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

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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

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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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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Militants Massacre 14 Female Students On School Bus

Over the weekend, 14 young female students were massacred as a bus taking them home from university in Quetta, in western Pakistan, was blown up by extremist militants — and we were once again reminded of the continued need to stand behind Malala and her cause.

 

Afghan Girl Tortured by In-laws for Resisting Prostitution

Sahar-Gul-was-rescued-by--007

Photo courtesy Guardian UK

Sahar Gul is a 15-year-old girl who was brutally beaten, burned, cut, starved, enslaved, and tortured by her in-laws for months in the basement of their home. The perpetrators of these heinous acts needs to be brought to justice not only for Sahar Gul, but also for other Afghans who are subjected to brutal violence.

A UN report issued in November found that a 2009 law meant to protect Afghan women from a host of abusive practices, including rape, forced marriage and the trading of women to settle disputes, was being undermined by sporadic enforcement.

The Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was passed in August 2009 and had raised hopes among women’s rights activists that Afghan women would get to fight back against abuses that had been ignored under Taliban rule. The law criminalised many abuses for the first time, including domestic violence, child marriage, driving a woman to resort to suicide, as well as the buying and selling of women.

Yet the report found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women were pursued by the Afghan government.

Between March 2010 and March 2011, prosecutors opened 594 investigations into crimes under the law – only 26% of the 2,299 incidents registered by the Afghan human rights commission, the UN report said. Prosecutors filed indictments in only 155 cases, or 7% of the total number of crimes reported.

Here’s what you can do.

Please join me in signing this petition to President Karzai and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for immediate action. This petition is a resounding plea from concerned persons around the world seeking justice on behalf of fifteen-year-old Sahar Gul who was brutally tortured and mutilated by her Afghan in-laws.

Let’s get some signatures on this petition. Sign the petition here 

To read more about this story please visit The Guardian UK.

5 Quotes Regarding Child Marriage

In the 8 months I’ve been posting about child marriage here are some of the memorable people and quotes that have struck a cord with me.

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

I had the pleasure of interviewing two associates from the organisation, Ambassador Gavin Weston and Events and Special Projects Coordinator Naomi Reid.

Child marriage quote from FORWARD

Quote courtesy FORWARD

Please visit Forward’s website and check out the amazing work they are doing.

Peris Tobiko – First Maasai woman elected to Kenyan Parliament.

Quote regarding child marriage

Quote courtesy Global Press Institute

To appreciate the significance of this win for Mrs. Tobiko, you have to understand how difficult it was for her to get to where she is. She grew up in a culture where girl’s education was not valued and it was normal for parents to marry off their daughters at a very young age. During the election she had to put up with dirty tricks from competing male Parliament hopefuls. Read more about Peris Tobiko’s election.

Girls Not Brides – Global Partnership to End Child Marriage

Quote on Child marriage

GirlsNotBrides.org

Child marriage is a global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicity. It denies girls their rights to health, to live in security and to choose when and whom they marry. It cuts short girls’ education and traps them, their families and their communities in a cycle of poverty.

Learn more about Girls Not Brides here.

Gavin Weston – Author of the novel Harmattan.

Quote on Child Marriage by Gavin Weston

Quote by Author Gavin Weston

Harmattan is a novel that takes us into the mind of a 12-year-old girl who is forced into marriage after the death of her mother. The novel serves as a vehicle for raising awareness of child marriage. As an Ambassador for FORWARD, Mr. Weston promotes the campaign at book signings and speaks at conferences regarding child marriage.

Read more about Harmattan here. In case you missed it check out my interview with Mr. Weston here.

Wanjala Wafula – Founder of The Coexist Initiative

Quote on child marriage

Quote from Wanjala Wafula

The Coexist Initiative is 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.

Check out my article on The Coexist Initiative.

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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)

Militants Massacre 14 Female Students On School Bus

Last October, people across the globe united to send thoughts of hope and love to a brave young girl fighting for her life in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate Malala Yousafzai because of her strong voice in the fight for women’s rights and youth education. Their gunmen boarded her school bus and shot in front of her peers — but Malala survived and she hasn’t stopped fighting.

Over the weekend, 14 young female students were massacred as a bus taking them home from university in Quetta, in western Pakistan, was blown up by extremist militants — and we were once again reminded of the continued need to stand behind Malala and her cause.

I stand with Malala

Photo by A World at School

On July 12 — less than a year after she was attacked — Malala will mark her 16th birthday by speaking at the UN. She’ll be delivering, to the highest leadership of the UN, a set of education demands written for youth, by youth.

Join me in supporting Malala and for girls’ education. Please sign this letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledging your support to her cause — it takes just one click.

https://secure.aworldatschool.org/malala-friend-share

Dear Mr Secretary-General,

I stand with Malala in demanding that the leaders of the world end our global Education Emergency. After the recent violent murder of 14 girls in Pakistan who simply wanted an education, I support the civil rights struggle of 57 million girls and boys who will not go to school today — or any day. Side by side with Malala, we demand that at the United Nations General Assembly world leaders agree to fund the new teachers, schools and books we need — and to end child labor, child marriage and child trafficking — so that by December 2015 we meet the Millennium Development promise that every boy and girl be at school.

We must be united in this fight, and we must act now. Thank you for standing with us.

We want Malala to take the UN floor with the support of as many of us as possible. Please sign this letter now — for Malala, and for all the children she fights for:

https://secure.aworldatschool.org/malala-friend-share

Thank you for supporting this cause with me. Every signature really does make a difference!

International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

On  May 23, 2013, the world will be marking the first-ever International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, as recently designated by the United Nations General Assembly. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Campaign to End Fistula, which was launched by UNFPA, in collaboration with a wide range of partners.

Logo by Voanews.com

The Campaign is currently active in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Arab states and Latin America. Over that decade, UNFPA has directly supported over 34,000 women and girls to receive surgical fistula treatment, while partner agencies have supported thousands more.

Countries around the world mark fistula day with a variety of events intended to raise awareness of this severely neglected health and human rights tragedy, highlight progress made over the last decade, and generate new political and financial support for the global movement to end the condition. These events will include a special observance at the United Nations in New York, with the participation of fistula survivors, in addition to advocates and practitioners who have dedicated their careers to put an end to this devastating condition.

So what exactly is Fistula?

Fistulae are holes that are created between the vaginal wall and the bladder, and holes created between the vaginal wall and the rectum. Fistula is a childbirth injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor.

How are these holes formed?

These holes are formed as a result of pregnancy and child birth. Labor becomes  obstructed due to female genital mutilation (FGM), or by child marriage and early pregnancy.

What are the effects of Fistula?

Vesicovaginal fistula causes urinary incontinence and / or fecal incontinence due to rectovaginal fistula and related conditions, such as dermatitis. If nerves to the lower limbs are damaged, women may suffer from paralysis of the lower half of the body. Many victims of obstructed labor  in which the fistulae subsequently occur, will also have given birth to a stillborn baby.

What are the social effects of Fistula?

In spite of one’s best efforts to stay clean, the smell of leaking urine or feces is hard to eliminate and difficult to ignore. The dampness causes rashes and infections. The cleaning up is constant, and pain or discomfort may be continuous as well. The grief of losing a child and becoming disabled exacerbates the pain.

The injury leaves women with few opportunities to earn a living, and many have to rely on others to survive, or turn to begging or commercial sex. In some communities they are not allowed to have anything to do with food preparation and may be excluded from prayer or other religious observances. Some are abandoned by their husbands.

Facts and Stats about Fistula.

  • At least two million women live with fistula in developing countries, with about 100,000 new cases occurring each year. These figures are based only on the number of women who seek treatment.
  • The average cost of fistula treatment—including surgery, post-operative care and rehabilitation support—is $400, which is well beyond the reach of most women with the condition.
  • Fistula can be treated and women can have a normal life after treatment.
  • Fistula has virtually been eliminated in Europe and North America through improved obstetric care.

Read more and become involved by visiting my source sites Forward UK and Campaign to End Obstetric Fistula.

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.