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“Safe spaces” are places or environments in which people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or any other emotional or physical harm. Often, safe spaces are discussed with respect to American colleges. However, psychological aid and safe spaces help children in developing countries as much as food and water. Here are therapeutic success stories from around the globe.

Bangladesh

The South Asian country became host to hundreds of thousands of child refugees from Rohingya. In addition to basic survival needs, UNICEF has provided Bangladesh’s children with facilities for psychological therapy. Trained therapists have become just as vital as Art Corners in providing refugee kids a childhood. “I try to heal them by talking about their drawings,” said counselor Mosammat Mili Akhter in an interview with Al Jazeera.

In the UNICEF guide to developing Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS), the organization highlights the importance of providing toys and art supplies. After a disaster, reasons UNICEF, children lack social settings and avenues for play, which are essential for developing resilience and dignity.

Nepal

Children can be just as devastated by material loss as adults. When a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal in 2015, many families lost everything. World Vision set up CFS centers to give kids an escape from local chaos. Volunteers led children in drawing, coloring, singing and puzzle solving.

Young victims in an emergency, according to UNICEF, lose their routines and social protection networks in addition to their possessions. Emergencies affect children’s cognitive and emotional development. These safe spaces help children overcome trauma and become self-sufficient later in life.

Arpanah Rongong, the child protection specialist working for World Vision, defended devoting resources to entertaining children instead of just feeding them. “It’s important for the children to get back to a schedule, and to have something they can enjoy that they know is going to happen at a certain time each day,” said Rongong.

Uganda

The safe center set up by the Christian Children’s Fund in Northern Uganda not only gives children a place to play, but it also teaches children about basic hygiene and nutrition. A comparative study of two camps, one with a safe center and one without, proved that safe spaces help children in extreme poverty. According to UNICEF, “children who had participated in the CFS seemed more prepared to return to school and less violent with other children.”

UNICEF adds that the Uganda CFS center was designed to support adolescents aged seven to 13, though it was soon adapted to help younger children. This discovery suggests that therapy is a useful tool for trauma survivors of any age. These safe spaces help children with the power to match the most generous charity donation.

– Nick Edinger

Photo: Flickr

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Bradley Ariza, a man living in the U.K. with his girlfriend and children, is stressed all the time. In addition to constant hunger and insecurity, he needs to carefully calculate every calorie he eats to make sure he has enough, and count every penny he spends to ensure that his finances remain in order. He feels the constant pressure to maintain certain livings standards for his family. Poverty becomes a “physical and psychological condition,” not just an economic one.

Studying the psychological effects of poverty is not usually met with enthusiastic approval. In the past, such research was often tainted with racism. It was also accused as being a way of blaming the poor for their behavior. Sometimes it has been seen as unnecessary because of the belief that although the poor are more deprived, they are happier. However, scholarly and public opinions are becoming increasingly more open to studying the effects of poverty on psychology and behavior. It is slowly beginning to be seen as a way to tackle poverty.

Poverty creates a “mindset of scarcity,” as behavioral economists Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have termed it. People are more likely to focus on current, pressing issues rather than long-term ones, even if they might be as important to their well-being. For instance, Indian farmers might prioritize their coming harvest over vaccinating their children. Some researchers have even found that the IQ of Indian sugarcane farmers falls just before their harvest.

Studies have already shown that poorer people have elevated levels of stress, and it is also widely known that stress is linked to depression. Depression, which causes absenteeism and lower levels of productivity, costs the U.S. and U.K. up to one percent of their GDP each year. People who are suffering from extreme stress and depression are less likely to make long-term investments in their health and education. They are more inclined to seek short-term rewards rather than long-term ones because they find it harder to delay gratification. These psychological effects of living in poverty make it more difficult for people to climb out of it.

Researchers are now exploring whether lowering stress and depression can improve people’s mental states enough so that they make better financial decisions and are more motivated about their future. When they are offered more psychological-centered treatments, such as therapy or counseling, people might be more likely to build a path out of the poverty trap. Studying this connection could also help explain why aid sometimes does not seem to work as it should. Microloans, for instance, might be financially helpful, but the added stress to repay loans might make poorer people’s lives worse.

Direct aid, instead of microloans, might be more beneficial. Johannes Haushofer, founder of the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, has started studying how stress affects one’s ability to make good financial decisions. He found that giving unconditional cash transfers to families lowered their levels of depression and stress. In turn, they were more likely to make long-term, thought-out financial decisions. The effects were especially prominent when the cash transfer was a big enough size and given to women.

Radhika Singh

Sources: Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, Harvard
Photo: The Prisma

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The average teenager worries about hanging out with friends, getting good grades, and fitting in with a group of people—not marrying a stranger and creating a home.

However, child marriage is a reality in the world’s 51 least-developed countries.  Half of all girls living in these countries are married before the age of 18, according to the United Nations. Parents arrange the marriage, and the groom can be more than twice the bride’s age.  Girls are ripped from their communities and forced into social isolation. These abrupt marriages sever a girl from her support network—a group of people necessary for helping the girl face the physical and emotional challenges of marriage.

Many cultures view girls as economic burdens, subservient individuals, or family mistakes. Marrying girls off as soon as possible alleviates the household expenses and restores the family’s reputation.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) established that the minimum age of marriage is 18 years old. This is considered the upper limit of childhood, and the individual is fit to decide whether to be married.  Many countries continue to practice child marriage despite proven physical and psychological effects.

World Vision reported that child marriages are increasing due to the increase in global poverty crises. 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year.  Child marriages are most prevalent in rural, poor areas and are associated with areas of low education and healthcare.  Polygamy is common, and these marriages are bargaining chips between two parties.

South Asia (46%) and Central Africa (41%) are the top areas for child marriages.  These regions do not monitor the age of spouses carefully.  Girls who live in countries with humanitarian crises are most likely to be subjected to child marriages. Fear of rape, unwanted pre-marital pregnancies, family shame, and hunger are the main motivators for child marriage. Poverty, weak legislation, gender discrimination, and lack of alternative opportunities reinforce these motivations.

Anti-poverty organizations, such as CARE, are working in various countries to combat child marriage.  According to CARE, “As levels of education and economic opportunities increase, so does the average age of marriage.”  CARE mobilizes community organizers, parents, and tribal and religious leaders to lobby against the child marriage law in Ethiopia. Leaders are constructing savings and loans groups to empower families financially. Though child marriage still exists, this will eliminate one major cause of child marriage. Community forums now focus on the elimination of bride price, bride abduction, and child marriage.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: NBC News