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Child Marriage in Niger 
Niger, one of the largest countries in West Africa, holds the highest rate of child marriages compared to the rest of the world. In fact, 75% of young girls marry before turning 18. This is because the nation’s legal marital age is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. Although Niger has made efforts to reduce child marriage, the country has noted only minimal progress in the last 20 years. As a result, many consequences have arisen from child marriage.

Why Does Niger Have a High Child Marriage Rate?

First, child marriage in Niger harshly affects girls deprived of attending school because they need to rely on others to survive. In addition, many young girls choose to drop out of school because of the unsafe learning environments. As a result, they cannot live an independent life due to the lack of income and confidence to make rational decisions. Due to few other options for their futures, many families decide to marry their daughters off for financial stability.

According to the World Bank, Niger has a poverty rate of 42.9%. However, Niger’s population continues to increase, causing the number of people in poverty to grow. Currently, many families are struggling financially, so they view child marriage as a way to alleviate their financial burdens. Because of this, marriage becomes “a strategy for economic survival” due to the lack of social protection, according to Save the Children.

Moreover, child marriage in Niger is common because many communities believe a woman’s purpose is to become a housewife and bear children. Due to this belief, families tend to prioritize the education of sons over daughters. To add, marrying young is a way that Niger communities attempt to prevent pregnancy before marriage, which is “a source of shame for the family,” Save the Children reports.

Consequences of Child Marriage in Niger

Although families aim to avoid pregnancy before marriage and look for financial stability by marrying their daughters off at a young age, this only causes more damage in the long run. For example, without education, young girls are unaware of the risks of early pregnancy. In fact, these young girls are at greater risk because 30% of the young girls show signs of malnutrition. As a result, “maternal mortality constitutes 35% of all adolescent deaths between ages 15 and 19,” according to Save the Children.

Not only do women face physical challenges but they also face mental health challenges caused by marrying at a young age. This is because young girls have to abruptly transition to adult life and take on responsibilities they are not mentally prepared to tackle. They are still at an age that requires guidance from a guardian. In a BMC Public Health study, many Nigerian girls expressed emotional distress and depression due to fulfilling their marital responsibilities and sexual demands from their husbands.

Due to the common practice of child marriage in Niger, young girls do not have the opportunity to have a childhood and face threats to their lives and health. For instance, some experience domestic violence and cannot return to school to escape these living conditions. Unfortunately, young married girls “have worse economic health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which are eventually passed down [sic] to their own children,” UNICEF reported.

How is Niger Receiving Help to End Child Marriage?

UNICEF is working to help implement laws and policies to help end child marriage and work within Nigerian communities to address the social norms that encourage child marriage. UNICEF partnered with the Niger Traditional Leaders and Association and the Islamic Congregation because they are well respected in their communities and can create new rules for people to follow.

Due to these advocacy efforts, the Niger Government created a national action plan, “Towards the End of Child Marriage in Niger,” that convenes every month to discuss what the community needs to do to advocate for better treatment of young boys and girls. Fortunately, “Education sessions by the Village Child Protection Committees were able to prevent cases of child marriage through direct mediation with parents and assisted girls to return to school,” UNICEF reported.

Lastly, Plan International Niger is helping girls establish confidence to fight child marriage in their communities. As a result, the young girls are using their voices and asking their leaders to end child marriage and provide them with an education to gain independence through employment. The Plan International Niger placed child protection committees throughout Niger and provided them with the tools to protect the rights of young girls to ensure change.

Child marriage is common in Niger, but it has far-reaching negative impacts on girls, such as emotional stress and depression. To add, young girls are at risk of domestic violence and pregnancy complications due to their age and malnutrition. These young girls have to become adults at an early age, which strips them of their childhood experiences. Fortunately, many young Nigerian girls are receiving help in an attempt to end the cycle of child marriage.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

Child Malnutrition in Chad
Chad, a country located in Central Africa, faces one of the highest levels of child malnutrition worldwide. A meta-analysis of child malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa from 2006 to 2016 found that 39.9% of children in Chad suffered from stunting and 28.8% were underweight. Extreme weather events and conflict in the country exacerbate food insecurity, making it more difficult for many families to provide adequate, nutritious diets for their children. To help improve children’s health and reduce food insecurity, four recent initiatives are tackling child malnutrition in Chad.

Scaling Up Nutrition

Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) is an organization that collaborates with low- and middle-income countries’ governments to organize malnutrition prevention efforts. In 2017, SUN developed partnerships with five civil society organizations in Chad focused on improving nutrition. SUN has also established six local Civil Society Alliance offices across different provinces of the country. With SUN’s support, these organizations adopted nutrition as an integral part of their development plans. SUN has also trained and mobilized 35 radio presenters and journalists for nutrition communication, who continue to help raise awareness on malnutrition across the country.

Collaboration with UNICEF and the UK

Through its Department for International Development, the U.K. committed £4 million to a collaboration with UNICEF to reduce acute malnutrition in Chad in 2018 and 2019. Using this grant, UNICEF provided therapeutic milk, Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food and essential drugs to 58,670 children across 20 provinces nationwide.

UNICEF also used the DFID grant to develop more sanitary and hygienic health centers, improving 30 facilities across the country. This development benefited an estimated 40,000 mothers and caregivers of children suffering from acute malnutrition.

Zafaye West Health Center

A nutrition project that UNICEF and the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sponsored supports the Zafaye West Health Center. The project selected N’Djamena, where the health center is located, as a priority province in Chad for nutrition aid because a 2019 survey detected a high prevalence of acute malnutrition in the area.

Community volunteers from the center travel door-to-door to reach out to mothers, encouraging them to visit the health center to check up on their children’s health and engage in educational campaigns. The campaigns educate mothers on the importance of balanced diets for their children and teach them nutrient-dense, affordable recipes to prepare. The nutrition project has saved 43,000 children, located within the six target provinces it serves, from acute malnutrition as of June 2021.

The World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme is an organization that provides food assistance across more than 80 countries worldwide. WFP helps provide nutritious meals to 120,000 school children in the Sahel, the region of Africa where Chad is located. The organization also feeds 15,000 children in the Lake Chad region through an emergency school meal program.

In addition, WFP helps prevent child malnutrition in Chad among 6-month-olds to 2-year-olds by providing cash-based nutrition support to their families. This support provides families with more stable access to nutrient-dense foods.

Although many children in Chad currently face malnutrition, these four initiatives are making progress in eradicating this issue. With this support, child malnutrition in Chad may decline in the years to come.

– Aimée Eicher
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Lebanon
Children living in Lebanon have been experiencing the full impact of the weakened economy in the country. Due to the Beirut explosion and the collapse of the Lebanese pound, child poverty has been on the rise in Lebanon. Child’s education, health and protection have become difficult to acquire.

The Deterioration of the Economy

Lebanon has struggled with its economy for a while due to its reliance on foreign imports and the limited exports coming from its country. As of 2021, Lebanon has failed to see economic growth, but the government is continuing to borrow money from other countries.

In addition, Lebanon’s government consists of 18 politicians of different religious denominations, such as Christian and Muslim. Because of this, Lebanon is susceptible to interference from other countries. As a result, Lebanon has become “one of the world’s largest debt burdens as a result of years of inefficiency, waste and corruption,” according to Reuters.

Moreover, in October 2019, the Lebanese pound began to lose its value due to the shortage of foreign currency in their commercial banks. This caused high-interest rates, leading to the emergence of a black market. Because there is an absence of taxes on the transactions and the government is not aware of the activity happening in the black market, this harms the economy.

While Lebanon was struggling economically, an explosion in Beirut worsened its situation. For instance, on August 4, 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in agricultural fertilizers and bombs, exploded throughout the city of Beirut. Due to this, the air filled with dust, causing concern about the toxins people were consuming in the air.

Unfortunately, the explosion killed 140, wounded 5,000 and displaced 300,000. Of those 300,000, 100,000 of them were children, as UNICEF reported.

About Child Poverty in Lebanon

Due to the deterioration of the economy, Lebanon’s poverty rate has doubled from 42% to 82% between 2019 to 2021. As a result, many families cannot afford basic necessities for their children because of inflation, thus increasing child poverty in Lebanon. These families face shortages of food, water and electricity in their homes. Under these circumstances, many children have no choice but to skip meals, according to the OWP.

In addition, “34% of children were not able to receive necessary primary health care,” the OWP reported. In fact, many families need to access water through private providers at a cost because water from public works is insufficient to drink.

Child poverty in Lebanon leads to children living in conditions where they cannot grow and thrive. As economic inequality increases, children become susceptible to child marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Education in Lebanon

Additionally, many children do not have the option to attend school anymore because of the Beirut explosion. Unfortunately, the explosion damaged 163 schools, leaving children struggling to obtain an education through other means.

Due to the lack of technology and internet connectivity, many children cannot participate in remote learning activities. As families endure the hardships brought upon by the explosion, families are resorting to  “sending their children to work in often dangerous and hazardous conditions, marrying off their daughters or selling their belongings,” said UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, Yukie Mokuo.

To avoid child marriages and selling their belongings, children need to work. Many of them work in agriculture, metalworking or factories under inhumane conditions. Addressing child poverty in Lebanon, the government signed the ILO’s Convention on Child Labor, but it failed to become a law.

Save the Children

Lebanese children are receiving help from various organizations, such as Save the Children. Save the Children believes that children are the most vulnerable when disaster strikes, so it created an organization that focused on protecting them and giving them a chance at a new beginning.

Specifically, it is asking for donations to achieve its goals to improve the lives of Lebanese children. Some of the organization’s goals for child poverty in Lebanon are to increase the quality of education, restore schools and install water, sanitation and hygiene resources for the children to access.

Lastly, it hopes to protect Lebanese children from “psychological stress, neglect, violence, and abuse.” By doing this, Save the Children hopes to show the Lebanese children that they have the right to obtain these basic needs for a better future.

UNICEF

UNICEF has also been aiding children in Lebanon by providing Lebanese families with children with cash grants in the form of U.S. dollars, aiming to help 70,000 children in need. This is an effort to remove children from working and avoid skipping meals.

To add, UNICEF “is also providing mental health support and psychological first aid to children who are engaged in child labor, those who have experienced or are at risk of violence,” as stated on its website.

As a result, the children will have the ability to think for themselves and gain confidence and self-esteem. Similar to Save the Children, UNICEF has spent $6.9 million to help repair Lebanon’s water systems, aiding children’s health. The organization is continuing to reach more vulnerable children and their families, offering them support in any way it can.

With the increasing poverty rate in Lebanon, living conditions are becoming unbearable for many Lebanese children. Fortunately, Save the Children and UNICEF are assisting Lebanon, providing education measures, health services and protection for Lebanese children.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

Starvation Tactics in YemenSince 2014, the conflict in Yemen has raged without an end in sight. In a November 2021 article, the World Bank estimates that Yemen’s poverty rate rose from approximately half of the population pre-conflict to as much as 78% because of the conflict. Although a Saudi-led coalition offensive largely defines the conflict, human rights abuses are apparent on both sides and by all parties. Starvation tactics in Yemen stand as one of the most malicious violations, bringing a wave of shock to the international community.

Background of the Conflict

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthis, a Shia Muslim minority in Yemen, captured the major city in Yemen’s northern province and began moving southward. The rebellion was strategically timed as the Houthis have fought several rebellions against Yemen’s government over the years but chose to attack this time because of a new sitting president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Unfortunately for Hadi, the country initially supported the rebels, who overran and seized the capital city of Sanaa in 2014.

The Houthis are Shia Muslims and have a close affiliation with Iran, the Middle East’s Shia bastion. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia largely adheres to Sunni Islam and views Shia power as a threat. Therefore, the Houthi rebellion in Yemen alarmed Saudi Arabia, prompting “Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states” to launch an air campaign in 2015 to end the rebellion and reinstate Hadi’s government. The United States, United Kingdom and France provided “logistical and intelligence support” for the air campaign.

Human Rights Consequences

The conflict in Yemen has come at a steep cost to human life. As of December 2021, Yemen notes nearly a quarter of a million deaths and 4 million displacements. Furthermore, about 24 million Yemeni people require humanitarian aid. Due to these dire statistics, many world organizations deem the situation in Yemen the “worst humanitarian crisis” in the world.

One of the most concerning developments to arise out of the conflict in Yemen is the use of starvation tactics. Human rights groups documenting starvation tactics in Yemen show that both sides use such tactics “as a weapon of war.” The Mwatana Organization for Human Rights and Global Rights Compliance, both human rights organizations, have records of Saudi airstrikes destroying water facilities and fishing vessels as well as farms.

In a report, the groups indicate that the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of air and seaports has slowed the flow of food into Yemen. Their reports also detail Houthi rebels denying civilians aid, which includes food. Specifically, the report says that “restrictions were so severe that they forced the World Food Program (WFP) to suspend its operations in 2019 and again in 2020.” The report also states that the rebels’ use of landmines prevents farmers from using their land productively.

The humanitarian cost of the starvation tactics in Yemen is astounding. In September 2021, in a plea for urgent funding from the international community, the United Nations warned that 16 million people in Yemen may face starvation. According to Henrietta Fore, the head of UNICEF, more than 11 million children in Yemen need humanitarian aid to survive and close to 400,000 children enduring “severe acute malnutrition are at imminent risk of death.”

Humanitarian Aid

Donors cut funding to the World Food Programme (WFP) in 2020, citing aid obstruction as their concerns. As a consequence, in April 2020, the WFP had to halve “food aid to every other month in parts of Yemen” under the control of the Houthis. However, donors took heed to U.N. warnings about the famine, and in June 2021, the WFP resumed monthly distributions to millions around Yemen. Since then, the WFP has taken extensive efforts to combat the effects of starvation tactics in Yemen.

The WFP says that despite barriers to access, it manages to provide humanitarian aid “to the vast majority of vulnerable people in the country.” The WFP is providing daily snacks to more than 1.5 million Yemeni students and nutritional support to more than 3 million “pregnant and nursing women” as well as children younger than 5. The WFP also provides food aid through food rations or cash assistance to purchase food.

Despite significant suffering in Yemen, there is no shortage of organizations eager to provide aid. With enough advocacy and aid, there lies a possibility to end starvation tactics in Yemen and bring an end to the conflict overall.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Peru
Compared to other countries, Peru has the worst COVID-19 death rate, with “nearly 6,000 deaths for every 1 million Peruvians.” On the other hand, the United States has recorded 2,400 COVID-19 deaths per 1 million people. When Peru reached 71 COVID-19 cases, it implemented strict lockdown restrictions on March 15, 2020. In fact, Peru was one of the first countries to take action against COVID-19. The Peruvian government closed the country’s borders and advised its citizens to refrain from leaving their homes unless they went to work or bought any necessities for their families. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru has continued to worsen, but some are taking action to help slow the problem.

Economic Challenges in Peru During COVID-19

Even with lockdown restrictions in place, Peru continued to see an increase in COVID-19 cases because people needed to leave their homes to survive. According to the World Bank, Peru has a poverty rate of 27%, which is about 2 million people. As a result, about 70% of the population have informal jobs that do not provide them with basic health care benefits, social protection or education due to the lack of legal recognition. Most street vendors, domestic workers and waste pickers only make about $100 a month, making it impossible to stay home because they need to work to afford necessities for their families.

Furthermore, 40% of households lack access to a refrigerator. Because of this, families do not have the option to stock up on food for a couple of days. To have enough food to eat in their homes, families need to venture out to busy food markets, a place where COVID-19 can easily spread among people. To illustrate, “when authorities shut down one of Lima’s more than 1,200 food markets and performed rapid discard tests on traders, 163 of 842 came back positive.”

Due to these economic challenges, the Peruvian government provided disadvantaged families “grants of around $200 each to help them weather the crisis.” However, people from the poorer areas of Peru do not have bank accounts, causing them to get their money by traveling to the banks in person. As a result, COVID-19 spread in the long lines people waited in.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Iquitos

One city that the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru most affected is Iquitos, a port city on the Amazon river that many refer to as an island. Many believed the pandemic would not reach the island because of how secluded it is from the mainland. However, unfortunately, COVID-19 reached Iquitos, and it did not have the proper equipment to treat people for the virus. The Loreto Province hospital consisted of 12 ICU beds, but it used seven of them as designated COVID-19 treatment beds. “By mid-May of 2020, that hospital was on the verge of collapse.” With increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitals began to use army cots to treat virus-infected patients.

The Challenges of Acquiring Supplies

Peru struggled with the pandemic because it did not produce its own medical supplies, causing it to rely on imports. When the pandemic first began, every country wanted to stock up on surgical face masks, ventilators and protective equipment to protect their citizens and stop the spread of COVID-19. Because of this, Peru had to compete against wealthy countries, such as the United States. However, it did not have the money to do so. Without any of the proper medical equipment, Peruvian doctors continued to help their COVID-19 patients any way they could. Unfortunately, the staff at the hospital worked long shifts with a single mask, causing many of them to get sick.

A Catholic priest and physician, Raymond Portelli, posted a request for donations on his Facebook page to invest in an oxygen bottling plant when he realized oxygen was the pivotal treatment to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru. Portelli’s fundraiser succeeded, which led him to buy four more plants for Iquitos. Moreover, “Peru also lacked the stable political leadership needed to address the crisis at home and negotiate for medical supplies from abroad.” According to Mariana Leguia, an infectious disease expert, Peru had four presidents in 2020. This made it impossible for the government to act on the medical, economic and social crises.

Garnering Vaccines

Although the FDIC has approved a COVID-19 vaccine for people 5-years-old and older, Peru’s vaccination rate is only 4%. “Peru has secured enough doses to vaccinate its population,” but it is waiting for the delivery of the vaccines to reach its country. Once Peru receives the vaccines, it will need to keep them at the correct room temperature. Luckily, UNICEF is helping ensure careful distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by “bolstering Peru’s cold chain capacity,” which includes social freezers and refrigerators. So far, UNICEF has provided Peru with 1,100 solar-powered freezers to store the vaccines.

Lastly, the World Bank Board of Directors allocated $68 million in loans to help strengthen “epidemiological surveillance and response capacity to public health emergencies in Peru.” By doing this, hospitals will be able to detect any new COVID-19 cases in a timely manner, helping them have a better response system towards any health emergencies. To add, in July 2021, the United States government decided to provide Peru with $36 million to afford new resources and 2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. By doing this, the United States will help Peru’s emergency efforts reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru led to people not complying with lockdown restrictions because they needed to continue working to survive. Luckily, UNICEF, the World Bank and the United States are providing COVID-19 relief to stop the spread of the virus in the country.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

Arab Spring
The term “Arab Spring” characterized a series of upheavals across the Middle East and North African regions (MENA) in which a surge of citizens defied their authoritarian governments. It all started in Tunisia in 2010 when a man set himself on fire in a demonstration against police corruption. Sudan joined the anti-oppression movement in an effort to eradicate oppression and poverty in Sudan soon after. Now, a decade and a new government later, the country finds itself in an ideal position to begin seriously addressing poverty in Sudan.

A Tragic History

For many years, the Sudanese have suffered the brutal dictatorship of an authoritarian regime. In 2003, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) took up arms against their government in Darfur. These groups launched attacks against government facilities and army facilities in an attempt to obtain more financial and democratic power for the citizens. The subsequent conflict became known as the Darfur Genocide.

Both Sudan’s government, headed by President Omar al-Bashir, and the movements that opposed it were non-Arab. This conflict led to the deaths of around 15,000 people and the uprooting of millions of citizens. Bashir created a country dichotomized into Arabs and Africans, as opposed to a country that acted as a home for all Sudanese people. These conditions laid the foundation for the Bashir administration’s oppression of the Sudanese people. In 2011, the stage was set for the Arab Spring in Sudan. As a result of these protests, violence erupted. Throughout, Bashir retained his presidency.

Economic Challenges

Poverty in Sudan and socioeconomic woes increased following July 2011, when South Sudan gained independence from Sudan after Africa’s longest-running civil war. Considering most oil fields prospered in the south of the country, the most significant price Sudan paid was the loss of oil profits. As a result, Sudan’s inflation went rampant, provoking major upset among the Sudanese. The younger generations found it exceptionally challenging to find a job. Instead of addressing these issues, Sudan used most of its resources for military purposes. Additionally, a drought worsened Sudan’s already restrictive agricultural policies.

The failure of the industrial labor market caused unemployment and poverty to spread. The absence of economic opportunity prompted Bashir to eradicate nearly all civil society organizations. As a result, human rights and labor units shut down. Conjointly, due to Bashir’s Islamic leadership, women experienced extreme restraints. Indeed, Sudanese people experienced their basic rights stripped from them and those they loved, leaving them with exceptionally limited freedom.

Poverty in Sudan prevailed when bread, a basic food, became unaffordable. Violence and economic struggles contributed greatly to the oppression of the Sudanese people. However, the loss of affordable access to the most basic aspect of life, food, triggered the people to rise up and demand change.

New National Solidarity

One catalyst driving the protests was the desegregation of the different factions of Sudan. New national solidarity arose in recent years with the hope of ending Bashir’s rule. It was no longer Arabs verse the Africans. One example illustrating this was the chants throughout the northern and southern parts of Sudan beginning in late 2018. Multi-ethnic protestors chanted “we are all Darfur” while Darfur’s protestors chanted “we are all Khartoum,” demonstrating solidarity across the different religions and ethnicities of Sudan.

As the protests gained momentum, many more joined in hopes of replacing the regime with a government that could recover some of the economic loss. Public opposition groups played a key role in even the poorest communities. This ensured that everyone’s voices were on display despite their economic status. Women also took to the streets to protest the mistreatment they had experienced over the years, proving that all segments of Sudanese society engaged and committed themselves to the revolution.

A Successful Revolution

Sudanese citizens again requested Bashir to resign, but he refused. The government reacted violently, murdering a number of protestors. This only served to further outrage and inspire demonstrators around the country. Finally, the opposition assembled peacefully outside Sudan’s military headquarters in Khartoum, the capital, demanding Bashir’s resignation.

Critically, the revolution attained military assistance despite the military being a fundamental pillar of Bashir’s rule. In the face of the massive scale of the uprisings, the military began wavering in its support of Bashir. Leaders eventually determined that self-preservation was the only choice, and the military deposed the dictator.

Sudan Today

Despite the success in overthrowing Bashir, poverty in Sudan remains a major issue. Some 36% of the population lives below the poverty line. Poverty in Sudan exacerbates other issues, resulting in approximately 1 million children experiencing global acute malnutrition.

Due to its perseverance, Sudan is experiencing rebuilding. Many organizations are addressing poverty in Sudan. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is assisting in the establishment of early childcare programs in Darfur, Sudan. Additionally, the organization is going through an appeal process to raise $211 million to assist in humanitarian efforts. Some of the targeted recipients include 7.4 million children and 2.5 million internally displaced persons. Another organization committed to aiding the next generation of Sudan is Save the Children. In 2020, it helped 374,000 children by addressing poverty in Sudan through nourishment, education, protection and crisis aid. Doctors Without Borders also aims to improve the severely-lacking health care in Sudan.

A Brighter Future

The Sudanese have always fought for human rights and against tyranny. They triumphed due to their tenacity, finally ending a dictatorship that lasted for 30 years. Now, with support from its international allies, Sudan is undeniably on its road to alleviating the effects of poverty.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in Africa
The HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a significant public health problem in southern Africa. In the last decade, infections have drastically dropped while awareness of HIV status and availability of treatment has increased. This progress aligns with the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goal. Meeting this goal means that at least 90% of people with HIV are aware of their status, 90% are receiving antiretroviral drug treatments and 90% are virally suppressed. Viral suppression means that the virus will not negatively affect a person and that that person will not be able to transmit it to another person. Some of the most HIV-afflicted countries in Africa have met and even exceeded the 90-90-90 goals. Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world today at 26.8%. It has reached 95% in all categories and is on its way to reducing new infections.

HIV/AIDS and Conflicts

Despite recent progress, international aid has been focusing on HIV/AIDS less and less, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has become a more imminent global threat. Sub-Saharan Africa still has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. It is also one of the most conflict-ridden regions in the world.

HIV/AIDS has a history of destabilizing political and social institutions in countries and leaving them vulnerable to violent conflict. The International Crisis Group estimated that one in seven civil servants, including government employees, teachers and the armed forces in South Africa were HIV-positive in 1998.

How Does HIV/AIDS Affect Civil Servants in Africa?

  1. The disease affects the productivity of the military and its ability to respond to armed conflicts. In 2003, the Zimbabwe Human Development Report estimated that the Zimbabwe Defense Forces had an HIV prevalence rate of 55%. With such a high rate of illness, the military has high training and recruitment costs, as soldiers get sick and are unable to work. In addition to this, HIV can transmit through sexual contact. It disproportionately affects younger populations which typically make up the bulk of the armed forces.
  2. The HIV/AIDS epidemic breaks down political institutions by limiting their capacity to govern. According to former president Robert Mugabe in 2001, AIDS had a significant presence in his cabinet, killing three of his cabinet ministers in the span of a few years and infecting many more. The disease wipes out workers essential to the function of a state, like policymakers, police officers and judicial employees.
  3. HIV/AIDS threatens the quality and accessibility of education. A UNICEF report found that more than 30% of educators in Malawi were HIV positive. If children cannot receive a quality primary education, they are less likely to receive secondary education and start professional careers. Instead, crime may open up opportunities for security that education could not provide. With increased antiretroviral use and awareness of the disease, HIV rates and deaths among educators have likely dropped along with overall rates in the last decade.

Civil Servants

The impact of HIV/AIDS on civil servants in Africa has been immense. The disease affects vulnerable populations such as gay men, sex workers and young women disproportionately. However, it has also affected those who work as civil servants. Civil servants are integral to the functioning of governments. Without them, countries are vulnerable to conflict and violence. Furthermore, HIV/AIDS prolongs conflict in countries already experiencing it.

While there are many other causes of violent conflict, the breakdown of political and social institutions fueled by HIV/AIDS only exacerbates conflict. War can also be a vector for the further spread of the disease. According to UNHCR, both consensual and non-consensual sexual encounters happen more often during the conflict. Rape has been a weapon of war in conflicts in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Liberia in recent years and has likely contributed to the spread of HIV.

Solutions

Combating HIV and AIDS is a very important step in stabilizing economic, political and social structures across Africa. USAID programs like PEPFAR have had a significant role in combating HIV and AIDS. PEPFAR has invested nearly $100 billion in the global AIDS response in various ways. Most notably, it has provided 18.96 million people with much-needed antiretroviral treatment.

PEPFAR also aids in prevention care. For example, it has supported more than 27 million voluntary medical male circumcisions as well as testing services for 63.4 million people. In 2012, there was a government campaign in Zimbabwe to promote circumcision, in which at least 10 members of parliament participated.

These campaigns and USAID programs have had tangible results. In 2013, a study by the South African National Defense Forces showed an 8.5% HIV prevalence rate among its soldiers, much lower than the 19% prevalence in the general population. Given the successes in decreasing HIV/AIDS infections across Africa, perhaps economic, political and social stability is to follow.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

Zoe Empowers
Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said that “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” However, the circumstances of the world’s children bring to the forefront a harsh reality. UNICEF estimates that there are 356 million children enduring conditions of extreme poverty globally. With 356 million children surviving on less than $1.90 daily, children go without access to education, proper health care, housing, sanitation and nutritious meals. These circumstances are often worse for orphans who have no familial support. Regions with a high number of orphans, such as Afghanistan, commonly report rampant wars, natural disasters and epidemics. Without the care of an adult and a way to secure their basic needs, many of these children face exploitation, often becoming victims of trafficking and forced labor. Zoe Empowers is an organization that assists orphans and vulnerable children by providing resources and skills training for these children to become self-sufficient and escape the stronghold of poverty.

About Zoe Empowers

In 2004, Zoe Empowers first began as a “relief mission” in Africa working to help orphans during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe. In fact, the organization’s origins stand as the initial inspiration for its name — Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor. As time went by, the organization chose to adopt the Greek meaning of the word “zoe” — life. This definition is meaningful because of the organization’s mission to empower vulnerable children in “eight areas of life.” The organization’s overall goal is to create a world where orphans and vulnerable children are able to become self-sufficient, productive members of society, able to use their own skills and knowledge to escape the grips of poverty.

The Strategy

Zoe Empowers implements a three-year empowerment program. This costs a monthly amount of $7.66 per child and a total of $275.76 per child over three years. The program includes several core areas:

  1. Food Stability. To create sustainable solutions to hunger, Zoe Empowers gives the children a modest grant and training to start “a husbandry and farming project” in the first year of the program. In the second year, these animals and crops serve as funding to buy more land to expand on these income-generating agricultural projects. In the final year, the program reaches the ultimate impact: The children now have access to two or three healthy meals a day and share this food “with other vulnerable children in the community.”
  2. Stable Shelter. Within the first year of the program, children with the most urgent housing needs receive financing “through housing grants.” In the second year, “individual and group savings account funds” go toward the reparation or rebuilding of the “homes of deceased parents.” In the last year, the children can purchase land and build their own houses with the extra income from their businesses.
  3. Hygiene and Health. In the first year, staff provided training on personal hygiene and children with severe health issues received emergency medical assistance. In the second year, children gain access to “national health insurance.” Alternatively, Zoe Empowers helps children to finance “medical savings accounts.” In the last year, children earn enough from their business ventures to provide for themselves in terms of food, clothing, “access to health care” and other necessities.
  4. Establishing Education. In terms of learning, in the first year, Zoe Empowers provides children with financial assistance to enroll in school. In the second year, “individual and household businesses” finance the costs of school. During the last year, students can also fund the education of their “younger siblings” and plan for their own tertiary education.
  5. Sustainable Income. In order to generate income, in the first year, the children receive training on economic concepts and how to establish a business with small grants. In the second year, the children receive business loans, which are “paid back to the group bank account” while businesses grow. During the last year, these children lead their families, running several businesses and employing siblings and community members.
  6. Human Rights. In the first year, the organization contacts local officials to conduct training on child rights and build relationships with children so that they are more comfortable reporting abuse. During the second year, as business owners, the children are able to secure a higher social status. Therefore, the community welcomes their voices and opinions. In the last year, with a human rights background, children now know how to enforce their rights in the case of violations.
  7. Community Connections. All three years of this aspect of the program revolve around establishing a sense of belonging in the community as children serve as leaders and entrepreneurs in society.

Impact in Numbers

So far, Zoe Empowers works in seven countries: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Rwanda, Liberia, Tanzania and India. Across these countries, the organization has provided assistance to 124,071 vulnerable children since 2007. In a 2020 survey, SAS collected data from 495 graduates of Zoe Empowers empowerment groups in Rwanda and Kenya. Among other results, SAS reports that 100% of graduates own successful, income-generating businesses, 96% can afford the costs of three daily meals and 91% of graduates can fund the cost of their education.

Zoe Empowers hopes to expand further into other regions. With its sustainable model, poverty can reduce as children receive the resources, training and support to become self-sufficient.

– Shikha Surupa
Photo: Pixabay

Women in Yemen
Yemen’s ongoing conflict has driven the nation progressively nearer to socioeconomic disintegration since violence erupted in 2015. Inflationary pressures have put the cost of fundamental needs beyond reach for the majority of people. The conflict in Yemen continues to significantly damage the position of women, resulting in a near-elimination of their safety protocols and increasing their susceptibility to assault and exploitation. Yemen has a deeply ingrained patriarchy that severely limits the quality of life for women. Yemeni women face some of the world’s most heinous despotism and are fighting for their rights in three key areas: workplace possibilities, gender discrimination and political underrepresentation.

Fight for Rights in the Workplace

According to Article 40 of Yemen’s Personal Status Law, a woman cannot acquire employment in the same capacity as a male and “the work must have been agreed by her husband.” The most recent figure from 2019 is the 6.04% employment rate for women in Yemen. In comparison, the global average in 2019 was 51.96% based on 181 nations.

Additionally, there is no legislation prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, nor are there legal sanctions or civil recourse for workplace sexual misconduct. Because of the unspoken societal consensus that females are often at fault, women are less likely to submit a sexual misconduct complaint due to concerns around receiving accusations of soliciting men’s attention. Women in Yemen have to fight for rights in the workplace because no law requiring equivalent compensation for the labor of equivalent merit exists.

USAID promotes women’s financial freedom in Yemen by providing career development, allocation and guidance to help women boost competitive engagement in the workforce. Additionally, technological guidance and strategic initiatives aid females in obtaining investment and job options, hence improving take-home pay. In 2020 alone, USAID helped more than 1,300 Yemeni women.

The Fight Against Gender Discrimination

Yemen sees women as secondary to males. Because of that, many women in Yemen cannot make important family decisions. In Yemen, there is no particular statute regarding spousal abuse. Females do not disclose abuse instances because they are afraid of arrest or further abuse.

According to Articles 51-72 of Yemen’s Personal Status Law, men can obtain a divorce with significantly fewer limitations than women. Furthermore, men’s rights to the guardianship of kids exceed that of women in the event of divorce.

According to UNICEF, 80% of the nation is reliant on relief aid. Therefore, impoverished Yemeni households resort to marrying their daughters off young in an attempt to ease the economic burden and obtain bare necessities. Fathers sell their daughters into marriage, and consequently, abruptly end their adolescence. This is a basic breach of human freedoms. In 2020, USAID-funded initiatives aimed to prevent forced child marriages by equipping more than 6,000 girls with essential competencies such as “problem-solving and decision-making.”

The Fight for Women’s Rights in the Political Arena

In the 2011 protest, women were key participants and continued to be throughout the subsequent domestic discourse. When the uprisings’ effect dissolved, the women ultimately experienced abandonment and could not promote their beliefs. Yemen does not have a policy that safeguards women. Instead, Yemeni legislation disparages them if they undermine any political organization.

Women in Yemen have virtually no authority to sway legislation in order to strengthen their roles. They do not have widespread popular political support due to the fact that a disproportionate number of men participate in politics. The men exclude women who promote or show any political interest.

U.N. Women works in Yemen to increase women’s civic involvement. It firmly supports encouraging engagement in community affairs and political judgment. U.N. Women values the significance of equitable participation of both sexes in diplomatic discussions and crisis settlement.

Because of the importance of increasing political dialogue for women in Yemen, U.N. Women established the Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security platform. U.N. Women advocates for the inclusion of women in all political conversations.

Despite the marginalization of Yemeni girls and women, they are receiving assistance from major global organizations. These efforts have been essential in effectively working to promote women’s rights in Yemen.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Burundi
The aftermath of the long-lasting Burundian Civil War manifests as poverty, trauma and inequality in Burundi. These factors devastate the mental health of people in Burundi; depression, anxiety and PTSD are common in adults and children alike.

An Overview of Burundi

From 1993 to 2005, the Republic of Burundi, a country located in East Africa, endured a violent civil war stemming from ethnic conflicts between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. Although the civil war officially came to an end 17 years ago, ethnic violence and injustice persist, causing many to live in fear or flee as refugees. Furthermore, the long-term impacts of the civil war linger in the form of poverty and mental illness.

According to the World Food Program U.S.A, Burundi ranks as one of the most impoverished nations globally, with a staggering poverty rate of 65%. Furthermore, on the 2019 Human Development Index (HDI), Burundi ranks 185th out of 189 nations. “The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.” Burundi’s ranking places the nation “in the low human development category.”

With 12.2 million citizens crammed into 9,920 square miles, overpopulation and food insecurity are major problems. Malaria, measles, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are common causes of death in Burundi. COVID-19 and a lack of adequate medical care exacerbate poor living conditions within the country. These factors push mental health treatment to the back burner.

Case Study

The aftermath of the war created a ripple of trauma for many citizens. A 2018 study by Nkengurutse and Bitangumutwenzi illuminates the severity of mental health in Burundi. The study included 120 subjects from ages 15 to 55. The results were frighteningly dire: 100% of patients had some form of moderate to severe mental illness. About 57% suffered depression, 20% had “psychotic features,” 13% had bipolar disorder, 8% received a schizophrenia diagnosis and 65% were victims of trauma.

Subjects remained as inpatients for about 20 days. Mental health stigma (60%) and “poor economic insertion” (90%) stood as barriers to full recovery. After a year, 30% of treated patients reported a full recovery while 42% went into relapse. This study illustrates the sheer volume of Burundians that struggle with mental illness and the factors presenting barriers in mental health recovery.

The Good News

Sports unite warring factions of Burundi, reducing the ethnic tensions prevalent across the nation. Burundi recognizes sports as an outlet, never missing a Summer Olympic Game since its first debut in the Olympics in 1996. Athletes from Burundi also compete in the African Wrestling Championship, winning gold and silver medals. Among women, soccer offers many females a source of income, providing a way to use their talents to make a living, the Guardian explains. Soccer also grants these girls and women independence and freedom, a rare commodity for many Burundian females who often face parental pressures to marry as teenagers. Athletes provide role models for young Burundians and boost morale throughout the country, directly improving mental health and confidence.

Why Mental Health Matters

Poor mental health directly correlates with poverty. The Psychiatric Times observed that childhood poverty may lead to depression and anxiety, a decline in school performance and an increased rate of “psychiatric disorders in adulthood.” This impact on education is evident in Burundi as the nation’s literacy rate stood at about 68% in 2017, well below the world average of 86%.

In addition, poverty has direct links to depression, anxiety, psychological distress and suicidality. This causal relationship between poverty and mental illness creates a constant loop that is especially dangerous in Burundi where it is extremely difficult to escape the cycle of poverty. Poverty leads to poor mental health, which impedes the ability of individuals to pull themselves out of the depths of poverty, thus worsening their mental states. In 2019, the Mental Health Innovation Network stated that “90% of people with mental illnesses have no access to treatment, especially in [impoverished] and rural areas.”

Organizations Assist

While UNICEF’s mental health services in 2020 gave 160,000 Burundian children access to mental health resources, partially alleviating the issue, there are still millions of Burundians in need of mental health treatment.

Human Health Aid–Burundi (HHA Burundi) is a nonprofit that “medical students, psychologists and social workers” established in 2005. The organization works with Burundian communities, “especially children and women who suffer from anxiety, depression, trauma and other psychosocial consequences of their war experiences,” to improve “access to mental health care and psychosocial support.” HHA Burundi also provides direct aid to refugees by sending clothing, food and other necessities. Through programs such as Health School and Sanitation Training in Burundi, HHA Burundi transforms lives.

In addition, UNICEF secured $9.8 million worth of funds for Burundi in 2020 for the provision of education, food, medicine and other humanitarian needs. Aid lessens the economic and emotional strain in Burundi, therefore, contributing to positive mental health.

While addressing mental health in Burundi is a matter of urgency, several organizations are stepping in to assist. Furthermore, sport provides citizens an outlet for trauma, giving Burundians a source of hope in a war-torn country. As organizations strive to push mental health to the forefront of foreign aid, the hope is for Burundians to receive the mental health assistance they require to thrive.

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr