children’s rights

No More Child Brides

Image of girl in Indian wedding outfit with caption

Image from Indian NGO working to keep girls in school

by Matilda Branson

(Trigger warning: discussion of child sexual abuse)

When I was eight years old, I had three main interests in life:

  1. Building cubby houses in trees.
  2. The trampoline.
  3. Salt and vinegar flavoured chips.

And I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up, a stylish incarnation of the Famous Five-meets-Indiana Jones. I had few worries in life.

A few weeks ago an eight-year-old Yemeni girl died from internal bleeding from a ruptured uterus, caused by sex with her 40-year-old husband, not long after marriage.

It is not ok for an eight-year-old girl to be married to anyone.

It is not ok for an eight-year-old girl to die from sex with her 40-year-old husband.

It is fundamentally wrong, wrong, wrong.

You can feel it, no? That slightly sick feeling? It’s not fair, it’s not right – it is wrong. 11-year-old Nada al-Ahdal captures the issues and fears for child brides, as she talks about escaping her arranged marriage, in this video from earlier this year.

Child marriage. Early marriage.Forced marriage. Whatever it’s called, it’s a serious abuse of child rights. It threatens young girls’ lives, their health, and their futures (UNFPA, 2012).  It exposes girls to early pregnancy (the complications which may arise during childbirth when young being the main cause of death among 15-19 year old girls in developing countries), to HIV and STIs. Young girls are more at risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse (marital rape, a hidden form of gender-based violence, is frequently  ignored in the public sphere, left out of policies and legislation), as well as psychological and emotional harm including depression, feelings of hopelessness, and trauma among others.

Girls’ educations (formal and vocational) and their ability to attend school, and to consequently access employment opportunities and to have futures, are irretrievably lost on the day they are married.

Choice for a girl – to have the opportunity to find out what she wants, to choose what she would like to be – is stolen.

Child Marriage hot spots throughout the world:

Rank

Country Name

% girls married before 18

1

Niger

75

2

Chad

68

3

Central African Republic

68

4

Bangladesh

66

5

Guinea

63

6

Mozambique

56

7

Mali

55

8

Burkina Faso

52

9

South Sudan

52

10

Malawi

50

11

Madagascar

48

12

Eritrea

47

13

India

47

14

Somalia

45

15

Sierra Leone

44

16

Zambia

42

17

Dominican Republic

41

18

Ethiopia

41

19

Nepal

41

20

Nicaragua

41

* Child marriage prevalence is defined as the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before age 18.

Source: UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2013 – data from UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and other national surveys, and refers to the most recent year available during the period 2002-2011. Source: United Nations 

Horrified at the stats?  I was- no, I am, hence the blog post. Not enough is being done. What is scary is that if current trends continue, worldwide, 142 million girls will be married in the next decade alone (UNFPA, 2012). Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism Leave a comment

Thinking of Children in International Development

Photo of child working at brick kiln factory by Matilda Branson

Photo of child working at brick kiln factory by Matilda Branson

by Matilda Branson

Working in gender issues, I sometimes push the children’s rights stuff to the side for UNICEF or Save the Children to deal with, or leave the child labour issues in the hands of the International Labor Organisation. I put it all into a mental box labelled “child rights stuff”, separate to all the gender and women’s rights things I work on day to day.

But ye gods, surely this is the Achilles’ heel of international development, the old approach of silo-ing everything into separate fields – women’s rights separate to children’s rights, water and sanitation separate to education, public health separate to economic empowerment. It’s crazy because everything overlaps, and a holistic approach has to be the name of the game, right? Of course child rights issues cross-cut gender and equality.

Sweat shops in India, child soldiers in Uganda, child pornography, the exploitation of children… In the world of international development, working side-by-side with child-focused organisations like World Vision and UNICEF and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and child-specific Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) like MDG 2 – “Achieving universal primary education” or MDG 4 “Reducing child mortality rates”– it sometimes seems that “children’s issues” are the easiest to tackle. There’s a reason sponsor-a-child campaigns are so successful – no one likes to let kids suffer and so many interventions for kids are needs-based.

Yet last month, I went on a monitoring visit to a brick kiln factory on the outskirts of Kathmandu in Nepal where I work, with an organisation named Animal Nepal, to investigate the working conditions of the many donkeys, mules and small ponies which cart devastatingly heavy loads of unbaked bricks to and from the huge chimney-like brick kiln to be cooked.

Brick kiln factories are where the bricks that are building a rapidly urbanising Kathmandu are made. But the cruel animal labour aside, horrible enough within itself, these factories are also home to young seasonal labourers –as young as six-years-old. These workers are young kids from poor rural families desperate to earn money, children sent as bonded labourers, or children living in poverty from India who hear through a middleman that they can make a buck over the border in Kathmandu. These are the children upon whose backs the brick industry is built in Nepal. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism Leave a comment