Every minute, 28 girls around the world who are under the age of 18 are forced into marriage. Child marriage is one of the most serious human rights violations of today. An average of 15 million girls are annually forced to marry before they are of legal marriageable age, and the consequences can be severe. Child brides are more likely to face domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and complications during pregnancy. Some brides are able to escape their marriage, but are then forced to return to an abusive home because they are not able to survive on their own.

Although there are laws that prohibit child marriage, these marriages still persist for many reasons, including poverty and cultural traditions. Parents who are poor tend to try to marry their children off at an earlier age in order to have one less mouth to feed. Also, some countries still practice dowry-giving (in which the bride’s family has to give a present to a groom at the time of marriage). Since dowries are lower for younger brides, many families who feel the need to give a dowry try to marry their daughters off at a young age.

Luckily, there are programs in place that work to reduce the amount of child marriages taking place throughout the world. One of the main ways to help is to increase the amount of access to education that girls receive. Girls who are able to complete their education are more likely to be able to support themselves, and therefore less likely to be forced into marriage in order to survive. Educating communities also plays a large part in decreasing the number of child marriages which occur.

Canada has been an important player in the fight against early and forced marriages. As Girls Not Brides states, in 2013, Canada and Zambia co-led a U.N. Resolution to combat child, early and forced marriages. They are working to pass a second resolution by mid-November of 2015. Canada has also give $20 million to UNICEF in order to fight child marriage in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Yemen and Zambia.

The Canadian Broadcasting Channel reports that on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister announced that the government would give $10 million to end child, early and forced marriages worldwide. $2.3 million of that money is to go towards promoting education and skills training for girls in the Commonwealth countries, and the rest of the money is meant for local community groups, governments and NGOs which work to end child marriages.

This increase in funding is part of the Canadian Government’s Muskoka Initiative, a $3.5 billion pledge which focuses on maternal, child and newborn health. Eleven Canadian NGOs are going to share $180 million in the next five years in order to help with projects which address nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and health worker training.
Increasing aid is an important step towards making certain foreign affairs issues a priority. By giving money to fight child marriage, Canada reinforces just how important it is to end the human rights violation of forced marriages once and for all.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: Yahoo News, Girls Not Brides 1, Girls Not Brides 2, CBC, UNICEF
Photo: Punch

On March 5, 2014, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation officially joined Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains initiative.

The Saving Brains initiative is focused on improving child development worldwide by helping children reach their full potential. The need to do so is demonstrate by data released in 2007 that reported over 200 million children living in developing countries to be unable of reaching their developmental potential.

The Gates Foundation, in partnership with Grand Challenges Canada, has launched the new topic, “Explore New Ways to Measure Fetal and Infant Brain Development.” This new program will be a great addition to the country’s Muskoka Initiative, which is dedicated to the health of both women and children.

With its involvement, the Gates Foundation will be the very first global partner of Grand Challenges Canada. Other extensions of Grand Challenges, such as Grand Challenges Brazil, gained regional partners in the Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation and the Bernard van Leer Foundation in November 2013.

As of 2014, Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains initiative, currently funded by Canada’s government, has used over $28 billion in about 46 different projects. Saving Brains is determined to see an increase in human capital in low-income and middle-income nations by looking to improve brain development.

In a blog post written by Jeff Murray, the Interim Deputy Director in Family Health for the Gates Foundation, and Karlee Silver, the Vice President of Targeted Challenges for Grand Challenges Canada, the pair address the importance of the new initiative. Murray and Silver note that although there has been great success in reducing deaths of children under the age of five and various causes of mortality, it is now necessary to ensure that these children are not just living, but truly thriving.

“Promoting health, providing enriching and nurturing experiences and protecting children from maltreatment in the early years can set them on a trajectory towards long-term health, productivity and participation in society,” Murray and Silver write.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that young children across the globe are able to live the best possible lives.

Murray and Silver explain that the new initiative undertaken in partnership with the Gates Foundation will explore new approaches for measuring both fetal and infant brain development. They hope that these new methods will be “simple, reliable, non-invasive, objective and universally applicable.”

Developing new approaches to measuring development will also help in measuring an infant’s gestational age at birth. The gestational age is related to brain development and growth in both the fetus and infant stages of life.

In regard to the effect such developments could have worldwide, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child reported in 2010 that having healthy child development is the foundation of a society that will have a successful future.

In a March 5 press release, Dr. Peter Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada, said, “Together with other partners, we will be able to unleash the power of innovation to ensure children not only survive, but also thrive. This is no less than what any parent would want for their children, anywhere in the world.”

– Julie Guacci

Sources: CNW Group, Grand Challenges Canada, Grand Challenges Canada Press Release, Yahoo Finance Canada
Photo: IDRC