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Curing Polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan
In 1988, polio existed in more than 100 countries and infected close to 1,000 children daily. Due to advocacy efforts and the implementation of preventable vaccinations, cases of polio have significantly dropped at a rate of 99 percent. In 1988, about 350,000 children had polio while statistics indicated that in 2017, only 22 documented illnesses existed. However, children are still struggling as Pakistan and Afghanistan attempt to eliminate polio their countries.

Children are most vulnerable to contracting polio between birth and age five. One in 200 contagions result in irreparable paralysis, most commonly in the legs; five to 10 percent of those infected die from this disease due to the disabling of their breathing muscles.

Most children that are living with polio do not experience manifestations; however, polluted water and food can still spread the disease. Polio is preventable through several doses of vaccinations, but there is no treatment.

Modernized Vaccines to Prevent Polio

In 2013, all countries began to implement one dose of the new vaccines and terminate the use of the oral vaccines by 2018, which the Polio Eradication & Endgame Strategic Plan instructed.

In order to eliminate polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan is terminating the administrations of oral vaccines which only protected against type 2 of the virus; instead, Afghanistan and Pakistan are implementing doses of the inactivated polio vaccine, which should be more effective in preventing the disease as it prevents all three types of polio. The modern vaccine can also enhance immunity and inhibit further epidemics of polio.

Efforts to Eliminate Polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan

In 2018, The Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan partnered with UNICEF and The World Health Organization to initiate the country’s third nation-wide polio vaccination campaign. Nearly 9.9 million children below age five received the vaccination.

Regions such as Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul contained nearly 1.2 million children who did not have access to the vaccine. However, this past program and future programs will ensure that these children can also receive the necessary dosages.

Vaccinated children also received Vitamin A capsules to strengthen their immunity and decrease diarrhea. This also strengthened their immune systems from respiratory infections. Immunity can increase their chances of survival by nearly 24 percent. Nearly 70,000 health workers visited every household to administer vaccinations. This was to ensure that other children received the preventable medication as well. Because polio is contagious, each family’s chances of surpassing the disease increases if every child receives a vaccination.

In Pakistan, the number of polio infections is at a low rate. Further, improved immunity has also begun to increase. While this country has made progress in battling polio, many children have not received the preventable vaccines in high-risk areas. Therefore, Pakistan has begun to implement various solutions such as customized vaccines. Additionally, the country has partnered with the Emergency Operations Centers to administer effective prevention techniques.

Polio is most common in Karachi as well as the federally administered tribal areas, the Quetta block and the Khyber-Peshawar corridor. While the disease is highly present in these areas, other areas nationwide are susceptible to contracting the virus due to travel and migration.

The Partnership Between Pakistan and Afghanistan

To eliminate polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two nations plan on partnering to identify children who are vulnerable to the disease and provide vaccinations, while also administering health campaigns to promote advocacy about the prevention of polio. Environmental surveillance has discovered the presence of polio. This serves as evidence that children with weaker immune systems are present in these areas. Consequently, this enables the disease to grow and infect other children.

– Diana Dopheide

Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Burundi
Located in Africa’s southeastern region, Burundi, a heart-shaped nation bordering Lake Tanganyika and Rwanda, is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a poverty rate of nearly 75 percent, the nation is largely underdeveloped. In terms of women’s rights, life in Burundi could be better, as many of the country’s citizens cling to discriminatory perspectives that hold their women back. Despite this, the country has made great strides toward cultivating a more equal nation, such as in 2005 when it included gender equality in its reformed Constitution.

Pregnancy and Sexual Health

In Burundi, discussing sex is generally viewed as a taboo subject. Without the occurrence of these necessary conversations, sexual education is often replaced by false information, and many of the country’s citizens fail to understand their own bodies; an issue most dangerous when it comes to young women and girls. Without knowing the way their bodies work, many Burundian women experience unplanned extramarital pregnancies, and because of Burundi’s negative prejudice toward non-marital pregnancy, many of these girls are often ostracized from their communities, kicked out of their homes and forced out of their schools.

Pamella Mubeza, a native to Burundi, fell victim to this system at a young age. Though, after seeing the prevalence of her issue among other Burundian women, she began an organization known as l’Association des mamans célibataires (the Organisation for Single Mums). Through the organization, Mubeza travels to some of the most impoverished places in the city of Bujumbura, such as Kinyankonge and Kinama, and works with young single mothers to not only re-enroll them in school but to rebuild the self esteem their homeland formerly shamed out of them. By 2019, Mubeza’s organization was able to re-enroll 40 young women in schooling and instilled 250 with a newfound desire to learn.

CARE Burundi, a non-profit organization that works to improve the impoverished realities of women and young girls, is also working to help solve the issue. In 2016, the organization launched an initiative known as the Joint Programme, a 4-year-long project that provides Burundian girls with comprehensive sexual and reproductive education through a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum called “The World Starts with Me” (WSWM). The program educates young women about their rights and their bodies, and after its first year of implementation, it was taught in 76 Burundian schools and educated 6,007 young women.

Access to female hygiene products is another one of Burundi’s sexual health problems. With sanitary napkins costing up to 2,000 Burundian francs and the country regarding menstrual periods as shameful, many of the nation’s women turn to unhygienic sources, such as grass and plastic bags, during their menstrual cycles. However, the Organisation for Single Mums is working to combat the problem, as they hand out 1,500 free sanitary napkins to Burundian women each month.

Gender-Based Violence

Sexual violence against women is a growing problem in Burundi. With nearly 23 percent of Burundian women experiencing sexual abuse, and 50 percent of these victims being under the age of 13, the prevalence of gender-based violence in Burundi is undeniable.

Due to the nation’s connection between shame and sexuality, many sexual abuse cases often go unreported, so the number of women experiencing them is likely much higher.

However, through the help of UNICEF and NGO partner Caritas Burundi, Burundian sexual violence is being challenged. Through an initiative known as the Giriteka project, UNICEF and Caritas Burundi are bringing together the nation’s doctors, psychologists, nurses, community leaders, local authorities and religious leaders and teaching them how to best care for their nation’s sexually abused women. From training psychologists on how to prevent gender-based violence to working with religious leaders on how to direct victims toward help, thanks to these organizations, women’s rights in Burundi are not only being protected but defended.

Economic Opportunity

When it comes to the workforce, Burundian women make up 90 percent of the country’s food and export jobs and  with 55.2 percent of the nation’s workforce being female, Burundian women are making substantial contributions toward the advancement of their national economy.

However, this same level of equality cannot be seen in the country’s distribution of land.

Access to property ownership is the largest barrier Burundian women face when seeking economic equality. While 80.2 percent of the country’s people own land, women make up only 17.7 percent of them since the country lacks proper legislation that prohibits male succession traditions from overriding women’s rights.

Public opinion may be partly responsible for these discriminatory practices since 57 percent of the nation’s people believe women and men should not have equal land rights when it comes to inheritance.

Despite this prejudicial reality, U.N. Women is making women’s pathway to land ownership easier by providing them with monetary loans.

Also, the Zionist Organization of America has created an initiative meant to advocate for female land rights in Burundi by urging the nation’s women who do own land to register it.

By working at the community level, these organizations are advocating for the economic endeavors of Burundian women, and actively challenging the misogynistic gender norms that have been placed upon these their lives.

While women’s rights in Burundi are far from equal, the good news is that great work is being done to better them. Thanks to organizations like U.N. Women and initiatives such as the Giriteka project, women in Burundi are not only being cared for but heard. By advocating for women’s rights, these organizations are not only providing Burundi’s women with the freedom to hope for a better life but also to live one.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Venezuelans Fleeing
As the beneficiary of the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela was once the wealthiest nation in Latin America. However, in 2014, the economy began to collapse. The Bolivar, its currency, has gone into free fall, leaving millions unable to afford even the most basic necessities. According to Bloomberg’s Café con leche index, a cup of coffee today costs the same as 1,800 cups in January 2018. As food and health care become more difficult to come by, many Venezuelans are faced with the decision of struggling to get by or fleeing the country.

Why Flee?

Every day, thousands of Venezuelans leave their country in search of safety and stability, many of them arriving in Colombia. The International Rescue Committee has been supporting families in need in Cúcuta, a border city, since April 2018.

Venezuela is millions in debt while the only commodity that the country relies on is oil. Unfortunately, the value of oil has plummeted. In 2014, the price of oil was about $100 a barrel. Then several countries started to pump too much oil as new drilling technology could dredge up what was previously inaccessible, but businesses globally were not buying more gasoline. Too much oil caused the global price to drop to $26 in 2016. Today the price hovers around $50, which means that Venezuela’s income has been cut in half.

At the same time, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s hostility towards foreign business has created a corporate exodus. Companies such as United, General Motors and Pepsi have left entirely and unemployment in Venezuela could reach 25 percent this year. To try and keep up, Maduro has raised the minimum wage three times in 2019 in order to provide a little short-term relief to the poor. Currently, the minimum wage is at 18,000 bolivars per month, which is around $6.70 U.S.

How Many Venezuelans Have Left?

According to the U.N., more than three million people have already left Venezuela since the crisis began, and that number is increasing at a rapid rate. Approximately one million people, several lacking official documentation, have gone to neighboring Colombia. However, Peru is the second most popular destination country for Venezuelan refugees, with over 500,000. Ecuador follows, with over 220,000, Argentina with over 130,000, Chile with over 100,000 and Brazil with 85,000 immigrants.

By the end of 2019, the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country should reach 5.3 million. Nearly 300,000 children have fled the homes and lives they once knew, and approximately 10 percent of the country’s total population has already left.

The Way Out

The majority of those fleeing Venezuela do so on foot, and the road begins close to Cúcuta. Many people pay smugglers to use a trocha, which is an illegal border crossing through a river. On the Colombian side of the border has become a huge open-air market for all the things that people cannot get in Venezuela anymore. Vendors advertise medicines and cigarettes, candy and phone minutes for people to call home.

Sadly, some do not make the journey on foot. In Cúcuta, the temperature can hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, on other parts of the route, the road climbs to 10,000 feet above sea level and temperature can drop below freezing. Walking this route takes approximately 32 days. The mountain pass, La Nevera, translates to the Refrigerator. Aid groups and residents have opened their homes and set up shelters along the path. However, the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country has surpassed the number of shelters available along the way, making space for only the lucky few.

The Impact

The emotional wellbeing of children who have fled Venezuela is of high concern. Sometimes traveling alone, boys and girls disrupt their education and are in great danger of falling behind in school and never catching up again. On the contrary, some parents leave their children behind when they leave the country. These children often gain material benefits from their parents’ migration, because sending hard currency to relatives provides greater access to food, medicine and other lacking necessities.

Furthermore, tensions between Venezuelans fleeing the country and citizens of other countries is often high. Colombia has had to reach out to the international community for help in dealing with the influx of migrants. Hospitals and elementary schools in Cúcuta have been overwhelmed, and administrators complain about the central government’s failure to reimburse them for the cost of caring for migrants. The national government has suspended the issuance of temporary visas, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has promised $30 million in assistance.

In Ecuador, anti-immigrant sentiments reached a highpoint when a Venezuelan allegedly stabbed to death his pregnant Ecuadorian girlfriend, Diana Ramirez Reyes, in front of police and scared residents of the city of Ibarra. Since then, President Lenin Moreno decreed a tougher immigration policy that requires incoming Venezuelans to present a document certifying they had a clean criminal record in Venezuela. However, such documents are costly to obtain in Venezuela.

Similarly, Peru and Chileans have developed hesitation toward Venezuelans fleeing the country. People cannot renew work permits in Peru and as of 2018, the country decided to stop issuing them. A recent survey in Chile found that many natives disapprove of the number of immigrants coming in. Seventy-five percent of those responding to the survey thought that the number of immigrants was excessive.

Who is Helping?

Since April 2018, the IRC has been working in Cúcuta supporting Venezuelans and vulnerable Colombians with specialized services for women and children, cash assistance and health care. Aid organizations and families are also working to help immigrants along the route. The Colombian Red Cross has a small aid station on the outskirts of Pamplona, a city in Colombia’s Norte de Santander region.

The U.S. government has also helped by providing about $200 million in humanitarian aid to address the crisis in the region. Most of this money has gone to Colombia as do the majority of Venezuelans fleeing the country.

UNICEF has appealed for $69.5 million to meet the needs of uprooted children from Venezuela and those living in host and transit communities across the LAC region. It is working with national and local governments, host communities and partners to ensure access to safe drinking water, sanitation, protection, education and health services for Venezuelans fleeing the country.

– Grace Arnold
Photo: Flickr

 

healthcare systems in Togo

Togo, a country located in West Africa is occupied by eight million people and currently faces a healthcare crisis. Nations across the globe have been successful in transforming inadequate healthcare systems into those that successfully prevent and treat ailments. That said, according to a 2017 story by Development and Cooperation, Togo is often referred to as having the worst health systems in West Africa.

Many factors contribute to the sub-par healthcare systems in Togo, including insufficient staff, outdated medical instruments and practices, and ineffective financial and insurance resources. These components combine to create the current healthcare system in Togo.

Despite this complicated health matrix, efforts have been made by the government in tandem with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to reduce the burden of disease and to improve the healthcare systems in Togo.

Diagnosing the Problem

According to a story run by Deutsche Welle (DW), a German international broadcaster, Togo only sports three healthcare workers for every 10 thousand residents, which DW claims is approximately a quarter of the number of healthcare workers per 10 thousand residents for Ghana. Insufficient staff across the nation – not only in the larger centralized hospitals of Togo, contribute to the poor health systems present.

Inadequate staffing at clinics and hospitals alike can escalate quickly. Lack of properly trained and licensed doctors, nurses and medical personnel often leads to overcrowding in emergency and waiting rooms alike, which complicates matters further. Keeping patients awaiting treatment in confined places increases disease transmission between patients, especially those that can be transferred via skin contact and via the air. Furthermore, the same 2017 Development and Cooperation story recounted several instances where patients tragically passed away while awaiting treatment in some of Togo’s largest hospitals.

In addition to overwhelmed and insufficient staffing, the hospitals themselves are not properly stocked with the supplies necessary to diagnose and treat incoming patients. Outdated medical instruments and practices also have the potential to contribute to inadequate healthcare systems in Togo. Equipment may become faulty over time, or the technology used may simply just not be correct.

While outdated medical technologies are certainly lacking, hospitals also appear to lack basic amenities such as beds. In 2011, Togo only sported seven hospital beds per 10,000 population.

Insufficient staffing and medical supplies seemingly stem from one arena, however: lack of financial resources available. As of 2015, over 55 percent of Togo’s population lived under the global poverty line – approximately four million people. Because of this extreme poverty, patients cannot afford the necessary treatments which leads to a lack of funding for hospitals, resulting in smaller staff and inadequate supplies.

As of right now, healthcare systems in Togo seem to operate on a “pay or die” approach, according to the Development and Cooperation story. Patients and loved ones of those who have fallen ill often have to borrow money in an effort to receive treatment for diseases and ailments. Even then, sometimes it is not enough.

Current Remedies

Global efforts have been to improve the inadequate healthcare systems in Togo. Currently, Togo is in the midst of a five-year project aimed at ending neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). This integrated NTD control currently receives funding from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) among others.

This funding goes directly to combatting and administering diagnoses and treatments for neglected tropical diseases present in Togo. Furthermore, a significant portion of the funds dedicated to reducing the burden of these NTDs in Togo is allocated toward the training of health workers, hopefully providing stability in the healthcare sector for years to come.

Aside from these efforts to combat NTDs, other global institutions have made efforts to improve Togo’s healthcare system in general.

The International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI), an institution set on improving healthcare systems and structures using peer-to-peer models, has begun to lay the groundwork for strengthening the healthcare systems in Togo. Much of IANPHI’s work goes toward strengthening disease surveillance, as well as equipping Togo’s Ministry of Health with laboratory and research facilities, hopefully promoting new science and health-related job opportunities.

Moving Forward

The healthcare systems in Togo have a significant and difficult path in front of them. The issues of staffing, supplies and financial insecurities must be addressed in order to increase health promotion and disease prevention in the country. That said, significant progress has been made in laying the groundwork of the future of Togo’s healthcare systems, hopefully paving the way for significant reform and a brighter future.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

Combating Global Corruption
Cosponsored by six congressmen, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) re-introduced the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 on May 2, 2019. The bill requires the Department of State to rank countries into three tiers by how the country complies with the anti-corruption standards established in section four of the bill. This bill previously died in the 115th Congress. However, the 2019 re-introduction has already proven to be more successful. In mid-July 2019, the Senate placed the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 on its legislative calendar.

Cosponsor Sen. Young says, “I am proud of this bipartisan effort to combat corruption around the world by standing with the world’s most vulnerable and holding those in power responsible for their actions.” Global corruption is a direct threat to democracy, economic growth, national and international security. It increases global poverty, violates human rights and threatens peace and security.

Corruption and Global Poverty

Bribery negatively impacts literacy rates and access to adequate health and sanitation services. Eight times more women die during childbirth in places where over 60 percent of the population report paying bribes compared to countries with rates below 30 percent. Bribery significantly increases the costs of services like education and health care while decreasing a family’s disposable income. For example, in Mexico, the average poor family spends one-third of its income on bribes. Some families must use the income meant for school or dinner to pay a bribe to local law enforcement.

Corruption and Human Rights

Article six of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

However, UNICEF reports that every five seconds, a child under the age of 15 dies of generally preventable causes. Over five million of these deaths occur before the age of five due to lack of water, sanitation, proper nutrition and basic health services. Impoverished families living in corrupt communities often do not have access to these services. Therefore, they suffer from higher rates of child mortality. Children are 84 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday in Angola, the sixth most corrupt country in the world, than Luxembourg, the 10th least corrupt country. Corruption denies children their right to life.

Peace and Security

Transparency International’s report “Corruption as a Threat to Stability and Peace” found that corruption fuels conflict and instability. Consequently, more than half of the 20 most corrupt countries have experienced violent conflict. Iraq and Venezuela have violent death rates above 40 per 100,000 individuals.

Further, one of the most profitable forms of corruption is human trafficking. UNICEF estimates that human traffickers generate $32 billion by smuggling approximately 21 million victims each year. Human trafficking occurs in unstable environments where corrupt officials allow criminal activity to persist. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that addressing human trafficking and combating global corruption together will generate better results.

Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019

The Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 will establish a three-tiered system of countries by their level of corruption and efforts to combat injustices.

  1. Tier one includes countries complying with the minimum standards stated in section four of the bill.
  2. Tier two includes countries attempting to comply with the minimum standards in section four but are not succeeding at the level of a tier-one country.
  3. Tier three includes countries to which the government is making little, to no effort to comply with the minimum standards in section four.

The minimum standards set expectations about national legislation and punishments to deter and eventually eliminate, the corruption inside a country’s borders. The second part of the Combating Global Corruption Act sets forth a procedure to conduct risk assessments, create mitigation strategies and investigate allegations of misappropriated foreign assistance funds to increase the transparency and accountability for how the U.S. provides foreign assistance to tier-three countries.

Sen. Cardin has four points of focus:

  1. Fighting corruption must become a national security priority.
  2. The U.S. government must coordinate efforts across agencies.
  3. The U.S. must improve oversight of its own foreign assistance and promote transparency.
  4. The U.S. can increase financial support for anti-corruption work by using seized resources and assets.

According to Sen. Cardin, the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 “recognizes the importance of combating corruption as a hurdle to achieving peace, prosperity and human rights around the world.”

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Conflict in Venezuela
In January 2019, Nicolás Maduro won the Venezuelan presidential election, bringing him into his second term as president. Citizens and the international community met the election results with protests and backlash, which has only added to the conflict in Venezuela. The National Assembly of Venezuela went so far as to refuse to acknowledge President Maduro as such. Juan Guaidó, an opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president almost immediately after the announcement of the election results, a declaration that U.S. President Donald Trump and leaders from more than 50 nations support. Russia and China, however, have remained in support of President Maduro.

During his first term as president and beginning in 2013, Maduro has allowed the downfall of the Venezuelan economy. His government, as well as his predecessor, Hugo Chávez’s government, face much of the anger regarding the current state of Venezuela. Continue reading to learn how the conflict in Venezuela is affecting the poor in particular.

How Conflict in Venezuela is Affecting the Poor

Maduro’s aim was to continue implementing Chávez’s policies with the goal of aiding the poor. However, with the price and foreign currency controls established, local businesses could not profit and many Venezuelans had to resort to the black market.

Hyperinflation has left prices doubling every two to three weeks on average as of late 2018. Venezuelan citizens from all socio-economic backgroundsbut particularly those from lower-income householdsare now finding it difficult to buy simple necessities like food and toiletries. In 2018, more than three million citizens fled Venezuela as a result of its economic status to go to fellow South American countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. However, nearly half a million Venezuelans combined also fled to the United States and Spain.

Venezuela is currently facing a humanitarian crisis that Maduro refuses to recognize. The opposition that is attempting to force Maduro out of power is simultaneously advocating for international aid. As a result, local charities attempting to provide for the poor are coming under fire from Maduro’s administration, as his government believes anything the opposition forces support is inherently anti-government.

In the northwestern city of Maracaibo, the Catholic Church runs a soup kitchen for impoverished citizens in need of food. It feeds up to 300 people per day, and while it used to provide full meals for the people, it must ration more strictly due to the economic turmoil. Today, the meals look more like a few scoops of rice with eggs and vegetables, and a bottle of milk. While the Church’s service is still incredibly beneficial, it is a stark contrast from the fuller meals it was able to provide just a few years prior.

The political and economic conflict in Venezuela is affecting the poor citizens of the country in the sense Maduro’s administration is ostracizing local soup kitchens and charities. A broader problem facing the poor is that because Maduro refuses to address the humanitarian crisis, international organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are unable to intervene and provide aid.

Project HOPE

There are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are making an effort to help Venezuelans suffering as a result of this crisis. One of the easiest ways they can be of service is by providing aid and relief to citizens who have fled to other countries. Project HOPE is an organization that currently has workers on the ground in Colombia and Ecuador to offer food, medical care and other aid to those escaping the conflict in Venezuela. Project HOPE is also supporting the health care system in Colombia in order to accommodate the displaced Venezuelans there.

The current conflict in Venezuela is affecting the poor, but it is also affecting the entire structure of the nation. It is difficult to know what the outcome of this conflict will look like for Venezuelans and for the country as a whole. What is important now is to continue educating people about the ongoing crisis so that they can stay informed. Additionally, donating to Project HOPE and other NGOs working to provide aid to Venezuelans in neighboring countries would be of great help. With that, many Venezuelan citizens will know that people support them and are fighting to see progress.

– Emi Cormier
Photo: Flickr

sub-Saharan witchcraft accusationsThe sub-Saharan region in Africa includes 46 of the 54 countries that make up the continent. While numerous cultural and political differences show variance between the sub-Saharan nations, many of them share a paranoid commonality: children are often accused of witchcraft. These sub-Saharan witchcraft accusations show that the fear of mystic powers is not a superstition of the past, but that it exists and is growing even in the 21st century.

The origins of these witchcraft accusations are unclear. UNICEF records that these accusations are falsely believed to be a piece of African tradition, and this phenomenon is the symptom of social, economic and political struggles.

Who’s Accused?

There are three categories of children who are at risk for the sub-Saharan witch accusations. All of them represent a marginalized category in which noticeable difference leads to suspicion.

The urban myth of the “child witches” is the first. Accusations are most often cast towards the most vulnerable children in a community, such as orphans and those with a physical or learning disability. Children with behavioral oddities are also targets, including those who are talented, precocious or rebellious.

The second group of individuals at risk are babies who experience a peculiar birth. This can mean that they were born premature or were delivered facing an abnormal way.

Thirdly, children with albinism are often accused of witchcraft and believed to contain magic power within certain organs.

Many of these “bewitched” children believe their families, pastors and instructors when they are told they are agents of evil magic.

A Human Rights Violation

The sub-Saharan witchcraft accusations lead to negligence of international laws protecting children. In the countries where accusations are most rampant, police and judicial forces are inefficient in upholding national law.

Accusations manifest in a number of ways. Violence, abandonment, sexual exploitation and even murder are acts leveled against witch children. Some victims view these aggressions as rituals to release evil spirits. It is recorded that about 81,000,000 African children suffer from severe psychological issues due to the punishment they have endured.

As the accusations of witchcraft have escalated in recent years, the U.N. has expressed concern for the issues and has been pressing awareness and regulation. The U.N. Refugee Agency records that the abuse endured by these children is somewhat responsible for the uptick in displaced individuals around the world.

Efforts to Hinder the Problem

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one sub-Saharan country that suffers abundantly with witchcraft accusations. The nation has an inordinate number of vulnerable orphans living in impoverished conditions due to its recent civil war. As such, many NGOs focus their attention on this particular country in the sub-Saharan region.

The International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) is one NGO that is specifically fit to deal with this humanitarian issue in the DRC. The organization is involved in a mission to incorporate a child’s rights into state law. Sub-Saharan witchcraft accusations in the DRC have been hindered by BICE’s local activities across the country. The group has established rehabilitation and learning centers. These work to eradicate the notion that child witches are responsible for societal ills, as well as to reintegrate banished children into their communities.

BICE has been active in the DRC since 1996 and continues to work with the central government to better protect Congolese children.

More Needs to be Done

While the U.N. and its partner NGOs have worked to bring attention to and provide for the children suffering from the sub-Saharan witchcraft accusations, the issue is unlikely to disappear in the near future.

The belief that child witches are plaguing society is one that results from what UNICEF calls the “multi-crisis” pressuring many African nations. Left behind in the journey to modernization, many African communities have carried the weight of failed political systems and unfulfilled economic promises. If the sub-Saharan region is to leave behind ancient superstitions of witchcraft, international actors must aid these countries on the pathway to development.

– Annie O’Connell
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF Soccer AidFor over a decade, UNICEF has hosted its annual Soccer Aid, a charity soccer match featuring both professional and celebrity players to raise money for keeping kids around the world happy, healthy and safe. This year, the match was held in London on June 16, and raised a record-breaking £6,774,764 ($8,577,528.70 USD) in one night alone and £1,000,000 more than last year. The UK public, ITV and STV users all contributed, and the UK government matched each donation up to £3,000,000 to defend play for every child.

Helping Sierra Leone and Zambia

The money raised from the match will support the work of UNICEF to ensure that over 80,000 children in Sierra Leone and Zambia can have a childhood of play. The funding will help to provide lifesaving food, vaccinations, clean water, support for caring for mothers and babies and protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse.

Sierra Leone’s under-five mortality rate is in the 2nd percentile, having one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. The many causes of death in children are preventable. Most deaths are due to nutritional deficiencies, pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases, anemia, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Some of the attributable factors include limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, poor feeding and hygienic practices, and limited access to quality health services.

Zambia is a country with many adolescents. 53 percent of the population is under 18 years old, and many of these children–45.4 percent–are affected by extreme poverty. Almost 65 percent of children in rural Zambia are affected by three or more deprivations: access to nutrition, education, health, water sanitation, adequate housing, and physical and emotional abuse. While the infant mortality rate improved by 37 percent between 2007 and 2014, it is still in the 25th percentile. However, with the help of UNICEF Soccer Aid, these conditions can be improved.

UNICEF’s Impact

UNICEF has worked in 190 countries and territories over 70 years to fight for the lives of children around the world. Through their projects, including child protection and inclusion, child survival, education, emergency relief, gender discrimination, innovation, supply and logistics, and research and analysis, the organization saves the lives of nearly 3,000,000 each year.

UNICEF believes in the power of play and the joy of a carefree childhood. However, millions of children around the world are unable to be included in this objective due to disease, conflict, hunger and poverty.
Through play, children are able to learn how to interact with their peers and learn abstract concepts. Just 15 minutes of play can spark thousands of connections in a baby’s brain, and playing before they enter school has an impact on how they will perform.

Since its first match in 2006, UNICEF Soccer Aid has raised more than £35,000,000 and through projects funded by Soccer Aid and the UK government, they have improved the lives of 2,000,000 children and 903,000 pregnant women.

Over the last 13 years, UNICEF Soccer Aid has been able to change the lives of children by helping them reach their full potential. By bringing people together to watch a match and encourage donations, they are able to change lives in many in parts of the world.

– Alexia Carvajalino
Photo: Unsplash

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in the Philippines
Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes in the world. Trafficked individuals often have to do manual labor, become sex slaves or perform domestic servitude. Unfortunately, the prevalence of human trafficking in the Philippines is quite high. Experts estimate that the number of people in slavery in the Philippines totals over 780,000. Many believe that this large number stems from the Philippines’ low GDP per capita (the country ranks 118th out of 191 nations in this measure) and its high poverty rate of 21.6 percent. Listed below are 10 facts about human trafficking in the Philippines.

Top 10 Facts About Human Trafficking in the Philippines

  1. Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines.
    Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, as stated in Article 202 of the Philippine Constitution. However, many individuals in the Philippines in recent years have pushed to enact bills that focus less on punishing prostitutes and more on preventing and helping victims of human trafficking. Such bills have included The Magna Carta of Women, the Quezon City Ordinance, The Anti-Trafficking Persons Act and The Philippine Plan for Gender-Responsive Development. Each seeks to amend Article 202 in an attempt to end the unlawful exploitation of trafficked individuals.
  2. Super Typhoon Haiyan increased human trafficking.
    The destruction from Super Typhoon Haiyan displaced more than 6 million people and left 1.9 million homeless. The typhoon hit the provinces of Leyte and Samar the hardest, two provinces that people already knew as places in which trafficking was common. The resulting chaos and economic instability have resulted in an increase in human trafficking in these regions.
  3. Human traffickers use the promise of work to lure victims.
    Traffickers commonly target individuals who are either from indigenous communities or are living in more rural areas. They usually offer jobs as maids, waitresses or entertainers to trick individuals into trusting them. This tactic preys on the desperation of many economically disadvantaged individuals.
  4. Children are the most vulnerable.
    Children are at great risk for human trafficking in the Philippines. Estimates determine that 60,000 to 100,000 children are victims of human trafficking in the Philippines. These children either go to work in child sex rings in the Philippines or work abroad as prostitutes. To combat this issue, the Filipino government has begun to work with international organizations, foreign donors and NGOs to fund prevention efforts and increase awareness about human trafficking in the Philippines.
  5. Tourism thrives on human trafficking in the Philippines.
    Much of the demand for prostitution in the Phillippines comes from tourists. Such commercial sex is popular in tourist cities such as Boracay, Angeles City, Olongapo, Puerto Galera and Surigao. While people do not advertise the locations where this prostitution occurs outwardly (due to the formal illegality of prostitution in the Philippines) the tourist prostitution system is unfortunately quite expansive and there are many individuals who have knowledge of these locations from other sources.
  6. Internet trafficking is very common.
    In some cases, relatives use children for profit and forced them to commit various sex acts in front of a webcam. The children committing these acts are typically no older than 12-years-old and each show can rake in about $100. In total, there were over 45,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation in 2017. In response to this, the Filipino government has begun to divert more funds towards helping identify situations in which people are sexually exploiting children. 
  7. Traffickers traffick people both nationally and internationally.
    Traffickers send some human trafficking victims in the Philippines to Manila, the country’s capital, while they traffick others abroad to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have done good work recently in preventing this cross-border trafficking, but people must do more to ensure that these international human trafficking rings shut down for good.
  8. Destiny Rescue is helping to assist victims and catch traffickers.
    Destiny Rescue is an NGO that works with government officials and task forces that deal with human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. It works with former victims to help them heal both mentally and physically from their experiences. It also gathers intelligence regarding trafficking and exploitation rings around Southeast Asia. Recently, Destiny Rescue helped the Filipino National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) bring down a trafficking agency, freeing 159 women in the process.
  9. UNICEF has taken steps to help fight human trafficking.
    Many NGOs around the world have taken steps to help end the practice of human trafficking, including UNICEF. UNICEF has stepped into work with both the Filipino government and local communities to report and recognize trafficking. Efforts by UNICEF include working to better monitor and collect data about trafficking and informing officials such as social workers, prosecutors and church workers about laws regarding human trafficking.  UNICEF has also aided in the rescue and recovery of trafficking victims and has worked to teach parents and communities about the typical behaviors and practices that lead to exploitation.
  10. The Filipino Government is taking the issue seriously.
    The government has taken huge steps to cut back on the amount of trafficking that takes place. The budgets of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have increased with a specific interest in fighting trafficking. In addition, various government organizations such as the Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) and members of the DOJ and the DSWD have worked together to create new policies in the hopes of preventing human trafficking in the future. The IACAT has also worked to increase awareness about human trafficking by hosting various events open to the general public.

These 10 facts about human trafficking in the Philippines demonstrate that trafficking remains a major problem in the country. However, many are working to help improve the situation and there is hope that, in the near future, human trafficking in the Philippines will be a thing of the past.

– Sydney Toy
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terminating child marriage
Child marriage and its confining consequences affect 650 million women across the world and violate human rights. Some of these are access to health care and economic opportunity. While UNICEF databases indicate that the prevalence of child marriage has considerably decreased by at least 6 percent since 1995, child marriage rates remain urgent and concerning; 12 million girls under 18 enter a marriage or early union globally each year.

The persistence of child marriage in a globalized age remains a barrier that obstructs the world from achieving international social justice. Aims to discover the key to terminating child marriage is only a modern development, as child marriage had been the norm virtually everywhere up until the 20th century. In the 21st century, the practice conflicts with a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the U.N. in 2015, such as gender equality, no poverty and decent work and economic growth.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

  1. Gender equality: Women make up the vast majority of child marriage victims, largely lacking the necessary empowerment from their communities to escape such conditions. Often feeling as though they lack any other choice, they enter the immobilizing hands of long-held social norms and thus continuing gender inequalities. Subsequently, they are unable to escape their impoverished conditions.
  2. No poverty: Just as poverty is a consequence of child marriage, it too serves as a driving cause. In rural regions where large family sizes and poverty commonly go hand in hand, families send off young daughters in arranged marriages as an attempt to reduce their financial burden. The attempt largely fails, however, and the cycle of poverty for these families and girls continues.
  3. Decent work and economic growth: Barred from freedom and choice in major life decisions, it is no surprise that these 15 million child victims entering marriage each year lack economic independence. Not only do these conditions mean the disabling of girls from unlocking their potential, but according to Economic Impacts of Child Marriage research, it also restrains countries, where child marriage is most prominent, from achieving significant and otherwise attainable economic growth.

Other SDGs that clash with child marriage include quality education and reduced inequalities. Given the prevalence and urgency of this human rights issue, to make true progress within the variety of goals, the U.N. set Target 5.3 of the SDGs to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.”

The UN’s Inter-Agency Program

Latin America and the Caribbean are regions with the highest prevalence of child marriage, following Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. As such, the U.N. made it a priority to target this region to accomplish SDG target 5.3. Specifically, it intended to accomplish this with an inter-agency program covering five countries.

  1. The Dominican Republic, where 36 percent of girls married before 18 in 2017.
  2. Guatemala, where 30 percent of girls married before 18.
  3. Colombia, where 23 percent of girls married before 18.
  4. El Salvador, where 26 percent of girls married before 18.
  5. Mexico, where 26 percent of girls married before 18.

This program involved the uniting of the UNPF, UNICEF and U.N. Women in October 2017 to discuss their shared experiences alongside Latin American inter-institutional actors. Moreover, it was “to identify common challenges and strategies and develop national and regional roadmaps to contribute to compliance with the SDGs” according to UNICEF’s official file.

Those involved included members of civil society and international organizations, government officials and even adolescent girls serving as the program’s youth network representatives. The U.N. uses the power of diversity to effectively analyze, evaluate and prescribe for the pressing matter at hand.

Four Main Program Outcomes

The program ultimately proved that communication and cooperation among these diverse parties are key to terminating child marriage. The first step to progress is to discover and discuss the root causes of the critical issue. Through mutual respect for one another and collective discussion, key causes that participants agreed upon during the program included poverty and inequalities, as well as gender-based violence. With their first-hand experiences, the adolescent representatives disclosed the majority of the drivers discussed. Key causes they shared included school dropout, social harassment and the lack of resources available for pregnant and/or married girls.

Four main outcomes came out of the program, agreed upon by all involved parties as key to terminating child marriage. They were as follows:

  1. Create legal reforms to raise the legal age of marriage in all countries with no exceptions. Participants thoroughly discussed challenges in doing so and in promoting awareness of such legal changes. Since the program, a legislation change that occurred was the Mexico Senate’s approval of a total ban on underage marriage.
  2. Promote policies and services in the areas of health, education and gender equality, among others, and make them far more accessible in all regions. Involved parties agreed that a key means of doing so would require working at the community level and from among civil society, such as teaching males the good of gender equality.
  3. Empower girls in all Latin American and Caribbean countries. This would be accomplished by teaching adolescent girls their sexual rights as well as using social networks to reach and further educate them. This method would be particularly effective since there is a rising amount of internet usage in Latin America.
  4. Create a multilateral platform to maximize efficiency in the fight against child marriage within Latin America and beyond. The collaboration innate to this program would optimistically enter the future with cooperative methods such as pooling resources and advocating for girls’ rights internationally.

Countries should consider each of the four outcomes when implementing future national and international developments and projects meant to end underage marriage. The evident prioritizing of international cooperation is key to terminating child marriage. While the battle in doing so is far from over, the future appears bright as endeavors for correspondence and correlating declines in child marriage rates represent the necessary effort— and potential— for change.

– Breana Stanski
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