Elpida home for refugees
While the 2015 refugee crisis somewhat faded from the international media’s view, the flow of refugees and the vulnerability of their human rights remains a meaningful concern among the international community.

From the start of the year to July 2017, more than 100,000 asylum seekers arrived in Europe by sea and upward of 2,000 additional individuals did not survive the attempted crossing. Since the beginning of the crisis, asylum seekers who managed to reach Europe arrived to inadequate and sometimes even dangerous conditions.

At first, in 2015, this seemed to be a symptom of inadequate legislation. However, the fact that these inhumane conditions have persisted points to insufficient humanitarian funding and the deliberate neglect of refugees.

Emina Cerimovic, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, stated that “the mental impact of years of conflict, exacerbated by harsh conditions” and “the uncertainty of inhumane policies, may not be as visible as physical wounds, but is no less life-threatening.” This warning came at a crucial time, as Hungary continues to house asylum seekers in shipping containers despite protests from the United Nations, European Union and the greater international community. As time has gone on, conditions in refugee camps remained stagnant and residents became increasingly less independent. They are forced to rely on the entity running their center for more of their basic needs.

NPR reporter Soraya Nelson, who visited a camp on the Hungary-Serbia border, describes it as a detention camp with only one accessible exit, which enters Serbia, a country that also struggles to uphold just migration policies. According to Nelson, all other gates are heavily guarded. The idea is that “people will get so fed up, they might just decide to leave.”

The containers that make up the camp, while more sturdy than the tents provided in many E.U. refugee centers, are undeniably cramped and allow for little ventilation. Their structure provides no clear separation of families and also house unaccompanied minors, one of the most controversial groups within the asylum-seeking population.

Despite this failure, the Elpida Home for Refugees, located near the industrial Center of Thessaloniki, Greece, provides a model for the future. Elpida, which means “hope” in Greek, managed to bridge the gap between inhumane refugee policies and the humane treatment of refugees. The center was founded by American philanthropist Ahmed Khan in partnership with the Radcliffe Foundation and the Greek Ministry of the Interior as an experiment in refugee assistance.

The Ministry donated an abandoned textile factory to the cause when presented with the concept for Elpida: to provide refugees the independence and services they need to continue their lives. The 6,000 square-meter space was converted into 140 residential units, each for six people or less, with shared bathrooms and a communal kitchen, allowing residents to enjoy private space, prepare meals and participate in the community.

The Elpida Home for Refugees is based on the idea that refugees need assistance from the bottom-up instead of from the top-down as is provided elsewhere. Top-down assistance means asylum seekers receive a small designated space in an overcrowded, often outdoor facility, with limited access to proper nutrition, hygiene and medical care. In these scenarios, typical of most refugee camps, residents are entirely reliant on the government or NGO who operates the camp.

Alternatively, the bottom-up care provided by the Elpida Home for Refugees allows its residents to utilize the tools made available by the organization, such as access to medical care, education, and their own personal rooms, to reclaim their lives and become independent.

The cooperation between the Greek government and the Radcliffe foundation can easily be replicated by other countries and organizations and then even more asylum seekers may find Elpida’s “hope” when they are most vulnerable.

Alena Zafonte

Human Rights in GeorgiaIn the summer of 2008, international attention was directed at the human rights in Georgia, and violations surrounding the Russo-Georgian War. But while eyes have shifted to other zones of conflict, the disputes about the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia still entail insecurity and human rights abuses.

Ethnic struggles and disputes over independence had already lingered in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for years, when armed conflict broke out between Russia, Georgia and the Georgian breakaway regions in August 2008. All sides were accused of abusing human rights in Georgia during or after the conflict. Human Rights Watch reported that the Russian army fired on civilian vehicles in numerous cases, killing and wounding many. Russia and Georgia also allegedly both made use of cluster ammunition, inflicting further deaths upon civilians and leaving behind unstable “minefields,” according to the NGO.

The war only lasted for five days, but the withdrawal of Georgia from the breakaway regions did not end the suffering of civilians. The South Ossetian army was accused of conducting a violent “cleansing” campaign against ethnic Georgians in the aftermath of the war: destroying villages, killing civilians, torturing prisoners of war and displacing tens of thousands of Georgians. Reportedly, the Georgian population of the conflict zone was reduced by at least 75 percent.

In 2016, the International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into possible war crimes, such as pillaging and attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, as well as crimes against human rights in Georgia, including forced transfer of populations and murder.

South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence has been recognized by the Russian government after the war, as well as by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. But the regions are still generally regarded as Georgian territories currently occupied by Russia by the majority of the international community. The breakaway regions have their own governments but are dependent on support from Russia. The boundaries are guarded by Russian forces in addition to the de facto forces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and both regions receive financial aid from the Russian government.

Tensions about the future of the Georgian breakaway regions remain. In a referendum earlier this year, almost 80 percent of South Ossetia’s population voted to rename the region the “State of Alania,” mirroring the name of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is part of the Russian Federation. The referendum was perceived as a provocation in Georgia since the name stresses an ethnic distinction from Georgia and suggests unity with North Ossetia-Alania, and therefore with Russia. Georgia, as well as the United States and the EU, have condemned the referendum as illegitimate.

As Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state in their most recent reports, the tensions around South Ossetia and Abkhazia still infringe on the rights of residents living and working in the frontier area.

In the past year, Russian and South Ossetian authorities conducted an effort to fence what they consider to be a “state border.” Therefore, some local residents’ access to their land or homes was cut off, impacting their “rights to work, food and adequate standard of living,” according to Amnesty International. Russia also continues to move the border, thus increasingly creeping further into former Georgian territory. In October 2016, the New York Times reported on the plight of the residents of the border village Jariasheni. One of them does not dare to return home after his house was suddenly on the other side of the elastic boundary line. Some residents have been arrested after finding themselves on the wrong side accidentally, because of the line’s uncertainty. “[W]ho knows where Russia will start tomorrow or the next day,” one resident is cited.

Abkhazia has also increasingly tightened the control over its border: in 2016 and 2017, all but two border crossings have been closed. NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu criticized these closures for impacting local residents’ livelihood and for restricting the freedom of movement of hundreds of citizens who used the crossings daily. As Voice of America reports, they were used, for instance, by ethnic Georgians to visit their schools or medical facilities. The closure also cuts through family ties and hampers some residents’ access to their property and crops, affecting human rights in Georgia.

The boundaries are not recognized as borders by Georgia and its allies, who see them merely as “administrative boundary lines” – but crossing these boundaries can have very real and serious consequences. In the past year, dozens of people were reportedly detained by Russian or regional authorities while trying to cross the boundary lines. Several of them accused the authorities of torture and ill-treatment, for example, of beatings. In May 2016, a Georgian man was killed by an Abkhazian border guard while trying to enter Abkhazia.

As Georgia strengthens its ties with the European Union and NATO, Russia continues to enhance its influence over the Georgian breakaway regions, seemingly heading for an outright annexation. A permanent, peaceful solution to the conflict and thus an end to the insecurities experienced by the local residents are not yet in sight.

Lena Riebl

Malnutrition in YemenAccording to UNICEF, malnutrition in Yemen has reached an all-time high.

The organization reports that an estimated 462,000 children in the country suffer from severe malnutrition, an increase of around 200 percent since 2014. Another 2.2 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance to stop any further decline in their health. UNICEF warns that even after the conflict ends, fatal malnutrition may linger and children will continue to suffer from the effects of starvation. Furthermore, at least one child dies in the country every ten minutes from malnutrition, diarrhea or respiratory tract infections.

Malnutrition in Yemen has become a major cause of death for children under the age of 5. The region has seen many children suffer from stunting, a condition where the child is short for their age and that is a symptom of chronic malnutrition. The region that has suffered the heaviest bombing, Saada Governorate, has the world’s highest stunting rates for children, reaching eight out of ten children in certain areas. The condition is indicative of severe mental and physical decline and is irreversible.

More than 900 children were killed in the first year of the war in Yemen alone, making up a third of all civilian deaths. UNICEF reports that thousands more suffer as a result of the conflict. The number of children out of school in Yemen was high even before the conflict, and that number has expanded to two million as schools have closed due to the war. “The state of health of children in the Middle East’s poorest country has never been as catastrophic as it is today,” says Meritxell Relano, UNICEF’s acting representative in Yemen, reporting to Al Jazeera.

Yemen ranks 154th in the world for human development. The displacement of 3.2 million people and limited fuel and food imports have created a severe humanitarian crisis. According to UNICEF, four out of five Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid.

In addition to malnutrition in Yemen, lack of infrastructure has furthered the country’s health crisis. Water and sewage systems have been damaged during the conflict, and a lack of fuel imports have made it impossible to deliver water to civilians in desperate need. The same lack of fuel has made hospitals unable to power generators in the midst of this severe health crisis.

In October, health officials in Yemen confirmed a cholera outbreak, a severe threat to children already suffering from the lack of healthcare in the country. According to Relano, the conflict has curtailed advances in healthcare in the country and led to the spread of diseases like cholera and measles that disproportionately affect children.

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when troops loyal to the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, combined forces with a group known as the Houthi movement and attempted to take back the country from the internationally recognized president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Since the Houthi and their allies have taken much of the country, a coalition of countries that are supported by western powers (including the United States) has undertaken an air campaign against the rebels. Since the air campaign began in March 2015, over 10,000 people have been killed and millions have been forced out of their homes.

While the Houthi and their allies have committed serious human rights abuses, the majority of the deaths in this conflict have been attributed to air strikes. The two deadliest incidences in the war so far were an attack on a market that killed 97 civilians in March and an attack on a funeral hall in October that resulted in over 100 deaths. According to Human Rights Watch, the United States is complicit in both of these attacks by providing the deadly weapons that were used to bomb civilians.

Human Rights Watch further urges the United States to permanently ban the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia, as the bombs sold by the U.S. to this country have been found at the sites of 23 illegal airstrikes. In addition, the international community must do more to address the severe crisis of malnutrition in Yemen.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Mustard Gas
The Islamic State has been using chemical weapons including the poison known as mustard gas on Iraqi and coalition forces, as well as on civilian targets. Human Rights Watch has called on the Iraqi government to respond by warning civilians in conflict zones about the use of chemical agents, isolating contaminated areas and providing treatment for victims of chemical weapon attacks. If the Iraqi government cannot do this, it should seek assistance from other Chemical Weapons Convention member countries.

According to the Pentagon, mustard gas has been stockpiled and used by the Islamic State in the past, and as the battle for Mosul continues, U.S. forces say that they expect to see it used again. The head of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons program has confirmed that the Islamic State has been stockpiling these weapons with the intention of using them in the battle for Mosul. In recent weeks, there have been several reports of chemical attacks in the areas surrounding Mosul.

Mustard gas was first and most famously used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, and it has been used as a method of psychological warfare as well. Although exposure to mustard gas is rarely fatal, the chemical remains infamous for its invisibility, odorlessness and lack of immediate symptoms.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the effects of mustard gas depend on how much people are exposed to, the length of their exposure and the method of exposure. Exposure can occur through contact with the skin or eyes or by drinking contaminated water or eating the gas in liquid form.

Once exposed, it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to appear. These symptoms usually include redness and itching of the skin, irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract problems such as shortness of breath, sneezing, a bloody nose, abdominal pain, fever, anemia and bone weakness.

The long-term effects of mustard gas can include second- and third-degree burns, chronic respiratory disease, blindness and cancer. Due to the severity of these symptoms, the use of mustard gas by the Islamic State is extremely concerning.

The World Post reported the story of a 4-year-old girl who was killed by mustard gas deployed by the Islamic State in Taza, Iraq. Her mother was standing beside her when she was killed and suffered severe burns from the gas.

Human Rights Watch has documented several other chemical weapon attacks in late September and early October. These attacks constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. For the safety of civilians and soldiers in Iraq, it is imperative that the government follow the guidelines set by Human Rights Watch and prevent chemical attacks by the Islamic State.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Education Provided to Syrian Refugees in Hosting Countries
When the Arab Spring began in 2011, the Middle East’s future became unclear. Since its advent, nearly 300,000 people have been killed and 11 million have been displaced externally. Syrian refugees have taken refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Greece and Germany.

Even though the countries have granted them asylum, many young children do not attend school. Of the 11 million displaced Syrians, nearly 2.5 million are school-aged children. Attending school is a difficult task for these children. As an overarching issue, the education system cannot sustain the thousands of Syrian refugee children entering their classrooms.

Another major issue is that Syrian refugee children are behind in the curriculum and don’t speak the language. Many children, especially young boys, have to choose between working and schooling. Their families cannot afford to send their children to school. These obstacles contribute to the fact that 80% of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are not attending school. As a result, many children end up dropping out, contributing to the 56% of refugee children who are not enrolled in Jordanian schools.

Since 2012, the Jordanian Government, Ministry of Education and Higher Education have either covered Syrian children’s fee or waived them. Even if the children can afford to go to school, parents do not think it’s safe for their children to be journeying a long way. To overcome these barriers, War Child Holland in Lebanon created a walking bus. Instead of children walking alone to school, they walk together in one large group.  In Jordan, UNICEF provides buses to take children to school.

To accommodate those who are not attending school or who have dropped out, the Lebanese NGO Iqra runs Classroom in a Bus whereby students and teachers are trained and taught in the town. In Turkey, students now do not have to show any identification, they can enroll for free and are taught in a Syrian Arabic curriculum. These adjustments coupled with the collaboration between Turkey and UNICEF to build seven new schools is a contributing factor to the 30% increase in enrollment. As a global initiative, donors and host countries have pledged, as the Human Rights Watch states, “more than $11 billion in multi-year support to meet goals including universal school enrollment in refugee-hosting countries by 2017.”

Through donations, global workings and Human Rights Watch projects, there are expansions, “to address other barriers.” Some of these include issues of documentation, NGO roles, addressing dropouts and reducing child labor. The NGO, government and global initiative contribute to UNICEF’s strategy, No Lost Generation, which ensures all Syrian refugees are provided with adequate educational opportunities.

The Syrian Crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises. Yet, there is an admirable level of determination to help Syrian refugees adapt and provide them with equal opportunities.

Kristen Guyler

Photo: Flickr

Education in Papua New Guinea
Endemic problems facing education in Papua New Guinea (PNG) continue nearly unabated despite the passing of the 15-year-long time frame established by the U.N. for securing its ambitious Millennium Development Goals. Included among its eight commitments was dramatic education reform to address systemic gender-based discrimination, a goal that has hardly been realized in the Oceanic nation.

In a 2012 report, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) tallied total enrollment in primary education to be a meager 29.3 percent of all PNG children. The research found that the male-to-female ratio is nearly equal during those early education years, with 16,821 males and 16,120 females enrolled in some level of schooling in the relatively wealthier Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

That seeming equality morphs as children age, however, especially when comparing different regions of the country. Female enrollment rates decline significantly in poorer regions that are also marked by a horrific record of abuse toward women. That state of affairs is attributed by many to the historic degradation toward women found worldwide, and in particular regions of the country like the Eastern Highlands.

Indeed, the literacy rate between men and women in that region was 51 percent and 36.5 percent, respectively. In 2009, grade 12 enrollees were made up of just 180 females to their 494 male colleagues. Much of the blame has been leveled at a lack of will and ability to actually fund initiatives aimed at attaining universal gender equality in spite of such officially professed goals.

Similar to the reality throughout the world, PNG girls and women face an exorbitantly high likelihood of experiencing rape or assault at some point in their lifetime. Human Rights Watch pegs that figure at a staggering 70 percent for PNG, well above the one in three average for much of the majority world.

The World Health Organization notes that this problem is exacerbated in low-income regions with poor social attitudes toward women, like rural PNG, and often increases the risk for physical and mental health problems. As those problems increase, the amount of professional and personal self-improvement women and girls can achieve diminishes, thus perpetuating the problem of gender inequality for education in PNG and elsewhere.

Some progress toward reforming education in Papua New Guinea has been made. AusAID found that total enrollment rates have increased from 52 to 63 percent between 2007 and 2009 among primary-aged students. At that same time, completion rates for students enrolled up to grade eight rose from 45 to 56 percent.

In 2012 the government rolled out a new round of subsidizations for tuition fees, building on the apparent success of similar policies enacted in the early 1990s. The new policies have positively affected enrollment among female children and have promoted retention rates among children who seek to continue on with their education at various levels.

In fact, a unique problem has arisen over the last several years involving a lack of resources to accommodate so many current and prospective students, with the numbers expected to continue climbing. For example, nearly 14,000 high school-aged students are expected to continue their education in Papua New Guinean colleges and universities despite glaring inadequacies in terms of quality of educational infrastructure and low numbers of qualified educators.

Ravinder Rena, who published research in 2011 which studied the causes and challenges facing primary education in Papua New Guinea, laments that the quality of most things associated with the PNG education system is derelict and in need of reforms on nearly every level.

“But, if the government can maintain its financial commitment to education, then Papua New Guinea’s educational system most likely will continue to progress,” writes Rena.

James Collins
Photo: Flickr

Horizon 2020The National Economic Development Plan: Horizon 2020 in Equatorial Guinea was launched in 2007 with the goal of overcoming social and economic challenges in the country. The initiative is divided into two phases beginning in 2008 and ending in 2020. The initial phase aims to produce a framework for economic development that would foster development for future generations fueled by the private sector, followed by consolidation within economic sectors.

The Embassy of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea outlined five key goals of the Horizon 2020 initiative: invest in strengthening economic growth, strengthen the development of structured investments, promote and strengthen the development of social policy actions, ensure a transparent social climate and develop the prospects for better monitoring and evaluation of poverty.

Secretary of state for Planning and Development, Hon César Mba Abogo, also cited the declaration of Article 8 in the country’s new constitution that emphasizes a commitment to abide by international laws as they are set forth, as well as the limitations on executive mandates.

Regardless of the restriction, significant amounts of oil revenue were discovered to be invested into private western and offshore bank accounts via an investigation conducted by the United States Senate, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in 2004.

However, constraints on the growth of Equatorial Guinea’s economy have begun to arise in 2016 as a result of decreasing oil output and notably low crude oil prices. Human Rights Watch reported an increase of over 5,000 percent since the country struck oil in 1992.

As a part of the Horizon 2020 in Equatorial Guinea initiative, the government created the Social Development Fund that budgeted $1 billion for spending toward equality, transport, water, education, social welfare and housing infrastructure. Government programs to develop public governance and investment through mobilizing and educating human capital.

An emergency program, Holding Equatorial Guinea 2020, has already been launched as a conduit to foster growth in the economic sector, promote human rights, and secure good hiring and employment practices. The main aims of the initiative are founded in economic stability and the eradication of poverty and the success of such programs exemplify the potential outcome for Equatorial Guinea at the conclusion of the initiatives.

Amber Bailey
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Turkey impose a crisis on the country, as it is currently hosting over 3 million people — the largest refugee population in the world. Syrian nationals embody a majority of the refugee population — a consequence of the devastation inflicted by five years of civil war.

Here are 10 facts about Turkey’s refugee population:

  1. As of July 28, 2016, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, (UNHCR) reports that there are 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey. Those registered as of July 31, 2016 have origins in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Somalia.
  2. Human Rights Watch estimated that 250,000 Syrian refugees are residing in one of the 25 government administrated camps. The remaining estimated 2 million refugees in Turkey live outside the camps and often struggle to find housing while they live in abject poverty.
  3. According to Project Hope, an international health care organization, Turkey has created an ID card system to provide registered Syrian refugees with free health care and education.
  4. Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that since 2011, Turkey has spent more on those living outside the camps (around $30 billion), compared with about $10 billion on those living in the camps. And according to Human Rights Watch, the government has been increasingly under pressure to generate sufficient resources for a growing refugee population.
  5. The World Food Programme joined the Turkish Red Crescent in 2012 to form the Electronic Food Card Programme for Syrian refugees residing in camps. Each card given to households has a monthly stipend which allows individuals to purchase food.
  6. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) reported that it will fund the Faculty for Refugees in Turkey, providing €3 billion in humanitarian aid and development in 2016 and 2017.
  7. In the last year and a half according to the Washington Post, about 1 million refugees, mostly Syrian nationals have traveled illegally to Greece via Turkey. The journey by sea on small boats is costly and very dangerous — many have died.
  8. In January, Syrian refugees were permitted to work legally in Turkey after the government issued work permits, and in July, Al-Monitor reported that the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was planning to offer citizenship to 300,000 Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
  9. According to The Economist, the flow of refugees traveling to Europe has slowed in recent months because of a deal brokered between the EU and Turkey in March. The plan is controversial with human rights groups but allows migrants and refugees that came to Europe from Turkey to be sent back. In exchange, Turkey is to receive €6 billion in assistance for refugees, have renewed EU membership talks and visa-free travel in the Schengen area for Turkish citizens.
  10. In an August interview with Le Monde newspaper, President Erdoğan said that readmissions of migrants and refugees will stop if the EU does not implement the visa-free travel. The readmissions were to begin on June 1.

A thwarted coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 has generated concern as to the possible implications it could have on the March EU-Turkey deal to end erratic migration from Turkey to the EU. Prior to the coup attempt, there were EU concerns going forward with the deal, and this unease may now be heightened due to the internal disquiet occurring presently in the country.

Heidi Grossman

Photo: Flickr

Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act is a bill currently in the Foreign Relations Senate committee.

Sponsored by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D), the bill’s intent is to “impose sanctions with respect to foreign persons responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and for other purposes.”

Having been introduced in January of 2014, and then reintroduced in January 2015, the bill has yet to reach the Senate floor. However, it has earned the sponsorship of Senators like Marco Rubio (R) and John McCain (R).

This bill would give the president the power to impose sanctions on any entity or government who abuses the rights of people. The definition of these abuses is in accordance with the “internationally recognized human rights.” These abuses include human trafficking and extrajudicial killings. The bill would not only serve to punish governments who are actively participating in the abuses but those who are providing financial assistance to the individual or entity wreaking havoc.

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Watch testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging Congress to pass the bill.

In their testimony, they mentioned the fact that in many countries (especially those affected by Arab Spring), “conflict and repression” were unexpected consequences, affecting large quantities of people. During their testimony, they also spoke of how the U.S. and other Western democracies rarely speak harshly of the atrocities taking place.

Because of the lacking dialogue taking place in mainstream media, and in the interest of the people being affected by the negative choices made by people in high positions of power, the Human Rights Watch supported the passage of this bill so that it is “harder for authoritarian rulers, dictators and kleptocrats to recruit and maintain a coterie of supporters.”

Erin Logan

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Congress
Photo: Sputnik

child_marriageIs it possible to end child marriage in Bangladesh, a country that has the highest rate of child marriage in the world? The Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization and other child and women activist groups are calling it an epidemic that can only be stopped with enforcement from the country’s government.

In October 2014, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, pledged that she would bring an end to child marriage of children under age 15 by the year 2021. She also promised to decrease the number of brides age 15-18 by a third and eventually end all child marriages by 2041.

Bangladesh made child marriage illegal back in 1929 and set the minimum age for marriage for girls at 18 in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the government neglects to legally enforce it or handle the problems that cause girls to get married so young.

HRW asks that the government authorize a plan to stop child marriages that would include required marriage registration for religions, an increase in national birth registration and help for young girls recently married or adults that were married below the minimum age.

Despite the government’s promises to tackle the problem, they have not followed through. Instead, it did not reply to HRW’s demands and Hasina has mentioned revising the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) by lowering the age limit for girls to just 16. The Act was originally passed to give family courts the ability to cancel marriages if necessary and mandate a penalty of two years in prison and a fine of Tk50,000 (US$647).

HRW responded in frustration, “The Bangladesh government has said some of the right things, but its proposal to lower the age of marriage for girls sends the opposite message. The government should act before another generation of girls is lost.”

HRW is not the only one displeased. Plan International Bangladesh, Save the Children and Girls Not Brides have all insisted that minimum age be left unchanged. Girls Not Brides is an organization made up of 450 members from more than 70 countries. They look to create national and global policies to bar child marriage.

HRW published a report, “Marry Before Your House is Swept Away,” that details the struggles of 59 girls and young women who were married before age 18 since 2010. One girl was married at just 10 years old. The 124-page report reveals what contributes to child marriage and how it affects these young brides. It contains interviews with parents and community leaders that help draw a larger picture of the situation.

In 2011, UNICEF estimates that 65 percent of women in Bangladesh aged 20 to 24 were married by the time they were 18, 29 percent by age 15. According to Girls Not Brides, one-third of girls worldwide are married before age 18. That is 5 million girls every year— 28 girls each minute. Some are as young as 8 years old.

In developing countries, girls are viewed as burdens to their families. It is one more person to feed, clothe, school, etc. The dowry a family must raise can be less if the girl is young and uneducated. Bangladesh is troubled with more natural disasters and effects from climate change than most other countries. These manage to bring people into worse poverty and even steal away their home and land.

Besides governmental intervention, education is necessary in the fight to stop child marriage. Studies find that when girls attend school for seven years or more, she marries, on average, four years later. Education is a source for empowerment, important skills and networks of support — essential tools needed to lift her family out of poverty.

The U.N. approved a resolution in November 2014 that encouraged countries to adopt new laws and policies to stop child marriages. Hopefully, laws to eliminate child marriage will be a part of the new Sustainable Development Goals to be implemented by the U.N. in September 2015.

– Lillian Sickler

Sources: The Guardian, Girls Not Brides, Dhaka Tribune, HRW, Al Jazeera
Photo: The Guardian