By Helene Christensen
“We are equal to boys and can also contribute to society,” said 17-year-old Lidia Suale Saide. Lidia knows what it means to stand up for these beliefs. One year ago, she refused her mother’s attempt to marry her off. She said she wanted to become a doctor instead.
“I want to become independent and free of the harms and expectations placed on girls in my community,” she told UNFPA recently.
But many girls in Mozambique are not able to avoid marriage. Child marriage is widespread in the country, with 48 per cent of women aged 20-24 reporting they were married before reaching age 18.
Child marriage often pushes girls from school, and it leaves them vulnerable to abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm or even death.
Child marriage and teen pregnancies are closely linked: In Mozambique, some 46 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are either pregnant or already mothers, according to 2015 data.
But Lidia is helping to change these trends.
She is now a mentor in Raparinga Biz, a UNFPA-supported programme that has mobilized tens of thousands of adolescent girls to learn about their sexual and reproductive health and human rights, as well as about citizenship and life skills.
This knowledge is helping girls advocate for themselves and each other: Within the programme’s first year, only 1 per cent of the 23,500 adolescent girls involved were married before turning 18.
Tackling gender inequality, violence
Raparinga Biz, which translates to “Busy Girl,” was launched in May 2016. It has so far reached 94,000 girls and young women. Over 2,300 girls have been trained as mentors.
The programme directly takes on one of the root causes of child marriage and teen pregnancy: gender inequality. Girls discuss the importance of equality, empowerment and human rights.
“Our society is portraying girls and women as inferior, and it is influencing our confidence and value,” said 16-year-old Assma Cassam Ismali, one of the programme’s young mentors. “As a mentor I want to support girls to value themselves.”
Too often, gender inequality takes the form of violence against women and girls. Even school can be an unsafe environment. Seven in 10 girls in Mozambique know of cases of sexual harassment and abuse in their schools, a 2013 UN report indicated.
“My teacher has been harassing me for a year,” Maria* told UNFPA. “One time he forced a sexual relation with me in a classroom. I feel ashamed and blame myself. He is HIV positive, and I fear what more can happen.”
Maria is another of the new mentors trained under Rapariga Biz. She spoke about her experience during a mentors’ training session on human rights.
She wants to help other girls stand up for themselves and their rights, and to help girls seek justice if abuses do occur.
Former child bride advocates change
The resilience of mentors like Maria and Lidia is one of the programme’s strengths. Mentors are able to draw from their own experiences, as well as their training, when educating and advising other girls.
Lucia*, from Angoche District in Nampula Province, was pressured by her family to become the wife of a man who was already married. As an orphan, Lucia had little support in opposing the marriage. She ultimately married him against her wishes.
She was miserable, and after much negotiation with her extended family, she managed to leave the marriage.
Today, she focuses on her studies and advocates for change as a Raparinga Biz mentor.
“I want to inspire girls to marry out of love and choice,” she said. “We cannot be obliged to marry against our will. I hope my story can inspire adolescent girls in my community to choose who to marry at the right time.”
Raparinga Biz is led by the Government of Mozambique, with technical support from UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO and UN WOMEN. The programme receives funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, along with a contribution from the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
It aims to reach 1 million girls and young women by 2020.
Published on UNFPA on February 15, 2018
By Alex Gitta
A new law introduced in 2016 which criminalizes child labor has failed to stop exploitation due to inadequate implementation. More than 2 million children in Uganda are estimated to be affected.
Thirteen-year-old Bugembe is just one of more than 2 million children in Uganda who are currently being exploited as child laborers.
"I am not in school because I have no school fees, so I sell my uncle's polythene bags in Nakasero Market and I get here at 5 am – I have not been here for long," he told DW.
His work means he often stays in Kampala city until late in the evening and must be careful to avoid the yellow-clad Kampala City Council workers who arrest street vendors.
Bugembe says his uncle does not pay him for his work. But he still hopes to one day return to schooland realize his dream of becoming a doctor.
Unfortunately, Bugembe's situation is not unique. In Ruti market near Mbarara in Western Uganda, DW met 13-year-old Colins Turyamuhaki, who earns a living by packing sacks of bananas. But he also must take on the responsibility of paying his own school fees, as well as those of his younger brother.
"I pack bags. For each bag I am paid 3000 (€0.70; $0.85) or 2000 shillings, but in a day I can pack like three or four. So I use this money to buy books and school fees, and then my parents also top-up when they can," he told DW.
Turyamuhaki only manages to take a break once all of the banana trucks have left for Kampala. In the afternoon, he helps shoppers in the market carry their goods for a fee. Then in the evening, he sells fruit on the streets of Mbarara. He only hopes he will earn enough to complete his education. "I know this kind of work will never make me rich, so I want to make enough money to see me through school."
Children not aware of their rights
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) claims 45% of children from households living below the poverty line are forced out of school to work and supplement their parents' incomes, with children aged between 5 and 17 years the worst at risk.
But although the government approved the Children Amendment Act in 2016, which officially criminalizes child labor, follow-ups on identified cases are often not carried out.
The majority of human rights officers wait for affected children to report their cases first. However, not all children are aware of their rights when it comes to child labor.
Teopista Twembi works with the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in Mbarara. She says that this responsibility ultimately comes down to the parents.
"They are supposed to do what is in line with their age – we want to guide the parents who we find are using these children to do work which is really beyond their age, and we condemn it," she told DW. "If a child reports [child labor], then that's an issue we can handle, because we listen to this child and we call on the parents or the responsible person, and we guide them accordingly."
Implementation of child labor laws remains weak
But bodies, including the UHRC, who are required to tackle child labor say many challenges come with the job – not least of which is the lack of will among the country's leaders to implement the laws, as they seek political popularity.
Despite the challenges, however, Jeremiah Kamurari, the chairperson of Isingiro District, says he is committed to seeing the law implemented in his district.
"I am going to ensure that no child within this area is doing such hard labor. All children must go to school," Kamurari said, adding that serious measures would be taken if the law is not followed: "We must apprehend the parents, arrest them and prosecute them, because the future of these children lies in their hands. If they misuse it, the children will also become a problem for the government in the future. I will not allow this."
But with limited funds available, this still leaves families headed by children with no adults to prosecute in an uncertain situation.
Published on DW on February 8, 2018
Nearly 700 children in El Tarra were forced to stop their regular classes after clashes between armed groups. "The reality for many children is in stark contrast to the positive picture painted by the peace agreement," warned Christian Visnes, the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) Country Director in Colombia. A crossfire caused bullets to fly over a school, whilst children were attending classes, in the first two days of February. Additionally, 176 people fled their homes as a result of the fighting and threats in the Eastern province of Norte de Santander.
In the region, clashes between armed groups and security forces continue to affect populations near the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
International Humanitarian Law proscribes attacks on educational institutions by armed groups. “We – Governments, humanitarian actors, donors- have a shared responsibility to ensure that schools are safe and that education continues during armed conflict and displacement”, said Visnes.
NRC encourages the Colombian Government to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and step up its efforts to ensure that schools are safe and protected. Strict measures against those who violate these principles should be implemented.
According to an NRC report, the armed conflict, which is compounded by a lack of state presence, severely limits children, adolescents and youth's right to education. Almost three out every ten children living in rural areas in Colombia never attended school. Half of those who go to school do not continue after the primary level (five years of education).
Consequently, children and adolescents aged 12, 13 and 14 have little education, which makes them extremely vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups or the illegal economy. Collaborative effort between the government and its institutions is needed to ensure that schools in conflict- affected areas are safe and protected, and free from military use and attacks.
“It is our joint responsibility to ensure that schools are safe during times of crisis. In conflict affected areas where NRC is delivering humanitarian assistance, displaced children often tell staff that schools are the place where they feel safest” said Visnes. When schools are attacked and land mines are planted along the road, their sense of safety vanishes. Attacks and military use of schools have devastating consequences on children’s lives, as it not only disrupts classes, fosters drop-out but also limits the quality of education.
The year started with more newly displaced people in Colombia. Nearly 2,800 have been displaced as a result of the conflict. The protracted crisis has displaced more than 7.2 million Colombians.
Published on NRC on February 7, 2018
By ANNE-BIRGITTE ALBRECTSEN
The Sustainable Development Goals were a step forward for girls. The adoption of a standalone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, was a major landmark, an indicator of the international community’s commitment to ensuring that women and girls have equal opportunities by 2030. Furthermore, girls are mentioned explicitly in seven targets. But do the SDGs go far enough in truly protecting girls’ rights?
Plan International’s new research argues perhaps not.
Girls are one of the largest excluded groups on the planet, carrying a double burden of gender and age-based discrimination. They are disadvantaged as compared to boys in education, work, health and family life, and can experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination from poverty, ethnicity and disability.
Despite these challenges, international law and agreements continue to take a relatively gender and age-neutral approach, effectively rendering girls invisible. Particularly concerning is the fact that both the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – the cornerstones of girls’ rights – explicitly refer to girls only once. The specific challenges and barriers girls face to accessing their rights are all too often concealed under the ageless category of “women” or the gender-neutral categories of “children”, “adolescents” or “youth”. This means that girls continually fall in the shadow of women’s and children’s rights, and the specific barriers they face to claiming their rights remain obscured.
In order to better understand this issue, and position girls at the heart of the international agenda, Plan International has launched the Girls’ Rights Platform. This platform houses the world’s most comprehensive and searchable human rights database of more than 1,400 international policy documents. This unique tool will be an important resource for diplomats, NGOs, activists and academics, providing them with easy access to robust language to promote and protect girls’ rights. The Girls’ Rights Platform will also be a hub for training to help build knowledge and understanding of these critical issues, and includes a 6-module training tool.
Together with the Girls Rights Platform, Plan International has published an in-depth study on the status of girls in international law. The Girls’ Rights are Human Rights report dives into these 1,400 international policy documents and highlights the gaps in human rights protection for girls.
One of the important findings of Plan International’s research relates to a concerning pattern of reservations in international law and policy. Reservations are caveats to international agreements that allow States to choose not to be bound by particular provisions. The research has found, unsurprisingly, that most reservations around girls concern their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), as well as issues surrounding equality in marriage and family life. These reservations are often justified by States on the grounds of religious or cultural differences, but whatever the reason, they erode girls’ autonomy over their own life and their bodies. Even the Sustainable Development Goals attracted a high number of reservations, a third of which relate to gender equality and SRHR. Despite the few specific mentions of girls, the high number of reservations on these critical issues calls into question the willingness of Member States to truly move the needle on girls’ rights.
The Sustainable Development Goals do go further than their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which mentioned girls only in the context of education. Still, girls in the SDGs remain grouped together with women or boys. In addition to the 2030 Agenda being the object of many reservations on issues critical to girls’ rights, the Goals don’t go far enough to truly single girls out and highlight their specific needs and barriers that are different from women and boys.
As a global leader on girls’ rights, Plan International is calling on the international community to single out girls, articulating their rights and needs in a way that has never been done before. If the current gender and age-neutral approaches continue, girls will remain in the shadows. Plan International urges the international community to:
Without making these changes, girls around the globe will continue to slip through the cracks. In their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical that States intentionally and explicitly address the double burden of discrimination faced by girls in all issues, and recognise the realisation of girls’ rights as an objective in itself.
Published on IISD on February 8, 2018
By Susanna Rustin
It doesn’t help the cause of children’s rights that many people have never heard of them. Almost a century after the first “children’s charter” was drafted by the English social reformer Eglantyne Jebb, the phrase “children’s rights” still has an abstract ring. Reach for a utopian vision of liberated children in charge of their destinies and you bump up against William Golding’s dystopian Lord of the Flies.
I’ve visited schools whose walls are plastered with the text of the UN convention on the rights of the child. But it’s striking that even when young people are subjected to grotesque violations – such as the tortures allegedly inflicted by David and Louise Turpin on their children in California – we rarely frame efforts to protect and empower them in terms of advancing their rights.
This week, one key children’s rights issue is back on the agenda, following the announcement that 16-year-olds in Wales will, like their Scottish peers, be allowed to vote in local elections . But in Conservative-run England, children’s rights are under attack, even if this is barely noticed. Imagine the outrage if the post of women and equalities minister had been abolished in the recent reshuffle. Yet this is what happened to the minister of state for children’s job, when Robert Goodwill was sacked and his responsibilities passed down the chain to parliamentary under-secretary Nadhim Zahawi – a previously obscure politician now notorious for his attendance at the men-only Presidents Club dinner.
It may seem crude, or even tasteless, to link child abuse with voting rights, but crimes against children follow from their powerlessness. While the UN convention does not demand votes for children, it does insist on their right to speak and be heard.
Children’s living standards in the UK are declining, with child poverty forecast to reach record levels by 2022. Young people are losing out in relation to other age groups as a result of increasing house prices, tuition fees many will never pay off, and an uncertain jobs market.
In 2004, the Labour government responded to the murder of Victoria Climbié with the Children Act, which created a new post of children’s commissioner for England and reorganised children’s services. Ten years later, Gordon Brown called children’s rights “the civil-rights movement’s unfinished business”. But while David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s governments have supported progressive legislation in some areas – gay marriage, trans rights, new laws against domestic violence – further progress on children’s rights has been blocked.
It’s not hard to see why. Just as the backlash against #MeToo is easy to understand when you recognise that more power for women means less power for men, so more power for children means less power for adults. And in siding with the grownups, Conservatives are also signalling their distaste for the state.
Families, not governments, should have authority over children, say rightwing politicians who defend the right of parents to hit their children, or keep them out of school without letting local councils know they exist, or send them to the inadequate private religious schools recently highlighted by Ofsted. Such ideas find their most extreme expression in the US – the only UN member state not a party to the children’s rights convention – where campaigners for “parental rights” are seeking an amendment to the constitution, and insisting that no new regulation of home schooling is necessary since the “private school” where the Turpins imprisoned their children was a one-off.
There are important ways in which children’s rights could be strengthened. Children’s commissioners are important advocates but lack teeth since they can only carry out formal investigations when the government says so. Just as the Equality Act imposed a duty on public sector bodies to eliminate discrimination against women and minorities, so a new children’s act could require them to consider young people, and to engage them in meaningful consultation. When did an education secretary, for example, last seek children’s views on the national curriculum?
I used to be against votes at 16. Let them be children, I thought. But the thing is, we don’t. The Scottish children’s commissioner, Bruce Adamson, has called “absolutely ridiculous” the situation in which children are held criminally responsible for their actions almost a decade before they are allowed to vote. Meanwhile teenagers are expected to pay adult prices for almost everything, from train fares to clothing, while youth services of all sorts shut up shop. We only need to look at the environment to see how disastrously we adults are failing future generations. Votes at 16, absolutely, but that’s just a start.
Published on The Guardian on January 30, 2018
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.