Category Archives: Girls

Catholic girl in Pakistan in protective custody after abduction, forced marriage

Azoo Raja. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need UK.
Azoo Raja. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need UK.

CNA Staff,- Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Catholic girl in Pakistan whom a 44-year-old man allegedly kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and married, has been recovered and is in protective custody.

Raja, who is from Karachi, was kidnapped in broad daylight Oct. 13 by Ali Azhar, 44. Raja’s parents were informed days later by the police that their daughter had converted to Islam and had married Azhar, allegedly of her own free will.

Her parents filed a police report, and Jibran Nasir, the family’s lawyer, said the girl’s parents had filed a harassment petition on her behalf in late October.

Two weeks after her abduction, on Oct. 27, the Sindh High Court, based on statements the girl gave saying she was 18, ruled the marriage was valid and that Azhar would not be arrested.

The High Court reversed itself and ordered police to find the teenager Nov. 2, the BBC reported. She was recovered later that day and will remain in protective custody until a court hearing Nov. 5. Azhar was arrested the same day and was expected to appear in court Nov. 3.

Documentation has proven that Raja was born in 2007 and is 13 years old.

Child marriage is technically illegal in Pakistan, but courts typically do not enforce these laws. Sharia, which is used in some judicial decisions in Pakistan, permits a child to be married after her first menstrual period.

Approximately 400 people protested the decision at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Karachi, and Christians in other parts of the country protested as well. Aid to the Church in Need, which supports persecuted Christians, has provided legal and paralegal aid in the case.

Fr. Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi, condemned the court for ruling without properly investigating the circumstances.

“Whatever happened in the court was shameful and deplorable. It was all lies that the girl was being sent to a shelter home,” Diego said.

“The court, without checking or determining Arzoo’s age, ruled in favor of the abductors.”

The vicar general said there was a “disturbing trend” in Pakistan of Catholic girls being forcibly converted to Islam.

“Religious minorities living in Pakistan are concerned about the future of their daughters who are being converted to Islam,” he said. “But why only girls? Are our boys not good enough for religious conversion? Why are they not so easily converted?” he asked.

In February, the Sindh High Court ruled that a marriage between a 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped, forced to marry her abductor, and convert to Islam was not a violation of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act.

The court found that as the girl had experienced her first menstrual period, the marriage was legal.

Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

The country was designated, for the first time, a “Country of Particular Concern” in December 2018 for its religious freedom record by the US Department of State.

Catholic and other religious leaders signed a joint resolution in August 2019 encouraging the Pakistani government to adopt policies to protect religious minorities. It included 10 recommendations meant to safeguard the rights of minorities and women, and its signers included representatives of the country’s Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Baha’i communities.

The first point adopted in the joint resolution urges that the minimum age for marriage be made 18 years; the current marriage age for women is now 16.

The religious leaders also noted that “there is no forced conversion according to the Holy Quran.” On that basis, they urged legislation against abduction, sexual violence, and subsequent forced conversion to Islam, which acts they said do not propagate “the true spirit of Islam.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-girl-in-pakistan-in-protective-custody-after-abduction-forced-marriage-85528

Girls from India’s villages ‘break gender barrier’ with football

Thanks to an initiative by local NGO MJAS, football has helped girls from Ajmer district in Rajasthan state overcome societal taboos [Valay Singh/Al Jazeera]
Thanks to an initiative by local NGO MJAS, football has helped girls from Ajmer district in Rajasthan state overcome societal taboos [Valay Singh/Al Jazeera]

Ajmer, India – In a small football ground outside a remote village in India’s Rajasthan state, dozens of girls are busy practising, with shouts for passes ringing out as the sun set behind the small hills.

It was unheard of that girls from Hasiyawas and neighbouring villages in Ajmer district, about 400km (248 miles) from India’s capital, New Delhi, would play outdoor sports. The region is known for widespread child marriages and its lack of public space for women.

According to UNICEF, there are 223 million child brides in India, with nearly 15 million of them in the western state of Rajasthan.

Now, an initiative by a local NGO is using football to help girls from Ajmer overcome social taboos and give them a chance to strive for their dreams.

The Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti (MJAS), which loosely translates to Women’s Rights Committee, introduced football to female pupils in four villages in Ajmer district with the aim of empowering them. Since 2016, the Football for Girls programme has trained more than 400 girls in the four villages.

“We wanted to use sports and particularly football because it is considered a man’s sport, to break the gender barrier,” Indira Pancholi of MJAS told Al Jazeera.

“Football clubs have also helped us curb child marriage in these communities because girls became aware of their rights through our workshops. Earlier, they would have just went along if their parents tried to marry them but not now, they have the strength to say no.”

While girls are married off as children, they are sent to the husband’s house – in a ritual known as “gauna” – only when they reach the legal age for marriage, which is 18 for women and 21 for men.

According to government data, at least half of all child marriages in Ajmer took place in its villages.

About 30km (18 miles) from Ajmer, in Hasiyawas village, Mamata Gujjar, 16, recalls how it was tough to convince her parents to let her play football. “My father refused, saying it is a boy’s game, and he won’t let me wear shorts. I said, ‘All right, let me play in salwar kameez [a long tunic-like shirt and baggy trousers] then’,” Mamata told Al Jazeera.

Hasiyawas is a small village of about 150 families, most of them belonging to the Gujjar community, an agricultural and pastoral community with poor socio-economic conditions. The village is also home to a few Dalit families, who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy, once known as “untouchables”. Football, a contact sport, is now helping to bridge age-old social distancing among various caste groups.

After the match was over, 18-year old Suman Gujjar from Hasiyawas told Al Jazeera that, “earlier Dalits, especially women, were not allowed to sit in front of Gujjars, if they did sit, it was on the floor. Till I joined the football club I too thought that we were of ‘higher birth’ and Dalits were unclean and ‘lower’. I have realised how wrong I was because of the workshops I attended during training.” This year, Suman is among a handful of girls to gain entrance to college and will pursue humanities at a government college in Ajmer.

Nisha Parihar, who joined the football club in nearby Chachiyawas village four years ago, says the boys of her village objected to girls playing football and tried to disrupt their matches and pass offensive comments.

“They would puncture the ball, occupy the ground and refuse to make space for us to play. We had to fight them off sometimes. Finally, we complained to the village council who then asked boys to play at a separate time,” the 13-year-old said, with a smile which seemed to reflect pride.

Sapna, 17, the captain of the team, echoed her friend’s sentiments. “Till we started playing, boys were never seen in the sports field. Just to prevent us from playing, they too started coming to the field,” she said evoking giggles from other girls.

Before football entered their lives, like most girls in rural Rajasthan and many other states of India, their daily routine was restricted to cooking, cleaning, milking cattle and other housework.

“We are mostly at home doing household chores and sometimes watch TV. But boys are free to stay out and go wherever they want. We didn’t have the courage to even ask our parents to let us go to play. We couldn’t think we could do things boys do,” said Monica Gujjar, a striker from Hasiyawas.

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/2/rajasthan-football-story

Rugby saves school girls from child marriage in rural Zimbabwe

Sahumani Secondary rugby team coach Patricia-Mukunike-Chakanya is throwing the ball at Cathrine Muranganwa lifted by Trish Kandemiri and Velme Nyarumwe during a line-out at Sahumani Secondary, Honde Valley, September 11 2020, Thomson Reuters Foundation/Farai Shawn Matiashe

HAUNA, Zimbabwe, – When the girls at Sahumani Secondary School in eastern Zimbabwe started playing rugby, they had to make do with the soccer pitch and the oversized football shirts used by the boys.

Five years on, several have represented their country in the sport, and many more credit it with saving them from becoming child brides in a nation where early marriage remains common despite being outlawed in 2016.

“I used to hate rugby. At the time I believed the sport was only for the elite and for men, not girls like me,” said Catherine Muranganwa, 20, who has played for Zimbabwe’s Under-18 and Under-20 women’s national rugby teams.

Muranganwa, whose two sisters were married before they turned 18 – the legal marriage age in Zimbabwe – said the game had awakened her to different possibilities.

“When I travel for rugby I meet amazing women and I have realised that getting married early is not the right choice,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her village in the Honde Valley, about 90 km (55 miles) from the city of Mutare.

Rugby is now compulsory for all the girls at Muranganwa’s school.

“When the Form 1s enrol with us we introduce them to rugby. There is a positive improvement regarding early marriages,” said headteacher Mwaradzika Makazouya, adding that the school’s long lockdown closure had raised the risk of girls being married off.

As of 2019, 32.6% of a representative sample of some 8,000 women aged 20 to 49 years had been married before 18, according to the Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019.

While there has been progress in the fight against early marriage in the southern African nation since it was banned, poverty and religious practices hamper efforts to stamp it out.

Education is a key factor in determining the risk, and with schools mostly still shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners are warning there could be an increase in the practice.

Around the world, an estimated 500,000 more girls are at risk of being forced into child marriage in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, a report by Save the Children showed on Thursday.

That would mark a 4% year-on-year increase, reversing progress to reduce early marriage over the last 25 years, the charity said.

James Maiden, a chief of communication at the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said low levels of education and socio-economic status raised the risk of being married off early in Zimbabwe.

“Women aged 20 to 49 with pre-primary or no education were 13 times more likely to (have been) married by age 18 compared to those with higher education,” he said.

Girls from poor households were nearly four times more likely to be married compared before the legal marriage age than those from wealthy households, he added.

‘TOO LATE FOR MARRIAGE’

Muranganwa’s father, who was a polygamist with four wives, died when she was 12 and life has not been easy for her mother, a peasant farmer, and the rest of her family.

He was a member of a church known for polygamy and marrying off girls before they reach the legal age of marriage.

Muranganwa, who walks 10 km (six miles) to get to Sahumani Secondary School each day, said most girls who attend her church are married before they finish their primary education.

“Young girls are usually married off to older polygamous men at an annual church gathering,” she said, adding that her mother has supported her in rejecting a string of marriage proposals despite pressure from other relatives.

Velme Nyarumwe, 20, one of Muranganwa’s fellow players on the Zimbabwe Under-20 Women’s rugby team, said her four sisters were all wed before their 18th birthdays.

“To my family, at 20 I’m already too late for marriage. They pile on pressure daily,” she said.

Many of the rugby-playing girls are the first in their families to reach Form 4, the final year of Ordinary level education in Zimbabwe, said school rugby coach Patricia Makunike-Chakanya.

Sahumani starting teaching girls rugby in 2015 in an initiative spearheaded by teachers who had also trained as coaches under the banner of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union.

Makunike-Chakanya, herself a victim of gender-based violence, got interested in the game in the 1980s, when it was only played by men. She later trained as a coach, hoping to make the sport popular with girls too.

Besides honing their drop kicks, she spends time talking to the girls, listening to their worries and giving them advice.

“Staying with some of the girls at the school gives me an opportunity to counsel them and to protect them from predatory men in the village,” Makunike-Chakanya said.

Most parents have rallied behind the girls’ rugby team, called the “The Valley Giants”, and they no longer have to wear old soccer jerseys thanks to a sponsorship deal with a local seed company.

“We realised that by not supporting them they would give up on sport and get into the community where they become vulnerable to all sorts of abuse,” said Ivan Craig, a director responsible for sales and marketing at Agriseeds.

Muranganwa now dreams of making a career in rugby so she can help support her family, while also seeing the world.

“Marriage is not my priority now,” she said.

“I wish to play for independent clubs in Botswana and South Africa as well as in Europe. I know with rugby I’m going to change my family’s life.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20201001123338-3uccx/

Perils of the catwalk: African models warn of trafficking threat

A still from ‘Hidden Beauty of Ethiopia’, a televised modelling contest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Handout by Arts TV/Hidden Beauty of Ethiopia.

ADDIS ABABA/LONDON, – All eyes will be on the catwalk, but the model behind Ethiopia’s first reality TV modelling competition hopes the show will also shine a spotlight on exploitation in the industry across Africa.

While the #MeToo scandal highlighted widespread sex abuse in fashion, models and non-profits say women and girls pursuing a catwalk career face even greater dangers in developing nations.

Delina Cleo – a model in her late twenties who created the ‘Hidden Beauty of Ethiopia’ show – wants to educate aspiring African models about risks from online scams to sex trafficking.

“This industry can be very dangerous”, she said, referring to an Ethiopian girl whose family sold their house after a fake agency demanded payment to cast her in a production that did not exist. The girl ended up being sexually exploited, Cleo added.

“Families do not have (enough) knowledge to understand (when) it’s a scam,” Cleo said following the recent launch of the show’s second season, which sees about a dozen contestants compete for a contract with a major British modelling agency.

While data is scant, models and anti-trafficking activists say abuse in the sector is rife for African hopefuls – due to a lack of oversight and guidance both on the continent and abroad.

The global industry is becoming more diverse and open to Black and ethnic minority models, said Carole White – co-founder of the London-based agency Premier Model Management – who urged young women and girls to be wary of unscrupulous agents online.

“I believe (false promises and abuses) happen pretty much in all major cities,” said White, whose agency has managed global stars including Naomi Campbell. “It is quite a scammy world.”

Global non-profit Stop the Traffik this year released a report about aspiring models falling prey to sex traffickers in countries ranging from Colombia to Ethiopia to Russia.

“The #MeToo movement played a part in shining a light on how models are exposed to sexual and verbal harassment,” the report said. “What is not discussed is the link between modelling … and the world’s fastest growing crime, human trafficking.”

About 25 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labour – including 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking – according to an estimate by the United Nations’ labour agency.

UNDER THE RADAR

In South Africa, Phuti Khomo – winner of the country’s teen beauty contest in 2002 – said she was concerned about predators persuading young girls to send or pose for naked or lewd photos, then sexually abusing them or posting the snaps on porn sites.

“(Traffickers) try to target the poorest countries with … fewer resources and less education about human trafficking and about the industry itself,” said Khomo, who in 2018 launched an event to connect aspiring local models with Western agencies.

“So much is happening under the radar … and it’s happening throughout Africa,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ekaterina Ozhiganova, who heads Model Law – a French association that supports models’ rights – said most aspiring young models had little understanding of the lucrative yet thinly regulated sector, and lacked contacts or support.

“Often, underage people receive no training whatsoever,” the Russian model said, urging hopefuls to do their homework and ensure agencies offering work were legitimate. “Usually, you’re thrown into the industry and you’re supposed to find your way.”

The chairman of the British Fashion Model Association, John Horner, said the industry in Britain was raising awareness of predators posing as legitimate agents but that it was “too easy” for them to target and exploit girls and women online globally.

“Girls who have been promised a better life, who are brought into Britain by a slavemaster or slave gangs, probably never even interface with the modelling industry,” said Horner, who is also managing director of Models 1, an agency based in London.

“On an international scale, it’s virtually impossible (to combat this).”

Cleo, who faced accusations of being a scam artist when launching her contest in 2015, hopes she can make a difference.

“This (show) is more than a modelling competition,” she said. “We want to teach the audience. (Girls) just need to do (a lot of) research before they put themselves into any danger.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20200717073127-5zbij/

Education and nutrition ministry for women and girls of the Maasai community

Grail Sr. Rose Mmbaga, second from left, walks with some Maasai women who are gathering wood to fuel cooking fires. (Provided photo)

As a Grail sister of Tanzania I have had the privilege of ministering in the Maasai community of northern Tanzania, East Africa for many years. We started by educating the Maasai women, and as we lived with them and shared their lifestyle, we gradually learned what their special needs were and what we needed to do. For example, we have started feeding the Maasai children to reduce malnutrition and kwashiorkor due to lack of proper food and treatment. 

The Maasai are semi-nomadic herders, who depend on their livestock for wealth, and the milk, meat and blood they provide. Their colorful traditions, customs and dress, and the fact they live near East African national game parks have made them well known among Kenyan indigenous ethnic groups. Most of them are either Catholic or Lutheran. Maasai women respect God, regularly meeting for small community every Sunday and Wednesday and for preparation of song for Sunday. 

Presently there are a number of serious issues in Maasai society. For example, our Maasai girls — not just our students but the girls in primary school or younger — are being forced into early marriages. Sister Samba explained to me that the parents want them to get married in order to get their dowry. The dowry comes in the form of cows; in Maasai culture, the more cows you own, the higher your prestige.

Another serious issue is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Sister Deonisia tells us about this. It is a cultural initiation ceremony in which a number of young girls are circumcised. There are many negative consequences to their health, even death from heavy bleeding. Circumcision is a door to early marriage since most are married after the FGM ceremony.

We have kept records, and out of 389 girls we know that received FGM, 146 got married during this COVID-19 “holiday.” We have been working hard to get them back to school, and also we are fighting for the younger girls to get into primary school.

In struggling to get girls back to school, we make use of the police force to catch the parents, on the basis that they are neglecting the rights of their children to acquire an education. Most of the girls who are involved are between the ages of 6 to 13 years old.

Right now, the cases of girl students who were married during the COVID-19 crisis are now at the police court for judgement.

How can these girls be helped? I think the most important ways are:

Girls (students) need to be supported materially with uniforms and learning materials like exercise books, pens and pencils.

They need help with school fees to help them learn without worry.

We need to provide these girls with a dormitory because of the long distance from home to school; many girls have been raped on the way to school and have become pregnant.

Security is important when students are at school.

Parents need to be trained through seminars on the importance of a child’s rights to education.

Early marriages and FGM have led Maasai women to bring their girls to our convent in order to save the girls from these practices. As a result, we have started a center for Maasai girls. We have rescued them from FGM and fistula, (often a result of early-age childbirth) and have reduced the rate of death. A good number of Maasai girls have enrolled in the school. We have been so successful that our center for Maasai girls is now too small for the number of girls we serve, and we are trying to get a grant to make it bigger.

Freedom of speech is also an issue for Maasai women. Most men exercise power over women’s lives and personal freedoms; some women even have to get permission to go to town or visit friends.

Overworking is also a problem for Maasai women. In the Maasai community, women are responsible for maintaining the home, for cooking and cleaning, collecting firewood and water, looking after children, and building and repairing their huts.

It is obvious that married Maasai women have a workload that far exceeds that of married men. In a typical day, they clean their houses, cook, look after young babies, and fetch water. As there may be more than one wife in each household, the women share the workload among themselves and may delegate tasks to children and unmarried women in the homestead.

We Grail Sisters are working in more than seven villages, and the Maasai women, men, girls and children have become our friends. We share many things with them, and they tell us their likes and dislikes. They complain to us about some of their traditions: they don’t like FGM or early marriages, and are trying to stop these bad traditions. We are there for them and look forward to helping them improve their lives.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/education-and-nutrition-ministry-women-and-girls-maasai-community

Sierra Leone lifts ban on pregnant girls attending school

Screenshot_2020-03-31 Sierra Leone lifts ban on pregnant girls attending school
A girl holds her chalkboard as she arrives to attend lessons at the evening school in Ouakam neighbourhood, Dakar, Senegal January 16, 2019. Picture taken January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

DAKAR, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sierra Leone on Monday overturned a ban on pregnant girls attending school in a victory for human rights activists who had fought against it for five years.

The West African country introduced the ban in 2015 after a rise in rape, abuse and poverty during the deadly Ebola outbreak fueled a spike in teenage pregnancies.

The government held that allowing pregnant girls to attend school would tire them out, expose them to ridicule and encourage other girls to get pregnant, while critics said the ban increased stigma and set thousands back in their studies.

“The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education… hereby announces that the ‘ban on pregnant girls attending school’ is overturned with immediate effect,” the government said in a statement.

“Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children are able to live and learn in safety and dignity.”

After years of advocacy proved unfruitful, human rights groups filed a case against Sierra Leone with West Africa’s top court in 2018.

The court ruled in their favour in December, saying the ban was discriminatory and violated the right to equal education.

“It’s been such a long fight,” said Sierra Leonean child rights activist Chernor Bah.

“We didn’t need to have gone through this. I feel for those girls who were abandoned by this policy, who went through all of this and who, most of them, will never probably recover,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Education Minister David Sengeh said the state would replace the ban with two new policies focused on “radical inclusion” and “comprehensive safety” in the education system.

Details were not yet announced, but the safety policy will include measures to protect girls from sexual violence in schools, said Judy Gitau, Africa coordinator of women’s rights group Equality Now, which worked with the government.

“We did not anticipate that the response would be as positive as it is,” she said.

Several other African countries also ban pregnant girls from attending school, including Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea.

Activists urged their counterparts in other countries to keep fighting.

“This victory shows the importance of collaboration between a variety of partners and not giving up,” said Sabrina Mahtani, a human rights lawyer who worked to lift the ban.

 

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200330132934-vp8ja/

 

The Indian village where child sexual exploitation is the norm

women photoIndian advocacy group Jan Sahas believes there are an estimated 100,000 women and girls in caste and gender slavery. Photograph: Rebecca Conway

By Michael Safi

Many families in India still mourn the birth of a girl. But   when Leena was born, people celebrated.

Sagar Gram, her village in central India, is unique that way. Girls outnumber boys. When a woman marries, it is the groom’s family that pays the dowry. Women are Sagar Gram’s breadwinners. When they are deemed old enough, perhaps at the age of 11, most are expected to start doing sex work.

India officially abolished caste discrimination almost 70 years ago. But millennia of tradition is not easily erased. For most Indians, caste still has a defining influence on who they marry and what they eat. It also traps millions in abusive work. The exploited and trafficked children of Sagar
Gram, and dozens of other villages across India’s hinterland, are one of its most disturbing manifestations.

“It is caste and gender slavery,” says Ashif Shaikh of Jan Sahas, an advocacy group that works with members of India’s lowest castes, communities that used to be called “untouchables”.

“We estimate there are 100,000 women and girls in this situation. But there are likely more we haven’t identified. It’s an invisible issue.”

Girls in Sagar Gram grow up hearing a story. Sometime in the misty past of Hindu myth, a king fell in love with a dancer. His enraged queen issued the woman with a challenge: if she could walk a tightrope across a river, she could join the royal family, and permanently raise the status of her caste.

As the woman neared the opposite bank of the river, a step from success, the queen suddenly cut the rope. “Up until now, we lured your men through dancing,” the woman told the queen. “From now on, we will take your men from you with our bodies.”

Leena, 22, remembers learning about the woman. She remembers the awe she felt when the older girls from her caste, the Bacchara, suddenly had enough money for makeup and nice clothing. She remembers what the adults in her village told her when she was 15, and her family was having money problems.

“Your parents are going through such a hard time,” they told her. “How can you go to school? You need to be working.”

That was when she started. “The rest of the girls in my village were doing it, so I felt like I had to do it as well,” she says. “It was my responsibility.”

Girls in Sagar Gram, which lies next to a highway, are groomed for this life virtually from birth. Parents decide which of their daughters will fetch the best price. Older girls teach them how to attract customers from passing trucks and cars. The younger ones sometimes stow under beds, observing the others at work.

Sex was nonetheless a mystery to Leena. “When I was young, the most important thing was seeing the money the customer was offering,” she says. “I didn’t understand what they were doing to me. I only saw that money was coming in.”

Her virginity was prized. She made 5,000 rupees (£55) on the first night. Her price declined after that. Another Bacchara woman, aged 29, says the most she can make for an encounter is 200 rupees. She might see five or six men in a day.

India’s preference for male children has created a deep gender imbalance. Among the Baccharas of Sagar Gram village, however, the problem cuts the other way: there are 3,595 women in the district compared with 2,770 men, according to the most recent census.

Yet, visiting the village at dusk, few women or girls can be seen. “They’ve all gone to hotels or to stop cars,” an older man says, gesturing at the nearby highway. Every few hundred metres along the road, girls are reclined on rope beds, waving at any vehicle that slows.

The legal age of consent in India is 18. Madhya Pradesh, the state in which Sagar Gram is situated, recently passed the death penalty for anyone who rapes a child under 12, also increasing jail terms for adults who have sex with someone under 18. Police say seven people were arrested for child
sexual exploitation offences in Sagar Gram in the past year, five of them women who sold their underage daughters. The law is clear, but does little to sway social custom and economic distress.

“It’s a traditional business,” says deputy superintendent Nagendra Singh Sikarwar, at the nearby Jeeran police station. “Even girls we try to rehabilitate come back to it. The main issue is we don’t have alternative jobs for them. And so their families are keen that they continue the work.”

Most Bacchara men do not work. Only the lowest paid or most degrading jobs are available to them anyway. So they rely on their children. They wait on their porches with the rest of the family while their daughters are inside with customers.

One villager, Balram Chauhan, should be a rich man. He has five daughters. But he is struggling: Chauhan, 52, is the only father in the village who refuses to force his children into sex work.

“To be exposed to such violence and mental and physical abuse,” he mutters. “How could any parent willingly send them off?”

His mother was a prostitute. Despite his efforts, so were four of his sisters. “From the moment I understood what they were doing I tried to stop them,” he says. “But my parents were against me. They said it was a culture that had been going on for years. Who was I to stop it?”

Trying to break this cycle has been a lifelong struggle. His parents sabotaged his efforts to train as a health worker, Chauhan says. When he married off his two daughters to spare them from a life of prostitution, his family cut him off.

He cannot move his family outside of a Bacchara village: nobody would rent property to someone from his caste. The “higher” caste communities nearby consider his very presence polluting. So he has opened a small shop in Sagar Gram selling biscuits and confectionery, trying to eke out enough to pay for his daughters’ education.

“A lot of people here bad-mouth my daughters,” he says. “If they see them speaking on a cellphone, 10 people come to my shop and tell me: ‘Your daughter is chatting to so-and-so.’ They try to say they have loose characters.

“If I had one daughter, I could handle it. But when there are five …” he trails off. “It’s a difficult thing.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global- development/2019/jan/14/indian-village-where-child-sexual- exploitation-is-the-norm-sagar-gram-jan-sahas

The Adolescent Girl Holds the Key to Kenya’s Economic Transformation and Prosperity

Kenya photo
Dr Natalia Kanem, Chief of UNFPA, “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”. Credit: UNFPA Tanzania

By Siddharth Chatterjee

NAIROBI, Kenya, Teenage pregnancy in Kenya is a crisis of hope, education and opportunity.

The New Year has begun. Can 2019 be a year of affirmative action to ensure hope and opportunity for Kenya’s adolescent girl?

Consider this. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that when a young adolescent girl is not married during her childhood, is not forced to leave school nor exposed to pregnancies, when she is not high risk of illness and death nor suffering maternal morbidities, when she is not exposed to informal work, insecurity and displacement; and is not drawn into an insecure old age-she becomes an asset for a country’s potential to seize the demographic dividend.

So what is the demographic dividend?

It means when a household has fewer children that they need to take care of, and a larger number of people have decent jobs, the household can save and invest more money. Better nutrition, education and opportunities and more disposable income at the household level. When this happens on a large scale, economies can benefit from a boost of economic growth.

One of the goals of development policies is to create an environment for rapid economic growth. The economic successes of the “Asian Tigers” during the 1960s and 1970s have led to a comprehensive way of thinking about how different sectors can work together to make this growth a reality. This helps explain the experience of some countries in Asia, and later successes in Latin America, and optimism for improving the economic well-being of countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent by investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

With over 70% of Kenya’s population less than 30 years of age, the country’s favorable demographic ratios could unlock a potential source of demand and growth, Kenya is currently in a “sweet spot”. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that its working age population will grow to 73 per cent by 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment.

The key to harnessing the demographic dividend is enabling young people and adolescent girls in particular, to enjoy their human rights and achieve their full human potential. Every girl must be empowered, educated and given opportunities for employment, and above all is able to plan her future family, this is the very essence of reaping a demographic dividend.

Each extra year a girl stays in high school, for example, delivers an 11.6 per cent increase in her average annual wage for the rest of her life.

The UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem has said: “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”.

So what can be done?

First, end all practices that harm girls. This means, for example, enforcing laws that end female genital mutilations and child marriage.

Second, enable girls to stay in school, at least through high school. Studies have shown the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to become pregnant as an adolescent and the more likely to grow up healthy and join the paid labour force.

Third, reach the marginalized and impoverished girls who have traditionally been left behind.

Forth, make sure girls, before they reach puberty, have access to information about their bodies. Later in adolescence, they need information and services to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Finally, take steps to protect girls’ – and everyone’s – rights.

As we countdown to 2019, let us prioritize the development of every girl’s full human potential. Our collective future depends on it. We must do everything in our power to ignite that potential-for her sake and for the sake of human development and humanity.
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/adolescent-girl-holds-key-kenyas-economic-transformation-prosperity/