Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school. Let’s fix that.

Today, as children all over the US head back to school, 10.5 million children in Nigeria will not go to school.  In fact, Nigeria has the highest out-of-school population in the world.   And increasing levels of violence have targeted children for wanting to go to school and learn.  Please sign our petition below showing our support for President Jonathan’s commitment to education, and urging immediate action so that all children and youth have the opportunity to learn and thrive in society.

Dear President Jonathan,

Within the last few weeks, school children and teachers have been gunned down and others firebombed and burned to death – simply for wanting to go to school.

We stand united with UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, and teenage education campaigner, Malala Yousafzai, in supporting the call for safe schools for the 10.5 million out-of-school children in the country.

With the highest out-of-school population in the world, we ask the government, with the support of the international community, to deliver education so these children can go to school. We ask that conditional cash transfer programs be implemented at the state level for families so that 900,000 girls can enrol into school now. We also request that the state governors and their ministers draw up plans for universal education, and leading up to the next budget cycle, the national government develop financial incentives for state level results to ensure every child goes to school by 2015.

Every Nigerian child deserves the chance to go to school and learn.

Click here to sign the petition. Thank you for supporting this cause with me. Every signature really does make a difference!

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Egyptian TV Series Spotlights Child Marriage

Republished from Al-Shorfa.com

The new Egyptian television series “Al-Qasirat” (Minors) is taking a hard look at the problems of child marriage, which is still prevalent in parts of Egypt and a number of Arab countries.

Young child bride

Photo courtesy Al-Qasirat media office

The MBC series, which began at the start of Ramadan, includes some realistic and shocking scenes, said Cairo University psychology professor and family relations consultant Waliyuddine Mukhtar.

It condemns the “reactionary ideas prevalent in many societies that treat females as mere commodities to be bought and sold”, he told Al-Shorfa.

The practice of underage marriage is widespread in Upper Egypt and in other parts of the country, he said.

In some cases, young girls are temporarily married to wealthy older men or foreigners for a designated period of time, particularly during the summer vacation.

PROLIFERATION OF CHILD MARRIAGES

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as a formal marriage or informal union that takes place before the age of 18. According to a 2010 UNICEF report, 18% of the female population in the Middle East and Africa are married before this age.

Underage marriage has spread “under the guise of religion” in Yemen, SaudiArabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is misrepresented as an application of sharia, Mukhtar said.

Poverty and illiteracy also contribute significantly to its spread, he said.

Egypt’s Ministry of Family and Population put the number of underage marriage cases in 2011 at 150,000, or 11% of all marriages in Egypt that year, Mukhtar said.

“Al-Qasirat” star Salah al-Saadani told the Middle East News Agency that the series’ boldness in confronting the issue compelled him to accept the role, though he knew some might find its scenes and events shocking.

What most interested him was the realistic portrayal of the issue, he said, explaining that the series is set in an Egyptian village where a wealthy man exploits poor families in order to marry their daughters.

AGAINST EGYPTIAN AND ISLAMIC LAW

“Underage marriage is illegal and a crime against humanity that is being committed in the name of sharia,” said Al-Azhar University sharia and law professor Sheikh Nayef Abd Rabbu, who serves as an advisor at the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

“Egyptian law, which stems from sharia, prohibits the marriage of girls under the age of 18,” he said.

There is a common belief that Islam legalises child marriage, though this is an explicit distortion of religious texts and the hadith, as it is actually old customs and traditions that drive these marriages, Abd Rabbu said.

“Islam stipulates safeguarding the rights of women in marriage,” he said. “In the case of minors, their rights in marriage are slim to non-existent. Sharia legislators agree that a marriage must be entered into with an intention of continuance, and that it not be a temporary contract, as it is in many of these cases.”

Under Egyptian law, which prohibits exploiting children in any form, forcing a girl into marriage is a punishable offense, said Fayez Shukr of the Egyptian Ministry of Justice’s department of legislative studies and research.

Additionally, he told Al-Shorfa, under a 2008 child law, “no marriage contract shall be authenticated if either party has yet to attain the full age of 18 years”.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND HEALTH PROBLEMS

Dr. Fahim Farhan, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, said he follows the television series with interest.

It is one of the “most important works shedding light on this blight in Arab societies, and in Egypt in particular”, he said.

Underage marriage exposes girls to numerous health and psychological problems, including infertility, miscarriage, preeclampsia, anaemia and premature childbirth, he said, noting that there is a rising incidence of death among these girls and their babies.

“Al-Qasirat” is directed by Magdi Abu Emera, written by Samah el-Hariri and stars al-Saadani, Dalia al-Buhairi, Yasser Galal, Menna Arafa, Malak Ahmed Zaher and May al-Gheiti.

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The Coexist Initiative – Working to End Gender-Based Violence

This article is re-published from Girls Not Brides. org.

The Coexist Initiative.

Wanjala Wafula is the founder and CEO of the Coexist Initiative, a Kenyan community-based organisation that works alongside boys and men to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence. Coexist was awarded the African Achievers Awards 2012, celebrating the successes of engaging men and boys as a means to empower young girls.

Below, Wanjala speaks of the work he does with community elders to raise awareness of the harmful consequences of child marriage.

The law vs enforcement.

The prevalence of child marriage in Kenya saddens me. We have collectively failed to realize the rights of many girls to a life of their choosing. In the past two years, 40% of girls in Kenya were married before their eighteenth birthday; 61% in the Kajiado County alone. At this rate, Kenya will see 35,000 more girls married off within the next year. That’s 35,000 girls who will suffer violations of their right to health, education and non-discrimination.

Coexist quoteThe Children’s Act, passed in 2001, prohibited the marriage of anyone under 18, and even stated that “no person shall subject a child to early marriage or other traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, or dignity”. The problem is not the law, but rather the lack of political will to enforce it.

We have no adequate structures to monitor and prosecute child marriage cases, no services that provide shelter to runaway brides. Children’s rights sit at the very bottom of the government’s list of priorities, if at all, even though rising tensions between ethnic groups have prompted many abductions for marriage and rendered the situation all the more alarming.

I find it tragic that, whenever there is conflict, men use the bodies of women and girls as their battlefield and that it elicits so little outrage from state officials.

Engaging community elders and reaching out to boys.

Clearly, the cost of child marriage is too high to be overlooked. So where do we go from here?

I firmly believe that the way forward is to engage the community as a whole. Social transformation will not happen without community engagement. That’s why much of our work at Coexist Initiative is focused on raising awareness of the harmful impact of child marriage through media and entertainment.

We also reach out to local leaders, residents and service providers with key child marriage prevention messages. For example, we’ve been working on “Our Voices Our Cry”, a book that gathers the stories of children who have been sexually exploited, and we are currently pushing for its inclusion into the school curriculum. This way, by bringing the dialogue about child marriage into public consciousness and our schools, we hope to address the discrimination that is at its heart.

For the past year, we have worked closely with the Maasai and Kaya tribal elders to prevent harmful traditional practices like child marriage. I have found that working with spiritual leaders and community elders can dramatically enhance the reach of our message. Because they are seen as the custodians of culture, they impart their traditions and beliefs onto younger generations. Traditional leaders have the authority needed to decrease the acceptance of child marriage, and their voices are particularly important when it comes to reaching out to boys and men.

A key moment in a boy’s life is the time when he learns the “rules of manhood”. This traditionally happens during the male circumcision ceremony, when boys are exposed to highly gendered messages about what it means to be a man. Working with spiritual leaders has proven paramount in opening a new space for dialogue, in teaching boys different lessons about manhood: boys become men by seeing and supporting women as human beings.

By getting men to reject the practices that subordinate women and girls and subject them to violence, we can get to the root of child marriage. The support of community elders’ is a vital part of that process.

Positive changes.

That’s why I am so pleased to see social change happening in my own time. After two years working alongside Kaya elders, known for their strict adherence to tradition, not one underage girl was married in their community this year. Not a single one! And in only one year, 10,000 boys and men from the Maasai tribe have rejected female genital mutilation (FGM) and polygamy.

I must say it makes me incredibly optimistic for the future. True enough, FGM isn’t necessarily a precursor to child marriage, but they do share a common root that needs to be addressed: the ingrained idea that women and girls are somehow inferior. In that sense, FGM is a gateway to ending child marriage in Kenya.

October 11, 2012, the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, gave us a fantastic opportunity to show the changes that have occurred in the community and further raise awareness of the consequences of early and forced marriage. Maasai elders gathered to denounce the practice of child marriage and celebrate the achievements of the transformed generation of Maasai Men. We also had a choir of girls, who used to be married and are now in school perform songs about our work and successes in the community. If our budget allows it, we would love to produce a video of the celebration and reach even more people.

Most of our successes have come from working on preventing child marriage. It’s a daunting task, but we must continue our work. No girls should ever be forced to marry; not a single one.

Learn more about the Coexist Initiative here and about Girls Not Brides here.

Profile of FORWARD UK with Naomi Reid

FORWARD – Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development.

Through FORWARD’s programs, young women and girls are educated in exercising their rights, and encouraged to take leadership roles in their society. FORWARD also educates the public on the physical and physiological effects of FGM and child marriage.

In part I of my profile on Forward UK, I had the pleasure of interviewing author and ambassador Gavin Weston.

Profile on ForwardUK part IIIn part II I chat with the dynamic Naomi Reid, Events and Special Projects Coordinator at FORWARD UK.

1000-Day Countdown to Global Education

The urgency of the 1,000-day countdown is doing exactly what we hoped: pressuring world leaders and businesses to sit up, take notice, and — most importantly — take action.

Global education

Photo by A World At School

Global leaders came together to hold ministerial-level meetings on education and to commit to concrete actions needed to achieve universal education by 2015.

Some of the most important voices — including youth leaders, more than 250 members of civil society organizations, the United Nations Global Education First InitiativeGlobal Partnership for EducationWorld Bankand USAID, just to name a few, were at the table for a series of events in Washington, D.C. — including one at the White House — where global education was at the top of the agenda. Now that we have the ear of these influential leaders, it’s time to keep pushing and build upon the work we have started. Read more here.

Girls Should Be Students Not Brides

Dear friends,

Did you know that child brides are twice less likely to attend school than girls who avoid early marriage? Girls who marry as children are denied their right to education and are deprived of the skills they need to lead fulfilling and prosperous lives.

We also know that educating girls is one of the most powerful tools to prevent child marriage. Girls who complete secondary school are 6 times less likely to marry as children.

So it’s clear, if we want to deliver quality education for all young people, we must address the needs of adolescent girls and child brides.

This is the message Girls Not Brides and our members will share at a High Level Summit on Education next week, where education and finance ministers from 8 developing countries will meet the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, the UN Secretary-General, and the World Bank President to discuss how to ensure more children stay in school.

We’ll encourage ministers to ensure child marriage prevention is integrated into their education, health, justice and social programmes, and to work with civil society organisations like Girls Not Brides members who are working directly with adolescent girls and their communities.

We all have our role to play in ending child marriage. Read more here.

Court Orders Public Flogging For 15-Year-Old Rape Victim

Last year a 15-year-old girl from one of the islands in the Maldives was arrested and sentenced to 8 months house arrest and 100 lashes by the Maldives justice system.

Map edited by Gillian Felix. Photo by Tsunami.com

Map edited by Gillian Felix. Photo by Tsunami.com

Turns out the girl’s step-father had been raping her for years, while her mother turned a blind eye. When the girl got pregnant the two adults killed and buried the new born. Police discovered the body and arrested and charged the parents with murder and abuse of a minor. They also arrested the girl and charged her with fornication. They claimed that she confessed to having sex with another man who was not her step-father. The population on this particular island is less than one thousand, yet the identity of this man remains a mystery, and he has not been found.

The girl was sentenced, her mother and step-father’s case is still pending.

Under Sharia Law, both men and women whether adult or child, can be punished with 100 lashes and house arrest if they are found guilty of having pre-marital sex or adultery.  Part of the common law practiced alongside Sharia, is that no child below 13 can consent to sex and that any sexual relations will be deemed as child abuse. The same law also adds in Article 25, “Unless proven otherwise, it cannot be considered that a child between ages 13-18 had given consent to committing a sexual act. And unless proven otherwise, it will be considered that the sexual act was committed without the child’s consent.”

“I agree that there is a strong contradiction here. Also, the man has been sentenced under common law. The act he committed is criminalized under the existing laws, those drafted and passed through the parliament. The girl, on the other hand, has been sentenced under Sharia law, which is not specifically written down. There is a discrepancy in how men and women are sentenced. At times females face more difficulty denying charges of fornication. This, I believe is a structural issue which needs to be addressed.” Said lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh.

There are only 2 kinds of admissible evidence for proving rape in that country, they are; a confession by the rapist or four male witnesses. As a result proving rape is impossible. According to the judicial statistics report of 2011, ninety percent of female rape victims are flogged. The report also showed that in the last 3 years, no cases of rape have reached a positive verdict.  This year only 3 rape cases have been reported meanwhile 1 in 3 women ages 15-49 have been a victim of physical or sexual abuse.

It is not uncommon for rape victims to take drastic measures such as self-induced abortions, infanticide or abandoning babies.

The girl charged will endure public flogging when she turns 18. Imagine the anguish of anticipating that on top of all that she has been through.

Here’s a petition you can sign urging the Maldives government to stop this atrocious act.

Sources: BBC, Minivan NewsAvaaz.org

88 Villages In India Bans Child Marriage

On September 2010, UNICEF and local not-for-profit agencies in Yavatmal India launched the Child Rights and Child Protection movement. Their campaign prompted 88 villages to abandon child marriage, with another 150 following on March 8, Women’s Day.

Photo courtesy Yavatmalonline.com

Photo courtesy Yavatmalonline.com

“The number of girls married off between age 15 or 16 is too high. In some communities, it is a common practice even when the girl is 13 or 14,” said a government officer attached to the child and welfare department. “Early marriage is detrimental to the child’s welfare, in addition to it a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.”

Tarnoli district head of council Milind Joshi is prepared to take action if the resolution is not followed, adding, “Violators will be booked under the provisions of the Act.”

Ravi Aade, a social worker in Darva taluka (a subdivision of the district) said “We have been working in the villages for more than two years to create a conducive environment. The 88 villages were chosen in the first phase as we got a positive response from them.”

In the last month-and-a-half, 18 families have canceled the weddings of their under-aged daughters.

In India the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 and 21 for boys, however in some villages girls are married as soon as they turn 13.

Source: Hindustantimes.com

Note from @Gillianfx: Before publishing this article I checked to see if the 150 villages mentioned have kept their promise to abandon child marriage. Nothing was reported. I will keep you posted as this story develops.

Little Progress Is Better Than No Progress

This week I am out of the country but I wanted to keep the momentum going while I’m away.

Small positive steps are happening in India to put an end to child marriage. Read more here: Why does this 13-year-old girl’s parents want her to be married despite India’s laws?

Thanks for reading and see you next week.

Cheers,

Gillian Felix

Girl Rising: The New Power of the World’s Young Women

The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, has been blogging for the Huffington Post  from the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he has been working to put global education at the top of the agenda.

In his series of blogs, entitled “Girl Rising: 2013 and the New Power of the World’s Young Women”, he argues that this year will see young women across the globe begin to assert their rights more vocally than ever before.

I am MalalaIn the wake of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and the exposure of the dangers still faced by young women in India, women are standing up and rejecting long-accepted rules and conventions, he says. The call for girls’ education is paramount in this movement. Read Gordon’s blogs now to find out about the grassroots movements across the world which are making female education this year’s ‘hot topic.’

And don’t forget to forward this post with your friends and share the A World At School website on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word as we continue to campaign this year against child labor and child marriage – and for A World at School.

Tell them that Child + Teacher = Hope∞.
Thank you,
The Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education