10-Year-Old Girl Saved from Marriage

Afghan girl

HERAT, Afghanistan, 30 July 2013 – When Farzana* was 10 years old, her father, a farmer and laborer in a small village in western Afghanistan, arranged for her to marry a man 40 years her senior. The groom, already married and the father of six children – most of them older than Farzana – paid $9,000 to Farzana’s father in return for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The 10-year-old begged her father to call off the marriage, even promising to eat less so that she would not be a burden on her family. Her father remained unmoved, despite her protestations.

“I was crying very hard and telling my parents that I don’t want to go through with this,” recalls Farzana, now age 12.

Her only support was her mother, Habiba, who herself was married at a very early age and knew the complications and difficulties of early marriage. Farzana’s little brothers rallied around her as well, but to no avail. The marriage was fixed and the dates set.

“I would have missed my sister a lot – she provides a lot of support for my family, and the groom was too old,” says Yahya, Farzana’s little brother

Difficult to refuse

Farzana belongs to a poor family in a village in western Afghanistan. With three other children and an income of less than $30 a month, Farzana’s father, Ghulam, could barely make ends meet. An offer to marry off his daughter for the princely amount of $9,000 was too difficult to refuse.

“We had a lot of problems; we are so poor and have nothing. If we didn’t have these problems, I wouldn’t have agreed to this marriage,” the father explains.

As the wedding date neared, Farzana’s mother Habiba realized that her husband was unrelenting and decided to take action. She alerted members of the Child Protection Action Network (CPAN), a grassroots network supported by UNICEF that works for the protection of children across Afghanistan, with associates from government, NGOs, youth representatives and provincial councils.

Poverty and low awareness

CPAN members in her village took it upon themselves to ensure that the girl would not marry at such a young age. A local religious leader and member of CPAN, Sultan Mohammad Yusufzai, led the counseling sessions between Farzana’s father and the groom-to-be.

“I told them that Islam prohibits child marriage. Even if a boy and girl are engaged, they cannot live together until the girl has matured. Islam does not permit such marriages until the bride and groom are grown up,” he says. “One of the main reasons for child marriage is poverty, and that forces parents to agree to early marriage. The second reason is low awareness among families about Islamic principles and human rights.”

It took three months of talks and the return of money the groom paid to the father before the two men agreed to cancel the marriage – just 10 days before the wedding.

The decision came as a great relief for Farzana, her mother and siblings.

Farzana managed to escape this terrible arrangement, but many like her are not so fortunate. Child marriage is widespread in Afghanistan, with almost one in five women getting married before age 15. Nearly 46 per cent are married by the time they are 18.

Community involvement

It’s a practice that UNICEF believes can only change with the involvement of the entire community.

“If violence against children remains widespread and socially accepted, most children won’t complain about it, most adults won’t report it, and professionals might hesitate to act upon it,” says Micaela Pasini, UNICEF Afghanistan’s Chief of Child Protection. “So we work with communities to help them to understand and identify how to better protect their children from violence.”

Still living in the safe confines of her home, Farzana is moving on. The ordeal of nearly marrying while still a child is finally behind her. The 12-year-old now goes to school regularly and finds comfort in the presence of religious leader Imam Mohammad Yusufzai and his team from the CPAN.

*Names of children have been changed.

This story was originally published by UNICEF – Afghanistan

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Fazal Haque, 15, student at Anchalik High School of Simina village in Kamrup district of Assam, and nine other boys and girls keep themselves busy by looking out for families who are marrying off their under-age daughters and intervene.

Young reporters fight against child marriage

Photo by MapsofIndia.com

Daughter of a Child Bride Speaks Out.

Sami Ahmed is a 21-year-old student, scriptwriter and activist. She is also the daughter of a child bride. Her mother, Saira was 13 or 14 years old when her parents began the search for an “appropriate” groom for her in Bangladesh. Saira’s parents chose a 26-year-old British-Bangladeshi stranger from England as the best choice for their daughter.

Sami and her mom.

Sami and her mom.

Child Marriage, Modern Day Slavery

In Niger and the neighboring Nigeria, a man is legally allowed to have as many as four wives. However he can take a fifth or sixth ‘wife’ unofficially. ‘Fifth wives’ or wahaya are purchased either from parents or from their Tuareg masters. No ceremony is performed, just trade. Usually the girls are between the ages of 7 to 12; the younger the girl the higher the price.

Heavy brass ankle bracelet forced to be worn by a Wahaya

Heavy brass ankle bracelet forced to be worn by a Wahaya

Afghan Women’s Political Power Revoked

Women’s rights in Afghanistan take yet another hit, as conservative male parliamentarians secretly remove a legal requirement that states women make up at least a quarter of all provincial elections.

According to Reuters, the change took place in mid-May but was only discovered by women parliamentarians a few days ago.

Hundreds of Afghan women

Photo by 24piecescholars.net

Activists said it could also reduce the number of women serving in parliament’s upper house, as most women are elected there via their role as elected provincial officials.

“In negotiations you don’t gain anything unless you also give something up,” said prominent women’s rights activist and MP Farkhunda Naderi.

The action has sparked fears among women’s rights activists that President Hamid Karzai’s government is increasingly willing to trade away their hard fought gains to placate the Taliban as part of attempts to coax them to the peace table.

Women entered Afghanistan’s male-only political arena in 2001 soon after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by a U.S. led invasion.

At least a quarter of the seats in some 400 districts and 34 provincial councils had been set aside for women.

Karzai appointed 17 out of 28 women in the upper house, the remaining 11 must be chosen from among women sitting on district and provincial councils, but those positions are now under a cloud.

On May 22, the change was approved by parliament’s lower house, the Wolesi Jirga.

“(They) removed it without informing us. We trusted that the law we signed off on was the same as previous drafts,” said parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

The law still needs approval from the upper house and Karzai before being passed into law.

Critics of the change told Reuters its removal will not only affect women’s ability to serve in the upper house, but also do away with more than 100 seats in local government bodies nationwide that were previously guaranteed to women.

“Women are not in the position to win votes in this country based on popular vote alone, this amendment is worrisome  they’ll lose their voice,” said Noor Mohammad, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.

Conservative male parliamentarians backing the change said the concept of granting rights based on their gender was unconstitutional.

“It’s undemocratic to grant a seat to a woman even though a man had more votes, simply because the law favors her,” said Qazi Nasir Ahmad Hanafi, head of the legislative commission.

This story was originally published by Reuters.

(Edited by Gillian Felix)

Women’s Right To Property in Mongolia

Women’s right to property in Mongolia is a crucial part of growing an economy and a country. In Mongolia women now hold approximately 40 percent of land titles, an increase of 5 per cent since 2011.

Women's Right to Property in Mongolia

Photo by MCC.gov

Baigalmaa Enebish of Erdenet, Mongolia is a single mother, and recently lived in a rented room in someone else’s home. She had no stable income and few employment opportunities.

Baigalmaa noticed that there were many women around her who were in the same situation, and invited them to join a group she formed called the Neighbors’ Friendship Cooperative to help solve its members’ housing problem.

“My desire to improve the living conditions of those who are in a similar condition as me motivated me to organize this cooperative,” said Baigalmaa, who has been the cooperative head since 2008.

With Baigalmaa’s help, the cooperative received several grants from international donors to build a fence, extend the electricity grid and dig wells. They wanted to apply for a loan from the Asian Coalition for Housing Project, but a lack of collateral prevented them from doing so. However a Property Rights Project contractor from MCA-Mongolia Rights informed them that they could own land via the MCA Mongolia Property Rights Project.

The project works to increase women’s awareness of the importance and benefits of owning land. TheMillennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) invested $15.7 million to improve the efficiency, accuracy and accessibility of the land privatization and property registration process to make it easier, faster and more cost-effective for Mongolian citizens to register and transfer land.

Through coordinated public outreach, project contractors, educate women on the value of land and how to use it as a valuable asset, including as collateral for bank loans.

In less than one month Baigalmaa acquired land.

“Previously, privatizing land seemed like a difficult goal to achieve, since we heard it’s a long and tedious process with heavy bureaucracy,” said Baigalmaa.

Normally the process would take 4-5 months, thanks to the assistance provided by the project the process was quicker.

“We knew very little about the whole complicated procedure. We were very happy when the contractor came and offered us assistance.” said Baigalmaa.

Under Baigalmaa’s leadership, other members of the cooperative received land titles through the project. With land as collateral, they finally received a housing loan that they are investing in building six houses and providing four gers (traditional dwellings) to other cooperative members.

“The contractor familiarized us with the process, collected our relevant materials, and soon we all received our land ownership certificates, which didn’t take any time and expense from our side. This was the helping hand that people like us needed.”  Baigalmaa added.

Looking toward the future the cooperative also plans to grow vegetables for household use. If they produce more than they need, they will sell the surplus.

10,000 people have registered their land, benefiting from a one-stop shop that saves them time and money. Land ownership is helping both men and women invest in their land and have greater access to economic opportunities.

Original article on: http://www.mcc.gov/

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.

Kenya Elects First Maasai Woman to Parliament

Peris Tobiko

Peris Tobiko, first maasai woman elected to Parliament

On March 4, 2013 Kenya elected the first Maasai woman to parliament.  Peris  Pesi Tobiko, a 42-year-old mother of four was elected as a member of Parliament Kajiado East constituency. Read more here.

Early marriage vs education.

Tobiko grew up in the village of Mashuru in Kajiado county. She revealed that her community does not value the education of girls and that families try to marry off their daughters at a young age. Her father wanted to educate all his children, but gave in to public pressure when  he attempted to pull her out of school and marry her off to an older man.

My elder sisters were pulled out of school and married off, but I was lucky that teachers intervened in my case,” said Tobiko. “I was performing well, so teachers wanted to keep me in school.”

Afghanistan’s First Female Mayor – Part II

Plain Talk Bad Manners have moved to a new domain http://www.plaintalkbm.com/. Please stop on by, look around and subscribe for free so you don’t miss any new articles. Here is the article for today Afghanistan’s First Female Mayor -Part II

As usual I’d love to hear from you and thank you for your support.

Gillian

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.

Swaziland Bans Child Marriage

Congratulations Swaziland, for your courage in banning a tradition that has been in your culture for centuries. Now the real challenge begins… enforcing the law.

The marriage of an adult man to an underage girl is known as kwendizisa in Siswati.

Swazi pic“Swazi men marrying girls once the girls enter puberty is not a customary law. It is not mandatory. It is tolerated because it has always been done. But times are changing, and Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. This practice has added to the spread of HIV. It is a great victory for public health and for the rights of girl children that this outmoded practice must now end,” AIDS activist Sandra Kunene told IRIN/PlusNews.

Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku announced the government’s intention to enforce the Child Protection and Welfare Act by prosecuting men who marry underage girls.

Sexual activity with underage girls was previously prosecuted as statutory rape – but only if it occurred outside the bounds of marriage. Girls aged 15 and older were legally permitted to marry in accordance with the 1920 Girl’s Protection Act, and underage sexual activity within marriage was considered acceptable.

Today, perpetrators face statutory rape charges, and they are additionally fined R20,000 ($2,400) by the child welfare law. The new law also penalizes parents and guardians who collude with adult men to orchestrate a child marriage. Offenders face prison terms of up to 20 years.

At a press conference, Masuku described the marriage of girls under the age of consent as “child abuse” and said the fine should be raised to $12,000. He hopes that this would “send a message” to perpetrators.

 Harmful Traditions

Other sexual practices that have been permitted because they are rooted in traditional Swazi life have also been linked to the country’s high HIV rates.

“One of these is the practice of having the widow, after the funeral of her husband, be ‘claimed’ by her husband’s brother. She must go to his home and be his wife because polygamy is also permitted in Swaziland,” said Agnes Simelane, a child welfare officer and counselor of abused children.

“If the husband died of AIDS and he infected his wife with HIV, the virus could be passed on to the new household. Or if the husband’s brother is HIV-positive, he could infect the widow. Either way, by custom the woman has no say in the matter,” she said.

“Traditionally, marriages were arranged between families,” said Thomas Graham, a local historian. “When the Swazi population numbered in the tens-of-thousands in the 19th century and life expectancy was 35 years old for a Swazi, it made sense to marry young and have multiple wives… to keep the family and Swazi nation existent.”

The new prohibition against child marriage, he said, “throws Swazi custom on its ear, and it is a landmark step in the tug of war between traditional and modern life”.

Nthando Dlamini, an HIV testing and counseling officer in Manzini, welcomed the announcement. “Many men still believe that if they have sex with a virgin this will cure them of AIDS and rid them of HIV. Since AIDS has become widespread in Swaziland, we fear that one motivation for marrying underage girls was that some men desired such ‘protection’. That way has now been shut off for them,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.

In terms of modern law, an underage girl cannot make such a decision. But in terms of tradition, she also has no say because marriages are arranged between families by the girls’ parents or older relatives. In addition, official records for traditional marriages can be incomplete because many go unreported.

With no national awareness campaign to educate Swazis about the Child Protection and Welfare Act, it remains unclear whether Swazi girls are aware of their rights. People who choose to challenge such unions have nowhere to go to lodge a complaint.

“What is most disturbing is the fact that most of these ‘marriages’ are forced, with the young girls having little or no say in being married to a much older man,” said Maureen Littlejohn, communications officer for the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, an NGO that counsels survivors of gender-based and child violence. Littlejohn noted that poor families are often influenced by gifts of cattle and money to give up their daughters.

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