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UNICEF: Child marriage numbers drop, but still ‘a long way to go’ to end practice

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Although the prevalence of child marriage is decreasing worldwide, action will need to be stepped up to achieve the global target of ending the practice by 2030, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

Progress over the last decade meant 25 million child marriages were prevented, the agency reported.

Overall, the proportion of women who became brides before age 18 decreased by 15 per cent during this period: from one in four to approximately one in five.

“When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences, and higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor.

“Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl’s life, any reduction is welcome news, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Worldwide, some 650 million women alive today were married when they were just girls.

UNICEF reported that the largest decline in child marriage in the last 10 years occurred in South Asia.

Rates there dropped by roughly a third: from nearly 50 per cent to 30 per cent, largely due to progress in India.

“Increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the shift,” according to a UNICEF press release.

Despite this progress, the UN agency estimates 12 million girls are married off each year.

Eliminating child marriage and other practices harmful to women and girls are among the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs focus on people, the planet and prosperity, and have a deadline of 2030.

However, UNICEF said “progress must be significantly accelerated” if the child marriage target is to be achieved by this date, warning that an additional 150 million girls could become brides during this time.

Progress particularly needs to be scaled up in sub-Saharan Africa where the “global burden” of child marriage is now shifting, the UN agency added.

The region accounted for close to one in three of the world’s most recently married child brides, compared to one in five a decade ago.

For Ms. Malhotra, the UNICEF gender advisor, every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfill her potential.

“But given the world has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, we’re going to have to collectively redouble efforts to prevent millions of girls from having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice,” she said.

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World Bank, Gates Foundation, DFID Join Forces to Improve Education Quality Around the World

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The World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UK’s Department for International Development today announced a new partnership that will develop tools governments can use to better monitor the quality of their education systems, allowing policymakers to take real-time decisions to ensure that all children are learning. This collaboration will advance the goals of the Human Capital Project, a global effort to accelerate more and better investments in people for greater equity and economic growth.

The multi-year partnership, which was announced during the Education World Forum in London, will provide countries with an integrated system for tracking the how well education is delivered and how well countries are progressing toward their policy goals. The World Bank will take the lead on developing the new tools under a multidimensional Global Education Policy Dashboard, working together with education and governance experts from around the world. The Dashboard will soon be tested in 13 countries and it will be progressively expanded to more countries.

All children should have the right to learn how to read and write so they have the voice and skills needed to advocate a better and prosperous future for themselves and their communities. UK aid is making sure millions of children around the world can access 12 years of quality education, to help them reach their potential and help lift their countries out of poverty,” said Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s International Development Secretary and Human Capital Champion. “Our innovative partnership with the World Bank and Gates Foundation will help governments analyze evidence to show why children aren’t developing these essential skills and recognize what interventions they can put in place to improve their education systems and invest in their most important assets – their own people,” she added.

As the recent World Development Report 2018 highlighted, being in school isn’t the same thing as learning, and much of the world is facing a learning crisis. The new partnership seeks to upend that crisis by empowering countries with new data on the most important indicators linked to better learning outcomes. These indicators cover three dimensions at different levels of the system—quality of service delivery, policies, and political commitment to education—to allow more holistic monitoring of progress than is currently possible.

Tackling the learning crisis requires improving the quality of every child’s experience in school,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Senior Director for Education. “As the largest financier of education in the developing world, the World Bank is committed to supporting the measurement of what students are learning and how well school systems are performing. This is critical in allowing policymakers to see which aspects of the system are working, and which need fixing.”

Improving education systems requires a multi-faceted approach: children have to be ready to learn, teachers need to teach successfully, schools need to have the right materials, and school management has to provide appropriate leadership and oversight. To get this right, education polices need to be aligned with the goals. This partnership will provide countries with reliable data on the functioning of the whole education system along these dimensions while highlighting the gaps between their actions and best practices.

The ability to read fluently by grade 3 is critical and underpins learning in later grades which is why the education dashboard emphasizes foundational learning as a key outcome,” said Girindre Beeharry, Global Education Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The dashboard provides actionable information on key bottlenecks to learning in the education system which will make it a valuable tool for reform-minded policy-makers.”

In this way, the Global Education Policy Dashboard will allow governments to track progress with their investments and policy reforms to improve learning, starting from what’s happening in the classroom all the way to the decisions taken in ministerial meetings. It will provide countries with data to make decisions that have a real impact on student learning, boosting human capital and giving the next generation the ability to succeed.

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On One-Year Anniversary of China’s Ivory Ban, New Campaign Targets Travelers Abroad

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More than one year after China implemented a full ban on commercial ivory sales, several surveys indicate Chinese travelers are still purchasing ivory at souvenir shops in neighboring countries. To counter this trend, China Customs and the National Forestry and Grasslands Administration (NFGA) are partnering with WildAid and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on a national campaign to remind travelers that their “souvenirs could be contraband.”

In the new public awareness campaign, popular Chinese actor Huang Xuan, dressed as a Customs officer, informs travelers that purchasing wildlife products is driving certain species toward extinction and reminds them that it is illegal to bring ivory into China, even as souvenirs.

The campaign comes as part of a three-year initiative by China Customs to tighten security at borders and halt imports of illegal wildlife products. Since 2018, Customs has made two trips to Africa to extradite Chinese nationals involved in wildlife smuggling.

Since domestic sales of ivory were banned in China, there’s been a clear decline in illegal sales and demand for ivory on the mainland, according to a survey released by TRAFFIC and WWF in September 2018. Twelve percent of respondents claim to have purchased ivory in the past 6 months compared to 26 percent of respondents who reported doing so in a similar 2017 pre-ban survey, a 54% decline.

Yet the same TRAFFIC and WWF study shows that more than 18 percent of outbound travelers bought ivory products on trips abroad, with Thailand and Hong Kong being the top two markets. Other destinations popular with Chinese travelers are also of concern. In Laos, more outlets are selling new ivory items to meet Chinese demand, according to a Save the Elephants investigation, with nearly all vendors in the market being Chinese and prices quoted in Chinese yuan. And just this month, more than 73 kilograms of ivory products were confiscated from a souvenir shop in Laos. The ivory products were hidden in secret drawers under the shop’s counters.

The new public awareness campaign will appear on public media and customs entry and exit points at airports, train stations, and border crossings, particularly where China borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.

“WildAid brings decades of experience delivering high-impact media campaigns to protect wildlife to this partnership,” CEO of WildAid Peter Knights said. “We’ve seen how these campaigns generate results in increased awareness and reduced consumption of wildlife products such as shark fin. This message with Huang Xuan will reach tens of millions of people, and will help build on the recent momentum to end the devastation caused by ivory consumption.”

“WWF’s goal is to reach Chinese travelers who have the means to buy ivory and access to it in popular destinations where ivory can still be found,” said Jan Vertefeuille, senior director for advocacy at WWF. “This campaign is the kind of collaboration we need between government agencies and conservation groups to get the word out that ivory is illegal to bring home and it’s not socially acceptable.”

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Human Rights

Another 170 migrants disappear in shipwrecks: UN call for an end to Mediterranean tragedy

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Refugees from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa await assistance and a health-screening by the Spanish Red Cross in the port of Malaga, after disembarking from a Spanish rescue ship. 19 September 2018. © UNHCR/Markel Redondo

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, stated on Saturday that “no effort should be spared” in saving lives at sea, following reports of two new shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea, in which some 170 people either died or went missing.

“The tragedy of the Mediterranean cannot be allowed to continue,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

According to various NGOs, about 53 people died on the Alborán Sea, in the western part of the Mediterranean. One survivor is understood to have been rescued by a passing fishing boat after being stranded for more than 24 hours at sea and is receiving medical treatment in Morocco.

According to UNHCR, Moroccan and Spanish rescue vessels have been searching for the boat and survivors for several days to no avail.

The Italian Navy are also reporting another shipwreck on the central Mediterranean. Three survivors, who were taken for treatment on the island of Lampedusa, reported that another 117 people, currently dead or missing, had boarded the ship with them in Libya.

UNHCR has been unable to independently verify the death tolls for these two shipwrecks, but in 2018, 2,262 people lost their lives attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

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