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Child Poverty in Nigeria
Settled on the western coast of Africa is the country of Nigeria. Despite being Africa’s wealthiest country, Nigeria is home to nearly 83 million people living in poverty. With half the country’s population comprising of people under the age of 15, poverty in Nigeria disproportionately affects children. Extreme poverty has disturbed nearly every aspect of child development including education, nutrition, safety and hygiene. These five facts about child poverty in Nigeria offer insight into the struggles that plague children living in poverty and highlight the humanitarian efforts to come in 2021.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Nigeria

  1. The majority of children in Nigeria live in poverty. According to the Harmonized Nigeria Living Standard Survey (HNLSS) in 2010, 70.3% of Nigerian children lived in poverty while 23.2% lived in extreme poverty. Those living in poverty live under the national poverty line. In Nigeria, the poverty line sits at just $381.75 USD. Despite living on such a small income, people living in poverty often still have access to government facilities for shelter, food and hygiene needs. Children living in extreme poverty, on the other hand, are not able to satisfy basic human needs like food, shelter and safety.
  2.  Only 26.5% of the country uses improved drinking water sources and sanitation facilities. Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene are extremely necessary elements to life, as they directly affect one’s health and safety. Nigeria’s small amount of sanitation facilities are predominantly located in urban areas, making them accessible to a limited amount of people. Most Nigerians live in rural areas and do not have access to these government facilities. Like most poverty-related issues, this disproportionately affects children and their health. Contaminated drinking water and unsanitary living conditions are the prime contributors to the 70,000 annual deaths of children under the age of 5 due to waterborne illnesses.
  3. Nigerian children have poor access to education. Despite a national mandate for compulsory education, 10.5 million children do not receive formal schooling. Many children do not attend school because they work to support their families. Meanwhile, other children do not go to school because armed conflict has severely affected or destroyed their schools. Poor funding, lack of teachers and long commutes are among other reasons so many children do not attend school in Nigeria. Out of the 10 million mentioned, 60% of those without access to education are girls. This, unfortunately, frequently subjects young girls to child marriage, poverty and gendered roles that limit their potential as citizens.
  4. Millions are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. In 2020, UNICEF estimated that 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition, making 32% of children under 5 stunted or severely impaired. Currently, only about two out of every 10 malnourished children receive medical treatment.
  5. Only 16% of children in rural areas have full immunizations. Routine immunization continues to be a struggle for the children of Nigeria, specifically in inaccessible rural areas. Immunization efforts have decreased significantly over the years, and unfortunately, diseases that had previously undergone eradication have returned to the country.

UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children Appeal

With the COVID-19 pandemic devastating developing countries like Nigeria, the child poverty rates are only increasing. In response to this worsening crisis, UNICEF has created a comprehensive plan of humanitarian efforts in Nigeria and a list of goals for 2021.

Malnutrition and Disease

Malnutrition continues to be one of the leading causes of death for children in Nigeria. Food insecurity plagues rural regions of the country where government facilities are not accessible. To combat this crisis, by the end of 2021, UNICEF plans to admit 386,926 children under the age of 5 to UNICEF health facilities for severe acute malnutrition treatment.

Due to the worsening disease rates, UNICEF will be working with the Nigerian government to implement routine immunization efforts. These efforts will focus on rural areas as these are the regions that have the lowest percentage of vaccinations and see the least amount of service aid from the government. UNICEF projects this plan will result in 385,196 children receiving vaccinations against measles.

Sanitation

Contaminated water and unsanitary living conditions have been major contributors to child deaths in Nigeria. In 2021, UNICEF will focus on improving sanitary conditions and access to clean water in rural areas. UNICEF plans to focus these efforts on gender and disability sensitivity. In 2021, an estimated 850,000 people will receive access to clean water and sanitation facilities that are gender-specific and disability-friendly. In more rural, inaccessible areas, an additional 1.9 million people will obtain education on hygiene practices and receive hygiene tools and/or money for hygiene tools.

Education

As for education, UNICEF’s 2021 action plan accounts for access to formal or non-formal schooling for 1,345,145 children. In addition, 1,000 schools will implement infection prevention protocols and almost 700,000 children will receive individual learning materials. Education is vital to the UNICEF plan as it is the greatest resource for long-term progress and gives children the greatest chance to leave poverty later in life.

This comprehensive plan has the potential to bring essential humanitarian aid to 4.3 million people, including over 2 million Nigerian children that until now, have seen little to no aid due to the region where they live.

– Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in ArmeniaHundreds of thousands of civilians fled in search of safety when violence broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, 2020. Following these first violent clashes, organizations stepped up to provide humanitarian assistance for displaced civilians arriving in the capital Yerevan. The extensive damage to infrastructure and disruption of daily life, coupled with a harsh winter climate and COVID-19, will require help from the international aid community for many months to come. One area that this incoming aid will go to is mental health education and support. In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that one in five people in conflict-affected areas lives with a mental health issue. The longer a person lives with acute stress, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the more difficult it is for them to successfully secure basic needs. Aid groups are addressing the issue of mental health in Armenia with various programs.

Mental Health Support for Armenia

The Armenian Red Cross Society is providing humanitarian assistance to help people with basic necessities. This includes psychosocial support for returning soldiers and civilians. As of late December 2020, it had provided around 1,000 psychological services to wounded soldiers and their families.

The International Medical Corps, another emergency aid response group, is working with the Armenian Ministry of Health to assess current needs. In October 2020, the organization expressed its plans to provide training in psychological first aid for frontline healthcare workers. The organization will also provide mental health and psychosocial assistance to people who need it.

UNICEF Addresses Child Trauma

The UNICEF Armenia team and a local arts and music school called the Nexus Center for the Arts offer art and music-based support groups. These support groups give children and teenagers a chance to express themselves without having to talk. UNICEF reported testimonials of students who upon arriving were too afraid to open up but after participating in the support groups felt ready to talk about the trauma they had experienced. The groups also give students a chance to hang out, decompress and enjoy music in a comfortable and safe environment.

To help school teachers, UNICEF partnered with several civil society organizations to teach them how to address trauma in the classroom. UNICEF offered virtual lessons on trauma-informed teaching. The lessons gave 150 school psychologists and 900 public school teachers the skills to work in high-pressure situations and strategies to provide better psychological support to their students.

UNICEF Armenia also put together a psychological first aid guide. This guide has clear and concise information on how to respond to children in a mental health crisis. It emphasizes the importance of responding to children in an age-appropriate and individualized way.

The Increased Need for Mental Health Support in Armenia

Mental health in Armenia, especially following the conflict, is an issue that requires prioritization. The conflict and displacements have left 39,000 children out of school. The trauma caused by displacement has affected children in multiple ways. Ensuring the well-being of these children is a top priority for UNICEF and other organizations addressing mental health in Armenia. The hope is that these initiatives will combat the negative impacts of traumatic experiences in conflict-ridden areas like Nagorno-Karabakh.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

HPV Vaccines in Laos

Despite the changing direction of attention away from other illnesses and towards COVID since the beginning of 2020, Laos has made significant forward strides regarding HPV (human papillomavirus) and Laotian health. In March 2020, the program for HPV vaccines in Laos was founded as an active response to the high number of deaths due to cervical cancer. In Laos, at least 320 women are infected with HPV every year; 182 or around half of the sufferers die from the illness. The vaccines were first distributed in a high school in the Xaythany District in Vientiane Capital. Schools across the country administered the vaccinations shortly afterward to increase HPV prevention in 360,000 girls from the ages of 10 to 14.

Why Does This Matter?

The new vaccination program is significant considering that cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Laos. It is also second-highest cancer to cause premature death or disability next to liver cancer. Furthermore, Laos is the eighth Southeast Asian country to have high rates of cervical cancer according to an age-standardized graph. More middle-aged women from the ages of 40 to 64 years old are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year: 197 a year compared to 62 older women and 61 younger women. Of the 197 middle-aged women who contract cervical cancer, 101 of those women die from the disease.

Logistics of the New Vaccines

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the government both contributed to the price of the HPV vaccines in Laos. UNICEF helped the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Education and Sports to implement the vaccination of adolescent girls. The government vaccinates girls early on to battle HPV as a preventative measure as opposed to treating it at advanced stages later on in life. The vaccines work to prevent the infection of two strains of HPV, 16 and 18, which cause 70% of all cervical cancer cases due to HPV.

Vientiane Vaccinations

This is not the first time that there have been HPV vaccines in Laos. They were first introduced in 2013 as part of a demonstration of the vaccine’s effectiveness. The vaccines were confined within the Vientiane province until 2015 when the government completed the demonstration successfully. This most recent round of vaccinations was the first time the HPV vaccine was produced nationally.

Increasing Rate of HPV Vaccination

HPV vaccination in Southeast Asia is relatively new. Most countries are giving priority vaccination to illnesses like DTP (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) and measles. These illnesses are also the three garnering the most vaccinations worldwide. Because HPV is a newer vaccine for low and middle-income countries, there is still much to be done about the vaccination process. For example, low and middle-income countries still experience a dropout in between the first and final doses of HPV. This leaves many women at risk. Still, due to GAVI’s implementation and increasingly lower prices, countries like Laos can expect a decrease in cervical cancer fatalities.

HPV is a serious, cancer-causing infection afflicting countries all over the world. Fortunately, Laos is keeping up with other low and middle-income countries with their vaccination program. With the help of GAVI and UNICEF, Laos can increase vaccine availability and effectively combat one of the deadliest cancers in the country.

Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Thailand
Mental health has been a hot topic recently, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thailand is one country that has been struggling with mental health. As of 2019, Thailand has had a population of about 70 million with a substantial number experiencing mental illness. Here is some information about mental health in Thailand.

The Situation

According to Deputy Health Minister Dr. Surawith Konsomboon, the most common diseases in Thailand are psychosis, anxiety disorders, depression and apoplexy. In a Department of Mental Health study from 2012, Konsomboon found that about 20% of the Thai population has struggled with some type of mental illness. Additionally, projections have determined that this number will grow each year.

Health Care System

Thailand’s current mental health policy emerged in 1995, which includes advocacy, promotion, treatment and rehabilitation. Its plan was to promote maintaining one’s mental health and preventing future mental health issues while forming new treatment services.

Thailand’s universal health coverage started in 2002. The intent was for care to be affordable, yet many extra costs exist with certain treatments. The government and private and non-governmental sectors now provide psychiatric services to give services for mental health in Thailand.

However, many hospitals are facing issues with having too many patients, a lack of staff members and under-financing from their government. This creates difficulties in providing quality care to their patients and having enough funding to do their job effectively.

Young People and Mental Health Discussions

According to interviews that UNICEF performed, adolescents feel that mental health in Thailand does not receive the attention it requires. Many people do not have access to services and information that they need in order to understand and manage their emotions and thoughts. This creates many difficulties including negative perceptions and stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

The risks of developing mental health struggles are especially high for those who are facing poverty, discrimination and violence. UNICEF explained how adolescents wish that there was an open space with their families and friends to talk about the things that they are struggling with instead of bottling their feelings up and keeping it to themselves.

These feelings of stress and depression have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people are fearful of getting the virus, stressed about the transition to online school and work and loneliness from social distancing. This is especially true for those who do not have a solid financial situation and are worried about their employment.

Contributing Factors

A wide gap exists between the rich and the poor in Thailand, contributing to societal pressures and judgment. Living in poverty has a negative effect on one’s mental health, as financial crises can lead to an increase in stress regarding supporting one’s family.

High expectations in Thai culture have also added pressure to the lives of young people, which can weigh them down as time goes on. Feeling the need to be perfect in college and supporting one’s family can be a key part of poor mental health in Thailand.

On the bright side, Thailand has been working to reduce its rate of poverty over the past few decades. In 1988, over 65% of people were living in poverty. As of 2018, this rate decreased to under 10%. This process is still in effect, and the number continues to decrease.

Progress

Many causes and influences have contributed to struggles regarding mental health in Thailand, including societal pressures and poverty. Adolescents feel this pressure through their experiences in school and work as they are trying to build a life for themselves while making their family proud. However, the Ministry of Public Health has goals to expand its mental health services. It hopes to increase children’s emotional intelligence and decrease the suicide rate in Thailand through its efforts.

Over the past two decades, the Ministry of Public Health has emphasized developing systematic and effective technology which will be able to improve health programs. Thailand is also incorporating mental health care into community services, prison services and psychiatric rehabilitation. The efforts in laying down these foundations have been raising the quality of services that the country provides.

– Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Yemen
The story of Yemen has been more bitter than sweet in recent years. A multinational proxy war that has become disguised as a civil war has landed the country into the illustrious label of “worst humanitarian crisis.” While many experts understand the deep-rooted complexity of the Yemeni disaster, few acknowledge the many equitable woes, such as human trafficking, that have emerged from the other larger issues. The numbers on human trafficking in Yemen are very unclear due to the lawlessness throughout the country but NGOs reported many Yemeni populations being at risk because of the armed conflict and economic conditions. Whether it be a migrant in search of work or a soldier fighting in the conflict, the voyage is dangerous and the process is unfair.

Human Trafficking and African Migrants

Saudi Arabia has the largest economy out of all the Arab states due to its large petroleum reserves. This attracts many migrants from east Africa, specifically Somalia and Ethiopia, who are searching for opportunities that are harder to come by in their own countries. In order to reach Saudi Arabia, they have to cross the Red Sea into Yemen and travel north to the border which requires a complex network of smugglers to organize travel and get them entry into the Saudi Arabian border. Approximately 138,000 people, mostly Ethiopians, crossed the Red Sea in 2019. However, those numbers reduced in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conflict in Yemen has allowed these smugglers to thrive from the lawlessness. But the conflict adds an increased level of danger and those individuals who decide to make the trek across the Red Sea and through Yemen must put themselves at the mercy of a smuggler. Additionally, the fighting along the border, as well as road closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have made it difficult to get into Saudi Arabia. As a result, many end up having to stay in Yemen with no money or communication with family back home.

Houthi Control

Some migrants get close to reaching the Saudi Arabian border in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen but if Houthis catch them, they frequently have to remain in Yemen with very few ways of leaving. Migrants that Houthis catch experience arrest and must pay an “exit fee” for which they can then go back down south to the edge of Houthi control. At this point, they do not have money or work and thus become stuck in Yemen.

Some migrants face even worse fates if Houthis catch them. Upon arrival, many go to Yemeni detention centers where they wait for their family back home to send a ransom while they experience torture and abuse.

Human Trafficking and Soldier Recruitment

Internationally denounced, many Yemeni end up fighting in the ongoing conflict, with Saudi Arabia having a large role in the recruiting. Recruiters receive pay for each person they send to the Saudi Arabian border, but oftentimes those who undergo recruitment are young soldiers who live in tough circumstances making it easy for others to exploit them. The situation has received the description of “a trafficking of youth souls at the port, just like livestock.”

Recruits end up in terrible conditions and they have to fight to survive. Once they arrive at the recruitment camp, they can only leave if they obtain an injury or participate in a collective protest. Additionally, they can experience detention in prisons if they try to escape. At one point, Houthi forces bombed a prison with detainees that attempted to escape the fighting, resulting in the detainees’ deaths. For many, the only option for escape is to pay a smuggler. This dangerous cycle for a recruited soldier makes human trafficking in Yemen a lucrative business.

Actions to Stop Human Trafficking in Yemen

Because of the lack of control Yemen has over its own country due to the conflict, poor economy, lack of basic institutions and many other problems, it is not taking enough tangible steps to help curb the business of human trafficking. However, one small group battling the problem is the Yemen Organization for Combating Human Trafficking, which emerged in 2009.

Responses from the international community and the U.S. government are the most crucial in helping stop the problem. UNICEF published a paper focused on the issue and the policy proposals that it has determined would be the most effective. Those proposals focused on eliminating the supply and demand of the trafficking business as well as recommending governmental responses both regionally and around the world that would target families vulnerable to trafficking.

The Yemeni government repeatedly recognizes this as a problem and has made anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts but it is clear that it requires more attention. Until more international involvement with a focus on diplomatic steps to bring peace to Yemen emerges, human trafficking will thrive under the chaos. President Biden recently announced the U.S. would be ending support to Saudi Arabia for its offensive efforts in Yemen. One will have to wait and see whether that will have any significant impact on bringing peace to the country and curbing the demand for human trafficking. However, at least it is one positive stride in comparison to other approaches thus far.

– Stephen Blake Illes
Photo: Flickr

Côte d’Ivoire Health Care
Côte d’Ivoire health care has faced challenges in recent years and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2020 Helen Keller International report, Moriame Sidibé, a mom and homemaker from northern Côte d’Ivoire was a “Vitamin A Hero” because every six months for the past three years she spent three full days walking door to door and village to village to give young children Vitamin A and deworming pills. Sidibé faced challenges because sometimes she needed to convince mothers of the importance and safety of the pills, coax the children to swallow the pills and mark the children’s fingers with black ink so she would not accidentally give them a second pill.

Sidibé left her own four young children to do this, but it was worth it to her because she has training as a community health volunteer who is part of a collaboration between the Ivorian government, Helen Keller International, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Nutritional International fighting the extreme form of malnutrition in children called micronutrient deficiency or “hidden hunger.”

The Situation

Twenty-five percent of Ivorian children get enough calories, but not foods with sufficient Vitamin A, zinc, iodine or iron.  That “hidden hunger” puts one in four Ivorian children at risk of blindness, impaired brain development and some fatal infections. Deworming pills kill the parasites that prevent children from absorbing micronutrients including Vitamin A, and together the deworming pills and the Vitamin A can save children’s lives. In December 2019, the campaign reached 5 million children or 98% of all Ivorian children, an incredible accomplishment of a ministry of health working with international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and trained community health volunteers.

Côte d’Ivoire, the West African nation of 25 million, enjoyed a strong 8% average GDP growth between 2011 and 2018. According to the World Bank, the country had one of the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa due to an expanded middle class that supported demand in industry, agriculture and services. The Côte d’Ivoire health care indicators, however, lagged behind other less-developed nations, and in 2018, Côte d’Ivoire ranked 165 of 189 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index.

As noted in a 2020 Oxford Business Group report, planned increases in health care spending should improve these indicators. Côte d’Ivoire spent $1.8 billion on health care in 2016, $2 billion in 2019 and intends to spend $2.3 billion in 2021. The country invested in access to services, renovation and building of medical facilities, and development of technical platforms aligned with international health standards. The Ivorian government worked with a number of programs like the Helen Keller International Vitamin A Heroes; however, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Despite COVID, Côte d’Ivoire Health Care Initiatives Regroup to Persevere

Based on the World Health Organization COVID-19 transmission guidance, the Vitamin A Heroes collaboration discontinued its door-to-door campaign. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, the campaign has resolutely distributed Vitamin A and deworming pills at local health clinics when children come with their families for other reasons. Once the pandemic subsides, it will renew its crucial Vitamin A Heroes campaign.

Predicted to Rebound Post COVID and Target Health Care

Côte d’Ivoire’s pre-COVID targeted investment in health care services, facilities and technical innovation gives Côte d’Ivoire health care a positive outlook according to the Oxford Business Group report. The International Monetary Fund predicts that Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP growth will climb back up to 8.7% in 2021 as the new investment in Côte d’Ivoire health care parallels the successful investment in other sectors.

Moving Forward, Côte d’Ivoire to Roll Out Planned Health Care Initiatives

One example of a Côte d’Ivoire health care collaboration of governmental, NGO and local organizations that launched during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is Harness the Power of Partnerships. Harness the Power of Partnerships is a Côte d’Ivoire health care initiative to use faith-based organizations in the HIV response. Faith-based leadership is working with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) on long-term strategies to reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS and to keep Ivorians on their antiretroviral therapies. This PEPFAR/UNAIDS program exemplifies how the Ivorian government continues to partner with non-government groups, including local groups, in order to improve Côte d’Ivoire health care indicators.

Improving Côte d’Ivoire health care will not be an easy task, but creating collaborations with international powerhouses like PEPFAR, UNAIDS, Helen Keller International and local nonprofits and community leaders is definitely a strategy worth watching as COVID-19  subsides and the Ivorian economy rebounds.

– Shelly Saltzman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Human Trafficking in El Salvador
Over the last decade, Central America has been notorious for drug cartels and a hotspot for human trafficking. The country also has an enriching culture with people who deserve a fighting chance at eradicating human trafficking in El Salvador.

According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, El Salvador has a Tier 2 status, meaning the government is striving to eradicate human trafficking but does not fully meet the minimum standards for complete elimination. El Salvador recorded 124 victims in comparison to 74 victims in 2019. The main demographic of human trafficking victims in El Salvador are minors and women, or more specifically, minors and women who are immigrants and have no legal documents.

Improving Investigations into Human Trafficking in El Salvador

In November 2019, the “Reginal Seminar on Investigation Techniques and Protection of Victims of Trafficking in Persons” met with experts from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the countries that make up the Northern Central America Triangle. The main goal was to improve practices regarding investigations into human trafficking, especially in relation to its transnational nature.

“In El Salvador, more than 1,000 members of the police have been trained through 45 workshops and seminars — lasting from two to five days — hosted by international organizations like Save the Children, World Police Agency Interpol, UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration, and others,” said Jaime Armando Lopez and Xiomara Orellana, journalists covering the human trafficking rates in El Salvador, published in an Insight Crime article.

Training includes a manual that organizations such as Save the Children, World Police Agency Interpol, UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration and others provide to inform officers of what a typical victim may look like and how to assess the situation so as to prevent others from becoming trafficking victims. The officers also receive training on how to report trafficking so as to eradicate it.

According to the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2020, the anti-trafficking council implemented 19 offices in 15 municipalities to inform about human trafficking and aid victims. Additionally, El Salvador’s 2018 Inter-Institutional Action Protocol for the Immediate Comprehensive Care of Trafficking Victims provided an outline regarding what government agencies’ responsibilities in responding to trafficking victims should be.

Continuing Efforts

Aid continues to flow towards eradicating human trafficking in El Salvador. Officials received training in order to educate and equip each officer with the right tools to handle any situation that may involve a trafficking victim. They are aiming to provide legal frameworks around protecting minors who are child laborers or trafficking victims.

El Salvador, and many Central American countries, are continuing their fight against human trafficking. Eradicating human trafficking seems like a long-haul but setting preventative measures as well as post-care can encourage others to educate and help those who may be victims of trafficking.

“According to El Salvador’s national child protection council, the country’s capital only has one shelter exclusively for underage trafficking victims. Across the country, there are 15 offices that deal with human trafficking cases in different provinces. There are few places where survivors of human trafficking can receive specialized attention in the Northern Triangle,” said Jaime Armando Lopez and Xiomara Orellana of Insight Crime.

Steps to eradicate human trafficking in El Salvador should be more aggressive as victims have become widespread between those who are minors, undocumented women and victims of domestic abuse. El Salvador has limited shelters, but it is essential that more are within reach for victims.

– Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in SudanAlthough six African states issued legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation, the north African state of Sudan was lagging behind in these efforts. Female genital mutilation ( FGM) was illegal in some Sudanese states but the bans were widely ignored. Under the leadership of Omar al-Bashir, parliament rejected recommendations to ban the practice.

Female Genital Mutilation

FGM is defined as procedures that deliberately alter or cause injury to female genital organs. It is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and adolescence and occasionally performed on adult women. These procedures are nonmedical and provide no health benefits, only harm to the female. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, therefore, it interferes with the natural functions of the female body.

The reasons behind FGM vary between regions due to a mix of sociocultural factors. The procedure is routinely executed by a midwife without anesthesia. There are four types of FGM. Type one is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Type two is the removal of the clitoris and inner labia. Type three is the removal of all the external genitalia or narrowing of the vaginal opening. Type four is any other type of damage to the female genitalia, such as burning, scraping or piercing.

Females experience either short-term or long-term effects. The short-term effects include severe pain, excessive bleeding (hemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infections, wound healing issues. The more dangerous and life-altering long-term effects include urinary problems, menstrual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, the need for later surgeries or psychological problems.

According to UNICEF, 87% of Sudanese women aged between 14 and 49 have undergone a form of FGM. FGM is also more prevalent among the poorest women.

Actions to End Female Genital Mutilation

In 2008, the National Council of Child Welfare and UNICEF joined together to launch the Saleema Initiative, which focused on abandoning FGM at a community level.  The initiative educated women about the health risks and encouraged females to say no to the procedure.

Additionally, the United Nations General Assembly took action in 2012 by calling on the international community to enhance efforts to end FGM. In 2015, the global community agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include a target under Goal 5 to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation by 2030.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is addressing the issue by implementing guidelines, tools, training and policy to allow healthcare providers the opportunity to offer medical care and counseling to females suffering the effects of FGM.  The WHO also aims at generating knowledge to encourage the abandonment of the FGM procedures. One final measure by the WHO is increased advocacy through publications and tools for policymakers.

Criminalizing Female Genital Mutilation in Sudan

In May 2020, the Sudanese Government criminalized FGM and made it punishable by up to three years in prison. But, experts remain concerned that a law is not sufficient in ending the practice due to religious and cultural ties to the procedure.

The sociocultural and religious ties surrounding female genital mutilation in Sudan complicate attempts to end the practice. Criminalizing FGM in Sudan may not be enough to end the practice. The National Council of Child Welfare, UNICEF, the United Nations General Assembly and the WHO are taking major steps to eliminate FGM or assist those already affected by the practice.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr

Child Refugees in MexicoIn recent years, Mexico has become an increasingly significant place of asylum. More than 70,000 refugees have submitted asylum applications in 2019, and despite an initial drop in applications in 2020 due to the pandemic, COVID-19 claims for asylum in December 2020 hit a record high. The well-being of child refugees in Mexico is of particular concern.

Child Refugees in Mexico

People are arriving in Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela in search of safety, local integration, Mexican residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. In 2020, one in five refugees were children. With such alarming demographics, it has been essential for Mexico to address its overwhelming influx of asylum-seekers and find solutions to protect those vulnerable, especially children.

COVID-19 has heightened poverty among child migrants. Child refugees in Mexico are escaping forced recruitment, gang violence and crime that is a daily reality in their Central American countries. This has resulted in displacement, food scarcity and poverty. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of insecurity amongst these children have only increased, with about 5,000 children (60% unaccompanied) returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

COVID-19 has devastated children and families as extended lockdowns, school closures, stalled essential economic activities, neglected migrant reparations and rising violence has escalated vulnerability. Children seeking asylum are most affected by the virus due to the lack of access to safe water, sanitation and other essential services. Restricted access to international protection and regular migration pathways are other obstacles they are facing as they search for safety.

UNICEF has responded with efforts guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action that focus on providing 2.3 million children and their families, including children affected by human mobility,  protection from the exposure of COVID-19.

Trump Policy Endangers Child Refugees

Since the Trump administration’s 2019 Remain-in-Mexico program, 70,000 non-Mexican refugees have been waiting in asylum camps for their U.S. court hearings in northern Mexico. Within this group, 700 children have crossed the U.S. border alone as their parents wanted them to escape the terrible camp conditions and show themselves to U.S. border officials since unaccompanied minors cannot be returned to Mexico under U.S. policy and law.

CBS News reported that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been able to house all children who had left their parents in Mexico and 643 of them have been released to family members in the U.S. Although this is good news, the Justice Action Center has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its plan to deport children with circumstances like these, threatening their safety if they go back to their home country. The NGO, Human Rights First, has complied more than 1,300 reports of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and assault against migrants returned by the U.S.

Mexico Enlists Reforms to Protect Child Refugees

As of November 2020, Mexico has approved reforms that apply to children in all migration contexts, accompanied or not. The reform will put an end to immigration detention centers for boys and girls and instead will be referred to alternative accommodation. It will also allow international protection and eligibility for temporary humanitarian visas to prevent deportation or return until the migrant child’s best interest can be resolved.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is collaborating with associated government agencies, U.N. sister agencies and civil society organizations to certify that referral procedures and appropriate shelter capacity are arranged.

Mexico’s Solidarity Plants Seeds for Progress

For a country that has been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants desperately seeking asylum, Mexico has responded with compassion and an assertion to reform its immigration policy. This combined with other humanitarian efforts will provide monumental aid and help eradicate the suffering of child refugees in Mexico.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Vulnerable Children in KenyaOrganizations like UNICEF and ACAKORO have been providing educational resources to Kenyan students despite the immense difficulties in the country due to COVID-19 and 2020’s locust invasion. On March 15, 2020, the Kenyan Government forced schools to shut down due to COVID-19. Due to school closures, millions of students risk losing out on education during the pandemic. Organizations stepped in to provide resources, remote learning services and sanitation facilities to vulnerable children in Kenya.

Education in Kenya

Over the past decade, poverty in Kenya has improved due to the country meeting many of its Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals are goals created by the United Nations to help underdeveloped nations improve and one of these goals is to achieve universal primary education. A key issue that Kenya needs to address is education disparities. According to a UNICEF study conducted in 2014, low educational attainment of the household head and living in rural areas is the highest indicator that predicts child poverty.

Impoverished children struggle to gain an education. More than 1.2 million primary-school-age children do not attend school. Even more vulnerable children like orphans have increased susceptibility to experiencing education disparities.

Employment in Kenya

Young people in search of employment experience difficulties finding a job that lifts them out of poverty. Only 1% of Kenyan youth have a university education and many young people are entering a job market with few hirable skills. A whole 40% of the youth in Kenya either did not go to school or failed to complete primary education and the largest percentage of people unemployed in Kenya is represented by those aged between 15 and 24. Higher education in Kenya is expensive and not accessible to disadvantaged children.

UNICEF Provides Aid

Nationwide access to quality education is key in reducing poverty and investing in the futures of vulnerable children in Kenya. UNICEF alleviated education burdens during the COVID-19 crisis by providing remote learning to students and giving solar-powered radios and textbooks to vulnerable families. Through UNICEF’s solar-powered radios, 40,000 vulnerable children were reached with educational resources that are necessary for remote learning. On December 23, 2020, UNICEF provided 700,000 masks to be distributed in time for schools to reopen on January 4, 2021. Improved access to sanitation is an ongoing issue, and due to the pandemic, the need for sanitation is of crucial importance. UNICEF foresaw the issue and provided handwashing facilities to hundred of schools.

ACAKORO

ACAKORO is a community-based organization, supported by UNICEF, that uses football as a tool for development. ACAKORO works with the community of the Korogocho slum and has been tutoring vulnerable children during COVID-19 so that they can continue their learning. UNICEF is also supporting the government and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) with remote learning and getting schools ready to reopen safely.

The Kenya Jua Kali Voucher Programme

The Kenya Jua Kali Voucher Programme, implemented between 1997 and 2001, was a revolutionary comprehensive policy designed to provide vulnerable youth with vouchers to pay for training courses. A similar modern-day strategy can be put in place in order to address the lack of access to essential education in Kenya. Providing equal access to education for all children in Kenya is essential to lift people out of poverty.

Organizations such as UNICEF and ACAKORO are addressing education-related disparities amid the pandemic, thereby addressing overall poverty in the nation.

– Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr