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Mental health issues facing refugee children

In her recent blog for Poverty Child, Sarah Bunce discusses the detrimental impact of poverty on health. An overwhelming catalogue of challenges facing refugee children is documented in an all too sobering account by UNICEF. Displacement, loss and the complete breakdown of routine are only the beginning. Millions of refugee children, many unaccompanied, are confronted by terrible challenges while travelling before they reach their destination, often without any prospect of a return to their former homes and lives. They appear to have very few options to undertake safe migrations, risking unforeseen exploitation and dangers, for example being forced into child labour, marriage, trafficking, let alone the risk of violence and humiliation. It goes without saying that these children are deprived of an education, basic nutrition, organised medical care, as well as possessions, friends and relatives. As personal tragedies unfold and compound, daunting problems await further down the line. How challenging it must be to try fitting into a new community so different to anything previously experienced. Initially there is political bureaucracy to negotiate; inevitable prejudice; language barriers; cultural differences; and the lasting impact left by the pandemic. Organisations like UNHCR, UNICEF, and Save the Children present arrays of statistics to highlight the suffering and deprivation associated with the plight of refugee children, but it is a sad reality that long-term mental health issues can be all too easily overlooked by the new host community. The old notion that a broken leg is easier to treat than a mental health condition, because it is clearly tangible, remains totally applicable.

What forms of anxiety can refugee children experience?

Anxiety occurs in many forms. For example, Separation Anxiety which especially affects younger children. If refugee children are separated from a parent or relatives, then they are susceptible to powerfully specific feelings of being unsafe and unloved. New circumstances and contexts can make them feel bewilderingly upset, even if they are with people they know and love. While it is perfectly natural for children to miss their parents for a few hours or even a few days, imagine the emotional prospect of being separated on a seemingly permanent basis. They may be clinging to hopes of being reunited, as well as vividly recalling final goodbyes. Suddenly having to cope without the support of loved ones, in unfamiliar and dangerous situations would seem utterly daunting to refugee children. Some do take with them one or two personal possessions which they strongly associate with their homes and relatives. While these can prove to be affirmingly comforting they can also provoke poignantly sad memories. The NHS discusses Separation Anxiety here.

Migration, Integration, Migrants, Merge

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a chronic condition. Anyone suffering from GAD is likely to be preoccupied about a past event or specific people a great deal of the time. It can have a hugely inhibiting impact on a child, to the point where it becomes difficult for them to concentrate or socialise. The condition is linked to Social Anxiety Disorder, where children become withdrawn because they feel convinced that they will be judged, mocked, and bullied by those around them. Experiences of child refugees mean that they are particularly susceptible to these mental health conditions. The NHS discusses Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder here.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Unsurprisingly, child refugees commonly suffer from PTSD. They have often witnessed terrible events and losses. They are prone to mental health aftershocks which include panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and persistent preoccupation with what they have experienced. It is vital to understand that these episodes frequently occur when there is no present trigger for them. This can make it difficult for new hosts and communities to appreciate precisely what the child concerned is suffering. The incidents may be over, but the children are highly likely to experience these symptoms of PTSD until formal treatment can be administered, which may not be for a long time, depending on the new host society. And these symptoms can be terrifying, not simply upsetting. The NHS discusses PTSD here.

 

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Mental health first aid approaches

Mental health first aid courses emphasise the importance of providing non-judgemental reassurance and space to young people who are suffering from forms of anxiety. Experts explain that intrusive probing is counterproductive and risks exacerbating anxiety issues, possibly even leading to self-harm. Supportive, sympathetic conversations may convey enough comfort to empower a young person to begin to open up about their feelings and concerns. Listening in a calm manner is an important approach, establishing a sincere sense of trust. It is important that the young person can feel reassured enough to take the lead and explain their feelings. In other words, thoughtful listening is central to reaching out to people with anxiety. Mental health first aiders are trained to avoid patronising approaches which can stifle opportunities for the young person to describe their feelings and reactions. Consequently, it is recommended practice to avoid assertive-sounding language, a simple phrase like ‘How may I help you?’ is far more likely to prove conducive to establishing trust than ‘You have to calm down’. Likewise, ‘You are welcome to come back to see us when you would like to’ would feel more empowering and respectful than ‘You are overthinking your situation’, which sounds judgementally dismissive. Reaching out to young refugees with anxiety conditions is all about building bridges and affording opportunities to talk openly in a safe and supportive context.

It is also important to validate the young person’s anxiety. The triggers and reflections which continue to  prompt their anxiety remain consistently threatening for them. They do not seem irrelevant or irrational and must not be played down. Young refugees need to be assured that they are not alone, that people do care about their situation and that there will be help available. Above all, mental health first aiders are trained never to hold a young person accountable for their condition. Nor will they overwhelm anyone with too much information about specific forms of anxiety, but they will confirm that improvement and recovery are completely possible. Finally, if professional services are available mental health first aiders will recommend those when the time feels right.

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Positive steps forward

The Refugee Council supports families and unaccompanied children arriving in the UK. They have developed a specialist mental wellbeing service for lone young refugees, My View. Their vision is encouragingly ambitious, to help children harness the extraordinary strength and resilience which they have demonstrated in their stories so far. Professional treatment includes one-to-one therapy and therapeutic group meetings. Young people are invited to discuss and express their feelings, for example, through creative arts. There have also been opportunities to participate in psychosocial activities, for instance, an outing to Kew Gardens, or joining an equine therapy workshop, or attending practical sessions at a community garden. Professionals consider the impact of such treatment and activities to be hugely beneficial to the young people concerned. Gratifyingly, approximately eighty percent of participants have acknowledged tangible improvements to their mental health.

In conclusion, child refugees face daunting challenges and displacement leaves them bewildered and susceptible to mental health issues like anxiety. This can manifest itself in various forms, like GAD, PTSD and separation anxiety. If professional treatment is unavailable, mental health first aid can provide support and offer a way ahead for these most vulnerable children.

Urban Child Poverty – Economic Cause and Effect

8 young children smiling up to the camera in Sumatra

What does childhood look like?

Children cannot always contribute and say what they want: what is right for one may not be right for another.  Urban child poverty is a global issue.  Ensure a brighter future for children requires more action now.  Eradicating extreme poverty is a global concern.  There will be a perpetual downward spiral unless the bar is raised higher.  Many charities, organisations and community groups are already making great improvements.  However, to overhaul the system governments must also cooperate.  Social funds would reduce reliance on a child’s income.  Improved access to education and building safe environments for play would ensure the next generation of adults are more economically active.

Urban child poverty and labour

In 2016, the International Labour Office (ILO) estimated 152 million children were labourers. Almost half were working in hazardous conditions.[1]

Since 2000, the mission to decrease child labour was proving effective.  But the economic stresses of the pandemic began to reverse some of this good work.  In 2021, an estimated 160 million children were labourers.[2]

Woman and child high on a hill of long green grassPixabay – Sasin Tipchai

Agriculture is the most common type of work for children to be engaged in.  Rural areas have three times more child labourers than urban areas.[3]

However, that doesn’t mean the number of working urban children is low.  Families can be large, with 4 or more children.  The older ones are often enlisted into family businesses – weaving, selling flowers or selling food in the streets.  Some end up begging.  Or scavenging through waste for leftovers.  Others are preyed upon by sexual predators and traffickers, coerced into activities that will cause them nothing but misery and suffering.[4][5]

Improvements are necessary

This is not sustainable.  ILO and UNICEF have set out a list of changes essential for the future health of a neglected population.  There’s a dire need for social protection, including universal access to child benefits.  Schools must be free and inclusive.  Employment and education opportunities for adults need to be improved, so that they stop depending on the income of children.  Child protection systems and infrastructure is necessary to support the young.  Spending money on improvements now, will reap benefits in the future.[6]

Recognition of the changes needed and campaigning for them is only part of what it takes for change to occur.  A huge cultural shift is needed.   Focus should be placed on nurturing a child’s potential through education, play, and sport – rather than exploiting them.

As long as there are people and organisations willing to support the development of young people – to advocate and show them they can change their lives and dream big – there is a chance children born into poverty won’t have to raise their own children in poverty.  It takes action, courage and consistency from people willing to help and improve the world a little at a time.

Teacher and students outside of a schoolPixabay – Aditio Tantra Danang Wisnu Wardhana

Combatting urban child poverty through education

Education is nice to have but not always achievable.  Some families may depend on their children to supplement the family’s income by taking on employment themselves.  A lot of the work available to informal settlement and slum residents is precarious.  Contracts run out, and competition is high.  And yet, rent must be paid, food must be paid, electricity must be paid.  After providing the necessities, additional costs for school fees, books and uniforms become a burden.[7]

There are support services available to help struggling families.  But, accessing them can be difficult or conditional, and that’s only if people even know about them.  Groups like Street Child can assist families in meeting with support teams.[8] Meeting the conditions for assistance can be daunting.  Families living in informal settlements struggle to complete application forms: their addresses are not officially recognised.

Child centred learning

Fairplay For All Foundation in Payatas is a group that aims to improve the lives of local children by giving them the opportunities they need to thrive.

“We believe in child-centered(sic) learning; students learn at their own pace, have a say in how the school is run, in what lessons they take, and in how they shape their future.”[9]

Allowing children some say in their education gives them experience in making decisions, promotes inclusion and encourages them to keep at it.  Urban child poverty doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion.

Girls, education and Pregnancy. The Philippines has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the ASEAN. Only 3%of mothers aged 15-19 agreed that the father was in the same age group as them. U-18 mums are less likely to complete their education, lowering their incomes for life. They are more likely to experience domestic violence causing: Depression and low birth weight child. Uganda: Covid-19 school closures saw an estimates 600'000 girls give birth.Pixabay – Ratna Fitry [10][11]

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has recognised an urgent need to improve sex education for young people and provide services to combat economic hardships faced due to teenage pregnancy.  They aim to influence policy making: to improve education and employment opportunities, to increase access to contraception and to provide support for families.[12]

The poverty cycle will continue like this unless there is a fundamental change in how children are valued.  Formal education can increase individual earning potential, standards of living, and GDP but it’s not the only aspect of childhood education to consider.  Learning through play helps a child develop emotionally and socially as well as encourage confidence and self-belief.

5 boys running and laughing, playing with tire and stickPixabay – Joseph Samson

Importance of play for developing children

Playing, and learning through play, is vital for the development of a child. It provides opportunities to: develop social skills; combat stress and poor mental health; practice calculating risk safely and experience a sense of self-worth.  In a living environment that is often full of danger, stress and a cycle of low self-image, it is extremely important to give children the opportunity to see themselves positively.  A child who knows nothing of self-improvement – and the great feeling of accomplishment – will be unlikely to seek those feelings as adults, or encourage their own children to pursue them.

According to 2019 data, less than half of the world’s population has access to open public space within 400m of their home.  Just over a quarter of people in Eastern and Southeastern Asia have this luxury.[13]

This demonstrates that a very small number of children in urban areas can play safely in nature.  The majority of children (if they even have the time) play in alleyways or must complete long, unsafe journeys to reach a park.  In addition, entrance fees are often charged.

Playing for health

“Poverty itself can negatively affect how the body and mind develop, and economic hardship can actually alter the fundamental structure of the child’s brain.”[14]

Playing in a safe environment allows children the opportunity to forget, however briefly, some of the problems they live with.  Stress is extremely detrimental to growing bodies and toxic to brain chemistry.

Being exposed to a wide variety of extremely stressful situations is a lot for young minds to take on.  That’s why the work of local community groups is extremely important – to give children with nowhere else to turn, an opportunity to make the most of their early lives.

Fairplay for All (Payatas, Philippines)

The Fairplay for All Foundation in Payatas, Philippines works with local children assisting with  education as well as providing safe spaces to play. Giving children a challenge and an opportunity to grow is vitally important.  Allowing them the chance to hope, a chance to achieve self-worth makes all the difference.

Loren

During the early days of Covid-19, the children started a newsletter to occupy their time.  Loren (17) wrote an article:

“When I was younger, I didn’t really understand the importance of nature and why we should take care of it. I have only known the world which I grew up in, a place where there’s trash everywhere and no scenic views in sight”. Because Payatas’ informal settlement was built in a rubbish dump, the locals understand the importance of recycling – it is how they have survived.  As Loren notes: “..people here are more aware of how their garbage should be handled and don’t just throw things that can still be reused or recycled.”

Children are the next generation of leaders: given the opportunity and some confidence they can make their communities – the world – a better place.[15]

Cars before children

As cities grow and urban areas expand, very little thought has been given to youth.  Playparks are forgotten, green spaces transform into roads, and all the safety is yanked out of a young person’s day.

Work is ongoing across the world to undo the bad habit of favouring of cars over children. Charitable organisations continue to press the issue.  In addition, they highlight the need to plan child-friendly space in balance with economic needs.  Yes, adults do need to drive to work: but children also need a slice of nature preserved for a chance at physical and mental health.[16]

Mental and physical health effects of urban child poverty

The chronic stress of living in impoverished and unhealthy conditions can overwhelm a child’s stress response systems, causing what has been referred to as “toxic stress.”[17]

Children and adults who live in poor neighbourhoods are likely to experience mental health problems, as well as physical problems.  Poverty and a shorter life expectancy almost go hand in hand.  Furthermore, they are at risk from malnutrition, chronic illness, exposure to pollutants, food insecurity, violence and crime.[18]

Each of these factors inhibits a child’s development.  Outside help is often needed to break the cycle.  Organisations such as Fairplay are essential for giving the young a safe environment to enjoy their childhood, away from the stigma and stress of urban child poverty.

Risks of overcrowding in urban areas

There are inherent risks in growing up in overcrowded urban areas.  Informal settlements are often without hygienic waste disposal and are navigated by a series of alleyways where this waste gathers.  Children are exposed to all kinds of illness, physical injury and even death in these areas.[19]

As populations expand, informal settlements expand along with them.  It has been estimated that 2 billion people have little access to sanitation.  In Kenya alone, estimates say around 1-2% of GDP is lost because of insufficient hygiene controls.[20]

In a world contending with Covid-19, it seems unthinkable that so many people don’t have clean water to wash their hands.  They can’t hydrate without risking their health.  Their immune systems are assaulted daily, and for the emerging immune systems of children, this assault can be overpowering.

As well as illnesses brought on by a combination of inadequate nutrition and sanitation, overcrowding increases the risk of burns, falls, heatstroke and road traffic accidents.[21]

Children depend on adults for help

There are many reasons why a child must look after themselves.  Some are orphans and some parents work long hours.  Some are street children, separated from their families.  Without healthy supervision and guidance, children won’t spot potential dangers or be fully aware of their surroundings.  They depend on adults to teach them.  The pressures of poverty mean that, unfortunately, children are neglected because there is no other choice.

Therefore, they must make their way in a world that hasn’t considered their perspective.  Urban areas are expanding fast, cobbled together without much planning.  There’s a lack of speed limits on roads, lack of walkable pavements, lack of easily accessible shops and an explosive increase in the number of road users.  Combined, these create a frightening scenario for young children.[22]

There are many positive changes taking place to improve the lives of young people affected by urban child poverty but the issues are so widespread that more, as always, must be done.  Covid-19 has eroded gained ground and change is precarious.  How many families would prefer their child to work in hazardous conditions over living their best life? Unfortunately, the needs of today are far more pressing than the ideals of tomorrow

Footnotes

  1. International Labour Office (ILO) “Global Estimates of Child Labour: Results and Trends 2012-2016 Executive Summary”; Available at https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575541.pdf (accessed: 30/03/2022)
  2. ILO “Child Labour Rises to 160 Million – First Increase in Two Decades” 10/06/2021; Available at https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_800090/lang–en/index.htm#:~:text=GENEVA%20(ILO%20News)%20%E2%80%93%20The,Organization%20(ILO)%20and%20UNICEF (accessed: 30/03/2022)
  3. Ibid.
  4. ChildHope Philippines “A Closer Look At Child Labor in the Philippines” 08/06/2021; Available at https://childhope.org.ph/child-labor-in-the-philippines/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  5. Halliday, J “Former Radio 1 DJ Mark Page Jailed Over Philippines Child Sexual Offenses” 10/03/2022; Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/mar/10/former-radio-1-dj-mark-page-jailed-for-child-sex-offences-in-philippines#:~:text=A%20former%20BBC%20Radio%201,their%20poverty%2C%20the%20judge%20said (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  6. ILO “Child Labour Rises to 160 Million – First Increase in Two Decades” 10/06/2021; Available at https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_800090/lang–en/index.htm#:~:text=GENEVA%20(ILO%20News)%20%E2%80%93%20The,Organization%20(ILO)%20and%20UNICEF (accessed: 30/03/2022)
  7. Children of the Mekong; Available at https://www.childrenofthemekong.org/asia-children-sponsorships/give-hope-to-children-living-in-slums-in-the-philippines/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  8. Street Child “125 Million Children Around The World Cannot Go To School. We’re Working To Change That”; Available at https://www.street-child.ch/our-actions (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  9. Fairplay For All Foundation; Available at https://fairplayph.wordpress.com/programs/#youthcenter (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  10. United Nations Population Fund “Eliminating Teenage Pregnancy in the Philippines” Jan 2020; Available at https://philippines.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/UNFPA_Policy_Brief_Teenage_Pregnancy_%282020-01-24%29.pdf (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  11. The Independent “Uganda’s Teenage Pregnancies Five Times Higher Than Covid-19 Positive Cases” 05/12/2021; Available at https://www.independent.co.ug/ugandas-teenage-pregnancies-five-times-higher-than-covid-19-positive-cases/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  12. United Nations Population Fund “Eliminating Teenage Pregnancy in the Philippines” Jan 2020, Page 4-5; Available at https://philippines.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/UNFPA_Policy_Brief_Teenage_Pregnancy_%282020-01-24%29.pdf (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  13. United Nations Statistics Division “The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020”, Page 47; Available at https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2020.pdf (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  14. Children’s Bureau “Children In Poverty – Poverty and its Effects on Children” 28/01/2019; Available at https://www.all4kids.org/news/blog/poverty-and-its-effects-on-children/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  15. Loren “A World For Our Children” 04/08/2020, “The Payatas Paper” No.12; available at https://fairplayph.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/the-payatas-paper-issue-12-english.pdf (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  16. Cities4Children “Conversations: How Can We Improve Children’s Experience of the Urban Environment” 01/03/2022; Available at https://cities4children.org/blog/conversations-how-can-we-improve-childrens-experience-of-the-urban-environment/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  17. Francis, L., DePriest, K., Wilson, M., Gross, D., (September 30, 2018) “Child Poverty, Toxic Stress, and Social Determinants of Health: Screening and Care Coordination ” OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 23, No. 3, Manuscript 2; Available at https://ojin.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Vol-23-2018/No3-Sept-2018/Child-Poverty-Toxic-Stress-SDOH-Screening-Care.html (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  18. Children’s Bureau “Children In Poverty – Poverty and its Effects on Children” 28/01/2019; Available at https://www.all4kids.org/news/blog/poverty-and-its-effects-on-children/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  19. Mathur, Aditya et al. “Unintentional Childhood Injuries in Urban and Rural Ujjain, India: A Community-Based Survey.” Children (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 5,2 23. 8 Feb. 2018, doi:10.3390/children5020023; Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5835992/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  20. CDC Investment Works “The Sanitation Business Leaving Nothing To Waste”; Available at https://www.cdcgroup.com/en/story/the-sanitation-business-leaving-nothing-to-waste/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  21. Mathur, Aditya et al. “Unintentional Childhood Injuries in Urban and Rural Ujjain, India: A Community-Based Survey.” Children (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 5,2 23. 8 Feb. 2018, doi:10.3390/children5020023; Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5835992/ (Accessed 30/03/2022)
  22. Silverman, A. “Rights of Way: Child Poverty and Road Traffic Injury in the SDGS”; Available at https://www.fiafoundation.org/media/391038/rights-of-way-spreads.pdf (Accessed 30/03/2022)

Child trafficking

Girl's eye

Child trafficking is a form of human trafficking and occurs in nearly every country in the world. According to the United Nations Palermo Protocol, child trafficking is defined as “[t]he recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation”[1]. This protocol has been adopted by most countries and this definition of child trafficking is therefore widely accepted worldwide. Studies have shown that 27% of human trafficking victims are children and 2 out of 3 of these victims are girls.[2] Although boys can be victims of child trafficking, girls are disproportionately affected due to gender inequality and gender-based violence. Girls are twice as likely to be reported as victims of child trafficking and are often trafficked for forced marriages and sexual slavery.[3] Across the globe, 120 million girls experience sexual exploitation[4] which can have devastating consequences for their childhood and futures.

In this article, we will firstly look at the main factors leading to child trafficking. We will then consider the work being carried out by charities and organisations that is helping to put an end to child trafficking globally.

The main causes of child trafficking

Poverty

Poverty is one of the main reasons behind child trafficking. Families and children often wish to migrate away from poor areas to more wealthy areas. Traffickers can manipulate families and children by making false promises of escaping poverty and obtaining better employment and education, remuneration and improved living conditions.[5] However, in fact, this is not the case and victims are forced to do work such as prostitution and hard labour. They receive hardly any pay for this work and still find themselves living in poverty.[6] Traffickers also approach parents living in poverty and encourage them to sell their children into slavery in return for money.[7]

Social and cultural norms

In some countries around the world, social and cultural norms can lead to child trafficking. Selling children to traffickers may be seen as the norm in poor areas and in other places, it is considered acceptable for people to give themselves into slavery as a security for repayment of a debt.[8] In Mauritania, it is still the norm for families to be kept by slave-masters and in Uzbekistan, forced labour is institutionalised.[9] These norms may prevent victims from reporting that they are being trafficked or telling anyone about who they were trafficked by.[10]

Lack of education

Many victims of trafficking suffer from a lack of education and are not aware of their rights. According to The Freedom Story, “[i]n the triborder area in Thailand, 22 percent of surveyed prostitutes had never attended school and 41.5% had some exposure to primary education.”[11]

A lack of education is one of the reasons as to why traffickers target these people and make false promises of a better education and opportunities. Furthermore, due to gender inequality, girls in poverty are sometimes forced to drop out of school and do not have the same opportunities as boys to access jobs. This can lead to girls being trapped in a cycle of poverty and being more vulnerable to trafficking. A lack of education can lead to less empowerment, less opportunities for work and less knowledge about rights.[12]

What is being done to stop child trafficking?

A lot of work is being implemented by charities and organisations around the world to help eradicate child trafficking altogether. Some of these initiatives and projects are outlined below.

Working with local communities

It is important to tackle child trafficking within local communities and address the root causes behind the practice. Save the Children is an example of an organisation which has worked with local communities and governments in order to prevent child trafficking from occurring. It has carried out work in Daulatdia in Bangladesh since 1997 which is one of the world’s largest brothels. Save the Children has worked directly with mothers and children in Daulatdia and aimed to break the cycle of poverty. The organisation has also offered counselling to young mothers who have become pregnant through sex work and provided advice with regards to caring for their children. Girls have been given safe spaces and Save the Children has worked with local governments to help families and children access better services.[13]

Improving education

As mentioned previously, a lack of education is one of the main reasons as to why children are lured into child trafficking. Increasing education helps children learn about their rights, their choices and opportunities, and it prevents children from being forced or manipulated into trafficking. The Freedom Story is an example of an organisation which focuses on ending sex trafficking by increasing education. This charity offers scholarships to vulnerable children in Northern Thailand, provides weekly mentorship and counselling, teaches children about their sexual and legal rights, and helps children stay in schools.[14]

Raising awareness

Raising awareness of child trafficking is very important in order to help put an end to the practice, support those at risk and assist them with making better choices. Organisations such as Stop the Traffik are designing and implementing awareness campaigns in communities where people are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Stop the Traffik is utilising data to look at hotspots, trends, exploitation types and techniques used by traffickers. The information is then used to target the campaigns and help local communities tackle trafficking. The organisation collaborates with local partners integrated within communities such as NGOs, churches, media and law enforcement.[15]

Conclusion

Overall, child trafficking is a harmful practice which occurs in almost every country in the world. Both boys and girls are victims of child trafficking but it is a practice which disproportionately affects girls due to a gender imbalance in several countries. This article has explored some of the main reasons behind child trafficking including poverty, social and cultural norms, and a lack of education in victims. We also examined the work being carried out by organisations and charities such as groundwork in local communities, improving education and raising awareness of trafficking through campaigns. It is clear that a holistic approach must be adopted to protect children and eradicate child trafficking completely.

[1]Article 3(c)UN General Assembly, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, 15 November 2000

[2]Save the Children, ‘The Fight Against Child Trafficking’ < https://www.savethechildren.org/us/charity-stories/child-trafficking-awareness> accessed 03 December 2021

[3]ibid

[4]ibid

[5]The Borgen Project, ‘Poverty and it’s contribution to human trafficking’ <https://borgenproject.org/poverty-contribution-human-trafficking/> accessed 03 December 2021

[6]ibid

[7]Human Rights Careers, ’10 causes of human trafficking’ <https://www.humanrightscareers.com/issues/10-causes-of-human-trafficking/> accessed 03 December 2021

[8]ibid

[9]ibid

[10]ibid

[11]The Freedom Story <https://thefreedomstory.org/why/> accessed 03 December 2021

[12]Human Rights Careers, ’10 causes of human trafficking’ (n 7)

[13]Save the Children, ‘The Fight Against Child Trafficking’ ( n 2)

[14]The Freedom Story <https://thefreedomstory.org> accessed 03 December 2021

[15]Stop the Traffik <https://www.stopthetraffik.org/what-we-do/awareness-campaigns/> accessed 03 December 2021

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence

Violence against women and girls is a significant human rights violation but it is still perpetrated in many countries around the world. Gender-based violence is a term which is used for any harmful act carried out against a person’s will because of gender differences between men and women. These acts can cause physical, sexual or mental harm and can include coercion or threats.[1]  According to the World Bank Group, gender-based violence affects 1 in 3 women during their lifetime with 35% of women experiencing physical and/or sexual violence.[2] The World Bank Group also states that around the world, 38% of murders of women are carried out by their partners and 200 million women and girls have experienced female genital mutilation.[3] These statistics are alarming and violence against women and girls can cause long-lasting and detrimental effects.

In this article, we will firstly look at what causes gender-based violence around the world. We will then consider the impact of gender-based violence on girls and women. Lastly, we will examine the work carried out by charities and other organisations to help eradicate the practice of gender-based violence.

The main causes of gender-based violence

Poverty

Poverty is one of the main drivers behind gender-based violence globally. Women and girls living in poverty often face discrimination due to gender biases and unequal power relationships. As a result of these gender inequalities, they are exposed to many forms of violence.[4] Women and girls living in poverty may reside in unsafe and dangerous environments which increases their risk to violence. They often have to walk long distances through isolated places to gather firewood or collect water and as a result, they are at risk of sexual assault.[5] Furthermore, women and girls in poverty are often tasked with countless household chores and this may create problems within the household which regularly leads to domestic violence.[6] Sadly, these women and girls do not have many opportunities to leave violent relationships with their partners because they lack income and resources.[7]

Cultural and social norms

In many communities, violence against women and girls is often overlooked as being a cultural or social norm. Norms and attitudes within communities and cultures can often be difficult to change because they may be based on religion and other factors.[8] Some communities do not recognise wife beating as violence and sexually harassing girls is considered a norm.[9] According to The Borgen Project, families uphold the sexual purity of women and girls and this is why female genital mutilation is a widespread practice in many communities.[10] Family honour is regarded as more important than women and girls’ safety which results in honour killings.[11] Additionally, the practice of widow inheritance is common and considered a cultural norm. This is where a widow is forced to marry a male relative of her late husband in order to prevent the women being able to inherit land and property.[12]

Perpetrators are not punished due to violence being unreported

Many forms of violence are not reported to the authorities and accordingly, perpetrators are not punished and the violent acts against women and girls can continue. Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has stated that ‘[s]exual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination…reminding the world that stigma, misconceptions, under-reporting and poor enforcement of laws perpetuate impunity in rape cases’.[13] According to the World Health Organisation, there are many reasons why girls and women do not report violence including insufficient support systems; shame; fear of retaliation; fear of not being believed or blamed, and fear of being socially ostracised.[14] In some places, raped women and girls may be killed if they are regarded as having dishonoured their families.[15] Furthermore, law enforcement agencies may not recognise women’s rights and are also impacted by gender inequalities. As a result, violence is overlooked and violent acts continue to be pursued.

The impact of gender-based violence

Girl looking at lens

Physical and sexual health problems

Gender-based violence can cause many physical and sexual health problems for women and girls. These include unwanted pregnancies, male impotence and the possibility of being infected by a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV.[16] According to Médicins Sans Frontières, STIs are more likely caused by forced sex as viruses can enter through tears.[17] Unwanted pregnancies can often lead to abortions being carried out in unsafe conditions. The World Health Organisation’s 2013 study found that those who had been sexually or physically abused were twice as likely to have an abortion.[18] Physical health problems can include neurological illnesses, gastrointestinal illnesses, and muscularly, urinary or reproductive problems.[19]

Mental health problems

Victims of gender-based violence often suffer from many psychological and mental health problems as well. These include depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide.[20] Médicins Sans Frontières has noted that victims may also suffer from guilt and feel as though they could have avoided any incident. Women and girls may also struggle with trusting others which could affect relationships with others.[21] Additionally, survivors of gender-based violence may be frowned upon in some communities and victims of rape may be humiliated in certain cultures which can lead to their mental health suffering.[22]

The impact on children who are born as a result of gender-based violence

Gender-based violence can also impact child survival rates and may contribute to increasing infant mortality rates.[23] A study in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has shown that women who were subject to intimate partner violence were 3 times more likely to have a low birth weight and preterm birth. The study also shows that women who were subject to physical violence during pregnancy were 5 times more likely to experience low birth weight and preterm birth.[24] There are many issues associated with low birth weight including children suffering from infections, malnutrition, issues with cognitive development, stunting by the age of two, chronic disease and problems in education and economic activities at a later age.[25]

Ways to eradicate gender-based violence

The World Bank Group has argued that in order to reduce violence against women and girls, a community-based, multi-pronged stance is required along with cooperation with different stakeholders.[26] Charities, organisations and other bodies have adopted various approaches to help to decrease gender-based violence and some of these are outlined below.

Prevention

Preventing violence against women and girls before it is carried out is one of the main ways to stop violent acts all together. Structural biases and cultural norms need to be addressed and the discriminatory acts which women and girls face need to be considered.[27] UN Women has adopted a prevention strategy which looks at early education, achieving valued relationships and working with men and boys through media, sports and work.[28] Working with men and boys helps to educate them about gender equality and teaches them about the negative impact of violent behaviours on girls and women. UN Women partnered with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and have implemented a curriculum which allows young people to understand causes of violence in communities. The curriculum also helps to educate people in the communities and prevent gender-based violence.[29]

Advocacy

Laws promoting gender equality and defining violence need to be implemented and enforced within local communities. Charities such as CARE International advocate for laws and policies to be created, revised or improved and base their work on international agreements such as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Security Council Resolution 1325.[30] Other charities and organisations create public awareness campaigns for both men and women which help them to become aware of their rights, the legal consequences for violent behaviour and the effects of gender-based violence on the future generation.[31] Plan International has introduced a Safer Cities for Girls programme which enables girls to voice any issues in urban areas and allows them to advocate for change.[32]

Supporting survivors of violence

Many charities and organisations have created support networks for victims of violence. CARE International works with partners to implement community support systems for victims of violence in order to ensure they are safe. Initiatives include community watch groups and safe houses.[33] Other organisations such as International Medical Corps provides specialised support services for survivors of gender-based violence in emergency settings. Survivors are provided with tailored support from workers who help them to access services and support. International Medical Corps have implemented women and girls’ safe spaces in camps and communities in Iraq and have trained Iraqi and Syrian women to provide support services to survivors. If survivors require more psychological support, they can be referred to Mental Health/Psycho-Social services.[34]

Conclusion

Overall, it is clear that gender-based violence remains prevalent in many countries throughout the world. Poverty along with gender inequality are the main drivers of violence against women and girls along with cultural and social norms. Violence often goes unreported meaning that perpetrators are not punished and continue to commit these acts of violence. Gender-based violence has many physical and sexual health consequences for women and girls. It affects them mentally and children who are born as a result of gender-based violence can also be indirectly affected. Charities and organisations around the world have introduced initiatives aimed at changing attitudes and norms within communities, advocating the introduction and amendment of laws and policies, and also offer services aimed at supporting victims of violence. In addition to the extensive work already being carried out by many charities and organisations, more groundwork, lobbying and collaboration with local authorities and community leaders is required in order to eradicate gender-based violence all together.


[1]Inter-Agency Standing Committee 2015, ‘Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action: Reducing risk, promoting resilience and aiding recovery’ <https://gbvguidelines.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/2015_IASC_Gender-based_Violence_Guidelines_full-res.pdf> accessed 25 October 2021

[2]World Bank Group, ‘Gender-Based Violence (Violence Against Women and Girls)’ <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/socialsustainability/brief/violence-against-women-and-girls> accessed 25 October 2021

[3]ibid

[4]UN Women, ‘Women and poverty’ <https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/end-violence-against-women/2014/poverty> accessed 25 October 2021

[5]NGO Pulse, ‘Gender-based Violence and Poverty’ <http://www.ngopulse.org/node/75924> accessed 25 October 2021

[6]ibid

[7]UN Women, ‘Women and poverty’ (n 4)

[8]The Borgen Project, ‘Poverty and gender-based violence’ <https://borgenproject.org/poverty-and-gender-based-violence/> accessed 25 October 2021

[9]NGO Pulse, ‘Gender-based Violence and Poverty’ (n 5)

[10]The Borgen Project, ‘Poverty and gender-based violence’ (n 8)

[11]ibid

[12]NGO Pulse, ‘Gender-based Violence and Poverty’ (n 5)

[13]United Nations, ‘A staggering one-in-three women, experience physical, sexual abuse’ (24 November 2019)

[14]World Health Organisation, ‘Understanding and addressing violence against women’ <https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/77434/WHO_RHR_12.37_eng.pdf;jsessionid=475E9CAE52F74885D38DEFDBA680079E?sequence=> accessed 25 October 2021

[15]NGO Pulse, ‘Gender-based Violence and Poverty’ (n 5)

[16]Inter-Agency Standing Committee 2015, ‘Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action: Reducing risk, promoting resilience and aiding recovery’ (n 1)

[17]Médicins Sans Frontières, ‘Sexual and gender-based violence’ <https://msf.org.uk/issues/sexual-and-gender-based-violence> accessed 25 October 2021

[18]World Health Organisation, ‘Violence against women’ <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women> accessed 25 October 2021

[19]Inter-Agency Standing Committee 2015, ‘Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action: Reducing risk, promoting resilience and aiding recovery’ (n 1)

[20]ibid

[21]Médicins Sans Frontières, ‘Sexual and gender-based violence’ (n 17)

[22]ibid

[23]Inter-Agency Standing Committee 2015, ‘Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action: Reducing risk, promoting resilience and aiding recovery’ (n 1)

[24]Berhanie, E., Gebregziabher, D., Berihu, H, Gerezgiher A., Kidane G.,‘Intimate partner violence during pregnancy and adverse birth outcomes: a case-control study’ Reproductive Health 16, 22 (2019) <https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-019-0670-4> accessed 25 October 2021

[25]Ferdos J., Rahman M.M., ‘Maternal experience of intimate partner violence and low birth weight of children: A hospital-based study in Bangladesh’ PLoS ONE 12(10): e0187138 (2017) <https:// doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187138> accessed 25 October 2021

[26]World Bank Group, ‘Gender-Based Violence (Violence Against Women and Girls)’ (n 2)

[27]UN Women, ‘Ending violence against women’ <https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women> accessed 25 October 2021

[28]ibid

[29]ibid

[30]CARE International, ‘Challenging Gender-based Violence Worldwide: CARE’s Program Evidence Strategies, Results and Impacts of Evaluations 2011-2013’ <https://insights.careinternational.org.uk/media/k2/attachments/Challenging-GBV-Worldwide-CARE-program-experience-2014.pdf> access 25 October 2021

[31]NGO Pulse, ‘Gender-based Violence and Poverty’ (n 5)

[32]Plan International, ‘Gender-based violence’ <https://plan-international.org/ending-violence/gbv-gender-based-violence> accessed 25 October 2021

[33]CARE International, ‘Challenging Gender-based Violence Worldwide: CARE’s Program Evidence Strategies, Results and Impacts of Evaluations 2011-2013’ (n 30)

[34]International Medical Corps, ‘Focused support services for survivors of gender-based violence; Gender-based Violence Prevention & Response’ <https://internationalmedicalcorps.org/program/womens-childrens-health/gender-based-violence-response-prevention/focused-support-services-for-survivors-of-gender-based-violence/> accessed 25 October 2021

Street Children With Disabilities: Poor Health and Violence

young boy looking scared, hiding between some wooden planks.

Impacts Of Living with Disability As A Street Child: Poor Health & Violence

Living on the street

Some street children are forced to live and fend for themselves with no adults to care for them. This can be due to illness, exclusion or humanitarian crisis (1). For example, the HIV pandemic and ongoing war in many countries has left many children orphaned (1). This has forced more on to the streets (1). Others still have families to return home to at night but work on the street to contribute to their family’s income (2). Regardless, street children are more likely to be affected by disability due to poor health and violence (1). Disability also makes children more vulnerable to illness and violence. Many children with pre-existing disabilities often end up on the street due to discrimination and rejection from their communities (3).

Poor health in street children

Children living with disability are at greater risk of illness, which can be partly due to difficulties in accessing health services (4). For example, children with disabilities commonly receive fewer essential vaccinations and basic healthcare (5). Similarly, the poor health and illness suffered by street children is often as a result of poverty and limited access to healthcare (7). This suggests that also living with disability exacerbates the poor health experienced by street children. Almost all street children experience health problems, relating to growth, violence and infectious diseases along with mental illness and substance abuse (8). In addition, a study carried out in Alexandria in Egypt found that 83% of street children were malnourished (9). This is not surprising, but it highlights how the health of almost all street children can be affected by poverty.

Street children also suffer from disproportionately high levels of HIV / AIDs, overlapping with other groups affected by HIV, including intravenous drug users (10;11). As a result, there have been specific targets of HIV/AIDs interventions towards street children. While these have been effective, further progress will better protect street children and those with disability from illness. Railway Children is an organisation which works at three levels to better support all street children (12). They work at street level and community level to work with people directly and also at government level to influence policy for better protection of street children (12).

Abuse and violence in street children

Both street children and children with disabilities are more susceptible to violence (5). Studies carried out in Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt found that as much as 93% of street children had experienced harassment and abuse (11). Most of this abuse was by police and other street children (11). In addition, research shows that children with disabilities are as much as three times more at risk of violence than non-disabled children (5). Exclusion and sometimes a lack of care can leave them more vulnerable to harm, where they viewed as ‘easier targets’ (5).

Improving the health of street children with disabilities

It has been suggested that the creation of safe shelters could help improve poor health (8). These would be very helpful in providing safe spaces for street children and those with disability, which would limit their risk of harm (8).  However, beyond support by charities and other non-governmental organisations, there is a need to introduce new policies which better protect street children (8).

Chance for Childhood works with KUAP to support street children and street children with disabilities, in Kisumu, Kenya (13). Unfortunately, COVID-19 forced them to pause much of their work. In response, remote counselling had been arranged for some of the children (13). However, KUAP has also continued to supply food packages to 60 local families with children struggling with dysphagia. This programme has been essential in helping to improve the health of street children and those with disabilities. KUAP also tries to reunite street children with their families. (13).

There are some positive steps in place to improve the poor health of street children with disabilities. However, more help is urgently needed, which is why here at Poverty Child we are dedicated to supporting street-connected children. We would be grateful for any donations. If you wish please donate to Poverty Child.


References

1.     Child S. The Facts about Street Children | Consortium for Street Children [Internet]. Consortium for Street Children. 2021 [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.streetchildren.org/about-street-children/

2.     On International Day of Persons with Disabilities we Advocate for Inclusive Education — Street Child [Internet]. Street Child. 2019 [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.co.uk/blog/2019/12/4/on-international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-we-advocate-inclusive-education

3.     Our work / Toybox [Internet]. Toybox.org.uk. [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from: https://toybox.org.uk/our-work

4.     Kuper H, Monteath-van Dok A, Wing K, Danquah L, Evans J, Zuurmond M et al. The Impact of Disability on the Lives of Children; Cross-Sectional Data Including 8,900 Children with Disabilities and 898,834 Children without Disabilities across 30 Countries. PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2014 [cited 24 August 2021];9(9):e107300. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159292/

5.     World Health Organization & United Nations Children’s Fund (‎UNICEF)‎. (‎2012)‎. Early childhood development and disability: a discussion paper. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/75355

6.     Panter‐brick C. Homelessness, poverty, and risks to health: beyond at risk categorizations of street children1. Children’s Geographies [Internet]. 2004 [cited 25 August 2021];2(1):83-94. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1473328032000168787?casa_token=IrddfS6UXfoAAAAA%3AR_P9f01XM_z57spnmwwr9dOShWSZ33cpaFX98fy6UXBNkmOpVXvdkhqupQhPAM-m_PAhOhpH84VVlA

7.     Cumber S, Tsoka-Gwegweni J. The health profile of street children in Africa: a literature review. Journal of Public Health in Africa [Internet]. 2015 [cited 25 August 2021];. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5349275/

8.     Cumber S, Tsoka-Gwegweni J. The health profile of street children in Africa: a literature review. Journal of Public Health in Africa [Internet]. 2015 [cited 25 August 2021];. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5349275/

9.     Salem E, el-latif F. Sociodemographic characteristics of street children in Alexandria. East Mediterranean Health Journal [Internet]. 2002 [cited 25 August 2021];8(1):64-73. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15330562/

10.  Marshall B, Kerr T, Shoveller J, Montaner J, Wood E. Structural factors associated with an increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infection transmission among street-involved youth. BMC Public Health [Internet]. 2009 [cited 25 August 2021];9(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19134203/

11.  Nada K, Suliman E. Violence, abuse, alcohol and drug use, and sexual behaviors in street children of Greater Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. AIDS [Internet]. 2010 [cited 25 August 2021];24(Suppl 2):S39-S44. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/aidsonline/Fulltext/2010/07002/Violence,_abuse,_alcohol_and_drug_use,_and_sexual.5.aspx

12.  Fighting for Street Children [Internet]. Railwaychildren.org.uk. [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.railwaychildren.org.uk/

13.   How we’re supporting vulnerable children during Coronavirus | Chance for Childhood – Children’s charity [Internet]. Chance for Childhood. 2020 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://chanceforchildhood.org/latest-news/how-were-supporting-vulnerable-children-during-coronavirus/

 

Girls’ education

Girls in school uniform

Every child should be afforded the opportunity to attend school and learn the fundamental skills required in life. Education allows children to grow and develop important knowledge in order to strive and succeed in their future lives. Whether a child should have access to this should not be based on his or her gender. Nevertheless, for children living in poverty, it is mostly girls who are deprived of this which leads to gender inequality. According to UNICEF, around the world, 129 million girls are not in school. This includes 32 million girls of primary school age, 30 million girls of lower-secondary school age and 67 million girls of upper-secondary school age.[1] Statistics show that only 49% of countries have an equal number of boys and girls in primary education and this percentage lowers at secondary school level with only 42% of countries having an equal number of boys and girls in lower-secondary education and 24% in upper-secondary education.

In this article, we will firstly look at the reasons as to why girls are prevented from accessing education in many countries worldwide. We will then consider why it is crucial that girls can access education. Lastly, we will explore some of the projects and initiatives set up by charities which aim to help girls access education.

Barriers preventing girls’ education

Girl reading textbook at school

Poverty

Poverty is one of the main drivers behind girls’ lack of education in many countries around the world. According to the World Bank Group, girls who belong to a family with little income, live in remote locations, have a disability or who are part of a minority ethno-linguistic group are the most behind in terms of accessing and completing education.[2] Families with little income often do not have the money to pay for schools and costs related to schooling such as textbooks, uniforms, transportation and supplies.[3] Therefore, if there are multiple children in a family, boys are usually favoured when it comes to education and girls are asked to help around the house and look after siblings or family members.[4]

Child marriage

Sadly, poverty also results in child marriage which is another reason as to why girls lack education. As stated by Dolores Dixon, Executive Director for Camfed in Canada, “parents who can afford it would not necessarily hold back their children from going to school but if you can’t afford it you will then have to make a choice…they feel [marriage] is the best option within the limited options”.[5] Girls who marry at a young age are less likely to attend school and are more likely to complete less years of education and have children at a young age. The World Bank Group has reported that girls who have been in secondary education are up to six times less likely to marry as girls who have not been educated.[6]

Violence

Girls are often subjected to violence on their way to school and also within schools which prevents them from attending school and dropping out. ActionAid has reported that in the Upper West region of Ghana, girls have to walk long distances to school. More than 50 girls a year are abducted and subjected to sexual violence or sexual exploitation on their way to school.[7] Girls are mostly in danger during the rainy season where attackers hide in the long grass waiting for girls on their way to school.[8]

Girls also face gender-based violence within schools which significantly impacts their physical and mental health and consequently leads to them dropping out of schools. Studies have shown that many schools lack facilities which make them safe such as perimeter fences and well-lit pathways.[9] Nora Fyles, Head of Secretariat for UN Girls’ Education Initiative has stated that “[girls] don’t think about learning when they’re trying to figure out what the next exit is or whether they can go to the toilet and be safe”.[10]

Gender biases in schools

Many practices and facilities within schools are discriminatory towards girls which also results in girls not being able to attend school or dropping out. A lot of schools do not have water, sanitation or hygiene facilities which accommodate girls, for example separate toilets for boys and girls.[11] Marni Sommer, Associate Professor in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University, has noted that “[t]here is shame, there’s embarrassment…I’ve been in countries where girls thought if they told anybody [they were menstruating] they’d die”.[12]

Furthermore, in a lot of countries, teaching methods, practices and syllabuses are not gender-neutral which results in gender biases and stereotypes against girls and women.[13] A lot of the time, teachers have not been told how to respond to gender-based violence in schools and do not know how to help girls with issues they have. This leads to girls not feeling comfortable, safe or secure within schools.

Reasons as to why education is important

Breaks poverty cycle

There are several reasons as to why it is as important for girls to access and complete education. Firstly, if girls are educated, they are more likely to attain better paid jobs and earn more money which helps to break the poverty cycle. This in turn creates additional opportunities for girls and women and can contribute to economic growth. According to the Malala Fund, more women in work can add up to $12 trillion to the global economy.[14]

Furthermore, educating girls provides them with core skills which allows them to take up more complex leadership roles such as in politics. This helps them to create effective change, participate in decisions affecting their families and communities, and advocate for future policies.[15] It also reduces the gender gap within jobs and allows everyone to be entitled to the same opportunities.[16]

Reduces child marriage and improves the health of girls

Allowing girls to access education also means that they are less likely to marry at a young age and drop out of school. ActionAid has reported that in 18 out of 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage, girls who are not in schools are up to six times more likely to marry young than girls who have been educated at secondary level.[17] Educating girls means that they have more control over their lives and will be less likely to suffer from domestic violence.[18]

Additionally, girls who stay in schools are less likely to become pregnant or give birth at a young age which decreases infant and maternal mortality rates.[19] Research has shown that in sub-Saharan Africa, the birth rate among girls who have been educated at secondary level is four times less than girls who have not been educated.[20] Furthermore, well-educated girls are less at risk of contracting HIV and are more likely to utilise methods to prevent diseases such as malaria, for example, by using bed nets.[21]

Helps to prepare for natural disasters

Studies have shown that educating girls is also useful for climate change and preparing for natural disasters. Brookings Institution has reported that girls who are secondary level educated are the most cost-effective and most effective investment against climate change.[22] They have knowledge about how to cope when there is a natural disaster or when there is severe weather due to climate change and as a result, less deaths or injuries occur within families and communities.[23]

Ways to help girls access education

Happy children at school

One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘[e]nsure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ by 2030.[24] However, there is a lot to be done in order to reduce gender inequality in schools and allow more girls to access education around the world. Many charities have set up projects and initiatives and some of these are outlined below.

Helping girls get to school safely

As mentioned previously in the article, girls are often at risk of being abducted and are subjected to sexual violence or sexual exploitation whilst making their way to school. Therefore, it is crucial that there are plans to help girls get to school safely. ActionAid have implemented an initiative where they provide bikes to girls which shortens the long and dangerous route to school and means that girls do not have to leave very early in the morning when it is still dark outside.[25]

Eliminating gender inequality in schools

It is also important to remove gender inequality and stereotypes within schools. UNICEF is carrying out work whereby they aim to help governments implement gender-responsive budgets and impose national education policies and plans which promote gender equality. UNICEF is also developing secondary education initiatives which aim to remove discriminatory practices and look at menstrual hygiene practices in schools.[26]

Sponsoring a child

Through many charities such as ActionAid or World Vision Canada you can sponsor a child which helps to tackle poverty and ensures everyone obtains an education.[27] Sponsoring a child can help provide basic necessities to families in poverty. It can also help to pay for school fees, equipment and materials associated with schooling such as textbooks. Additionally, it can help to pay for a school building in the place where the child lives. ActionAid has successful changed girls’ lives in Zanzibar. It has been reported that through sponsorship, a school, nursery and hospital were built and children now have somewhere they can go.[28]

Conclusion

Overall, it is clear that both boys and girls should have the right to education and equal opportunities in life, however, in many countries, girls are prevented from being educated which leads to gender inequality. Barriers include poverty, child marriage, violence and gender biases in schools. Educating girls helps to break the poverty cycle, reduces the number of child marriages and improves the health of girls, and it helps families and communities prepare for natural disasters and climate change. Several charities around the world have implemented initiatives and projects which aim to improve girls’ education. Nevertheless, more work needs to be done in local communities in order for the gender gap in education to be eliminated altogether.

[1]UNICEF, ‘Girls’ education’ <https://www.unicef.org/education/girls-education> accessed 30 September 2021

[2]World Bank Group, ‘Girls’ Education’ <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation#1> accessed 30 September 2021

[3]ibid

[4]ibid

[5]Laura Paddison, ‘Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty’ The Guardian (04 October 2017)

[6]World Bank Group ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 2)

[7]ActionAid, ‘Girls’ Education’< https://www.actionaid.org.uk/our-work/womens-rights/girls-education> accessed 30 September 2021

[8]ibid

[9]World Bank Group ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 2)

[10]Laura Paddison, ‘Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty’ (n 5)

[11]World Bank Group ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 2)

[12]Laura Paddison, ‘Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty’ (n 5)

[13]UNICEF, ‘Girls’ education’ (n 1)

[14]Malala Fund, ‘Girls’ education’ <https://malala.org/girls-education?sc=header> accessed 30 September 2021

[15]ActionAid, ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 7)

[16]UNICEF, ‘Girls’ education’ (n 1)

[17]ActionAid, ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 7)

[18]Theirworld, ‘Girls’ education’ <https://theirworld.org/explainers/girls-education> accessed 30 September 2021

[19]ActionAid, ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 7)

[20]Theirworld, ‘Girls’ education’ (n 18)

[21]ibid

[22]Malala Fund, ‘Girls’ education’ (n 14)

[23]Theirworld, ‘Girls’ education’ (n 18)

[24]United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Sustainable Development <https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal4> accessed 30 September 2021

[25]ActionAid, ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 7)

[26]Leah Rodriguez, ‘7 Obstacles to Girls’ Education and How to Overcome Them’ Global Citizen (24 September 2019)

[27]ActionAid, ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 7) and World Vision Canada, ‘Girls’ education: facts and how to help’ <https://www.worldvision.ca/stories/education/girls-education-facts-and-how-to-help> accessed 30 September 2021

[28]ActionAid, ‘Girls’ Education’ (n 7)

Street Children With Disabilities: Education

Picture of a classroom in a developing country, filled with students

Impacts of living with disability as a street child

School as a street child

Street children are rarely enrolled in formal education. They are often excluded from normal classrooms, which can make learning more difficult.  Instead, those who are in education tend to use local programmes with teaching that is better tailored to the needs of street children (1). This includes time for children to work to support themselves or their families (1). These programmes have been vital in supporting street children as education is often essential for them to survive extreme poverty (2).

Regardless of the school system, it is common for street children to face many difficulties with education due to poverty, discrimination and difficulty getting to school. Like street children, it is also common for children living with disability to experience discrimination, bullying and isolation while at school (1;3). Due to the discrimination already experienced by street children in education, it is easy to imagine how street children also impacted by disability can find education even more challenging, whether in formal education or in street-connected programmes. Therefore, street children living with disability often experience even more hardship at school (4).

Lack of resources for street children with disabilities

Particularly in low-income areas, school budgets cannot afford for funds to be directed towards the needs of special needs children (3). For example, classrooms are often too noisy for children with hearing difficulties to learn and those with visual and physical disabilities cannot be given the support they need for them to manage their impairments at school (2). Therefore, programmes aiming to improve the inclusion of street children in education, whether that be formal or those tailored for street children, are very important. Education is suggested to be the single most effective way for a street child to thrive (2). Furthermore, if on their own, being out of school can force a street child to fend for themselves all day and all night.

What can be done to help

  1. Mobile schools and financial help

Some projects aim to provide a school format for street children which allows time for work, due to many also needing to work on the streets to support themselves and potentially their families (1). For example, the Mobile School NPO created by the CSC Network helps to support street children by delivering teaching in remote areas. This allows them to learn in an open and accessible environment.

Another benefit of programmes like the Mobile School is that they are scalable. In addition, Street Child’s ‘Family Business for Education’ model has made progress in tackling the social and financial barriers experienced by street children and children with disabilities (5). Through this programme, families receive training in developing and saving a stable income, which helps them send their children to school. ‘Family Business for Education’ has been extremely successful by helping more than 50,000 children attend school. Education is vital in helping street children move out of poverty, allowing them to live healthier adult lives (1).

  1. Promoting inclusion of street children with disabilities

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are continuing to develop interventions which are inclusive of street children. Street Child is keen to make education more accessible and inclusive for those living with disability (5). They are continuing to train teachers to promote an inclusive environment which is supportive of their students (5)

Similarly, Chance for Childhood has worked with partners via Comic Relief in Western Kenya, to improve the quality and accessibility of education for street children with additional needs (6). This project is called ‘LEAP’ and one of its main objectives is to promote the inclusion of street children with disabilities. ‘LEAP’ workers believe that children living with disability should be included in formal school, rather than enrolled into separate education (6). They feel that this inclusion is essential to tackle the negative attitudes towards street children and disability. It can be challenging to bring these children back into mainstream education as they can have specific needs. However, with particular support it is possible (6).

  1. Specialist education programmes

The view of ‘LEAP’ is important. However, not all projects aim to re-introduce street children to mainstream education. It is sometimes necessary for street children to have access to an alternative school format as some feel that formal education is not a priority (1;7). Therefore, it is important to communicate with children about their needs. Tailored programmes may suit some street children better. However, further projects which focus on the needs of street children with disabilities as an individual group are needed within schools. If we continue to tackle the stigma surrounding these children, we can hope to improve their education, whether in tailored education or formal school (1;7).

 


References

  1. Clark J. Realising street children’s right to education | CSC [Internet]. Consortium for Street Children. 2019 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.streetchildren.org/news-and-updates/realising-street-childrens-right-to-education/#_edn1
  2. On International Day of Persons with Disabilities we Advocate for Inclusive Education — Street Child [Internet]. Street Child. 2019 [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.co.uk/blog/2019/12/4/on-international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-we-advocate-inclusive-education
  3. Mizunoya S, Mitra S, Yamasaki I. Towards Inclusive Education The impact of disability on school attendance in developing countries, Innocenti Working Paper 2016-03 [Internet]. UNICEF, office of research; 2016. Available from: https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/IWP3%20-%20Towards%20Inclusive%20Education.pdf
  1. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.ch/news/discrimination-education-children-with-disabilities
  2. Nepal — Street Child [Internet]. Street Child. 2021 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.co.uk/nepal
  3. LEAP from the Street – Learning, Educating And Protecting: Our new education project for street children in Kisumu, Kenya. | Chance for Childhood – Children’s charity [Internet]. Chance for Childhood. 2016 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://chanceforchildhood.org/latest-news/leap-street-learning-educating-protecting-new-education-project-street-children-kisumu-kenya/
  4. Turgut N. The protection and promotion of human rights for street connected children: legal, policy and practical strategies for change [Internet]. Consortium for Street Children; 2017. Available from: https://www.streetchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/gravity_forms/1-07fc61ac163e50acc82d83eee9ebb5c2/2017/04/CSC_Briefing-Paper_March-2017_FINAL-Hi-res_No-crops.pdf

Street Children With Disabilities: Discrimination

two young boys running in muddy clothes, smiling at the camera.

Impacts Of Living with Disability As A Street Child

Ableism – discrimination against disability

The negative treatment of people living with disabilities is known as ableism (1). Sadly, this is experienced by almost all people living with disability at some point in their lives. People living in financial difficulty or poverty experience greater levels of disability-related stigma (2). The level of discrimination can also depend on an individual’s type of impairment (2). For example, children with intellectual disabilities often experience greater levels of exclusion than those with physical disability (2).

Amar, a 17-year old boy from Yemen was interviewed for a study on disability and poverty (3). He is deaf and uses sign language to communicate. He explained that he is made to feel uncomfortable when he uses sign language on the street (3). People often stare at him. This is not uncommon and sadly many other children with disability share his experience (4). It is also common for parents of children with disability to be made to feel like outsiders within their own communities (5). There is evidence that this also contributes to their rejection from jobs (5). This can have a further negative effect on a child’s health, with some feeling like they will only be further mistreated if they try to seek help from healthcare professionals (3).

Education as a street child with disability

The discrimination and judgement experienced by children often adds to the difficulties street children have with school (6). For example, according to Street Child, almost half of the children interviewed felt that discrimination was their main barrier to attending school (7). As children also experience discrimination due to disability, street children with disability can have a very difficult time trying to fit in. They can experience discrimination due to both factors, where already belonging to another disadvantaged group can make a child feel even more marginalised (8).

Tackling discrimination against street children and disability

The discrimination faced by street children urgently needs addressed, as negative attitudes prevent many from seeking help. This prevents many from receiving care when they need it (3).

Although it may be that attending specialised education for street children would result in less isolation, some projects such as ‘LEAP’ feel that it is important to include them in mainstream education. They also work to strengthen the systems which protect street and disabled children (9). This project is run by Chance for Childhood through partners in Western Kenya. They aim to improve education for street children and those living with disability (9).

In addition, organisations including Street Girls Aid are working to improve education, nutrition and the safety of street-connected children (10). In partnership with Chance for Childhood, this has helped many children like Ebo, a boy called from Accra who at 18 months old could no longer walk due to malnutrition. Through support by Street Girls Aid, Ebo and his mother were given the support they needed to improve Ebo’s health, and with time Ebo could not only walk again but he also joins in with singing and dancing with other children in his community (10). This is just one example of the good work improving the health of street children.

Impacts of disability on health, education and discrimination in street children

Overall, it is very likely that living with disability as a street child exacerbates the difficulties experienced by street children. They often suffer from poverty and poorer health, worse education and greater discrimination than non-disabled children and those not living on the street (11; 12; 13). However, organisations have together made some excellent steps towards better inclusion and protection of disabled street children. We hope to have highlighted their significance, while there are also many other interventions doing great work. Overall, the articles in this series aim to raise the awareness of the various disabilities and difficulties experienced by disabled street children. This group is often overlooked and therefore need our continued support (14). If interested in the other articles in this series, or indeed any of our other blog updates.

 


References

  1. Definition of ABLEISM [Internet]. Merriam-webster.com. 2021 [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ableism
  2. UK Department for International Development and other Government departments. Disability stigma in developing countries. K4D helpdesk service, Institute of Development Studies; 2018.
  3. Eid A, Ingstad B. Disability and Poverty: A Global Challenge. Bristol; 2011.
  4. Kuper H, Monteath-van Dok A, Wing K, Danquah L, Evans J, Zuurmond M et al. The Impact of Disability on the Lives of Children; Cross-Sectional Data Including 8,900 Children with Disabilities and 898,834 Children without Disabilities across 30 Countries. PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2014 [cited 24 August 2021];9(9):e107300. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159292/
  5. Rohwerder, B. (2018) Disability Stigma in Developing Countries. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.
  6. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.ch/news/discrimination-education-children-with-disabilities
  7. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.ch/news/discrimination-education-children-with-disabilities
  8. Children with disabilities [Internet]. Unicef.org. 2021 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/eca/children-disabilities
  9. LEAP from the Street – Learning, Educating And Protecting: Our new education project for street children in Kisumu, Kenya. | Chance for Childhood – Children’s charity [Internet]. Chance for Childhood. 2016 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://chanceforchildhood.org/latest-news/leap-street-learning-educating-protecting-new-education-project-street-children-kisumu-kenya/
  10. The streets are stealing children’s futures | Chance for Childhood – Children’s charity [Internet]. Chance for Childhood. [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://chanceforchildhood.org/our-work/children-on-the-streets/
  11. Kuper H, Monteath-van Dok A, Wing K, Danquah L, Evans J, Zuurmond M et al. The Impact of Disability on the Lives of Children; Cross-Sectional Data Including 8,900 Children with Disabilities and 898,834 Children without Disabilities across 30 Countries. PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2014 [cited 24 August 2021];9(9):e107300. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159292/
  12. Clark J. Realising street children’s right to education | CSC [Internet]. Consortium for Street Children. 2019 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.streetchildren.org/news-and-updates/realising-street-childrens-right-to-education/#_edn1
  13. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.ch/news/discrimination-education-children-with-disabilities
  14. Our work / Toybox [Internet]. Toybox.org.uk. [cited 26 August 2021]. Available from: https://toybox.org.uk/our-work

 

The Link Between Poverty and Disability in Street Children

Disabled girl with one leg using crutches to move around in the street, wearing a unicef backpack

Overview

As we briefly covered in disability in street children, disability is often connected to poverty (1). It is estimated that up to 30% of street children are living with disability (2). This makes disability very common among those living on the street. Many street children also experience severe poverty. Therefore, there is a strong link between poverty and disability in street children. This is a vicious cycle, with each factor exacerbating the effects of the other. Collectively, they have huge influence over the lives of street children (3).

Both poverty and disability are being continually studied by research bodies and charities. A better understanding of the causes of poverty and disability and the relationship between them can help put resources to better use. This understanding helps to improve policy making. Disability is a very serious issue in low and middle income countries. As such, reducing both rates of poverty and disability is part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (1). Part of this hopes to improve rates of disability among street children.

What is poverty?

There are many ways to define poverty. It is generally associated with factors such as socioeconomic status, income and location (1). However, the cut-off point for poverty is less clear when used in the context of street children. In which case, it is more effective to grade poverty in terms of a reduced access to healthcare and a shortage of basic resources (1). The little healthcare received by many street children increases their risk of disability (1).

Disability – a cause of poverty

Sadly, those living with disability are far more likely to also be living in poverty (1). There are various reasons for the poverty gap between disabled and non-disabled people. Some of this can be explained by the way society is currently structured. At present, the way in which we live is more focussed on what able-bodied people require (1). This makes it much harder to live life with disability. While making overall living more difficult, this also makes it harder for people living with disability to get jobs and to earn the money needed for food and living. This promotes exclusion and increases the risk of those living with disability ending up in poverty (4). Exclusion and discrimination make it more likely for a child living with disability to end up on the street (3).

In addition, children are also more likely to have to work on the street when a member of their family is living with disability (2). While this can be very dangerous, it is sometimes seen necessary for a family to survive. For example, in Ghana, many children work on the street to financially support a disabled family member (2).

Poverty – a cause of disability

Poor health

It is far more likely that a person will develop a physical impairment when living in poverty (1). This is most often due to poor health. Street children are much less likely to have access to essential resources, which has an impact on their health and wellbeing. Poor health is more likely when they do not have the resources to live healthy and free of disease.

Furthermore, it is also common for children with additional needs to require more resources. However, disabled children living in poverty often do not receive these. Without additional support, a disabled child is less able to carry out normal and essential tasks. This prevents them from living a healthy and more normal life (1).

Malnourishment

Inadequate healthcare, poor sanitation and malnutrition are experienced by many people in poverty, particularly street children (5). These factors often lead to severe disease and can result in permanent disability (4). For example, malnourishment can have a serious impact on a child’s health as it limits physical development (3). Poor nutrition during pregnancy can have detrimental effects on a developing baby and increases the risk of disease later in life (6).

Homelessness

Homelessness is another feature of poverty which can contribute to poor health and disability. Children living on the streets have limited contact with carers and family, where little support from care-providers can lead to poor mental and physical health. Therefore, children living or working on the street are commonly described as ‘children at risk’ (7). UNICEF also describes street children in a similar way by labelling them as ‘children in need of special protection’ (7). Since street children as a whole are particularly vulnerable, many children’s charities are working to better support and protect them.

Isolation

Many people are also stigmatised when living in poverty and are seen as out-casts. This is disproportionately the case for street children. Therefore, street children living in poverty and with disability are often even more isolated.

Summary

There is a strong two-way relationship between poverty and disability. On the one hand, disability increases the risk of a person having to live in poverty. There are many reasons for this and it is often very complex. Children with disability often receive poorer education (10). This is often due to a lack of understanding and judgement from others, and impacts a child’s ability to find work later in life. Without work, poverty and a life on the street is far more likely for these children. Combined with the social exclusion experienced by many disabled children, it is clear that disability can contribute to poverty.

In addition, poverty also increases the risk of disability. Without sufficient money it can be very hard to access vital resources, such as healthcare and nutritional food. This negatively impacts a child’s physical health where disease, malnutrition and a lack of medicine can lead to the development of disability. Therefore, rates of disability are far higher amongst adults and children living in poverty (3).

Poverty and disability in street children

Overall, both poverty and disability are very common in street children (8). Living on the street and with disability has twice the negative impact on a child’s life. More help is urgently required to improve these children’s lives (9). Help us support vulnerable children.


References

  1. Palmer M. Disability and Poverty: A Conceptual Review. Journal of Disability Policy Studies [Internet]. 2011 [cited 13 June 2021];21(4):210-218. Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1044207310389333
  2. Ingstad B, Eide A. Disability and Poverty: A Global Challenge. Chicago: Policy Press; 2011.
  3. Street Child. On International Day of Persons with Disabilities we Advocate for Inclusive Education — Street Child [Internet]. Street Child. 2019 [cited 13 June 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.co.uk/blog/2019/12/4/on-international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-we-advocate-inclusive-education
  4. Mitra S, Posarac A, Vick B. Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Multidimensional Study. World Development [Internet]. 2013 [cited 13 June 2021];41:1-18. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X12001465
  5. Banks L, Kuper H, Polack S. Poverty and disability in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2017 [cited 13 June 2021];12(12):e0189996. Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0189996
  6. Roseboom T. Handbook of Famine, Starvation, and Nutrient Deprivation. The Netherlands: Amsterdam Public Health Research Institute; 2017.
  7. Panter‐brick C. Homelessness, poverty, and risks to health: beyond at risk categorizations of street children1. Children’s Geographies [Internet]. 2004 [cited 13 June 2021];2(1). Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1473328032000168787?casa_token=IrddfS6UXfoAAAAA%3AR_P9f01XM_z57spnmwwr9dOShWSZ33cpaFX98fy6UXBNkmOpVXvdkhqupQhPAM-m_PAhOhpH84VVlA
  8. Vameghi M, Sajjadi S, Rafiey H, Rashidian A. SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF STUDIES ON STREET CHILDREN IN IRAN IN RECENT DECADE: POVERTY, A RISK FACTOR FOR BECOMING A STREET CHILD. Social Welfare [Internet]. 2010 [cited 13 June 2021];:337 To 378. Available from: https://www.sid.ir/en/journal/ViewPaper.aspx?ID=194296
  9. Mitra S, Posarac A, Vick B. Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Multidimensional Study. World Development [Internet]. 2013 [cited 13 June 2021];41:1-18. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X12001465
  10. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from: https://www.street-child.ch/news/discrimination-education-children-with-disabilities

Child Marriage

Female child poverty in India

Marriage is a formally recognised legal union between two people in a relationship. However, many girls around the world are subject to marriage against their will at a very young age. Child marriage occurs where at least one party to the marriage is under 18 years old. It is a type of forced marriage as one party does not freely consent to the marriage and may be coerced into marrying[1]. Child marriage is a practice which disproportionality affects girls more than boys with one in five girls being married before they reach the age of 18 compared to one in thirty boys[2]. It is often the result of gender inequality.

According to UNICEF, the number of child marriages has decreased globally from one in four girls marrying almost ten years ago to around one in five girls marrying today[3]. Nevertheless, the practice is still a global issue which is prevalent in many areas around the world. If it continues, by 2030, almost one billion girls will be subject to marriage at a young age[4].

In this article, we will firstly look at child marriage in the context of human rights and will consider where the practice remains predominate in the world. We will then explore the main drivers behind child marriage. Next, we will discuss the negative consequences of child marriage on girls today. Lastly, we will examine what may help to eradicate the practice globally.

Child marriage and human rights

Treaties and conventions

Child marriage is a practice which significantly violates a person’s human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which paved the way for subsequent human rights treaties, was adopted in 1948 and states in Article 16 that ‘[m]arriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.’ This was later reinforced in Article 1 of the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages which came into force in 1964.

In 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted and according to Article 16, men and women have the same right to marriage. They also have ‘the same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent’. Article 16 goes on to state that ‘[t]he betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage….’ Thus, it is clear that pressurising girls to marry against their will at a young age breaches the rights set out in these international treaties and conventions.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the main international treaty concerning children’s rights, does not specifically address child marriage. However, other rights contained within this Convention are linked to the practice. These include the right to freedom of expression (Article 13) and protection from violence and abuse (Article 19).

Resolutions and goals

Over a number of years, the United Nations has adopted many resolutions aimed at tackling the problem of child marriage. In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution entitled ‘[s]trengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage: challenges, achievements, best practices and implementation gaps’[5] and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has set the goal of eliminating all ‘harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation’ as one its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals[6].

Where is the practice prevalent?

Despite being a human rights violation, the practice still takes place in no less than 117 countries around the world[7]. According to UNICEF, the highest rate of child marriage is in sub-Saharan Africa where 35% of girls are subject to marriage before the age of 18. South Asia follows this where 30% of girls are subject to marriage before the age of 18. Other countries where the practice remains prevalent include Latin America and Caribbean (24%); the Middle East and North Africa (17%) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (12%)[8].

The reasons behind child marriage

Two girls in India subject to child marriage

Female child poverty

Poverty is one of the main causes of child marriage globally. Girls residing in poorer families are twice as likely to be subject to marriage before they reach the age of 18 than girls residing in better-off families[9]. Girls are often seen as placing an economic burden upon families and are regarded as expensive to educate, feed and clothe[10]. Therefore, families, and sometimes the girls themselves, regard marriage as a way of becoming financially secure and escaping poverty[11]. Due to the significant issue of gender inequality which is prevalent in many countries, girls often lack education and are dependent upon men economically. Accordingly, they may regard marriage as the only way to become financially better-off.

Dowries and ‘bride prices’

Additionally, often a girl’s family pay a dowry to the groom’s family. Normally, the younger the bride, the smaller the dowry. This is an incentive for families to subject their daughters to marriage at a young age[12]. Similarly, in situations where a groom’s family pays the bride’s family a ‘bride price’, families suffering from economic hardship may choose to marry their daughter at a young age in return for an economic profit[13]. Sadly, due to COVID-19, there has been many school closures and the pandemic has had a significant economic impact on many families and communities. Consequently, many more girls are at risk of the practice[14].

Social and cultural norms

The most significant driver of child marriage is poverty, however, the practice also occurs due to social and cultural rules. Child marriage is a ‘norm’ in many communities and if families do not coincide with the practice, their own communities may regard them as outsiders or exclude them[15]. Therefore, many parents marry their daughters young to gain social status. Furthermore, due to widespread patriarchal systems, women are often subservient to men. In certain countries, girls who have relationships outside marriage or fall pregnant before marriage bring disgrace and shame to their families. Therefore, parents may decide to marry their daughters at a young age to protect them and their family’s social position within communities[16].

Negative effects and consequences

Sick child in poverty

Social and mental health problems

The practice has many negative consequences on the lives of girls around the world socially, mentally and physically. Girls who marry at a young age no longer attend school and this therefore hinders their access to education[17]. Furthermore, the practice has a significant impact on the mental health of many girls. When girls marry at a young age, they have to move in with their husband’s family and the husband’s family home may be in a different town. Thus, girls may no longer be able to maintain social connections with people outside their new families. Additionally, due to the dowry paid, a girl’s husband may be older than her. Accordingly, she may not share the same interests as her husband. Once married, girls may also have children. Consequently, they lose their adolescence, freedom to play and make friends which can result in isolation and depression[18].

Physical health problems

Furthermore, girls face many physical health problems as a result of the practice. Many families believe that marrying their daughters at a young age protects them from sexually transmitted infections. However, this is not necessarily true. Research has shown that in Kenya, girls who are married are 50% more likely to have HIV than girls who are not married[19] and in Zambia, this is 59%[20]. Furthermore, girls who are subject to marriage at a young age are often not ready to have sexual intercourse or reproduce[21]. Statistics have shown that girls who are aged between 10 and 14 are five to seven times more likely to pass away during childbirth and girls aged between 15 and 19 are twice as likely to pass away during childbirth[22].

Additionally, young girls often face prolonged childbirth resulting in obstetric fistula.  Commentators have stated that girls who have suffered from obstetric fistula experience incontinence, shame and other health issues[23]. Alarmingly, between 50,000 and 100,000 women suffer from obstetric fistula every year and according to the World Health Organization, over 2 million girls in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are living with this condition and it is not being treated[24].

What will eradicate the practice?

Increasing education

In order to tackle the problem of child marriage, there needs to be a focus on education. Girls subject to child marriage should develop knowledge about the consequences of marrying young. They also need to learn about the affect the practice may have on their futures. If there is legislation tackling the practice, girls need to know that this legislation exists. They should additionally become aware of who to get in touch with should they need help[25]. The parents of young girls also need to be educated about the risks of child marriage and should become aware of the fact that forcing their daughters to marry at a young age could be breaking the law. Furthermore, local community leaders need to be provided with education about the impact of child marriage. As role models, this could help to shift local community patterns and beliefs[26].

Working with local communities

Additionally, there needs to be more ground work within the local communities. Local governments need to enforce campaigns fighting against the practice. There also needs to be local media coverage and local NGOs must directly work with communities[27]. NGOs should also offer psychological assistance to victims[28]. It has been found that the programmes which are most successful at preventing child marriages are those which have given families financial incentives to keep girls at school, those which feed children during school (removing the burden of parents having to do this), and those which give employment opportunities to girls once they have finished school[29].

ActionAid, an international charity, has carried out significant work to end child marriage.Local ActionAid staff worked alongside a co-operative women’s group in India and ActionAid’s partner organisation called Swaraj to raise awareness about the impact of the practice, the importance of girls remaining in school, and girls’ rights to choose who and when they marry. In the community, young women used to marry at 15 or 16 years old. However, after raising awareness about the negative consequences of child marriage, the average age has increased. Now most women in the community do not marry until they are 22 years old[30].

Conclusion

Overall, it is clear that child marriage is still a widespread practice and it is a serious violation of a person’s human rights. Poverty primarily drives child marriage in many regions, however, it is also a deeply-rooted practice which occurs as a result of cultural and social norms. The practice negatively affects girls’ mental and physical health and wellbeing, their social life and their education. There needs to be more education along with cooperation with local governments, NGOs and the media to help raise awareness about the negative impact of child marriage on girls and eliminate the practice all together.

Footnotes

[1]United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘Child and forced marriage, including in humanitarian settings’ https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WRGS/Pages/ChildMarriage.aspx> accessed 13 May 2021

[2]UNICEF, ‘115 million boys and men around the world married as children – UNICEF’, <https://www.unicef.org.uk/press-releases/115-million-boys-and-men-around-the-world-married-as-children-unicef/> accessed 21 May 2021

[3]UNICEF, ‘Child marriage’ <https://www.unicef.org/protection/child-marriage> accessed 13 May 2021

[4]Women Alliance, ‘Child marriage – a practice driven by poverty’ (December 2016) <https://www.womenalliance.org/child-marriage-a-practice-driven-by-poverty> accessed 13 May 2021

[5]United Nations Human Rights Council, ‘Resolution Adopted by the Human Rights Council, Strengthening Efforts to Prevent and Eliminate Child, Early and Forced Marriage: Challenges, Achievements, Best Practices and Implementation Gaps (A/HRC/RES/24/23)’ 2013

[6]Goal 5.3, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform < https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300> accessed 13 May 2021

[7]Women Alliance, ‘Child marriage – a practice driven by poverty’ (n 4)

[8]UNICEF, ‘Child marriage is a violation of human rights, but is all too common’ (April 2020) <https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/> accessed 13 May 2021

[9]ICRW, ‘Child marriage and poverty’ <https://www.icrw.org/files/images/Child-Marriage-Fact-Sheet-Poverty.pdf> accessed 13 May 2021

[10]Nour, Nawal M. “Child marriage: a silent health and human rights issue.” Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 2,1 (2009): 51-6

[11]Girls Not Brides, ‘About child marriage’ <https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/why-child-marriage-happens/> accessed 13 May 2021

[12]United Nations Population Fund, ‘Child marriage – Frequently Asked Questions’ (January 2020) <https://www.unfpa.org/child-marriage-frequently-asked-questions> accessed 13 May 2021

[13]ibid

[14]United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘Child and forced marriage, including in humanitarian settings’ (n 1)

[15]Women Alliance, ‘Child marriage – a practice driven by poverty’ (n 4)

[16]Girls Not Brides, ‘About child marriage’ (n 11)

[17]Women Alliance, ‘Child marriage – a practice driven by poverty’ (n 4)

[18]Nour, Nawal M. “Child marriage: a silent health and human rights issue.” Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 2,1 (2009): 51-6

[19]ibid

[20]ibid

[21]Women Alliance, ‘Child marriage – a practice driven by poverty’ (n 4)

[22]Nour, Nawal M. “Child marriage: a silent health and human rights issue.” Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 2,1 (2009): 51-6

[23]Nyasha Chingono, My dreams were destroyed’: poverty costs child brides dear in Zimbabwe’ The Guardian (04 January 2019)

[24]World Health Organization, ‘Obstetric fistula’ (19 February 2018) <https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/10-facts-on-obstetric-fistula> last accessed 21 May 2021

[25]Plan International, ‘Ending Child Marriage’ <https://plan-uk.org/about/our-work/child-marriage> accessed 24 May 2021

[26]ibid

[27]Women Alliance, ‘Child marriage – a practice driven by poverty’ (n 4)

[28]ibid

[29]Nour, Nawal M. “Child marriage: a silent health and human rights issue.” Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 2,1 (2009): 51-6

[30]ActionAid, ‘Child Marriage’ < https://www.actionaid.org.uk/our-work/womens-rights/child-marriage> last accessed 24 May 2021