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June 16, 2013

The Tragedy of Child Brides

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that of a total 140 million child marriages expected to take place between 2011 and 2020, 50 million will involve girls under the age of 15.  The UN, and most organization which track child marriages, define a child bride as a girl younger than 18 years of age. Boys are included in the statistics for child marriage, but comprise a small minority of children entering into marriage before age 18.

child-bridesThere are many negative effects of this practice. The facts below, compiled by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), highlight the tragic consequences for girls in a child marriage.

  • Child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.
  • Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19.
  • Child brides face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience. Girls ages 15 – 19 are 2 to 6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys of the same age in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children.
  • Girls living in poor households are almost twice as likely to marry before 18 than girls in higher income households.

While the practice of child marriage has decreased worldwide over the last 30 years, it remains common in rural areas and among the poorest of the poor.  The regions where the practice is most prevalent include:

  • Southern Asia, 48%—nearly 10 million—of girls are married before the age of 18
  • Africa, 42% of girls are married before turning 18
  • Latin America and the Caribbean, 29% of girls are married by age 18

An end to child marriage won’t come quickly or easily in these regions.  It is tightly woven into the cultural and religious life of the communities there.  As Cynthia Gorney reported in her story on child brides  for National Geographic:

“The very idea that young women have a right to select their own partners—that choosing whom to marry and where to live ought to be personal decisions, based on love and individual will—is still regarded in some parts of the world as misguided foolishness. Throughout much of India, for example, a majority of marriages are still arranged by parents. Strong marriage is regarded as the union of two families, not two individuals. This calls for careful negotiation by multiple elders, it is believed, not by young people following transient impulses of the heart.

So in communities of pressing poverty, where nonvirgins are considered ruined for marriage and generations of ancestors have proceeded in exactly this fashion—where grandmothers and great-aunts are urging the marriages forward, in fact, insisting, I did it this way and so shall she—it’s possible to see how the most dedicated anti-child-marriage campaigner might hesitate, trying to fathom where to begin.”

Child marriage not only has adverse consequences for the girls affected, but also hurts the those societies in which it is common.  As Anju Malhotra, Vice President of Socioeconomic Development for the ICRW points out:

“Child marriage not only violates the human rights of girls, but its negative consequences ripple across entire societies. The practice contributes to extreme and persistent poverty; high illiteracy; high incidence of infectious diseases, including HIV; elevated child mortality rates; high birth rates; low life expectancy for women; and hunger and malnutrition. The consequences of child marriage undermine nearly all the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight targets that respond to the world’s main development challenges.”

The practice of child marriage represents a global problem, and it is only with a global effort that it will eventually be eliminated.  Until we ensure that every girl has the right to an education, to grow up in safety, and make her own choices about whether and whom she will marry, we will never be free of the scourges of poverty, ignorance and violence.

June 16, 2013

Bring Back Social Clubs

We need to bring back social clubs with activities such as dancing, drama, and sports. There should also be local, provincial, and national competitions among social clubs across the country in each of these activities. These clubs really made a huge difference for people growing up in the 80’s.

We need to make it compulsory for pupils to participate in at least 2-3 sports activities which would be available through the social clubs. This kind of involvement would definitely assist in combating drug abuse and pupils just wandering around the streets. It could also help to reduce teenage pregnancy.

We need to involve governmental departments such Arts & Culture, Education, Sports and Finance in an effort to bring back the social clubs. These departments need to work together to offer young people activities that will motivate them to create hopeful futures for themselves.

Richmond Seleka

South Africa

 

June 16, 2013

The Challenge & Promise of a Graying Planet

The world is going gray.  There were about 810 million people aged 60 years or older worldwide in 2012, and their number is projected to grow to more than 2 billion by 2050. At that point seniors will outnumber children (0 to 14 years) for the first time in history. The aging demographic is a megatrend that is transforming economies and societies around the world.  Japan is the only country with an older population of more than 30 per cent, but by 2050, 64 countries are expected to achieve that proportion.

Gray_PlanetA major study published by the United Nations has warned that the growing numbers of the elderly presented significant challenges to welfare, pension and health care systems in both developing and developed nations.  The report also highlights the fact that skills and knowledge that older people have acquired are going to waste in societies rather than being used to their full potential.  Utilizing this experience and knowledge, and investing in older citizens will prevent an aging population from becoming an economic drain and result in stronger, wealthier societies.  Many older citizens have skills that would be immensely useful to the voluntary sector but these have hardly been tapped on a mass scale. This could represent a “longevity dividend” for countries around the world.

senior citizens in IndiaAnother potential benefit of aging populations may be the prospect of a more peaceful world. Demographers have found that developing nations with more than 40 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 29 are 2.5 times more prone to internal conflict, including terrorism, than countries with fewer young people, largely because of high unemployment combined with youthful exuberance and vulnerability to peers.  As the population in these countries skews toward middle age, political stability tends to improve.

However, older is not always less violent. Not even a maturing population will settle down if accompanying economic gains aren’t shared, or if declining fertility rates don’t occur uniformly among different groups within a society.

The UN report expressed concern about discrimination experienced by older persons, particularly older women, in the areas of access to jobs and health care, subjection to abuse, denial of the right to own and inherit property, and lack of basic minimum income and social security.  In an attempt to reverse the trend of underemployment of older workers, Britain and several other European countries have passed laws preventing employers from discriminating against older workers.

It warned that the most serious impact of aging populations would be in developing countries without safety nets or adequate legal protection in place for older people.  In nations now dominated by young workers, urban migration has eroded traditional care of the elderly in extended families, as young parents have left for the cities.  The trend has also tended to leave the elderly acting as primary caregivers of their grandchildren.

Global aging is an inescapable fact of the 21st century and will present both challenges and opportunities for every society.

June 4, 2013

A New Chapter in the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

“The Birth Control movement has its roots in the history of subjection. In the past women have been brood animals to the state, to industry, to the church. Whenever they have raised their heads and tried to loosen the chains that bound them, they have met with opposition–opposition often cloaked in apparent solicitude for their moral and spiritual well-being, and efforts have been made to keep them in servitude in the sphere that men marked out for them.

Today, however, women are rising, even though slowly, in fundamental revolt. Their efforts at superficial reforms are steps in that direction. But more essential is their demand for the right to voluntary motherhood. They are determined to decide for themselves whether they shall become mothers, under what conditions, and when. They are beginning to ask the purposes for which their children will be used; whether as slaves or freemen. This is a fundamental question. This is a fundamental revolt. It is for women the key to the temple of liberty.”

~ Margaret Sanger,
December 1923

margaret sangerNinety years have passed since Margaret Sanger wrote those words. It was especially evident to Sanger that the powers of her time deemed it preferable to keep women of the lower classes in ignorance about, and limit their access to, options for contraception.  She wrote in wrenching detail about women feeling the heartbeat of the baby in their womb but hoping, with the agony of denying a natural love, for a stillbirth because there were already too many mouths to feed.  Many of these mothers died themselves from the rigors of childbirth.  She became a pioneer not only in advocating for more control by women over their reproductive lives, but also in how to educate women about birth control and innovate safer, more effective means to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Now a new chapter has opened in the ongoing battle over reproductive rights.  In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. the “Obamacare” bill), which mandated for the first time in U.S. history that every American have health care insurance—including access to birth control.  Now that access to contraception is being challenged.  The traditionally anti-birth control, conservative religious groups have been joined by companies to deny insurance coverage for birth control.  In May, the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver began hearing the case of a for-profit business seeking an exemption from paying for medical insurance coverage of contraception on the basis that it was against the religious beliefs of the company’s founding family.  Eight judges, instead of the usual three, are hearing this case which is being brought by the largest of some 30  for-profit companies seeking the same exemption.

Attorneys arguing against allowing this exemption point out that if a company can deny employees medical insurance coverage based on the owner’s religious beliefs, it is a violation of the employee’s freedoms because it demands that the employee accept the owner’s religious beliefs.  Echoes of the struggles that Margaret Sanger fought are present in this case.

Though Sanger might be disappointed that the battle over reproductive rights still continues, she would no doubt be pleased with the progress that has been achieved since women gained the ability to control whether and how many children they have. The positive results can be seen in the decline in infant and maternal mortality in the U.S.and many countries around the world where birth control is legal and practiced.  A recently released CDC report, covered by the Huffington Post on February 14, 2013, that shows that “…99.1 percent of sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 who were surveyed between 2006 and 2010 have used some form of contraception, up from 98.2 percent in 2002. Ninety-three percent of sexually experienced women have used condoms at some point in their lives, and roughly four out of every five women have used birth control pills.”  In the U.S. during the 1920’s the number of deaths of women undergoing abortions, which were then illegal, averaged about 15,000 per year.  In 2008, the last full year for which such numbers are available, the number of deaths in women from abortion, now legal, was 12 per year.

maternal mortality rate USGiven the positive impact that birth control has had for mothers and children, it is difficult to comprehend why anyone would deny that prevention through contraception is not a far better choice for society, and worthy of full support.

The First Global Conference on Contraception, Reproductive and Sexual Health was held this May in Copenhagen, Denmark.  This first global gathering, which aims to help women who remain in societies that deny them control over their reproductive lives, owes a debt to Margaret Sanger.  Her legacy now touches women around the world; a far cry from when she first embarked on her crusade as one dedicated nurse, from a family of 11 children, to free poor women from a life of reproductive bondage.

June 4, 2013

Living Ubuntu

A number of years ago, I was introduced to the book “God Has A Dream”. The concept of Ubuntu resonated with me. Ubuntu embodied the essence of a Divine or “Christ’ spirit; an all-loving, all-acknowledging; all-accepting intention of the magnificence of God. The effect has been profound and instrumental in my life since then — truly understanding that our humanity is affirmed by acknowledging the humanity of others.