21st Century Child Labor Global
According to the International Labor Organization, approximately 211 million children are working around the world. These children range from ages five to 14, and most are working in order to provide support for their poor families. Nearly 128 products from 70 countries are made through child labor – many cases of which are forced child labor. While some children elect to start working at a young age to help support their families, many are forced into labor and treated as slaves in bondage.

In addition to poor treatment, the work environments children are forced to work in are often dangerous and harmful to their health. When children are sent to scour hazardous lakes filled with toxins in order to search for metals and jewels, the consequences are extremely damaging to their health. Much of the merchandise purchased by Americans is made in other countries, many of which are still developing and relying on labor from children. Children are often forced into labor by their government, or their government simply ignores the fact that companies and factories are forcing children to work for their own profit. Some of the products made by children include clothes, tobacco, metals, jewels, food items, pornography, holiday decorations, and electronic goods. This wide span of merchandise leaves little that child labor has not infiltrated.

In the worst cases of child labor, children are used much like slaves. In these cases, children are trafficked, often times forcing them to deal in illegal activities like drug trafficking, prostitution, and weapon conflict. Binding the children in debt is another method used by companies to ensure that the children will continue to work under their authority.

According to a report conducted by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, India has the highest percentage of child workers. India is followed by China, which is then followed by smaller countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, as many as one in every four children in sub-Saharan Africa were forced into labor, and commonly sent to work in diamond mines and factories. In Ethiopia, an estimated 60 percent of children are forced into labor to help support their families, the child’s income usually amounting to a dollar a month.

In Afghanistan, an increasing number of underage girls are being sold in order to pay off debt, and more than 30 percent of children are working in major industries rather than attending school. Some of the worst forms of child labor occur in Somalia where 40 percent of children under the age of 15 are forced to engage in sex slavery and armed conflict.

Though the statistics concerning child labor may seem bleak, an increasing number of organizations and nations are rising up to help put an end to child labor. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is an advocacy organization that has been fighting for years to redesign working conditions across the world focusing on women in the workforce, sweatshops, and child labor. The U.S. Labor Department has also joined the stand against child labor: one of its recent reports says that Brazil is no longer relying on child labor for coal production, and that India and other countries have started anti-poverty programs to help end child labor.

– Chante Owens

Sources: Fox Business, International Labor Rights Forum, Business Insider
Photo: NYTimes

In global relations, a states ability to influence others is inextricably hinged upon power. How a given state chooses to exert this power is conditional upon two characteristics: what type of power it may posses, whether it be military, economic, or diplomatic; what their desired outcome may be. Historically, the most visible type of power is hard, or military, power. Without dispute, hard power, as a show of force, certainly plays a role in coercing states actions. Objectively, however, adequate influence relies on not only the stick, but also the carrot.

In the simplest of terms, directing action, whether it is of an animal or a state, is often far more effectual when sought through rewards rather than punishment. If you wish to train a puppy to sit, you will find far more success with treats rather than with punishment. States aren’t much different.

The one principal to bear in mind is the fact that, no matter what, a state will always act in its own interest. This is why the United States arms both the Israeli army as well as the Saudi Arabian army. At its core, a states decision to act in any meaningful way is conditional upon the whims of its leaders. Influencing these leaders is the key to achieving a desired outcome.

In a recent article, I discussed what it meant to be a failed state. While political scientists have yet to develop a concrete definition of a failed state, most agree that falling below the Montevideo criteria indicates an inability to function as a state, resulting in questions of the leaders legitimacy. Of these criteria, the most critical to is the states ability to provide for its population. For a powerful nation such as the United States, aiding in the development and legitimacy of a far off state works wonders in influencing a course of action.

Political scientist Joseph Nye coined this aid, or soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” While this term may be new for many, the core ideal of which it represents is certainly nothing new. Foreign aid, to name one, is the most powerful form of soft power. In a recent press release, the United States State Department, has justified this aid “The FY2014 budget request of $47.8 billion supports U.S. engagement in over 180 countries, and provides the people and programs necessary to protect U.S. interests, promote peace and ensure America’s leadership in the world.

While this request amounts to less than 1% of the FY2014 budget, the diplomacy leverage it affords us is invaluable. In fact, the first line of diplomatic defense when a state goes rogue, is to sanction, or cut off, this aid.

Over the course of the passed decade, the merits of soft power have proven so effectual that certain aspects have been absorbed into the military. As part of General McChrystals counterinsurgency plan (COIN), along with partnering with Afghan leaders, is to leverage economic initiatives. Through helping build up communities, it is hoped that the United States and allied forces will discourage destruction and extremism. Moreover, through building schools and hospitals, the plan aimed to win the hearts and minds of the populace, effectively dislodging the seeds of extremism.

Through foreign aid and other aspects of soft power, we have seen global development enter an era of increasing promise. Through such programs, previously underdeveloped countries are coming online and, subsequently, poverty rates continue to drop. While military preeminence and the doctrine of second-strike capability played an ominous role in keeping war at bay in the past, it seems that for further development, it must become nothing more than a relic of the past.

 – Thomas van der List
Sources: UCLA International,

With global economic hegemony, many believe it is the inherent responsibility of the United States to project its wealth out unto those who are less fortunate. As the purported “City upon the Hill”, the United States has employed various forms of foreign aid aimed at bringing up less fortunate global actors. As we will see, foreign aid takes on many forms and is directed towards not only the poorer nations. More often than not, foreign aid is funneled to promote American interests, rather than humanitarian ones. The earliest incantation of foreign aid, the 1948 Marshall Plan, is largely responsible for bringing Europe out of the destruction of World War II, yet its inspiration was to stem the spread of communism throughout Europe. Today, foreign aid has proven to be a valuable arrow in our diplomatic quiver in both humanitarian and geopolitical senses. The following list represents the top three recipients of U.S. foreign aid in 2012, and, perhaps, provides some insight into the varying purposive goals of U.S. foreign aid.

1. Israel ($3.075 Billion)

If you pay any attention whatsoever to American politics, it is no secret that the subject of Israel is a weighty one when it comes to U.S. international and domestic political considerations. Moreover, Israel’s yearly position as the top recipient of U.S foreign aid sheds light on the nature of foreign aid. Israel is by no means a developing nation. In fact, the private Israeli sector is spearheading a new age of scientific and technological advancements. Without any doubt, the lion’s share of this aid goes towards beefing up defense and military resources. For example, Israel’s Iron Dome technology, aimed at intercepting incoming missiles, comes with an exceedingly high price tag. The position of Israel on this list sheds light on the subject and nature of USAID. It is clear that the abundance of aid towards Israel serves as a means of protecting US interests in the Middle East and against increasingly aggressive posturing from Russia and Iran.

2. Afghanistan ($2.327 Billion)

Not surprisingly, Afghanistan has come in second on this list. After years of war attempting to stem the tide of terrorism in the region, the U.S. has directed foreign aid to the region to fund both the Afghan military as well as for the purposes of General Chrystal’s Counterinsurgency (COIN) ideology. After funding the Afghan military and police, the remaining aid is funneled towards aspects of soft power. Through building schools and hospitals, the United States hopes to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, which in turn, is hoped to be effective in preventing further insurgency.

3. Pakistan ($2.102 Billion)

Aid channeled towards Pakistan represents a unique form of Foreign Aid. It is no secret that Pakistan is one of the most potentially volatile regions on the planet. With a seemingly never ending dispute with India and rising Islamic extremism, the prospect of instability is one that must be avoided at all costs. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has nuclear weapons; the prospect of these falling into the hands of the wrong people is something the global community cannot allow. With this understanding the brunt of USAID to Pakistan has gone towards building up a governmental infrastructure suited to international cooperation. With the ever-present possibility of corruption, foreign aid is the proverbial “carrot”, as opposed to the “stick” levied against Afghanistan. After sustained efforts to battle extremism, it is entirely against US foreign interests for the Taliban to gain a political foothold in Pakistan. Through creating an infrastructure not suitable to their political ideology, foreign aid dollars can go much further than they would battling symptoms of terrorism and extremism.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Washington Post, USAID, ABC News
Photo: The National

American directors Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach are working on a new documentary about photojournalism in Afghanistan called Frame by Frame. The directors joined Afghan war photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, Massoud Hossaini, in his home country to document the rise of journalism in a place where taking a photo was once a crime.

A new culture of Afghan reporters and photojournalists has been growing ever since the ban on photography was overturned just over a decade ago. The documentary features the stories of four photographers, including Farzana Wahidy, whose work is uncommon for her gender in Afghanistan.

These four photojournalists and more have made great strides in the documentation of life in Afghanistan, the war, and the issues that are important to them. The necessity of journalism from the source is “to build democracy and independence, to check and limit those in power, to drive social and political change,” according to filmmaker Mo Scarpelli.

Local reporters have access to places and people which rarely welcome international reporters. Freedom of the press has improved since the people have gained the right to take photos and share the realities of day-to-day life with the world, but some are concerned about the future of such freedoms. With international forces leaving the country over the next year, international press will also be exiting. Defense, governance, and journalism will all be exclusively in the hands of the Afghan people, who face the threat of the Taliban reverting the country back to the time when snapping a photo was a crime.

The project was started in 2012, which was funded completely by the filmmakers themselves, one of whom drained her bank account entirely and even sold her car to make it all the way to Afghanistan. Frame by Frame is unfinished as of now, and the directors are relying on donations through Kickstarter to raise the funds needed to send them back to Afghanistan to fill-out footage for the film. Backers who want to see the film to completion have until August 28th to make a a pledge.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Humanosphere, Kickstarter, Frame by Frame
Photo: Boston

Over the past 20 years the global poverty rate has been cut in half, a reduction that appears substantial at first glance. The harsh reality is that more than 1 billion people (over 14% of the world’s population) continue to live in destitution, a moral abomination of the highest order considering the money and resources of the wealthiest nations.

The U.S. has been particularly negligent in its committed foreign aid donation of 0.7% of Gross National Product (GNP), the amount the richest UN member states agreed to donate as Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries. The U.S. is often the largest contributor of ODA in terms of dollars, but in 2011 the U.S. ranked among the lowest contributors of ODA as a percentage of GNP, only giving 0.2% while Sweden gave an impressive 1.02%. Why is one of the wealthiest nations falling behind in its humanitarian efforts?

The war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan, indicates a pattern: Situations must become a matter of national security before the U.S. will consider serious intervention and global poverty has yet to meet this criteria. Traditionally, poor states posed less of a military threat than wealthier states, but the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States of America stated, “America is now threatened less by conquering states than by failing ones.”

What the U.S. must acknowledge is the likely symptom of poverty: violent conflict. Violent conflict can quickly drag down a developing country’s weak government, making room for the harboring of illegal groups and activities. As a result, potential new threats to U.S. national security in the form of terrorism, organized crime, and the trafficking of drugs, arms, or people will arise.

In the 1990s, 35 of the 46 states deemed “fragile” by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) were in conflict. According to the DFID’s estimate, these states account for over 30% of the people living on less than $1 a day. On average, ODA is the largest financial flow in fragile states, however the assistance has a decreasing impact due to growing populations.

It is in the best interest of the U.S. to contribute the committed amount of ODA. The U.S. is fertilizing the growth of potential threats through negligence in its ODA contributions. An increase in poverty in a fragile country will likely contribute to an increase in violent conflict that could become so severe it threatens at least U.S. interests, if not the very safety of its own citizens. It would not be the first time.

– Scarlet Shelton

Sources: Economist, World Bank, OECD, Global Issues, UN Millennium Project
Photo: Talk Android

Despite the progress Afghanistan has made in regard to women’s rights since the end of the Taliban regime in 2001, the position of Afghan women in society is deplorable. Afghan women have won the vote and the opportunity for jobs and education, but there is much work to be done. Afghanistan is still a male-dominated culture, one that is rampant with forced marriages, cruelty, and violence against Afghan women.

Recently, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the “Promote” program to further the position of Afghan women in society. With “Promote,” the U.S. will fund a $200 million program to empower women between the ages of 18 and 30 in Afghanistan. With expressed interest in assistance from Australia, Britain, Japan, and the European Union, the funding for this program could double. In addition to furthering women’s position in society, this program also seeks to engage in economic development in Afghanistan.

This five-year program, the largest of its kind to date, intends to help at least 75,000 women overcome the restraints on their true potential and attain economic and educational security. Rajiv Shah, head of USAID in Afghanistan, states that this program seeks to create 3,500 small businesses by providing women entrepreneurs with credit and microfinance to promote economic growth. Training will also be provided to women who want an active role in the economy so that women will seek out government and policymaking positions in higher numbers.

USAID’s Women in Government Internship Program over the last three years has provided training and placed more than 440 interns in Afghan government agencies. This program seeks to increase female representation in government to 30%. Currently less than 20% of government officials in Afghanistan are women.

If women are successful, Afghanistan will be successful, which is why Shah demonstrates that there must be progress on women’s role in Afghan society. If the withdrawal of U.S. forces after the Afghan presidential elections scheduled for 2014 results in the resurgence of the Taliban, women will continue to be undermined, and all developments in women’s rights issues may be lost. Shah urges that the opportunities for women to be successful must increase because their role in society is vital for poverty reduction efforts and economic development. It is now more crucial than ever to empower women, because after foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, there will likely be a decrease in foreign assistance.

– Rahul Shah

Sources: Khaama, Washington Post, Al Arabiya, USAID
Photo: Women of Vision

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is making strides in promoting widespread gender equality as it plans to launch a $200 million program called “Promote” that aims to elevate women’s role in Afghan society.

“Promote” targets women between the ages of 18 and 30 and strives to help them pursue jobs of their interest—whether that be through supporting women entrepreneurs with credit and micro finance or providing women interested in policymaking with access to governmental training and education.

Shah states that Promote is the USAID’s largest gender-driven investment in any country by far and has intrigued many other countries and international organizations like Australia, Japan, and the European Union to donate money as well.

There has already been significant progress on women’s rights issues in Afghanistan over the past decade, and the evidence lies in the figures. From 2000 to 2010, Afghanistan witnessed a decrease in maternal mortality rates, from 1,600 per 100,000 births down to 327. Meanwhile, prenatal health care coverage increased from six percent to 39 percent and more girls are receiving formal education beyond primary school.

The issue now lies, however, in sustaining that progress even after the foreign military presence retreats. Extreme gender discrimination remains deeply rooted in Afghan daily life and culture, and many Afghan women have expressed worry about the imminent departure of U.S. troops.

Shah and the USAID plan to address these concerns by attacking the instability issue from multiple angles. In addition to tackling the problem of instituted gender inequality that plagues countries throughout the developing world, Shah declared that Promote would also create more than 3,500 small businesses in Afghanistan, thus encouraging much-needed domestic growth.

The USAID hopes that this dual approach ensures womens’ consistent role in Afghanistan’s “social, economic, and political fabric” while stabilizing the economy against a decline in foreign spending.

By working to ensure a stable future for young women in Afghanistan, the U.S. shows its commitment to reducing global poverty, elevating the standard of human rights abroad, and raising the bar for engaging in developmental aid.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Washington Post USAID Afghanistan
Photo: Amnesty International