A World At School – Syrian Education Crisis

I am sharing this from A World At School. The wonderful organization that seeks to make sure that every child around the world has the opportunity to go to school.


Last week, I was in Lebanon. I spent most of the week with refugees from the crisis in Syria. As I talked to the children, their teachers and their families, I kept returning to one fact: a generation of Syrian children are about to start school who have known only conflict.

The children born at the start of this crisis are now four years old. Elsewhere in the world, they’d already be at nursery, and getting ready to start “big school” in the next couple of years. But they’ve spent their earliest years in refugee camps, along with many of the other 14 million children impacted by this conflict.

But between the creativity of the refugees and the support of local communities, plans are being made to help make sure these children get the skills the need to build their a future. During my trip, I visited a ‘double-shift’ school where school buildings are shared between local Lebanese children in the morning and refugee pupils in the afternoon.

The communities affected by the conflict have the ideas for addressing the problems – but not the resources. Can you add your support to the UpForSchool petition to get international support for refugee children’s education – and then ask your friends and family to join in too?

Children Crisis in Syria

Photo credit A World At School

While I was in Lebanon, one little girl I met explained that when the conflict arrived her family fled to the next village, then the war arrived and they fled to the next village and this pattern continued until they had left Syria. The only small glimmer of hope is that she is now in school. But due to lack of funding only 100,000 of the 400,000 refugee children in Lebanon are getting an education.

Nothing changes without pressure. Sign and share the #UpForSchool petition that we will take to world leaders demanding action for funding for education in conflicts. We know education changes lives, setting people free from poverty, ill health and early parenthood. Now we must provide this opportunity for every child that has had to flee their home.


Be part of the Up For School campaign here: www.upforschool.org



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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Young Reporters Fight Against Child Marriage

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

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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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.


Bangladesh Continue to Practice Child Marriage Despite Laws

Bangladesh outlawed child marriage in 1929. Yet, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), sixty-six percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before they reach the age of eighteen.

The practice of child marriage is rooted in social tradition and economic need, but it has adverse effects on the health and education of girls. According to a report by the International Center for Research on Women, child brides are prone to suffer domestic violence and abandon school, and as a result of early pregnancy are susceptible to health complications.

The Law

When the Bangladesh government developed legislation that led to the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, it considered various socio-cultural factors—such as poverty and societal values—that drive parents to marry off their young daughters.

Excerpt FeatureThe law criminalizes marriages when either party is a minor, classified as girls under eighteen and boys under twenty-one, and penalizes those who permit or aid such a marriage, including parents. Punishment for the crimes can be a fine and up to one month imprisonment.

Bangladesh’s laws on the issue are encompassed by its obligations, including The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the State ratified in 1984 and prohibits child marriage in Article 16(2).

In 1998, Bangladesh acceded to the Convention on Consent to Marriage, which calls for the “full and free consent” of both parties in all legally binding marriages in Article 1. Article 2 requires states to set a minimum age for marriage. However, Bangladesh reserved its right to apply Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention concerning the issue of child marriage “in accordance with the Personal Laws of different religious communities of the country.” Allowing personal laws of religious communities to supersede international law sustains the practice of child marriage in Bangladesh.

The Law vs Cultural Influences

Adherence to these principles can be complicated in Bangladesh, where many villagers believe that marriage protects a girl’s chastity and is a divine command from God.

As explained by Farah D. Chowdhury, a political science professor in Bangladesh, in a 2004 article in the International Journal of Social Welfare, all females are obligated to become wives and raise a family and the sooner they are married, the sooner the obligation is fulfilled.

Additionally, the marriage of young, submissive, and obedient girls maintains the status quo of a patriarchal society. The older an unmarried girl becomes, the more her family will be shamed in the community.

Economic Advantage of Child Marriage

Beyond the religious and cultural influences, there is an economic advantage to marrying off girls at an early age. Girls are often considered a burden to families because of their financial dependence. Once a girl has been married, her husband and his family must provide for her, thus liberating her parents of their financial duty. When a family is impoverished, there is consequently a greater desire to marry off daughters at a younger age. Further, the parents lessen the financial strain of their daughters’ dowry since the younger the girl’s age at marriage, the smaller the dowry can be.

Bangladesh Does Little to Protect Child Rights

Despite the many laws that child marriage in Bangladesh continues to violate, Bangladesh has done little to enforce the laws and protect children’s rights.

One positive note is that the government does plan to register all marriages and births, which would provide greater oversight. However, Bangladesh’s reservation to the Convention on Consent to Marriage indicates the country is not ready to confront the differing practices based on religious communities. Embracing the whole of the convention both by dismissing the reservations and implementing procedures to enforce all obligations would broaden protection for the Bangladeshi people. Regardless of the existence of legislation to combat the tradition of child marriage in Bangladesh, insufficient enforcement of the laws will preserve the practice of child marriage to the detriment of young girls in the country.

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Mass Child marriage ceremony

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Swazi pic

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.

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.


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:


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

Young Reporters Fight Against Child Marriage

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.

Fazal and his classmates Babar Ali, Aqib Hussain, Mamoni Begum, Karabi Kalita and Jyotsna Begum are members of a group called Asha Rengoni, which means ray of hope.

According to Aquib, at least 10 girls from their school dropped out because they were married off. “Their parents citing tradition as well as economic hardship,” said Aquib. So far they have intervened and stopped two child marriages.

Photo by MapsOfIndia.com

Photo by MapsOfIndia.com

The group is part of a program called Young Reporters Initiative; there are more than 90 groups in the districts of Kamrup and Dibrugarh. Some groups in the Dibrugarh district are running campaigns against child marriage.

Momi Munda, 18, member of the group said that many people, especially tea plantation laborers, don’t know that there is a minimum age for a girl’s marriage.

Young Reporters Initiative is run jointly by the Assam branch of Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) andUNICEF.

More than 1,000 children in the Kamrup and Dibrugarh districts have been included in the groups.

“It is a kind of multi-purpose initiative where we are not only talking about child rights directly with select groups of children, but also supporting them in taking rights-related issues to the community,” said Damayanti Devi, state secretary of KGNMT.

Young Reporters also conduct surveys and field reports on child labor, sanitation, safe drinking water, malnutrition, immunization, primary school education, mid-day meal, birth registration and delivery of various Integrated Child Development Services programs.

Last year, village elders at Sarulah in Hajo block of Kamrup district enlisted the help of the local Young Reporters group in mounting a campaign against drugs and liquor.

“The group not only helped coin slogans and cartoons against drugs and liquor, but also composed jingles and staged street plays,” said Himarani Baishya, coordinator of the project.

Recently, 15 children each from Dibrugarh and Kamrup carried out a random survey in two villages near Guwahati, during which they discovered several problems.

“The findings of these groups are published as news and features in Mukta Akash, a quarterly newsletter. This newsletter is not only distributed in schools, panchayats (Villages), clubs and mahila samitis (women’s group?) in the two districts, but is also sent to government functionaries, including the chief minister,” Damayanti Devi said.

Many of these reports have had an impact. In Dibrugarh district, a wooden bridge which had been damaged by floods was repaired only after a Young Reporters group wrote about it.

Source: IndianExpress.com

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/

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.

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.