Child Marriage and Trafficking
A new app, Girl Power, is helping to track girls in India and Bangladesh, where the rate of child marriage and trafficking have been especially high in the last few decades.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 200,000 to 250,000 women and children are trafficked annually to Southeast Asia alone, and more than 1 million children are affected globally every year. West Bengal is a state that accounts for a fifth of India’s 5,466 cases of human trafficking, reported in 2014.

India has the highest number of child brides in the world, according to Girls Not Brides, a nonprofit committed to ending child marriage. It is estimated that 47 percent of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday.

Accenture and the NGO Child in Need Institute (CINI) launched “GPower” in 2015. According to Reuters, it has been used to track over 6,000 families in 20 villages in West Bengal.

“The technology helps us identify the most vulnerable of the girls in minutes,” said Indrani Bhattacharya in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Community workers or teachers within the village are trained to use the tablets provided, which already have the app installed. The app requires the user to answer a set of questions on health, nutrition, protection and education, which help to determine the vulnerability of the respondent.

The questionnaire takes approximately 30 minutes to complete, and analysis of the answers takes place in a matter of minutes. Using the information collected, community workers can decide whether or not girls are appropriate candidates for counseling, vocational training or government welfare schemes. The community workers register all details for each girl between the ages of 10 and 19 in a given village.

So far, GPower has helped save 200 girls from trafficking or becoming a victim of child marriage across 20 villages in Bangladesh and India. It is likely that the app will continue to a have a positive impact, as India is the world’s second-biggest market for mobile phones, with more than 1 billion users. Apps, from weather reports to health services, are gaining a lot of popularity among rural communities.

“The problem in India is one of scale – there is only so much that an NGO can do in terms of reach,” said Sanjay Podder, managing director at Accenture Labs in Bengaluru. “To address social problems, technology is not just nice to have, it is necessary.”

Michelle Simon

Photo: Flickr

Girl code: A universal language spoken by the women of the world. Right down to its core, however, it means that girls are “in this together.”

Mary Grace Henry has been up-to-date with the girl code’s core since before she was a teenager. At the young age of 12, with the sewing machine she requested for her birthday, Henry began creating reversible headbands for purchase and used the profits to help fund girls’ education in Uganda and Kenya.

Henry named her business Reverse the Course, with the hope that her reversible headbands would “reverse the course” of girls living in poverty. Now 18 and a soon-to-be freshman at the University of Notre Dame, Henry’s organization has sold over 16,000 hair accessories to support primary and secondary education for girls living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

The organization has reversed the course of many lives, saving girls from malnutrition, early marriage and female genital mutilation.

Since its founding six years ago, Reverse the Course has supported 66 girls and provided funds for 154 years of education fees, including tuition, textbooks and boarding costs. Henry’s most immediate goal is to reach 100 girls. Next, she’d like to develop an entrepreneurial program for the girls her organization funds to provide them with skills beyond education.

Henry firmly believes in universal quality education and 100 percent of her business profits fund education for impoverished girls. Her hair accessories are affordably trendy and of a worthy cause. Her efforts have reached four countries and 21 schools, and every student who boards is fed three meals a day.

Secondary education prevents early marriages and pregnancies and provides girls with the skills to build a sustainable life. According to UNICEF, child marriage rates in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia would decrease by 64 percent with secondary education. Education has the power to change and build lives.

Girls are in this together, and Henry is definitely a veteran to this notion. She provides girls with quality education to lift them out of poverty, giving them the tools they need to build a sustainable life. Who knew that in addition to transforming a hairstyle, a headband could also transform a life?

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Take Part, Reverse the Course
Photo: Take Part