing “…they are having all the facilities: they can have their meal together, they can have morning and evening prayer, they can go together to the college, they have library facilities provided by the hostel, they can have recreation, sometimes they can watch the television.” Both hostels also provide security and supervisors on site.

By speaking out against child marriages and placing women in an environment conducive to learning, the Church of Bangladesh hopes to provide local females with more successful futures.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

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Child marriage
 among Syrian refugees in Jordan have more than doubled since the start of the conflict, said the NGO Save the Children. This spike in numbers is attributed primarily to poverty and fear of sexual violence among refugee girls and their families.

Child marriage is defined by UNICEF as “a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18.” The pre-war figure for such marriages in Syria held consistently at 13 percent. But, UNICEF’s newly released data shows that the rate has thus far increased to 32 percent in 2014.

The U.N. warns of the risks and detriments associated with child marriage. The massive increase is likely to leave health, education and financial prospects in a vulnerable state. Girls who marry at such a young age often face complications during pregnancy and an increased risk of abuse.

Another consideration is that girls fleeing the war in Syria are already at an elevated risk of mental health issues based on traumatic experiences and isolation. A forced marriage on top of this could be damaging physically, sexually and mentally.

These girls are also forced to forgo valuable years of education, leaving them in a persistent state of poverty.

Save the Children helps run community awareness programs for families in Jordan, with the primary focus on preventing child marriage. The organization’s study pinpoints several factors responsible for the jump in child marriage numbers.

As refugees, many Syrian families are bereft of economic assets. They consider child marriage to be the lesser evil when faced with the alternative of poverty for the whole family. Marrying a daughter off means one fewer mouth to feed. Child marriage also has the potential to offer protection for a young girl. If she has a husband, she is far less likely to be sexually harassed or abused by others. A child marriage may even be performed as an escape for girls living in abusive home environments.

Yet, in nearly all cases, these marriages are based on social and familial pressure rather than personal choice.

The war itself has been especially influential in skyrocketing child marriage numbers. The conflict has forced many Syrian children to drop out of schools. Also, many children who are not performing well in classes are removed from school by parents seeking to save money. Once a girl is out of school and in the home, she is much more likely to receive marriage proposals.

The law in Jordan dictates that the minimum age for marriage is 18. But, in many cases, people find loopholes or secure special conditions. UNICEF seeks to uphold the minimum legal age for both genders. The organization works with several partners — including sister U.N. agencies, international NGOs and local leaders — to help prevent child marriage.

But, it also offers support to girls who have already been married off.

For girls at risk of child marriage, UNICEF offers job training, psychological support and life skills programs that can empower them and steer them toward a more beneficial path.

– Mari LeGagnoux

Sources: Al Arabiya, Save the Children, The Guardian, UNICEF
Photo: The Guardian

Rope isolated on white background
Yemen will soon vote on the inclusive Child Rights Act in hopes to alleviate child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM.) According to the United Nations, more than half of Yemeni girls get married by just 18 years old, and these marriages are often synonymous with abuse, sexual violence and FGM.

FGM is still prolific in almost 30 countries, where most girls are mutilated before the age of 5. Countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia, where FGM victims hit the 20 million count, often rely on traditional practitioners to perform most of the procedures. Banned from Egypt in 2008, the procedure is still a not so taboo, yet illegal, “tradition”: more than 90 percent of women in the country have been subjected to FGM.

Labeled a human rights violation by the U.N., FGM has absolutely no health benefits for women. Procedures can cause heavy bleeding and problems urinating, and can eventually result in cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn death. The procedure, which removes and damages healthy and normal female genital tissue, poses a serious risk to the natural functions of women’s bodies. Yet FGM, like many other cultural traditions, is difficult to completely erase even by law. An act of patriarchal control, FGM works under the intent of controlling women’s bodies to ensure “virginity, purity and modesty.”

The Child Rights Act would work to eliminate mental, emotional and physical abuse and would ban child marriage and FGM. Establishing a minimum age of marriage at 18, the law would impose fines on guardians, marriage officials or any other persons aware of the transgression.

Yet FGM is not only common in Eastern countries: it happens here in the United States, too. An estimated 228,000 women in America are either at risk or have received the procedure, and this number is increasing. Sent to countries where the practice is still legal, many victims are beginning to speak out against the procedure, demanding more attention from the U.S. government. Subsequently, the 2014 U.S. Department of State Human Rights country reports include a mandatory question regarding FGM for the first time.

Yemen, which is set to vote on the Child Rights Act this coming month, has a long way to go before it gets passed. If approved by the prime minister and cabinet, the legislation would then go to a parliamentary vote. Ultimately, the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, would have final say regarding its passing. After an unsuccessful push to make 17 the legal age of marriage in Yemen in just 2009, human rights groups around the world are hoping the Yemeni government will act judiciously in passing this potentially life-saving legislation.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Guardian, Liberty Voice, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2
Photo: ViralNova

yemen_child_marriages
In Yemen, 52% of girls are married before the age of 18. This nightmare is far from fantastical dreams of love and marriage, meeting ‘Prince Charming’ and living ‘happily ever after.’ Rather, many Yemeni girls are forced to marry men double their age.

Prior to recent progress, Yemen had no legal minimum age for the marriage of its citizens. In 1999, parliament abolished a former law that made marriage before the age of 15 illegal, and in 2009, attempts to reinstate a legal marriage age failed. Both of the aforementioned incidents occurred when legal groups cited “religious grounds,” arguing that a minimum marriage age would be contrary to Islamic law. However, Abdulwahab al-Anisi, who currently serves as the secretary general of Yemen’s largest Islamist party, has voiced his party’s willingness support the new law.

The average age of child brides in rural Yemen is 12 to 13-years-old, and the death of brides as young as 8-years-old have been reported after their wedding night or child birth. This is the horrific reality for young brides forced into child marriage, many of whom are unlikely to have knowledge of intercourse prior to their wedding night.

However, new constitutional proposals address gender equality and women’s rights, as well as the suggestion to make marriage before the age of 18 illegal for both genders. The proposed Child’s Rights Law was submitted to Prime Minister Mohammad Basindawa on April 27 and would require the verification of age for both the man and the woman when filing for a marriage license.

The draft also suggests punishment for perpetrators of forced child marriage, providing criminal penalties of two months to one year in prison. Any persons who draw up a marriage contract with the knowledge that one or more persons is under the age of 18 could face fines of up to $1,860. Prison sentences and fines are also suggested for witnesses, parents, or guardians who know that at least one person filing for the marriage license is under 18.

It will be long and difficult process to change a practice with such deep roots and serious social implications, but Belkis Willie, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher, believes that, “a law setting an age and criminalizing is a first step, and then a few high profile criminal cases against parents and spouses will be key.”

Organizations such as HRW are urging the Yemeni government to expedite the passing of this law, which would help protect thousands of girls who are victims of early and forced marriage. Forced marriage, in turn, often results in girls being prevented from completing their education and makes them more vulnerable to marital rape and domestic abuse.

“The prime minister should provide strong leadership to get the minimum age for marriage and the child rights law on the books,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for HRW. “There’s no excuse for further delays in passing this desperately needed legislation.”

– Madisson Barnett

Sources: The New York Times, Human Rights Watch (1), Human Rights Watch (2)
Photo: BBC

women_rights_Iraqi_Jaafari_law
Women’s rights in Iraq are in danger of being further limited. A new law up for vote in the government would allow girls as young as nine to be married. The law, called the Jaafari Personal Status Law, would also require women to submit to sex with their husbands at any time. Activists throughout the world voiced their objection to the proposed law calling it a major setback for the country.

Many are concerned that this is a beginning sign of a rollback of women’s rights in Iraq. Currently, the minimum age for marriage without parental consent is 18. Girls as young as 15 are currently allowed to get married as long as they have parental consent. This law is put forth by people who base the ideology behind the legislation on the principles of a Shiite school of religious law. Basing the law on one religious affiliation may cause tension between other sects in the country.

The law does not specify a minimum age for girls to get married. Instead it is passively mentioned in the section of the law dealing with divorce. The law outlines rules for divorce for girls as young as nine years old. The law also says that nine years old is the age that girls reach puberty. Many critics of the view claim that the specified age in the divorce section mean that they intend to allow girls that are that young get married.

Sunni female lawmaker Likaa Wardi criticized the law for violating the rights of women and children, “The Jaafari law will pave the way to the establishments of courts for Shiites only, and this will force others sects to form their own courts. This move will widen the rift among the Iraqi people.” Opposition to the law has been mounting over the past couple of weeks in hopes that enough pressure can be put on the government to scrap the law.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Photo: Deccan Chronicle
Sources:
The Huffington Post, The Guardian

child_brides_syrian_refugees
Early marriage has always been present in rural Syrian areas where the level of education is low and the rate of poverty is high, and refugees from these small communities have carried the practice with them into Jordan.

Marrying off an underage daughter is sometimes the best option for refugee families; when traveling cross-country or living in close quarters such as refugee camps, married girls are often safer with a husband than they would be with their parents. Impoverished families sometimes seek the mahr, or bride price that’s made to the bride’s family by the groom or his family. Some girls are married to mask sexual abuse or dishonorable pre-marital sex; while starvation grows among camps, many girls feed themselves through prostitution.

While the customs of a mahr are usually relaxed among Syrian refugees who can rarely afford a high price, foreign grooms from Jordan or Palestine are encouraged to seek child brides so that families may demand a higher price. This mix of culture is sometimes to the disadvantage of refugee families. Aisha al-Masri, a psychologist based in Jordan, said there have been several documented cases of foreign men abandoning their young wives after a few weeks never to be heard from again.

The legal age of marriage and consent is 18 in Syria, but a legal loophole allows the Sharia courts to approve a union so long as the girl is over 15. The number of marriages approved by the Sharia courts has grown considerably with the rising number of refugees, but some struggling families are unable to complete the necessary application to make the wedding legal.

An illegal underage marriage has lasting consequences: any children that couple has will be considered illegitimate, hugely damaging the child’s social status and complicating its application for nationality and documentation. For this reason, many underage and unregistered marriages are done in private and only filed years later once the couples are both adults.

Girls in poor families are nearly twice as likely to marry young; once they are married, the chances of their finishing school are very remote. For every year a girl stays in school, her future wage is raised from 15 percent to 25 percent. Therefore, when a girl drops out of school to marry, her potential to later provide for her family is greatly lowered, and while men typically invest 30 percent to 40 percent of their wage back into their family, women typically reinvest 90 percent.

So while it may be the answer to an immediate problem for some, early childhood marriage often warps a girl’s ability to educate her future daughters and encourages the cycle of poverty. Deprived of schools, refugees are at a colossal disadvantage, and for every child bride that escapes starvation there is an increased likelihood that the next generation will starve.

-Lydia Caswell

Sources: Daily Star, Girls Not Brides, The Nation
Photo: Foreign Policy Association

child_marriage_tall_as_the_baobob_tree
One in three Senegalese girls are married before the age of 18, while the number worldwide nears 14 million. These girls are at a higher risk for abuse, health complications and dropping out of school. Tall as the Baobab Tree is being screened in villages in Senegal to promote dialogue and understanding between generations. This internationally acclaimed film is set in the Senegalese village Sinthiou Mbadane and follows two sisters who are the first from their family to attend school.

1. Respect for Elders vs. Dreams for the Future

In the film, the older sister, Coumba tries to save her younger sister, Debo, from being sold by their father into an arranged marriage. New and old worlds collide as the sisters struggle with whether respecting their elders has to mean betraying their own future. In countries like Senegal where education is becoming more accessible, it is important to engage in dialogues about the dangers associated with child marriage.

2. Dialogue can Positively Influence Attitude

The dialogues about child marriage have the potential to change the attitudes of village elders and leaders, who play an important role in determining the fate of children in the community. The film and the surrounding dialogues help girls in Senegal to realize that they are not alone in their struggle. The dialogues presented by the film are respectful towards girls and families, with the ultimate goal of bridging the generational misunderstanding.

“The main experience that this film focuses on is educating versus early marriage, which seems, in my experience, to be the single biggest challenge that this younger generation faces, coming from these traditionally conservative, rural villages,” said director Jeremy Teicher.

3. Grow Roots at Home to Strengthen Your Community

Because of poverty, a family may feel obligated to either send their children from a village to a large city to find work, or to marry off their daughters to older, wealthier men. With the help of Plan International (https://plan-international.org/where-we-work/africa/senegal/what-we-do), children in Senegal have been able to stay in their home villages and either learn or work. The organization help set up training courses in needlework, hairdressing and metal work in villages to give children vocational opportunities. In this way, the children are able to grow up to be supporters and active community members in their villages.

Haley Sklut

Sources: The Guardian, Tall as the Baobab Tree, Voice of America
Photo: View of the Arts

child_bride_yemen
As teen pregnancies continue to decline in the United States, developing nations continue to see a disturbing trend of pregnancies in underage girls. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF,) nearly 19 percent of girls under the age of 18 will become pregnant this year and nearly 20 percent of them will occur in girls under age 14.

The greatest concentration of underage births occur in regions where women are seen as having less power than their male counterparts which is the case in West African, Latin American and Southern Asian countries.

Often girls become pregnant as a result of cultural traditions or economic hardship. For example, impoverished families may sell daughters for financial profit in areas where food and basic necessities are scarce.

Arranged marriages are still rampant in many cultures around the world and parents welcome the chance to lessen the financial burden of an additional child to feed. However, girls are often faced with physical or sexual abuse in addition to limited access to education and healthcare during their forced marriages.

UNICEF reports nearly 70,000 girls die from pregnancy and childbirth complications each year. In fact, pregnancies under the age of 15 significantly raise the risk of seizures, anemia, uterine infections and other life-threatening ailments.

In September, an eight year old Yemen girl named Rawan died from injuries suffered during her wedding night with her 40 year old ‘husband.’ She was rushed to a nearby clinic due to uterine rupture and bleeding, but was unable to be saved. Officials denied the event occurred, but local human rights activists are criticizing the cover-up. Despite efforts by human rights activists, over 50 percent of Yemen girls continue to marry before their eighteenth birthday due to societal and familial pressures.

The unfortunate trend continues to affect the lives of young women in India like Komol, whose plan to attend college was derailed when she became pregnant by her husband at age 16. The UNPF defines situations like Komol’s as human rights issues since girls are denied the freedom of governing their reproductive rights. UNPF executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin argues that such practices destroy the future of millions of girls.

As girls become pregnant, their severely limited access to education become non-existent as they become confined to running households. Moreover, other influences such as lack of reproductive healthcare, sexual abuse and poverty also contribute to underage pregnancies.

The extent of economic hardship and access to education are clearly related. In response to the practice, programs in Kenya and Guatemala have recently invested in raising girls’ access to education in order to decrease child pregnancies.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: CNN, Reuters
Photo: National Geographic