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Child Soldiers in YemenHuman rights groups are addressing the issue of child soldiers in Yemen. Houthi groups reportedly recruited and trained children for war beginning in 2014. Since then, hundreds of child soldiers in Yemen have died or experienced injuries.

Houthi Modus Operandi

Houthi groups utilize school and other educational facilities to train and recruit children as soldiers. Lectures at these facilities emphasize violence and Houthi ideology. Their purpose is to compel the children to join their fight and adopt Houthi ideas as their own. Once recruited, authorities assign the children various tasks, ranging from guard duty to direct armed conflict. Those who do not perform well or attempt to defy the Houthi face various forms of punishment including beatings, food deprivation and even sexual assault.

Protests from Concerned Groups

Humanitarian groups such as the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and the SAM for Rights and Liberties denounced the Houthi child recruitment drive and called on the Houthi to cease it. The groups argue that the very act of conscripting child soldiers in Yemen violates the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute that forbids this war crime. They urge the United Nations Security Council to refer the Houthi’s actions to the International Criminal Court. The humanitarian groups want a U.N. special representative to visit Yemen and further assess the situation.

The CRUCSY Program

In September 2018, the special United Nations agency known as the International Labor Organization (ILO) initiated a program known as Countering the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Yemen (CRUCSY). The ILO developed this program in conjunction with the United States Department of State.

The CRUCSY program has multiple aims. It strives to provide a solution to the immediate problem of child soldiers in Yemen by addressing its underlying root causes. Furthermore, it hopes to prevent this situation from reoccurring. The program helps reintegrate child victims back into Yemen’s various governorates so that children can lead more stable and peaceful lives. The ILO also set up training facilities and services for the children. Additionally, the ILO teaches the older, legal-aged children marketable vocational skills to help them find employment.

As of February 21, 2021, the ILO CRUCSY program created three youth-friendly reintegration spaces and four youth clubs. Moreover, the program coordinated with local communities to provide training guides for community leaders. Lastly, the program has been offering counseling, support and vocational skills training for child soldiers in Yemen.

UN Action

The United Nations has also made progress in helping child soldiers in Yemen and rehabilitating them. From 2014 to 2020, the Office of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG CAAC) communicated and coordinated with the Yemeni government. It also helped various humanitarian coalitions and the Houthis address the issue of child soldier recruitment.

In addition, the SRSG CAAC implemented action plans to establish child protection units, end violations against international laws protecting children and prevent violations altogether. The office’s efforts led to the signing of a handover protocol in April 2020, resulting in the release of 68 child soldiers in Yemen. As of March and May 2021, child protection workshops and training efforts have continued.

– Jared Faircloth
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Pakistan
As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the developing world, the World Bank estimates that there will be between 119 to 124 million additional people added to poverty due to economic standstills. Developing countries are at high risk of an increase in poverty, including Pakistan. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is substantial, but the government and other organizations have been cooperating to minimize the impact.

COVID-19’s Impact on Pakistan

In Pakistan, to date, there have been more than 22,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Vaccination programs have experienced delays, with only about 2% of the population of Pakistan currently vaccinated. To receive the vaccine, residents pay around $78, a luxury that many Pakistanis cannot afford. Due to the U.K. strain, cases are rising again. However, government officials are hesitant to enforce a strict lockdown as they did in March 2020. Rather, the government utilized the popular “smart” or “micro” lockdowns, where only specific areas go into lockdown. However, limited data exists on the success rates of these strategies.

Pre-Pandemic Pakistan

Even before the pandemic, Pakistan’s health system had limitations. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), before COVID-19, Pakistan had a ratio of one doctor to 963 people and a lack of universal healthcare. Before the virus, the poverty rate in Pakistan declined by 40% over the last two decades. However, the economic impacts of the pandemic halted poverty reduction progress.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children

COVID-19 has impacted women and children in Pakistan more significantly than men. Due to the virus, these vulnerable groups are suffering several consequences. Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in Pakistan. In June 2020, nearly 42 million children were out of school, with 17 million children younger than 5 missing routine vaccinations.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the shutdowns due to COVID-19 have disproportionately affected women, and in particular, the garment industry, which makes up a substantial part of Pakistan’s exports. In Pakistan, the majority of the population has employment within the garment industry, with approximately one in seven women working in this sector.

To rectify the bleak situation, the Pakistan Workers Federation and the Employers Federation of Pakistan issued a joint statement of cooperation and the government provided wage support. These efforts also included a “no lay off” order and an interest rate reduction for employers who retain their employees.

The Good News

While the situation looks bleak, the government and organizations are taking action to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan. The U.N. Development Programme established a COVID-19 Secretariat at Pakistan’s Planning Commission in 2020 to facilitate the economic and social response to the pandemic in conjunction with U.N. agencies. The Secretariat supported the Pakistani government’s 2020-2021 budget and National Action Plan for COVID-19.

To alleviate the lockdown’s hardships in 2020, the government issued unconditional cash transfers of approximately $70 to 12 million vulnerable households to prevent food insecurity. To continue to support the most vulnerable population, Ehsaas, the federal social protection program, made extra payments to 4.5 million families. Under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash initiative, another 7.5 million households received monetary assistance.

Dr. Sania Nishtar, the leader of Ehsaas, said in an interview with Mckinsey, that Ehsaas “invested” heavily in time, money, energy and effort to build infrastructure, including an SMS-based request-seeking mechanism, which allowed for ease in eligibility determinations and digital payments.

The World Bank ranked Ehsaas as one of the top four social protection programs by coverage. In March 2021, the World Bank issued a statement supporting the program by approving $600 million to expand Ehsaas. The fund allocation will facilitate the expansion of the programs to reach more informal workers.

Looking Ahead

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is significant, however, the government and organizations are working together to provide social protection to the most vulnerable groups and will continue to do so as vaccination rates increase.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19-impacts-freedom-in-the-world
The focus of 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues like food insecurity, mental health, increased poverty and widespread misinformation impacted people all over the world. As a result of unemployment, lack of social protection and various trade restrictions that have disrupted the international food supply chains, tens of millions of people are in danger of succumbing to extreme poverty. People’s freedom in the world is increasingly vulnerable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health services in nearly the entire world have experienced disruption, even though the demand is increasing. The societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered mental health conditions for some and worsened pre-existing ones for others. In a United Nations (U.N.) article addressing misinformation surrounding the pandemic, Dr. Briand, director of pandemic and epidemic diseases suggests that “when people are anxious and uncertain of a number of things they tend to compare with things they know already or things they have experienced in the past.” Fear and apprehension surrounding the vaccine have made it vital for organizations like the U.N. to provide accessible and understandable information that addresses public concerns.

Freedom in the world has been an overarching issue during the pandemic. It is also likely to have serious implications in the coming years. Freedom House is a nonpartisan, independent watchdog organization that researches and reports on various core issues within the contexts of civil liberties, political rights and democracy. Throughout 2020, Freedom House compiled reports and data on how repressive regimes have reacted to the pandemic, often at the expense of basic freedoms and public health.

Freedom House Report: “Democracy Under Lockdown”

According to a Freedom House report about the impact of COVID-19 on the global struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights has deteriorated in 80 countries since the start of COVID-19. The report is based on a survey of 398 experts from 105 countries. GQR conducted it in partnership with Freedom House. The research shows a trend of declining freedom worldwide for the past 14 years that COVID-19 has exacerbated. Countries that lack accountability in government are suffering the most due to failing institutions and the silencing of critics and opposition. Countries such as the United States, Denmark and Switzerland have also seen weakened democratic governance, even though Freedom House categorizes them as “free.” Even open societies face pressure to accept restrictions that may outlive the crisis and have a lasting effect on liberty.

5 Aspects of  a Weakened Democracy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. Abuse of Power: Governments use the pandemic to justify retaining special powers, including interfering with the justice system, unprecedented restrictions on political opponents and increased surveillance. According to the research, the police violently targeted civilians in at least 59 countries. In 66 countries, detentions and arrests have increased during the pandemic response.
  2. Protection of Vulnerable Groups: Marginalized communities disproportionately face restrictions and discrimination and those in power often blame them for spreading the virus. Governments that abuse marginalized groups have continued to do so while international attention focuses on the pandemic. Due to government shutdowns, civil society has a reduced capacity to enforce accountability for human rights violations.
  3. Transparency and Anticorruption: In 37% of the 65 countries that the research included, government transparency was one of the top three issues that affected the government’s pandemic response. The report also notes that 62% of respondents said they distrust information from their national government. Some governments, such as those in Nicaragua and Turkmenistan, have outright denied the existence of the virus. Others like Brazil and Tasmania have promoted unsafe or unverified treatments. Opportunities for corruption have grown as national governments quickly distribute funds to the public without mechanisms in place to monitor those funds.
  4. Free Media and Expression: Freedom House research found that at least 47% of countries in the world experienced restrictions on the media as a response to the pandemic. Journalists have also been the target of violence, harassment and intimidation. At least 48% of countries have experienced government restrictions on free speech and expression. In 25% of the “free” countries, as classified by Freedom House, national governments restricted news media.
  5. Credible Elections: COVID-19 disrupted national elections in nine countries between January and August 2020. The postponed elections often failed to meet democratic standards because of delayed rescheduling or lack of adequate preparation for secure voting.

Protecting Freedom Now and in the Future

In 2020, the International Labor Organization (ILO) predicted that there would be a 60% decline in earnings for nearly 2 billion informal workers in the world. It is also the first year since 1998 that there will be a rise in poverty. According to Larry Diamond from Stanford University, good governance within a democracy is essential for poverty reduction. Freedom House recommends five ways to protect democracy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Emergency restrictions should be transparent with support from the rule of law while being purposeful and proportional to the threat.
  2. Restrictions, especially ones impacting basic rights, should not last a long time and should have independent oversight.
  3. Surveillance that uses new technology must be scientifically necessary and have limits on duration and scope. An independent organization should also monitor government surveillance.
  4. Protecting freedom of the press is important. The population should have open access to the internet and people should combat false information with clear and factual government information.
  5. It is essential to adjust voter registration and polling station rules, encouraging distanced voting methods and only postponing elections as a last resort.

Citizens in at least 90 countries have had significant protests against government restrictions. Journalists have risked their freedom and safety to report on the pandemic and the oppressive actions that government entities have taken. However, the pushback against reduced freedom in the world and guidelines that international organizations like Freedom House set inspire hope for a turning point in democracy’s current trajectory.

– Charlotte Severns
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in JordanAs of 2019, 83% of the refugee population in Jordan lives in cities, not camps. Many of the refugees in Jordan survive on low-paid work in the informal sector, picking up odd-jobs when they can. Considering the substantial number of refugees living in Jordan, nearly 750,000 registered refugees and almost two million Palestinians, the Jordanian government has protective stipulations in place to preserve jobs for Jordanian citizens.

However, during the COVID-19 lockdown, the informal working sector shut down. Most refugees did not have savings to fall back on while roughly 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line. When Jordan began to reopen in late April, the government mandated that businesses first give employment preferences to Jordanians.

The International Labor Organization recently published a survey confirming that of all the vulnerable working populations, refugees have been hit the hardest amid the pandemic. Nearly all refugees are ineligible for governmental aid. Moreover, only about 30,000 refugee families receive cash assistance from UNHCR. The NGOs in Jordan were non-essential, and many shut down in the spring. However, with easing restrictions, NGOs are reopening and providing necessary assistance again.

Collateral Repair Project

Collateral Repair Project (CRP) is a nonprofit in Amman that provides many services. These services include a community center with programs for refugee children, women and men. Additionally, CRP runs a Basic-Needs Assistance program. It is essentially a food voucher program for refugees to trade in coupons for fresh produce. CRP know how essential this program is for refugees. As a result, it found a way to operate during the shutdown. By partnering with local markets, CRP managed to keep over 700 refugee families fed throughout the lockdown.

Reclaim Childhood

Reclaim Childhood provides sport and leadership training to refugee girls ages six to 18 in Amman and Zarqa. While it had to stop programming during the lockdown, its return is significant. Reclaim Childhood employs nine female coaches, some refugees, some Jordanians and has nearly 300 girls play each season. Refugee children are suffering from the effects of the pandemic. Girls in particular are hurt with schools shutting down. Children from families facing increased poverty are more likely to be forced into child labor or early marriage. Reclaim Childhood, beyond providing these girls with a meal each day, reminds them that they are strong, capable and surrounded by girls and women who support them. Even amid poverty and pandemics, children should always have the right to play, learn and grow.

Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger (AAH) is an organization that operates in Jordan. It provides water, sanitation, hygiene, food security and livelihoods and mental health services to both host communities and refugee populations. In 2019 alone, it reached 86,522 people with water, sanitation and hygiene programs. Additionally, the organization offers cash-assistance programs for refugees. During the height of the Jordanian lockdown, it became clear to AAH that the majority of people receiving its services also desired a way to access more information about the pandemic and preventative measures. In response to this need, AAH launched a free telephone hotline that offers updated information about the risks associated with the pandemic. They currently have 38 operators managing phone lines, communicating essential information.

Overall, the work of these organizations is essential to the livelihood and safety of many refugees in Jordan, especially during this global pandemic.

– Grace Harlan
Photo: Pixabay

9 Facts About the Informal Economy in Latin America
The informal economy is a fluid area of work that people may drift in and out of. Certain companies may live in both the formal and informal job sector as well. The International Labor Organization (ILO) distinguishes between the informal sector and informal employment, stating that the former is an “enterprise-based concept and is defined by the characteristics of the enterprise in which workers are engaged” while the latter occurs on a case-by-case basis regarding the employee’s relationship to the enterprise. For example, some companies operate within the formal sector but hire certain employees “informally.”  In other words, one can define the informal economy as “firms and workers that stand outside a country’s tax and regulatory systems.

It is important to note that the informal economy is not synonymous with the black market or the underground economy. Additionally, the informal market is not necessarily illegal. However, many countries do not mandate the social benefits and protections included in the formal economy. Informal work can include a variety of jobs including street vendors, subsistence farmers, seasonal workers, industrial workers and others. Given this characterization, below are nine facts about the informal economy in Latin America.

9 Facts About the Informal Economy in Latin America

  1. A total of 140 million people work in occupations involving social vulnerability, limited rights and precarious conditions. According to the ILO, this number translates to roughly 50 percent of total employment in the region. It is a little less than the global average but more than double for the developed region.
  2. The percent of informally employed workers varies greatly across the region. Costa Rica had the lowest rate of informally employed workers as of 2013 at 30.7 percent. In addition, Guatemala had the highest at 73.6 percent.
  3. An International Monetary Fund study found four main contributing factors to the expansive informal economy in Latin America. Some of these factors include the heavy tax burden on corporations and individuals as well as minimum wage constraints. Another factor is the importance of agriculture because informal employment is much higher in the agricultural sector.
  4. Although there are poor and non-poor alike across the informal and formal sectors, empirical research has displayed that those working in the informal economy may be at a higher risk of poverty than those employed in the formal economy. The exact relationship between the informal economy and poverty is difficult to determine. This is due to a variety of circumstances that can affect poor households. For instance, the income an individual brings home may not technically be below the poverty line, however, it may not be sufficient to support five people. Regardless, informal employment is often unstable due to inconsistent wage earnings and a lack of social protection.
  5. The informal economy affects youth in Latin America. According to the International Labor Organization, there are an estimated 56 million Latin Americans in the age range of 15 to 24 in the workforce. A little over 7 million are jobless and 27 million are working informal jobs. Many quit without much of a choice as six out of the 10 jobs available to them are in the informal economy.
  6. In 2013, 44.5 percent of the non-agricultural informal employment in Latin America was male while 49.7 percent was female. However, globally males make up a higher percentage because they make up a larger portion of the workforce. In contrast, when looking across developing countries, 92 percent of all women have informal employment compared to 87 percent of all men.
  7. The informal economy in Latin America represented 34 percent of its average gross domestic product (GDP) from 2010-2017, which is higher than any other region in the world. This is true despite Latin America being in possession of one of the lower percentages of informal work, 40 percent compared to the 85.8 percent of employment in Africa.
  8. The informal economy has been reducing in Latin America and the rest of the world for the past 30 years. This could partly be due to a reduction in the challenges to register a business.
  9. Improving transit infrastructure and access to education can reduce the size of a country’s informal economy. A case study of Mexico City found that high transit costs can lead to an increase in the percentage of workers on the outskirts of cities choosing informal work. Furthermore, by improving access to cheaper and more efficient transit services, informal employment can decrease. Meanwhile, a case study in Peru showed that it is easier to obtain formal employment if one has higher education. This was true even for indigenous groups in the country who often face discrimination when entering the formal sector.

Informal work remains an ambiguous topic requiring more research. Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that the informal economy is not inherently bad. While many struggle because of their informal work, they often cannot afford the costs of transitioning to the formal sector. For instance, one may deem small businesses that have under 10 workers as informal, and therefore, they would not have to pay social benefits, thus saving them money. In other words, in some circumstances, informal workers may require additional support, but would not necessarily benefit from transitioning into the formal sector.

Scott Boyce
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Qatar borders Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf in Asia. From villages to a booming urban sector, it promotes sustainable development across a gradient continuing to flourish. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Qatar.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Qatar

  1. Oil: As the third-largest reservoir of natural resources Qatar makes up 14 percent of worldwide oil production. The reserves endure 25 trillion cubic meters. Predominantly obtaining resources in The North Field, petroleum accounts for more than half of GDP.
  2. Mowsalat: A government organization, Mowasalat, operates public transportation, limo and taxi services. It has headquarters in Doha and works throughout various communities within the region. It provides dispatch services under Karwa technologies and a variety of telecommunication amenities with regards to living conditions in Qatar.
  3. Water: Desalination contrives 99 percent of the domestic water supply. The majority of the population has access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. Groundwater is one of the main freshwater resources. The country has no rivers or lakes.
  4. People: With a population of approximately 2 million, the median age of Qatar’s inhabitants is 33 years old. Non-Arab immigrants comprise the majority with Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians and other various ethnic backgrounds. Arabic is the official language and English is a close second.
  5. Women’s Rights: Personal status laws victimize women in child custody, marriage and divorce. Male frontrunners must approve of women’s’ rights to marry. Boundaries contiguous with divorce provide unilateral rights only to men.
  6. Kafala: Kafala is a sponsorship program for migrant workers that the International Labor Organization (ILO) brought forth. Labor laws prohibit workers from leaving the country without permits with regards to living conditions in Qatar. It implements reforms for increasing minimum wage, procedures surrounding recruitment and elements against human trafficking.
  7. Reforms on Education: Reform is continually taking place in Education City to bolster and enhance sustainable development amidst Qatar’s youth and higher education. Increasing motivation and factors stem from region-specific tradition to import best practices, globalization and transnational education, global competition, local education reform policies and liberalization.
  8. Health Care: With an increasing population, free health care offerings extend to all people in the country. Life expectancy stands at approximately 79 years as of 2005. The government regulates planning and infrastructure among initiatives.
  9. Municipalities: Qatar has 10 municipalities including Jarayan al Batinah, Madinat Ash Shamal, Messaieed, Umm Salal, Ad Dawhah, Al Ghuwayriyah, Al Jumayliyah, Al Khawr, Al Wakrah and Ar Rayyan. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs controls urban planning and economic development. Municipalities are responsible for answering to councils within their region.
  10. Tourism: Doha and surrounding cities have been renovating tourism for the preparation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Tourist attractions such as Al Wakra Museum and Aspire Park provide cultural identification for living conditions in Qatar. In previous years, it has been hosting the 2006 Asian Games and the 2011 Pan Arab Games.

Rapid economic and industrial expansion began at the price of reform. Qatar has the highest per capita GDP in the world largely due to the discovery of petroleum. As a syndicate of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the country continues to develop at an alarming pace. From the racing of camels to the vastness of their sand dunes the culture derives from nomadic Bedouins.

– Zach Erlanger
Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in TajikistanTajikistan, located in Central Asia, has a population of over 8 million people. Tajikistan has borders to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. Although Tajikistan’s financial sector has made significant progress since 2000, many new advancements such as credit access are still in need of improvement. In 2017, almost 30 percent of Tajiks were living below the poverty line. Finding a solution to increase credit access in Tajikistan has become an important task for the government of Tajikistan.

Tajikistan’s Reliance on Remittances

Due to Tajikistan’s limited employment opportunities, about 90 percent of Tajiks travel out of the country for work. They often travel to the Russian Federation in search of employment. Many migrant workers send remittances back to their friends and family in Tajikistan. More than 60 percent of Tajik households reported that half of their income comes from remittances with 30 percent of Tajik households reporting that 100 percent of their income comes from remittances.

A 2010 Labor Organization study reported on how Tajik households save their income and remittances. The study found that only 23 percent of people were able to save their remittances with only 9 percent able to save at a partial amount of 21 to 40 percent of the money. When the money can be saved, it is not often for long. In fact, only 11 percent of the people were able to save their remittances for more than six months.

Income savings did slightly better. At least 63 percent reported being able to save part of their income. For example, 51 percent saved about 20 percent of their income. However, only 3 percent could save between 41-60 percent of their income. Since remittances are the main source of income in many Tajik households, money is spent on immediate needs, which results in low percentages in income saving.

Credit Access in Tajikistan

According to a 2010 International Labor Organization study, 95 percent of Tajik households do not keep their savings in financial institutions. Due to Tajikistan’s remote and unique mountainous terrain, 95 percent of Tajik households are not aware of the savings products available to them or know where financial institutions are located. Credit access in Tajikistan isn’t seen as a necessity in many Tajik households because it is very common and traditional for Tajiks to keep their savings at home. There also seems to be “a general distrust” of financial institutions.

In April 2010, the World Bank Group, with the help of the Government of Switzerland, launched the IFC Azerbaijan-Central Asia Financial Markets Infrastructure Advisory Services Project. This three-phase project is aimed at improving the financial infrastructure of Tajikistan and expanding credit for people and small businesses. This would allow for the creation of more jobs.

The project also provided financial literacy training to more than 100,000 Tajiks, which allowed Tajiks to become knowledgable about where their savings go. As a result of the IFC Azerbaijan-Central Asia Financial Markets Infrastructure Advisory Services Project, Tajikistan’s financial sector was able to establish the first private Credit Information Bureau with the help of IFC and the National Bank of Tajikistan.

These crucial advancements have led Tajikistan’s financial sector in the right direction toward improving credit access in Tajikistan as well as addressing the needs of the people of Tajikistan. With impoved credit access comes financial security, an increase in small businesses and a better economic standing.

Jocelyn Aguilar
Photo: Flickr