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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 EducationIn 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 participants 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 their 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 marriage

It 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% in 2006 to 27% 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 Bangladesh
According 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 childbearing 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% 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% 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 the 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

Day of the Girl ChildOn October 11, the U.N. celebrated its annual Day of the Girl Child, which focuses on advancing the status of girls worldwide by celebrating their potential when combating the forces that endanger and repress them, such as child marriage, education inequality and health issues.

Since its inception in 2011, the Day of the Girl Child centers on a different topic each year. In 2016, the theme “Girls’ Progress = Goals Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement,” emphasizes the use of technological advances to acquire comprehensive data on girls worldwide, their unique struggles and the forces that oppress them.

In an address at the U.N. headquarters on October 11, 2016, Executive Director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka spoke on the importance of this movement: “Working with our partners, we are supporting countries to strengthen national capacity and systems to collect, analyse and disseminate gender data to improve statistics on priority issues for girls — including gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancy and reproductive health, informal employment, entrepreneurship, and unpaid work.”

Much of the U.N.’s efforts regarding the Day of the Girl Child centers on the practice of child, early and forced marriage, all of which remain prevalent issues in the world’s poorest countries.

Child marriage not only leaves psychological and physical scars that inhibit girls from personal fulfillment but also perpetuates cycles of poverty that trap families in situations with little or no education, economic disadvantages and poor health conditions.

Families often seek the temporary financial relief of a “bride price,” money given to them in exchange for marriage to their daughter. This practice, however, only continues the cyclical nature of poverty in their communities – it denies girls the opportunity for education, and ultimately, cripples new and developing families in the same way.

The other option — education for girls — helps to solve this long-term problem. A girl who has received just one additional year of primary education is 15 percent more likely to boost their future earnings, and this figure only increases with each additional year of education.

The U.N. has already made some advancements in the for fight for girls’ equality. After drawn-out and passionate lobbying in Malawi, the country passed the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act in 2015, which restricts the age of marriage without parental consent to 18.

Thanks to advancements in data collection, the lives of girls and women across the globe may now be much easier to improve. U.N. Women has continued to push for the end of child marriage, and thus, a step toward ending deeply entrenched poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries. As U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri phrased it, “Humanity can’t afford to lose half of the world’s creativity, passion and work. When you invest in a girl everyone benefits.”

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Malawi
According to Girls Not Brides, Malawi has the highest rate of child marriages worldwide, with roughly one in two girls getting married by the age of 18. In rural areas stricken with poverty, parents choose husbands for young girls to improve their financial status. Families sometimes give their daughters in marriage in an exchange called kupimbira in order to repay their debts.

Theresa Kachindamoto, chief of a Malawian district of 900,000 people, is taking a stand to eradicate child marriage in Malawi. She has prevented more than 850 marriages and enlisted 50 sub-chiefs to enforce the ban in her district. “Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,” Kachindamoto said. “I tell them: if you educate your girls you will have everything in the future.”

Tamara Mhango of Girls Not Brides spoke about Kachindamoto’s mission. “She goes around her community even through the different platforms to raise awareness on the importance of girl education and also directly supports and sponsors girls who are vulnerable to stay in school, thereby delaying marriages,” Mhango said.

Between 2010 and 2013, 27,612 girls in primary schools and 4,053 girls in secondary schools in Malawi dropped out because of forced marriage. In addition to this, 14,051 primary school students and 5,597 secondary school students dropped out after becoming pregnant.

According to a Human Rights Watch report titled, “‘I’ve Never Experienced Happiness’: Child Marriage in Malawi,” marriage interrupts girls’ education and dreams. Many of Malawi’s child brides reported that they weren’t able to return to school because they couldn’t afford school fees, child care services, school programs or adult classes. Household chores also contended for their time.

The report found that child marriage in Malawi often forced girls into relationships wrought with sexual and domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Some girls said their families used manipulative tactics to coerce them into forced marriage, threatening and verbally abusing them or throwing them out on the street if they refused to comply.

“The lack of dissemination and popularization of policies and laws that protect girls [in] the communities is one of the challenges faced in the efforts to eradicate the practice,” Mhango told The Borgen Project. “Inconsistencies in the new marriage law and the constitution [regarding] the legal age of marriage is one deterrent factor.”

According to health workers in Malawi, problems related to reproductive health and pregnancy, such as maternal death, obstetric fistula, premature delivery and anemia, occur most frequently among young girls. Malawi’s maternal mortality rate has reached 675 deaths per 100,000 live births. Malawian health workers suggested that early pregnancy complications could be avoided with better funding.

“If allowed to stay in school, properly supported through their education, and make sure that policies are in place, enforced and implemented to protect the girls at all levels, then we would prevent child marriages,” Mhango said.

Rachel Williams

Photo: Flickr

Child MarriageWhat do chickens and goats have in common? Well, chickens and goats live on farms, and both can help end child marriage.

In Ethiopia and Tanzania, many families are given livestock in exchange for marrying off their young girls to adult men. However, if these girls already own animals, the trade becomes less vital for poor families and the marriages are less likely to occur.

Population Council, an organization that conducts research on health and development issues, spent three years in Ethiopia and Tanzania implementing methods to reduce child marriage rates. They discovered that educating the community, donating school supplies and providing girls with goats and chickens were the most effective ways to end early marriage.

Child marriage is most closely associated with poverty because struggling families are in desperate need of the dowry that adult husbands are willing to pay. In Tanzania and Ethiopia, nearly 40 percent of girls are married before they turn 18, and in just Ethiopia, nearly 20 percent of girls are married before age 15.

Population Council conducted research in Ethiopia that drastically reduced the possibility of illegal child marriage. They discovered that by giving girls between the ages of 15 and 17 two chickens every year, they were half as likely to be married by 18 than those who did not receive the animals. Additionally, 12 to 14-year-olds who were given school supplies were 94 percent less likely to be married as a child.

In Tanzania, the legal marriage age is 15, but by providing 15- to 17-year-old girls with goats, the odds of child marriage could be reduced by more than 60 percent.

Early marriage prevents girls from attending school and receiving an education. It heightens the risk of HIV/AIDS and limits a girl’s potential to get a job and earn a wage. Child marriage ultimately dehumanizes young girls by taking away their right to choose what they do with their lives.

Still, more than 14 million girls around the world are married each year before they turn 18. Educating developing communities on the harmfulness of child marriage and providing school supplies so girls can attend school are basic yet successful ways to reduce the rates at which young girls marry.

Goats and chickens, too, are playing a highly successful role in ending child marriage and breaking the cycle of global poverty. Hats off to Old MacDonald. E-I-E-I-O.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Take Part, Girls Not Brides 1, Girls Not Brides 2, Population Council
Photo: Girls Not Brides

Malawi: Education Over Marriage
A minute is all it takes for 28 young girls around the world to be married off as child brides, adding up to 15 million underage brides per year. One of the main reasons for young marriage is to relieve the bride’s family of having to support her, which some struggle to do. As a result, the cycle of poverty continues with those girls having to abandon school and years later, their own underage daughters get married.

A child’s place is at school learning, making friends and playing. They are usually emotionally and physically unprepared for marriage, making them susceptible to domestic abuse and life-threatening pregnancies and births.

Until Feb. 2015, Malawi had one of the highest rates of child marriage, with 50 percent of girls being married before the age of 18. This changed in Feb. 2015, when President Peter Mutharika signed a law raising the marriage age from 15 to 18. To show the commitment to enforcing the law, 300 child marriages were annulled and kids were sent back to school earlier this month. Despite the progress, there is a loophole where parents can provide consent for 16-year-old girls to marry.

The fight to pass this law has been a process with Malawi’s Stop Child Marriage campaign beginning in 2011 by Girls Empowerment Network (Genet) and Let Girls Lead. They trained 200 girls in the Chiradzulo District of southern Malawi to become advocates. The advocates lobbied 60 village chiefs to change laws and establish by-laws to protect teen girls from marriage and sexual initiation practices.

The bylaws force men who marry girls under 21 to give up land and pay a fee of seven goats, a major economic penalty in the region. The bylaws also imposed social sanctions such as three months of janitorial service in a local health clinic for parents who marry their underage daughters.

Genet had hoped the election of the first woman president, Joyce Banda, would raise the marriage age, but she didn’t. Then in 2014, when Peter Mutharika was elected, Genet advocated extensively with his minister of gender, Patricia Kaliati. Fortunately, President Mutharika believes in the empowerment of financially independent women and signed the law.

Although it is difficult to break cultural beliefs and traditions, especially in rural areas, progress is being made at the government level. The local education campaigns will play a key role in educating and spreading the word about the new law, especially in places where people may be less educated regarding the law.

One strong advocate, Memory Banda, 18, was able to finish school, but her younger sister wasn’t as lucky. Memory’s younger sister was married at 11 to a man in his early 30s. This led her to speak up and help in leading the campaign to pass the law. Memory’s sister is now 16 with three children. In March, Memory spoke at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women for herself, her sister and the 70 million girls married as kids.

Paula Acevedo

Sources: Global Citizen, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr