Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Ethiopia, and Christine Ennulat, ChildFund staff writer
Each year on June 16, along with many other organizations, ChildFund recognizes the Day of the African Child. Across the continent, children and adults affiliated with our programs will perform songs, skits and other presentations to call attention to children’s rights.
Despite the festivities, the Day of the African Child marks a tragic anniversary, when at least 176 children and youth were killed during a massive protest in Soweto, South Africa in 1976. Forty years later, African children still face many trials, including hunger, illiteracy, terrorism, civil warfare and gender-based violence.
The theme of this year’s Day of the African Child is “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting All Children’s Rights,” which focuses on child protection in regions where there is civil conflict. There are many well-known cases now, such as the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, ongoing civil war in Sudan and the rebel insurgency in northern Mali. Other countries are still tending to wounds from previous decades.
ChildFund works in Liberia, which suffered destructive civil warfare from 1989 to 2003, with a brief respite from 1997 to 1999. The impact of war, particularly the use of child soldiers, still echoes today as its government works to rebuild schools, infrastructure and a fractured society.
Armed conflicts, we’ve seen, make children less safe and more likely to be hurt, killed or exploited. Even in peaceful nations, though, children’s basic rights can be in jeopardy. Early marriage, forced labor and other corrosive practices cause harm all over Africa.
On our website, we have a photo story of 29-year-old Zambian mother Mavis, who was married and had her first child at age 13. Zambia’s child marriage rate is one of the world’s worst: 42 percent of Zambian women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 18. As we well know, many girls who marry and become mothers early lose out on a lot of things that make life worth living: education, leisure, civic participation, fulfilling work and self-determination.
Their dreams for themselves often transfer to their children.
Mavis told us, “I want my children to be educated. I don’t want my children to experience what I went through. Because I don’t know many things — I don’t know how to read or write my name. I don’t want my children to earn a living by selling tomatoes like me.”
On the Day of the African Child, we need to consider Mavis and all of the girls and young women in similar positions. We owe it to them and their children.
By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
“I should have graduated from high school like my friends,” Mariame says. But like many young Guinean women, she felt pressure to marry. Yielding to local tradition, Mariame wed an older man when she was only 13. He moved her to the capital city of Sierra Leone, where she didn’t know anyone.
“My parents obliged me to get married to a man who gave them the impression that he would allow me to continue school,” recalls Mariame, who is now 18. “After moving to his house, he said he did not marry me to go to school but to take care of the home and bear children for him.”
Mariame was able to leave her marriage and return to school, but many Guinean women don’t have the same opportunity.
According to UNICEF statistics from 2015, 21 percent of Guinean women ages 20 to 24 were married by the age of 15, and 52 percent were married by the time they were 18 years old, often to men more than a decade older in marriages arranged by their parents.
But Mariame and many other young people in Guinea are now speaking out to advocate for the rights of girls and young women — and against early marriage — with the support of ChildFund Guinea. Last month, our local partners in Kindia and Dabola held three public forums about early marriage, female genital mutilation and violence at school. More than 100 girls and boys ages 12 to 17 spoke openly about these issues, which are often kept quiet there, and recommended solutions to teachers, parents and government officials.
Public discussion is an important step in changing harmful traditions and attitudes that keep girls and women — and entire communities, by extension — trapped in poverty. We applaud the bravery and honesty of young people like Mariame who are shining a light on Guinea’s problems.
ChildFund’s needs assessment team recently went to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to learn how we can best help migrants — especially children — fleeing to Europe to escape strife in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. With hundreds of thousands of people entering the continent, this is Europe’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. You can read stories by Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch staff writer Zachary Reid, who accompanied our team. Sunday’s article — the final one in his three-part series — focuses on the challenges and rewards of working with this population. Here are parts one and two.
Also, stay tuned for another story by ChildFund’s global communications manager, Julien Anseau, later this week on the ChildFund blog.
By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager
Julien, who has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications, joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia earlier this year to take stock of needs of migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, particularly children. This is the first of Julien’s reports from the field.
Thousands of Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians are fleeing their war-torn countries and embarking on a perilous journey to Europe seeking refuge and a better life. In Izmir, a western port city of more than 2 million people in Turkey, many throng the streets, desperate to get to Greece — the entrance to the European Union.
It’s an anxious and fearful time for many. The most dangerous point of the journey to Europe is the illegal boat crossing from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands.
According to the International Organization for Migration’s last update on Feb. 19, 413 people — including children — have died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. Migrants pay smugglers anything between $500 and $1,200 and take their chances aboard unseaworthy rubber boats in a desperate bid to reach Europe.
Around Izmir’s Basmane Station, shops sell everything migrants may need, as well as things they don’t. Merchants do a brisk trade in lifejackets, which cost about $25 each and are sometimes useless. This is just one of many examples of people making a quick profit on migrants’ desperation.
A few days later, in Athens, Greece, we see many more migrants, but this time, the mood is of elation and relief. They’ve made it to Europe. In Victoria Square, a central meeting space in the city, I met a group of young Afghans taking their first steps on European soil.
Hamid, who says he is 20 years old but looks younger and may in fact still be a minor, describes his harrowing ordeal on the boat from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.
“I’d been trying for three weeks to reach Greece,” he says in English. “I was losing hope, and then one night at 4 a.m., the smuggler came and said it was now or never. I grabbed my bag and followed him to the beach. Forty-seven of us piled up on a small rubber boat. The smuggler stayed on the beach and told one of us to steer the boat straight towards the lights on the island in the far distance. What was supposed to be a one-hour journey took five hours.
“A Syrian guy steered the boat into the darkness of the night,” Hamid continues. “None of us had ever driven a boat before, but he was brave. The high waves were crashing against the boat, and I was cold and wet through. Everyone was afraid, screaming and crying because we thought we were going to turn over. Some people were praying together. I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.”
I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.
Mehdi, another young Afghan man whom Hamid met earlier in the journey, jumps in: “We tried a few times to cross by boat. When the weather is bad and the sea is rough, smugglers drop the price. But we didn’t want to risk our life. We know some boats never make it. This time we were lucky. I’ve met some people on this journey who have lost friends and family at sea.”
Just that morning, as the city of Athens woke up, came news of yet another boat that didn’t make it to Greece. The boat capsized, killing several people, including children.
For most people seeking asylum in Europe, Germany is the destination of choice. Usually people have friends or relatives already living there, and the government has been welcoming of migrants fleeing political turmoil.
Ali, a man in his early 30s from Bamyan Province in central Afghanistan, says he hoped to complete his studies so he could rebuild his life away from the pervasive violence of his homeland. He was anxious to recharge his phone so he could tell his family that he was safe and learn the latest news on the migrant crisis.
“There are a lot of rumors and hearsay,” he says. “I heard that countries are closing their borders. I want to check online for myself.” Ali has kept in touch with friends further along the route to Germany, who relay practical information and advice.
Reaching Germany takes a great deal of planning and money, as well as procedures to protect migrants from losing their savings to dishonest smugglers.
Instead of paying smugglers directly along the route, Ali keeps his money in trust with a middleman back in Afghanistan. After hearing from Ali, this man released a payment to the smuggler who got Ali to Greece and made arrangements with the next smuggler along the route to Germany. If Ali had not reached Greece, the smuggler would have had to keep trying, or he wouldn’t have been paid.
The expense and trouble are worth it to Ali. “The insecurity in Afghanistan drove me out of my home,” he explains. “It’s a war zone. There is no education, no jobs, no safety, nothing. I am sad to leave my parents behind, but I have to save my life. This is not my first attempt to leave Afghanistan for a better life. The first time, I was caught without papers by police in Iran. I was beaten and sent back. This time I made it through.”
A few weeks after I met Ali, Hamid and Mehdi, the situation suddenly changed for Afghan migrants, who are no longer allowed to travel through Macedonia. Many are now stranded in Greece.
Stay tuned for more blog posts from Julien, and also check out Richmond Times-Dispatch staff writer Zachary Reid’s reports from his time spent shadowing ChildFund’s needs-assessment team in Europe.
To find out more about the children and families undertaking this journey — and to help — read more on ChildFund’s website.
By Erin Kennedy, ChildFund Director of Advocacy
I can’t stop thinking about something I heard at one of the side events in the run-up to the recent 2015 United Nations Summit, in which the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted: “There are millions of girls who grow up around the world expecting to be beaten by their husbands because they saw their mothers being beaten.”
This statement, by Susan Bissell, who’s heading up the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, made my own two little girls spring to mind. What will they expect? I wondered. Certainly not that. Thankfully, not that.
My girls, of course, expect all their needs to be met. They expect Mommy and Daddy to love them, respect each other, feed them, care for them when they’re sick, keep them safe. The 3-year-old, my sunshine climber, and her 2-year-old sister, my feisty hugger — both expect to be queens of all they survey. And that’s as it should be. (Within reason.)
But what if they’d been born into a community where they watched their mother experience endless physical and emotional violence and grew up thinking that was just the way things were? What if they grew up afraid to go to school because of the dangers along the way? What if they had to leave school to work in pesticide-laden fields or dangerous mines — or marry someone at age 12?
That’s not what I want for them. Oh, no.
But for too many girls worldwide — boys, too — these are the exactly the kinds of things they can expect as they grow up. For them, it starts early: About 60 percent of children ages 2-14 experience physical punishment from their caregivers. More than 120 million girls have experienced sexual violence. Some 85 million children are trapped in hazardous work.
However, we know that moms and dads around the world want more for their children. We all do, not just in the richer countries.
So we should all be able to agree that it is time to give all children a chance to fulfill their dreams instead of having them derailed by violence. And now, more than ever, we have a chance to make that possible.
We celebrate the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s newest statement of what it wants for itself. And we celebrate the inclusion of violence against children as a priority throughout that statement. That’s a great first step.
But for this world to achieve a future in which children are free from violence and exploitation, we must step forward together — governments, communities, families and, especially, children — toward that future. We need to roll up our sleeves and take this high-level, political commitment embodied in the SDGs and turn it into more than a document gathering dust on the shelves of the U.N. — we must transform it into concrete commitments enacted for children around the globe. Word into deed.
How? The more important question is who. The answer is all of us.
Governments, the United Nations and civil society must take decisive actions and make real investments in protecting children: stronger laws and policies and well-supported systems and services that are funded and targeted. This will make it more possible for communities to do the work of transforming themselves into environments structured around children’s well-being. With stronger safety nets, families can more easily make choices based on love rather than desperation. Children, freed to have safe childhoods, can live at their potential and contribute in their unique ways.
We also need to recognize that, despite all, children already do contribute. Listening to them is a great place to begin this important work.
ChildFund Alliance (including its U.S. member, ChildFund International) has spent the last several years doing exactly that, consulting with more than 16,000 children in 50 countries. In this extensive research into children’s primary concerns, the idea that bubbled up to the top was prevention of violence. It also came clear how strongly children are invested in being part of the solution.
Children know what they want for themselves. We must act before the world beats this vision out of them, before yet another generation’s potential is lost to the world, slipping into a renewed cycle of poverty and inequality.
What does the world really want for its children?
I know what I want for my own, and that I’ll do everything to make it happen.
The world should do no less.
Read more from ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard’s Huffington Post column this month.
By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor
This blog post was originally published by the Global Campaign for Education’s United States chapter.
As many children return to school this month, it is an exciting time for parents and students. There is an assumption by many that school is a safe place, but there are children around the world, including in the United States, who will be returning to school and wondering if their school is really safe.
Children have the right to learn in a physically and emotionally safe environment that is conducive to learning. When we think about “safe environments,” there are several things we consider, but usually physical safety is at the top of our minds. Globally, children are exposed to several forms of violence in the classroom, on school grounds and on the way to or from school. They include corporal punishment, bullying, sexual gender-based violence, gangs and political unrest.
These forms of violence, which can be physical or psychological, can prevent children from learning and staying in school. Evidence shows that corporal punishment by educators increases dropout rates and perpetuates a cycle of violence. Bullying is linked to poor mental and physical health, school absenteeism, lower test scores and higher crime rates (bullies are four times more likely to engage in serious crime, according to a study in 28 countries published by the American Psychological Association in 2013). Sexual violence based on gender has a detrimental effect on girls’ attendance and completion of basic education, which contributes to the large gender gap in secondary school. Gang-related and political violence prevents children from even attending school, causing schools to close and teachers to resign.
ChildFund International and our partners in the ChildFund Alliance are committed to contributing to a world where every child is free from violence and exploitation. We support children in exercising their rights and work to create environments where children can not only participate as advocates against violence but also lead efforts.
In Timor-Leste, ChildFund’s Children Against Violence program has prioritized the push for a legal framework prohibiting violence against children in schools, as well as community-based awareness activities. Students have created Child Advocacy Groups, which have conducted research on violence against children; group members have used this research to advocate for a national policy forbidding corporal punishment in school. A cadre of young advocates has grown out of the groups, and they promote the protection of children’s rights, as well as the education of teachers and parents about positive discipline practices.
Students, parents and teachers need to work together to tackle all types of violence in schools, and one essential step is to provide support to children so they can raise their voices about this issue and make schools truly safe.
To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Sweden.
Sofia, 14, has a friendly smile and an air of confidence. She is the chairperson of the student parliament in her school in central Ethiopia. When she grows up, she hopes to be a doctor. But a year ago this dream was about to disappear.
Sofia’s stepfather and her mother wanted to send her to Saudi Arabia or another foreign country to work. They felt her income was needed to support the family, and this had a higher priority than her education. But Sofia managed to hold her ground. She had learned about the importance of education and the dangers connected with child migration in her youth club in school.
Sofia spoke to her siblings and her teacher, who in turn spoke to her parents — and managed to change their minds. It was a close call because her stepfather had already arranged a false identity card stating her age as 18, and an application for a passport was the next step.
The situation could have turned out differently had Sofia’s school not been taking part in a three-year project working against harmful traditional practices (HTP). Barnfonden is supporting the project, working through ChildFund Ethiopia and a local partner organization.
Hundreds of village leaders, health workers, local officials, religious leaders and school headmasters are part of this project, which is aimed at changing attitudes and behaviors through information and education. The goal is to reach 20,000 children and youths, to increase their knowledge and awareness of the consequences of HTP, a broad definition that includes female circumcision, child marriage, heavy and dangerous child labor and child migration. The project is based in central Ethiopia, with many sponsored children.
Since Barnfonden was started 22 years ago by BØRNEfonden (ChildFund Denmark), we have managed to increase our support to children in need every year. We have developed from being mainly a sponsorship charity to a broader organization that has diverse fundraising sources and many activities that help children in need.
With the help of the ChildFund Alliance, we have started advocacy efforts and raised our voice in the national arena for the causes of child protection and prevention of child violence. Today, we have 25,000 sponsors supporting 27,000 children in 25 countries. With the help of our sponsors, children in need are provided with education, better health care and the means and training to make a living on their own as adults.
To our delight, we also see an increase in funding from institutions and corporate partners, making it possible for us to support projects like the work against harmful traditional practices in Ethiopia. Our ultimate goal is to help even more children and families.
In everything we do, we remind ourselves about the children and families we are working for. And we remain grateful to our faithful sponsors, other supporters and corporate partners.
Important Dates in Barnfonden’s History
2005: Supported more than 20,000 sponsored children
2005: Started a dedicated project in Rajastan, India, in partnership with ChildFund International
2007: Received accreditation as the first member organization of ChildFund Alliance
2009: Started a partnership with ChildFund Australia and its programs in Cambodia
2011: Launched a designated project in Selingue, Mali, in partnership with BØRNEfonden
2011: Celebrated our 20th anniversary
2012: Began a project against harmful traditional practices (HTP) with ChildFund Ethiopia
2013: Supported a children’s rights project in Myanmar (Burma) in partnership with ChildFund Australia
2013: Currently supporting 27,000 sponsored children