African Union Launches Campaign to End Child Marriage

May 30, 2014

The UN celebrated the first-ever campaign by the African Union to put an end to child marriage. From UNICEF:

“Before we heard concerned individuals from Africa raising their voices. What we are seeing today is an Africa-wide movement of leaders and organizations collectively saying ‘No to Child Marriage,’” said Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, speaking from Addis Ababa.  “This push led by Africans for Africans must not stop until every girl in every family and every community has the right to reach her 18th birthday before getting married.”

Although civil society actors have been pressing hard on the issue of child marriage for several years, it is the first time that such a large range of government officials, organizations, United Nations agencies and individuals, including youth and children, vow to collectively end a practice that cuts short the childhood of over 17 million girls – 1 in 3 – across the continent.

“Data makes it clear that child marriage is first and foremost a grave threat to young girls’ lives, health and future prospects and a breach of girls’ fundamental human rights”, said Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa region. “The costs of inaction, in terms of rights unrealized, foreshortened personal potential and lost development opportunities, far outweigh the costs of interventions. Together we can end child marriage, it is happening in Ethiopia, in Malawi, in Niger and in so many other countries.”

The campaign is set to run for an initial period of two years with national launches anticipated in 10 countries. Additional countries are also poised to join the movement. Policymaking and grassroots efforts aim to enhance awareness across the continent of the impact of marriage on children and their societies. As girl brides often come from the most marginalized families in African societies, it will require strong and sustained political commitment to adopt appropriate legal, institutional, social and economic measures to keep them away from child marriage.

Globally, 9 out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are found in Africa –namely Niger (75 per cent), Chad and Central African Republic (68 per cent), Guinea (63 per cent), Mozambique (56 per cent), Mali (55 per cent), Burkina Faso and South Sudan (52 per cent), and Malawi (50 per cent).


Spotlight on PSI 

News Day reports on the launch of a PSI-backed rural medical male circumcision program in Zimbabwe.

PSI director for the Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) programme, Ngonidzashe Madidi said the organisation was training community-based mobilisers to raise awareness on the circumcision programme in rural areas.

He said the programme was also designed to ensure that parents were well informed about medical male circumcision before they gave consent to their children.
“The programme works with community-based mobilisers who are trained in VMMC demand creation. These cadres liaise with parents in the communities and give them basic information on VMMC and its benefits,” Madidi said.

“This is meant to ensure that parents make an informed decision when they give consent for the circumcision of their sons.”

He said PSI has been taking advantage of the school holidays and weekends to circumcise teenagers mobilised by the community-based mobilisers.

“As much as possible, consideration is also given not to interrupt school and to also involve parents in getting support and consent for the programme,” he said.

“In some instances, we have seen whole male members of families coming together including the children, fathers and members of the extended family.”

Madidi also said PSI had been working in rural districts in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well as uniformed forces to help create demand for VMMC.

“PSI Zimbabwe has been supporting the Ministry of Health and Child Care and uniformed services VMMC teams in 35 rural districts and the metropolitan provinces of Harare and Bulawayo. Demand creation activities have been carried out with the support from community leaders and schools,” Madidi said.

Studies have shown that VMMC reduces chances of one contracting HIV and Aids by 60%. Since last year, more than 200 000 males have been circumcised locally.


Global Health and Development Beat

Malaria – Using blood samples from naturally immune children in Tanzania, researchers discovered an antibody that may be key to stopping malaria’s spread in the body.

HIV/AIDS – Already armed with the fact that it works, at least six projects are underway to assess whether people taking HIV drugs prior to exposure is a workable prevention tool.

Cholera – NPR reports on a cholera vaccine study that is the first to test an oral vaccine in the middle of an outbreak — in Guinea in 2012. And it offered a remarkable degree of protection against this deadly disease.

Schistosomiasis – The worm causes a debilitating intestinal disease called schistosomiasis. And the parasite is spreading rapidly because of an economic boom along the shores of East Africa’s Lake Malawi.

Child Health – New data indicate that stunting among under-five children is being reduced in Timor-Leste, but experts warn much greater investment is needed in areas such as micronutrient supplementation, salt iodization and education to bring levels down further.


The Players

Canada – Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened a three-day conference dedicated to preventing newborns in developing nations and their mothers from needlessly dying, expressing hope that the project could “make a tremendous difference to human life around the world.”

Japan – Critics say a Japan aid supported project in Myanmar is pushing families deeper into poverty, and accuse local officials of strong-arm tactics to force resettlements, highlighting the dilemmas faced by Myanmar’s fledgling democracy as foreign businesses and development groups pour into the country.


Buzzing in the Blogs

New technologies that are mapping the world are making it easier for humanitarian organizations to know where diseases strike and work more effectively. MSF’s Ivan Gayton explains in The Lancet blog:

A few weeks into the outbreak, the MSF team in Haiti called for help. In a massive effort, online volunteers with OpenStreetMapUshahidi, the Google Crisis Response Team, and other initiatives digitally traced aerial photos to produce a database of streets and neighbourhoods (see here for a before-and-after map comparison). Google tech volunteers came to Haiti and, with the help of local MSF staff, identified street and neighbourhood names and created software that converted our patient line list into map files viewable on a free geo-browser, with red dots sized according to case numbers and a time slider to show fluctuating disease numbers. Almost immediately, a correlation between municipal water outages and spikes in cholera patient numbers showed up in blazing colour and we were able to use this information to provide targeted logistical support to the water utility.

We can only imagine what we could have accomplished if we’d had this data at the beginning of the epidemic. Still, we were lucky in Haiti to obtain geolocations for patient origins weeks into the outbreak. We are usually not so fortunate. At the moment I write these words, I have on my desk line lists of patients from MSF projects in three low-income, unstable countries experiencing disease outbreaks. If we could map these infections, the medical teams would most likely be able to target their interventions more effectively.

Almost every society has some way of describing their location to others, and with modern information technology we should be able to make use of them. As OpenStreetMap has proved, roads and other features visible in aerial imagery can be digitally traced by volunteers, and the traces assigned place names by local people with minimal training and equipment. For example, a system called Field Papersallows local people to take a printout of traced roads, write the names by hand on the paper, and send back a scan or snapshot of the labelled traces.

In the past couple of months in Katanga province, Democratic Republic of Congo, a team of volunteers with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), in collaboration with MSF, has created an astoundingly complete map of the city of Lubumbashi that will be invaluable for humanitarian and medical response. The more we work on digital mapping, the more we realise how powerful a tool it is.

The limiting reagent in humanitarian mapping is aerial/satellite imagery, without which tracing and naming are difficult or impossible. If more currently existing satellite imagery could be licensed for use to make maps for humanitarian agencies, we would be able to move faster. Using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs aka drones), most famous for military applications but equally applicable to peaceful use (although there are ongoing debates about the perception of their use given their military origin and potential for misuse of map data), citizens and small organisations around the world could be empowered to gather and share their own imagery. UAVs are still complicated and difficult to use, but the technology is rapidly improving. Volunteers are creating open-source software that can manage astonishingly capable aerial photography platforms constructed from inexpensive hardware from the world of radio-controlled model aeroplane hobbyists.

If we could get the mapping done in vulnerable areas before disasters strike, rather than after the fact, disaster response will become more effective. The technology is available to create a free map of the whole world. All that remains is to make the technology more user-friendly, and to coordinate humanitarian and tech communities. Epidemiological surveillance in low-income countries may then finally be able to catch up with John Snow’s achievement of 160 years ago.


Capital Events


8:30 AM – The Indian Economy at a Crossroads – ITIF

9:00 AM – Can REDD+ Save Indonesia’s Forests? – CGD


By Mark Leon Goldberg and Tom Murphy

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Disclaimer: Opinions presented in this email do not necessarily reflect the views of PSI.