Posts

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in the Kyrgyz Republic
Education breeds confidence and encourages young girls to pursue opportunities otherwise not available to them, which is one reason why it is so integral to learn about the top 10 facts about girls’ education in the Kyrgyz Republic and foster international and local policies that support equality in education. Working towards complete gender equality in education in the Kyrgyz Republic will not only improve the lives of millions of girls and women, but it will also benefit everyone in the country.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in the Kyrgyz Republic

  1. There is virtually no gender disparity in children attending primary and secondary school. In 2017, primary school enrollment rates for girls were at 89.18 percent compared to 90.6 percent for boys; 97.79 percent of girls completed primary school compared to 97.45 percent of boys. Furthermore, 87.06 percent of girls attend secondary school compared to 87.32 percent of boys. Thus, boys in the Kyrgyz Republic are less than two percent more likely to attend primary school than girls and less than half a percent more likely to attend secondary school.
  2. Women and girls in the Kyrgyz Republic have very similar literacy rates to men and boys. In 2009, 98.98 percent of women ages 15 years and older were literate compared to 99.52 percent of men. However, older women who are ages 65 and older have a 5.41 percent lower literacy rate than men in that same age group. Although these numbers are promising, further reading of the top 10 facts about girls’ education in the Kyrgyz Republic gives insight into why more needs to be done to improve girls’ education.
  3. Parents and teachers seldom discuss menstruation or explain the process of puberty to their daughters or students. Aigerim, a 17-year-old from Vasilevka, a village in the northern Kyrgyz Republic, said: “In most families, the mothers never talk with their daughters about menstruation.” This issue is exacerbated by the lack of suitable bathrooms for privacy and the disposal of menstrual products in Kyrgyz schools. A 2011 study found that 85 percent of bathrooms in Kyrgyz schools were pit latrines, only 11.5 percent of rural schools had sewage systems that worked and bathrooms built during the Soviet era did not have individual stalls for privacy. This shame and lack of suitable bathrooms create a block of access for girls in the Kyrgyz Republic and impact the quality of education.
  4. To encourage girls to continue to attend school while on their periods, UNICEF and Save the Children have created training programs about menstruation education as part of the Wins4Girls’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) project. The program trained 100 teachers from 100 schools on how to approach the subject in school settings and make education more welcoming to female students. Although there are no statistical results of the training program thus far, Wins4Girls teamed up with the NGO “Our Voice” to spread the WASH program to local youth centers. As a result of these efforts, a total of 403 additional girls received training on menstrual hygiene and awareness.
  5. Sexual education in Kyrgyz schools is extremely lacking. In schools throughout the Kyrgyz Republic, and especially in rural areas, any topics to do with sexual health “are to all intents and purposes not discussed.” As a result, when women marry they know very little about STIs, HIV, AIDS or birth control. In fact, the National Statistical Committee found in 2010 that only 30.3 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 were using any form of contraceptives. Some politicians such as the former leader of the conservative political party, Tursunbay Bakir Uulu, have advocated for the introduction of a religious style of education which would include the elimination of all sexual education courses or information in public schools.
  6. Child marriage in the Kyrgyz Republic robs many young girls of education prospects or any opportunities for future independence. In the Kyrgyz Republic, 19.1 percent of girls are married between the ages of 15 to 19. According to the U.N., child marriage causes girls to leave school early and almost all child brides do not return to school after marriage. In fact, 28.4 percent of girls married before the age of 18 did not complete secondary school. Child marriage is more common in poorer, more rural areas and amongst girls who have lower levels of access to education.
  7. Non-profit organizations are pursuing policy initiatives to decrease the rates of child marriage in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Osh Resource Center of the Interbilim International Center worked to raise awareness of child marriage and trained 20 girls on how to convince their parents not to allow child marriage. This grassroots program focused on such a small group because it was started by a Kyrgyz child bride to help girls in her own community.
  8. Although there is access to education for girls in the Kyrgyz Republic, opportunities to apply that education in the workforce are very limited, both legally and culturally. In 2015, women in the Kyrgyz Republic made up 40 percent of the workforce compared to 44 percent in 1990. The Kyrgyz government actively classifies 400 jobs that women are forbidden from applying to. Furthermore, Kyrgyz laws discriminate against women workers by enforcing shorter work weeks for women in certain areas and designating specific jobs as too dangerous for women such as work that involves heavy lifting or any jobs which take place underground. The lack of female workers costs the Kyrgyz Republic 0.4 percent of its GDP annually.
  9. The Kyrgyz Republic has a very high gender pay gap, which has steadily worsened. In 2010, women made 63.6 percent of what Kyrgyz men earned compared to 67.6 percent in 2000. Although women are slightly more likely to complete primary and secondary education than men, the sectors women enter in the Kyrgyz workforce are generally lower paying. For example, women make up 77 percent of teachers and 71 percent of hotel and restaurant workers in the Kyrgyz Republic. The gap in wages is discouraging and many young girls in the Kyrgyz Republic will have little incentive to seek higher education if their job prospects and earnings continue to be so limited.
  10. Although female presence in the Kyrgyz workforce is modest, there are policy initiatives to rectify this discrepancy which would also encourage more young girls in the Kyrgyz Republic to seek education. The USAID initiative Agro Horizon has helped more than 20,000 women working in agriculture learn to access markets and grow their farming businesses. In addition, the USAID Business Growth Initiative provides training in business and management skills for over 2,000 Kyrgyz women working in the apparel and tourism industries, allowing these women to access new technologies and spread their businesses to new markets. The presence of successful, independent female role models is imperative in order for young girls to stay in school and seek higher education.

Path to Independence

Education is the path to independence and a future of opportunities for young girls in the Kyrgyz Republic. Although these top 10 facts about girls’ education in the Kyrgyz Republic show that there is still gender inequality in the Kyrgyz economy, improving education standards for girls will benefit all of its citizens and lead to a fuller and more equal life for women in the Kyrgyz Republic.

– Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr

Everything You Need to Know About Girls' Education in Samoa and Principe

Girls’ education is an important facet of an impoverished country. An educated female population lowers birth rates, improves children’s well being, grows the size of the country’s workforce and increases household incomes. This impact holds true in the small island countries of Samoa and Principe. While both countries are making improvements, there are still obstacles that face girls’ education in Samoa and Principe.

Statistics of Girls’ Education

According to UNICEF data, a majority of females between the ages of 15 and 24 in Samoa and Principe read. In Samoa, the literacy rate for young females is 99 percent. Comparatively, the rate of literate females in Principe is 77 percent.

While the majority of females attend primary school in Samoa, the case is not the same for secondary school. Eighty-nine percent of Samoan females enrolled attend primary school, which is roughly 1 percent higher than male attendance. In secondary school, only 69 percent of girls enrolled attend class. In addition, the gap between male and female participation grows; girls’ attendance in secondary school is 19 percent higher than boys.

In Principe, a drop off in secondary attendance for girls is also seen. However, it is much more dramatic. Roughly 85 percent of females enrolled in primary school attend a school which is at parity with the male population. In secondary school, female attendance drops to 30 percent while male enrollment drops to 29 percent.

Child Marriage

There are many reasons that girls do not seek education beyond primary school. One of these is child marriage, which affects both Samoa and Principe. In Samoa, seven percent of adolescent females are married, and in Principe, almost 20 percent of adolescent females are married. Child marriage ends a girl’s education since she is expected to take care of the household. Once a girl gives birth, the responsibility of a child makes it even more difficult for her to return to school.

Poverty

The largest obstacle to girls’ education in Samoa and Principe is poverty. In Samoa, the per capita income has risen to 5,038 talas or roughly $2,000, meaning the country has moved out of the least developed country category. However, the country’s infrastructure and the economy are vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2009, Samoa was hit by a tsunami that affected its economy and destroyed four primary schools and one secondary school, leaving over 1,000 children without a classroom.

Poverty poses a larger problem for girls’ education in Principe. Roughly 29 percent of the country’s population is reported to live in extreme poverty. In Principe, there is a severe lack of opportunity for its people, which discourages education. In 2015, the country’s human development index was .574, which placed it 142 out of 188 countries. In addition, the unemployment rate was roughly 13 percent.

Geography

Geography also affects girls’ education in Principe. Girls who live in urban areas are more likely to go to secondary school than girls who live in rural areas. Roughly 19 percent of girls who live in urban areas attend secondary school. Comparatively about 7 percent of girls who live in rural areas attend secondary school.

Improving Girls’ Education

Despite roadblocks facing girls’ education in Samoa and Principe, there are several organizations working in both countries to help improve conditions, including the World Bank. In Principe, the World Bank Group approved the Quality Education for All project. The goal of this million dollar project is to improve the quality of education that students receive. Since the project was approved in 2014, the number of qualified primary teachers has risen from 0 to 372. In addition, 50 percent of female students in primary school have benefited from the program.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is another group aimed at improving girls education in Samoa. After the tsunami in 2009, UNICEF and the Samoan Ministry of Education worked to move displaced children to host schools. UNICEF provided tents to the host schools to use as classrooms since the schools were receiving an influx of new children. Teachers also received psycho-social training from UNICEF to help students recover from any trauma that was a result of the tsunami.

The Government of Samoa has also taken action to improve girls’ education. In 2015, the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi opened National Literacy Week, which encourages parents to read to their children and for children to take their education seriously. The week also includes reading and writing competitions and a book fair. Students from all over Samoa represent their schools in four zones and compete against each other in order to promote reading inside and outside the classroom.

Girls’ education in Samoa and Principe faces many challenges, including child marriage and poverty. However, a majority of females in both countries are literate and attend primary school. There are also several organizations in both countries working to improve the quality of education girls receive and that natural disasters do not get in the way of girls attending school. Organizations like UNICEF and the World bank give girls in Samoa and Principe hope for a brighter future.

– Drew Garbe
Photo: Flickr

child poverty in ThailandOver the last several years, Thailand has made impressive progress in reducing poverty. It has gone down from 67 percent in 1986 to only 7.2 percent in 2015. While there has been considerable progress made, poverty is still a major problem in Thailand, especially among children. The following are 10 important facts about child poverty in Thailand.

10 Facts About Child Poverty in Thailand

  1. It is estimated that about one million children in Thailand are living in vulnerable conditions. Child poverty in Thailand is a serious issue. These vulnerable individuals include children that live in poverty, have lost their parents, have a disability or have been forced to live on the streets.
  2. Child labor has long been a problem. It is estimated that more than eight percent of children between ages five and 14 are involved in the workforce. Impoverished children have no option but to enter into factory work, fishery work, construction or agriculture. Young children are also often forced into the commercial sex industry. Riley Winter, a student who recently traveled to Thailand, told The Borgen Project she witnessed children were giving tourists foot massages for just a small amount of money.
  3. Around 380,000 children have been left as orphans by the AIDS epidemic. This greatly affects child poverty in Thailand; many of these children are forced to live on the streets or enter the workforce because they have no one to care for them. It is also estimated that 200 to 300 children will be born HIV-positive each year.
  4. Poor children in Thailand do not have full access to medical care. Out of the 20,000 children are affected by HIV/AIDS, only 1,000 of them have access to medical care.
  5. Children are being exploited. Thailand has become wealthier and, consequently, trafficking networks have been expanding to poorer and isolated children in the country. Child poverty in Thailand has led these children to enter commercial sexual exploitation.
  6. Child poverty in Thailand makes it difficult for poorer children to remain in school. They do not have access to the necessary tools to succeed and remain in school so they are often forced to drop out. The wealthiest group has 81.6 percent of children of primary school age enter grade one while only 65.3 percent of the poorest group enter grade one.
  7. Arranged marriages are very prevalent in Thailand today. A man from a wealthy family is often chosen because the dowry system is still utilized in Thailand. The wealthy man will give the bride’s parents money in exchange for her hand in marriage. This happens in poor communities in Thailand very often, taking away the possibility for the impoverished girl to receive future education, among other things.
  8. Children are being forced to live on the streets due to things like violence, abuse and poverty. These children often beg or sell small goods for just a bit of money each day. They are at risk of poor health and lack of nutrition.
  9. Children are being left in rural communities. Thailand’s economy has been moving away from the agricultural sector and more money can be made in urban areas. Parents are forced to go to work in bigger cities like Bangkok, and children are often left in the care of someone else in rural villages.Parents send money back to their family but children often only get to see their parents one to two times a year. Although the parents are making more money, leaving their children comes with a risk. Children left in these rural communities are at risk of malnutrition and developmental and behavioral issues.
  10. Since the 1990s, child poverty in Thailand has been rapidly improving. The number of child deaths has decreased, literacy rates have dramatically increased, fewer children are malnourished and there are more children in school and less in the workforce.

There have been countless efforts made in Thailand to address child poverty but there is still a lot of work to be done. The nation has set long-term economic goals to be reached by 2036. These goals address economic stability, human capital and equal economic opportunities. These goals will be crucial going forward to help fight child poverty in Thailand.

– Ronni Winter
Photo: Flickr

Literacy Fights Poverty
It seems an obvious statement to suggest that reading and writing can improve one’s life. Is it as obvious, however, that if everyone could read and write, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty? These taken-for-granted, simple skills have the power to change our world. Literacy fights poverty in often unheralded ways and the effects of literacy reach beyond the walls of any classroom.

The Economy of Literacy

An economy’s success lies in the spending power of its people. This comes only through more opportunities, more developed skills, better employment and higher salaries.

Employment creation has proven to be the most effective tool in poverty reduction and better employment only comes through better education. In fact, on average, one year of education is estimated to increase wage earnings by 10 percent, and in places like sub-Saharan Africa, by as much as 13 percent.

The numbers are clear. While literacy fights poverty and helps to stabilize the economies of developing nations, illiteracy costs the world about $1.19 trillion every year.

Literacy and Health

Literacy fights poverty in the healthcare arena as well. Being literate helps people better understand health concerns and better educate themselves when it comes to healthcare. This is especially important in developing countries, where disease can dictate a cycle of poverty. The statistics linking literacy and generational health provide clarity:

  • It is estimated that infant mortality rates decrease 9 percent for every year of education attained.
  • Understanding reading and writing makes it 24 percent less likely that children will be underweight or malnourished.
  • People being able to read and write slows the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Maternal education can help mitigate the effects of diseases like pneumonia.

Literacy Empowers

Inequality, specifically gender inequality, stifles economies and prevents generational growth. Two-thirds of the illiterate population of the world are women. It is no surprise, given the destructive social dynamics of so many underdeveloped nations, that every year 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married. Often, these girls see this as their only option when they cannot afford a good education.

Educated women become empowered and take control of their own lives. Education fosters personal autonomy and creative and critical thinking skills, which provide a wider economy and community. According to the World Bank, better-educated women tend to be healthier, have fewer children and marry later in life.

Resilience and Community

Literacy fights poverty through the power of the possible. Without literacy, a lack of choices commits millions to a prison of doubt. Reading and writing have been proven to increase self-confidence, help make informed decisions and provide new job prospects.

Additionally, literacy provides distractions and new pathways away from the prospects of crime or child soldiery. In fact, literacy makes it 50 percent less likely that people will commit robbery or murder.

Overcoming obstacles of this magnitude takes an enormous amount of resiliency. Education provides the will-power to build it up. In a world where 123 million 15- to 24-year-olds cannot read, the need for literacy has never been more apparent.

The End of a Cycle: Literacy Fights Poverty

According to the United Nation’s Global Education Monitoring Report, new evidence suggests that increasing the years of schooling among adults by two years would help lift nearly 60 million people out of poverty. If ending poverty is the ultimate goal, it may well be that literacy is a starting point. Literacy allows other development goals to happen.

Literacy creates opportunities for people to develop skills to provide for themselves and their family, while at the same time positively impacting each generation through raised expectations and increased self-esteem. Literacy fights poverty much like the feet of a duck fight against the water beneath it. Though it may not always be seen, much work lies below the surface.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr

Child Prodigies in India
An estimated 5 to 6 million child prodigies in India have IQ levels of 135 or above. Only a few will have a shot at big moves in life; the rest will remain in urban slums. Gaining admission to a university is seen as a privilege for the social elites. Discovering the child prodigies is akin to mining for diamonds in the rough.

The Vidya school has members who survey for children by collecting details of each child’s socio-economic status and testing their logic in a standardized and timed packet of problems. It has been empowering underprivileged children via integrated methods of admission. This campus boasts over 11,000 students with a nearly even ratio of boys and girls. The children from poorer families are sponsored. The minimum requirements to keep their scholarships are tenuous; the children are expected to maintain high grades and partake in extracurricular activities.

Success for the Future

These programs can put the students on a track to success in academia and career opportunities. Child prodigies in India can be instilled with a sense of fulfillment and leave a positive impact on not just the Indian economy, but the global economy.

Aside from the pressure to maintain top grades, there is also pressure to be the sole breadwinner of their families. Often the parents of these geniuses are uneducated and see little value in academia. Instead, they pin the child’s future on working immediately from childhood in roles such as housemaids for girls or physical labor for boys. If the students can’t find support from their parents, then the next best option for the child prodigies in India is mentors.

Child Marriage

An unambiguous hindrance for millions of Indian girls is child marriage. The marriage of underage girls can have a negative impact on health, education and increase the likelihood of intergenerational poverty. The marriage of underage girls in India has nearly been cut in half. Of Indian girls younger than 18, the percent that get married is 27 – compared to 47 percent just a decade ago. Better access to education for girls and better public awareness of the negative impact of child marriage are credited for the decrease.

Formative Early Years

The early years of childhood can affect the outcome of adulthood. The gap between the rich and the poor can manifest as early as nine months of age; for example, underprivileged children are enrolled in primary school a year later than their privileged classmates. Quantitative research reveals the number of vocab words and mathematics skills a student possesses can determine academic accomplishments in secondary school.

The initiative of providing opportunities to the child prodigies in India will pay off in the long run. A healthy and educated population in any country is a positive indicator that a country is making positive strides and on course to great achievements. The achievements not only benefit the nation of India, but for humanity through their contribution in science, medicine and human rights. Investing in the child prodigies in India is synonymous with investing in the future of India.

– Awad Bin-Jawed

Photo: Flickr

women's empowerment in burkina fasoApproximately one out of every two girls in Burkina Faso will be married before the age of 18, and one out of ten girls will be married before the age of 15. Although child marriage rates vary from one region to another, rates are as high as 76 percent in the East region and 86 percent in the Sahel region. Tradition, poverty and lack of education contribute to child marriage in Burkina Faso.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recorded the following trends among women aged 20 to 24:

  • 60 percent of women with no education were married at age 18.
  • 42 percent of women with primary education were married at age 18.
  • 3 percent of women with secondary education or higher were married at age 18.

These findings show that there is a negative correlation between the amount of education a woman receives and the age at which she marries. An educated woman is more likely to avoid child marriage than an uneducated woman.

Ending child marriage is possible by increasing women’s empowerment in Burkina Faso. In November 2015, the country finalized a national strategy to end child marriage by 2025. The strategy prevents child marriage, strengthens national efforts to end child marriage, supports child marriage victims and monitors its implementation. A multisectoral platform launched in June 2016 outlines the strategy’s roles and responsibilities.

In November 2015, The Hunger Project-Burkina Faso hosted two workshops for women’s empowerment in Burkina Faso. The workshops focused on female leadership and the fight against forced child marriages. The first workshop was held at Boulkon Epicenter, and aimed to generate interest among female leaders in involving their fellow women in the electoral process.

The second workshop, The Child Marriage Project, included training on sexual and reproductive rights of young girls forced into marriage. It was held in collaboration with Association D’appui et d’Eveil Pugsada, an organization that empowers women to assume significant roles in community development, and Kinderpostzegels, a Dutch organization that supports vulnerable children across the world. Burkina Faso is also a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Program to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.

Girls who know their human rights and are equipped with education and life-skills are proven to be less vulnerable to child marriage. With continued work from the government and nonprofit organizations, increasing women’s empowerment in Burkina Faso can help end child marriage.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Global Partnership for Education
In many developing countries it is common practice to marry off girls before the age of 18. Consequently, when girls are married at such a young age, they do not receive an education. This practice can cost countries billions of dollars, according to the World Bank. However, recent studies show that ending child marriage could reduce global poverty.

Child marriage, which primarily affects girls, has many consequences. It causes overpopulation, poor health for said child and it tends to lead to violence. Conversely, ending child marriage would have lasting social advantages and economic benefits, such as an increase in the girls’ earnings.

“Child marriage not only puts a stop to girls’ hopes and dreams. It also hampers efforts to end poverty and achieve economic growth and equity,” said Quentin Wodon, lead author of the World Bank’s report on the economic cost of child marriage. “Ending this practice is not only the morally right thing to do but also the economically smart thing to do.”

Ending child marriage would save countries a lot of money — by 2030, countries could save $327 million in education budgets alone. In Africa, seeing an end to child marriage could save up to $5 billion as a result of lower malnutrition, according to the Global Partnership for Education. It could also reduce fertility rates by 10 percent, which would reduce overpopulation and global poverty by extension.

So, what’s the best way to end child marriage? Simply keeping girls in school.

Education is the best way to end child marriage because it allows girls to be more independent and strong-minded. The longer a girl is in school, the less likely it is that she will be married young. Unfortunately, there are societies that deem education a luxury and a “waste of resources.” Such societies are also threatened by the independence a female would gain by being educated.

Failure to educate girls has its own negative implications. In the same manner that ending child marriage can increase a girl’s earnings in the future, so too can having an education. In fact, some countries lose out on an estimated $92 billion of economic growth for failing to properly educate their girls.

Pooja (not her real name), a girl from Nepal, knew education would have given her a better life. “If I had studied I would have been working. But my parents held my marriage and I couldn’t do anything after marriage. I now have children to look after,” she said.

Everything is connected. Seeing girls educated could potentially end child marriage which would potentially reduce global poverty.

– Dezanii Lewis

Photo: Flickr

Child Marriages in AfghanistanAfghanistan is often ranked as the world’s most dangerous country for women. Young girls are so often robbed of their childhoods by means of widespread violations of their human rights. Poverty, limited access to education and healthcare, little if any support for victims of domestic violence, high birth rates and draconian traditions regarding the role of women leave girls highly vulnerable to abuse.

Though the legal age of marriage is 16 years for women and 18 years for men, as outlined by the Afghan Civil Code, 33 percent of girls are married by the age of 18, the internationally recommended standard legal age for marriage. These marriages essentially treat girls as property in order to strengthen ties between rival families and tribes or to settle debts and disputes. Poor families often sell their daughters – for large sums of money – to wealthy families and much older men.

Girls who marry in childhood have little power in their household, a greater likelihood of dropping out of school and being illiterate, lower labor force participation and earnings and less control over household assets. Thus, girls’ potential for societal contribution in Afghanistan is immediately stunted by being forced into child marriage.

Child brides, as well as their children, will likely experience a lower standard of health. Adolescent mothers also have a significantly higher risk of maternal mortality and morbidity than women just a few years older than them. These deficits – which affect not only the individuals involved in child marriages in Afghanistan, but also the entire country – have not gone unnoticed.

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership committed to helping girls fulfill their potentials, by putting an end to child marriage. By emphasizing accountability on behalf of governments and other actors to uphold, respect and protect the rights of girls, the organization pressures countries like Afghanistan to address the issue of child marriage.

In April 2017, the Afghan government showed its support for ending child marriage in Afghanistan by launching a National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Information and Culture, with support from UNFPA Afghanistan, the Canadian government and a range of other activists, worked together to develop the declaration. This plan highlights two techniques: initiatives designed to prevent early and childhood marriages and improving laws and services in support of people at risk of early and child marriage.

However, orchestrating a National Action Plan is just the beginning; the plan must be implemented in order to make a difference. Organizations such as Girls Not Brides pledge to ensure that governments take action to protect its girls from underage and unlawful marriage. Initiatives with the goal of putting an end to child marriage in Afghanistan will only succeed with the support of such associations.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

end child marriageIt is entirely possible to end child marriage in the coming decades. Ending child marriage will also lead to more prosperous and responsible communities that are capable of overcoming global challenges, such as poverty.

Adolescence is a critical time that should allow girls opportunities to learn, grow, and decide their futures. However, that will not be the fate of more than 700 million girls who are alive today that were forced into marriage before they were 18.

For these girls, their marriage effectively ended their potential to contribute to their community, interrupted their schooling, and placed them at increased risk of severe domestic violence.

Every day, 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are forced into child marriage worldwide. One in three are in India. There have been many efforts to end child marriage in India, and the country has seen quality achievements. Government programs have been able to reduce child marriage from 47 percent in 2006 to 27 percent in 2016. This number is still alarmingly high.

The national and state governments, along with United Nations agencies and civil society organizations, are implementing new initiatives to right the social evils of child marriage and gender inequality. In Bihar, the chief minister himself is steering the launch of a statewide campaign against the deep-rooted harmful practices of child marriage.

In support of Bihar’s upcoming campaign, Gender Alliance— a network of 234 like-minded civil society organizations in the state—launched a high-tech tool to end child marriage in the form of a mobile application called Bandhan Tod, which means “break your shackles.”

Bandhan Tod launched in September 2017 and is available on the Google Playstore. The app has many unique features that will help girls stand up against child marriage. Bandhan Tod is a holistic solution for addressing the interlinked issues that perpetuate child marriage. The app offers free education on child marriage and the laws against it, inspirational messages to boost confidence and information on government programs that provide support and opportunities for gender empowerment.

The app also features an SOS button that instantly notifies the entire network of Gender Alliance members when a girl needs urgent help to stop a child marriage.

In order to evaluate the app’s success, Bandhan Tod’s design includes features to measure outreach, impact and changes in knowledge through automatic mapping of geographical location, age, and gender. This feature does not compromise confidentiality and will ultimately advance the ability of the app to contribute in large part to the programs working to end child marriage.

Bandhan Tod received a little over 1,000 downloads in the first week after its launch. Engagement within the app is also a huge success: “the average time spent on the app from people is generally around 7 minutes per session with an average of 100 sessions daily,” Nadeem Noor, head of United Nations Population Fund in Bihar, told The Borgen Project. “The data from the initial few days indicate that the app can be used successfully to reach end users and spread the required message.”

This app has the potential to be an indispensable tool in the struggle for gender equality and in ending all forms of discrimination against women. As part of a larger initiative, the Gender Alliance will “embark upon taking this app to front line functionaries of government departments who have a primary role in addressing the issue” Noor said.

Additionally, the Gender Alliance is working to connect the SOS function directly to the Women Police set-up in Bihar to increase their capacities on counseling the families and implementing the laws against child marriage.

Bandhan Tod was created with the needs of adolescent girls in mind. Providing young girls with basic awareness on women issues and the effects of child marriage is absolutely imperative.

In addition to offering rational, effective and quick systems that are responsive to citizens in their times of need, the initiative is working to make institutions of governance more responsive and accountable. The strides that Bandhan Tod has made thus far towards the fight to end child marriage is astounding.

Jamie Enright

Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in BangladeshAccording to the International Center for Research on Women, one-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and one in nine are married before the age of 15. In a recent study conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), researchers tested the impact of incentive programs on reducing child marriage and child bearing during teenage years. Results demonstrated the incentive program reduces child marriage in Bangladesh.

A previous study conducted by IPA in Kenya showed that encouraging girls to stay in school can reduce child marriages. However, this tactic fails to impact girls who are not attending formal schooling. Child marriage remains a societal norm in many countries, especially throughout the developing world.

Conducted in rural, southern Bangladesh, the country with the second highest child marriage rate in the world, researchers built an incentive program into a previously formed food security program run by the nonprofit organization Save the Children. From 2007 to 2015, through a large-scale, randomized study, cooking oil was delivered to families of underaged and unmarried girls throughout multiple communities.

Within specific communities, the Adolescent Girl’s Voice empowerment program was implemented, which included meetings five to six days a week where girls from the community could socialize and receive education and life coaching. In communities without the empowerment program, girls who remained unmarried could collect cooking oil from community volunteers using a ration card.

The value of the cooking oil was chosen to offset the amount of dowry and dowry increase of unmarried girls annually. For four years after the study ended, researchers followed up with participants, documenting their marital status, childbearing history and school enrolment.

The results showed that the implemented incentive program reduces child marriage in Bangladesh, as well as decreased the rate of childbearing during teenage years.

“Girls in communities with conditional incentives were 6.3 percentage points less likely to marry before the age of 18, a 23 percent reduction over girls in communities without any programming,” stated the report. “They were also 2.9 percentage points less likely to have children during their teenage years, a 13 percent reduction over girls in communities without any programming.”

The program’s implementation in an area of extremely high rates of child marriage and childbearing during teenage years demonstrated the success of incentive programs on lowering such rates. The program ended up being highly cost-effective, with researchers estimating that every $1,000 spent on the program led to nearly seven years of delayed marriage. There is strong evidence that incentive programs have the power to reduce child marriage in Bangladesh.

Riley Bunch

Photo: Flickr