Valentine’s Day just passed, but few of us ever take the time to be grateful that we’re in a relationship of our choosing, or are single- even if we wish that was different. Why? Because in many parts of the world, your spouse and life is determined for you.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Sinclair for National Geographic. A 14 year old mother in Yemen bathes her infant child alongside her two-year old daughter. The mother was still experiencing physical complications for giving birth, but is without access to education or health services.
Being married before the age of 18 is the fate for 1 in 3 girls in low- and middle-income countries. Every day, around 39,000 girls are forced into child marriages. If the state of these affairs continue, by 2050 another 1.2 billion girls will be the victims of these forced marriages. There are serious economic, emotional and health consequences from this normalized cultural institution. These young girl’s lives and the lives of their children are at risk due to the pregnancies that occur far too early in life. These early marriages are a violation of human rights, which undermines the development of the countries in which they occur. Education is the key to advancement, on the individual level, as well as on the global stage. Girls lacking education are 3 times more likely to be married than their peers with a secondary or higher education, according to the NGO Girls, Not Brides.
Photo Credit: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images. Schoolgirls in Kilifi, Kenya.
There are major health risks involved for these children, given the sexual nature of these marriages and their underdeveloped bodies. Among the perils facing these girls are obstetric fistulas, which can leave them incontinent and thus often they become social pariahs, as well as the hazards involved with teen pregnancy and sexual abuse, which are especially threatening in countries with little health and psychological resources available. In fact, globally, the second leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 is attributed to the complications associated with childbirth and pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. And it’s important to note that 9 out of these 10 births occur within the confines of marriage.
Photo Credit: Graham Crouch | Girls Not Brides
Compounding the emotional and health issues of early motherhood is the very serious problem of financial inequality. Girls born into poverty are twice as likely to be married before 18 than their wealthier counterparts. One driving force behind this epidemic is that poor families can alleviate the financial burden of caring for a daughter by having her married off. In addition, the dowry of marriages can help these families with immediate financial needs. Besides being more likely to be married as a child, these girls are more likely to stay in poverty due to their early marital vows. Since these girls are not allowed to continue their education, the cycle of poverty continues for them and their families.
The organization KAFA Violence and Exploitation released a video over Valentine’s Day, which has subsequently gone viral. It depicts a disturbing, and yet all too common image, of a 12 year old child being married off to a much older man. Fortunately, the video is staged for the purpose of drawing attention to this frequent scenario. The organization is trying to draw attention to this issue, especially in the country of Lebanon, as part of its UN supported initiative to stop child marriages. The video has already been viewed close to 2 million times and exposure like this helps bring this issue into the mainstream conversation.
Photo Credit: Jessica Lea/U.K. Department for International Development/Flickr.
So take heart, because hope is not lost. As more people stand up for themselves and as the world gets more educated on this issue, things are changing for the better. Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, two teenagers from Zimbabwe just recently won a landmark court case against their own country on account of their own child marriages. On January 20, 2016, the courts ruled in favor of the girls and made it illegal for anyone in Zimbabwe to enter into marriage before the age of 18. As inspiring people like Murzuru and Tsopodzi take a stand for themselves, their children and their future, they lift up the world and remind us that things can, and should be, different.
“If you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come, it would be lead,” said Dr. Hanna-Attisha of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative. That is really bad news for the children of Flint, Michigan.
ACLU Michigan/ The Daily Beast
It’s estimated that 8,000 children under six years old may have been exposed to the contaminated water in Flint. These children are especially susceptible to brain and nervous system damage because their bodies are still growing. Even small amounts of lead can impair the health and growth of children. Lead exposure is associated with learning disabilities, poor motor abilities and even violent personalities. Potential health consequences are compounded in Flint because of the lack of access to adequate health services and poor living conditions.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha testing a 2-month old patient for lead poisoning. Brittany Greeson for The New York Times
The lead water crisis in Flint began around two years ago when the city switched its water supply to contaminated river water. However, the state and federal government did not begin to acknowledge the problem until recently. The neglect of the government is especially devastating because these health effects are often irreversible and untreatable in children.
Volunteers distribute bottled water at a Flint, Michigan community center. Bryan Mitchell for the Guardian
Bottled water has been donated and shipped to help the people of Flint. While bottled water helps with the immediate needs of the citizens, it won’t solve the larger problems facing children who have already drank the contaminated water. The governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, has designated $28 million to Flint, which will allow for health services to be made available to lead-exposed children. Governor Snyder also has called upon the federal government to provide aid in getting Medicaid to every resident under 21. However, while this may be a good start, others in the field are saying that the problem is bigger and will need more aid and resources to resolve.
“We have to throw every single evidence-based resource at these kids, starting now.” -Dr. Hanna-Attisha (Photo: Brittany Greeson for The New York Times)
Doctors, like Hanna-Attisha, are working to help in the midst of the crisis by addressing the diets of the children of Flint, as well as broadening the Head Start program and others like it, which currently have wait lists in Flint. To give to the Pediatric Public Health Initiative and help its mission in providing critical interventions to the children of Flint, visit their site: https://www.cfgf.org/cfgf/GoodWork/FlintArea/WaterCrisis/tabid/855/Default.aspx
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” -Dr. Seuss
No matter a person’s age or circumstances in life, every individual matters and deserves to have their basic needs met. Join us in our mission to support communities in empowering their vulnerable children through education, nutrition and reunification with their families. Show that #EveryChild matters today: goo.gl/B6UOlz
#TBT to the Hogar de Amor Home in Honduras! We loved visiting with the kids here and seeing the very special friendships that exist! Like kids everywhere, these girls love playing and spending time with their friends. We’re proud to continue to work with this home with our tilapia farm, which makes sure they get protein in their diets!