London Summit offers crucial opportunities for women, health
The London Summit on Family Planning opened today and aims to prioritize and fund family planning globally. It aims to give women “the tools to make critical decisions about the size of their families and the spacing of their pregnancies,” writes Nafis Sadik, whose United Nations roles include being a United Nations Foundation board of directors member. Also today, the U.K. pledged to double family-planning aid to about $280 million annually for eight years. Read more from the UN Foundation on supporting the Every Woman Every Child movement.
The constitution of South Sudan says that no one can marry before 18 or be forced to marry against his or her will, but that isn’t stopping the marriages of more than half the country’s girls before their 18th birthdays. In fact, girls as young as 9 are being subjected to forced marriages. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called the situation “the cultural repression of half the population.”
Nearly half of girls in Niger marry before 15 — the highest global rate of child marriage. Such marriages could become more pervasive as the hunger crisis deepens in the Sahel region of West Africa, where parents in need of cash and animals exchange girls for dowries. “The fear is…that more parents will use marriage as a survival strategy,” said Djanabou Mahonde, UNICEF chief of child-protection programs.
In Bangladesh, girls are dropping out of school, with some schools closing because of pervasive sexual harassment known as “Eve-teasing.” Boys stalk and bully girls on their way to school, and some parents are encouraging children to marry to avoid the bullying.
Islamist and Tuareg militants continued to run roughshod over the northern territories in Mali, posing dangers too great for aid agencies to fully assess the dangers facing children. The United Nations Children’s Fund reported that at least 175 boys between the ages of 12 and 18 had been forcibly recruited by militants. “Children in the north are witnessing or becoming victims of violence and they must be protected,” said Theophane Nikyema, representative in Mali for UNICEF.
A report from Nepal and Pakistan spotlights practices through which girls are effectively sold into slavery. In Nepal, the system of “kamlari” sentences girls as young as 6 to lives of indentured servitude. In Pakistan, the practice of “swara” requires that girls be transferred to rivals to end conflicts.
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday endorsed sanctions against armed groups that seized control of the northern territories of Mali, warning that the desecration of Muslim shrines recognized by UNESCO could lead to war crimes charges but declining to back military intervention. Teenage boys in the territories are reportedly being recruited by Islamist fighters linked to al-Qaida, girls are being sexually assaulted, schools are closing, and cholera cases increasing.
The effects of armed conflict, cultural barriers, and natural disasters are largely responsible for the 2011 increase in polio infections in Pakistan and Afghanistan, at least according to a study published in The Lancet. Pakistani lawmakers are frustrated with the government’s inability to eliminate polio, while India is installing vaccination booths at railway stations in an effort to prevent the virus from migrating into the country.
Former United Nations Human Rights Chief Mary Robinson has criticized the Rio+20 international agreement as “hideous” in its undermining of support for the rights of women and girls, especially reproductive rights. “Instead of advancing women’s rights, we seem to be rolling them back,” said Robinson, a member of the Elders, a group of world leaders.
Progress toward improving maternal health, including fewer deaths during pregnancy, is lagging in the developing world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, endangering one of the crucial targets put forth by the Millennium Development Goals set to expire in 2015, according to the United Nations. The MDG 5 target also is expected to be missed in India.
Birth registration data is being made available online in Bangladesh in an effort to combat child marriages. Still, while a six-year project to furnish birth certificates to all citizens has been finding success, root causes of early marriages continue to contribute to rates of child marriage that affect some 66% of rural women.