Last month, my county had its 32nd Annual AIDS Walk to pay tribute to those who we have lost, and to support those who are living with HIV/AIDS. Whenever I receive an invitation to this event, I remember a news story I did a decade ago about how child marriage and HIV have common drivers, and what UNICEF was doing to combat child marriage and HIV/AIDS.
Some of the factors that put girls at risk of child marriage also place them at higher risk of HIV infection. These include poverty, low education attainment, and gender inequalities, especially those that limit girls’ ability to make decisions about their own health.
And this year, there is one more factor—COVID-19.
With 25 million child marriages averted in the last decade, UNICEF issued a warning earlier this year that these gains are now under serious threat: 10 million additional girls at risk of child marriage due to COVID-19.
According to the UNICEF analysis, school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy, and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade, despite significant reductions in several countries in recent years. In the last ten years, the proportion of young women globally who were married as children had decreased by 15 per cent, from nearly 1 in 4 to 1 in 5. This is the equivalent of some 25 million marriages averted, a gain that is now under threat.
“COVID-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse. Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world was already struggling to put out. But we can and we must extinguish child marriage,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement.
And the AIDS Walk just reminded me of what these girls have to lose if we do not act urgently – their education, their health, and their futures.
Here is the situation on our hands. When a girl turns 12 and lives in poverty, her future is out of her control. In the eyes of many, she’s a woman now. She faces the reality of being married by the age of 14 and pregnant by the time she’s 15. If she survives childbirth, she might have to sell her body to support her family, which puts her at risk of contracting and spreading HIV. Definitely not the life we would imagine for a 12-year-old.
There is a solution. Imagine rewinding her to age 12. Have her visit a doctor regularly, and help her stay in school where she’s safe. Then she can use her education to earn a living, avoid HIV, marry and have children when she’s ready, and raise happy and healthy children like herself. Now imagine this solution continuing for generation after generation.
COVID-19 is profoundly affecting the solution and the lives of girls in poverty. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and physical distancing make it difficult for girls to access the health care, social services and community supports that protect them from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy and gender-based violence. As schools remain closed, girls are more likely to drop out of education and not return. Job losses and increased economic insecurity may also force families to marry their daughters off to ease financial burdens.
Worldwide, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, with about half of those marriages occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria. To off-set the impacts of COVID-19 and end the practice by 2030—the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals—progress must be significantly accelerated.
“One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families,” added Fore in the same statement. “By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and polices, ensuring access to health and social services—including sexual and reproductive health services—and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.”
Is child marriage a common problem in your part of the world? What can those of us who live elsewhere do to help?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit: Raphael Pouget/UNICEF.
“Who wants some cake?” My friend, Adelyn Ruiz-Lopez, asked.
“I am so full,” I said with a laugh.
“But it’s Tres Leches cake!” she quipped with a smile.
“Tres Leches cake!” Our heads turned and gazed longingly at the delicious light and fluffy cake.
“Well, maybe one slice,” I replied.
Now in our thirties, my college friends and I gathered together for a brunch reunion at my friend Adelyn’s house in the east coast of the USA. My three-year-old daughter Lily was laughing and playing with Adelyn’s one-year-old daughter Evie. The two youths were covered in bubbles, laughing and sprawled out on the floor playing with Elmo toys. It gave me a momentary reprise to enjoy a mimosa and reminisce and chat with my friends. Despite the darkness happening in our country, this brunch was a unique perspective, about love, friendship and family.
I am a second-generation immigrant who grew up with the brave and courageous stories of my grandparents who immigrated to this country from Europe to start a better life for themselves and their families. I am the lucky one, being born, here, in the USA in Long Island, NY I didn’t have to go through the hardships my ancestors faced getting here. However, I have been horrified and heartbroken about the new Trump administration policy that has been separating children from their parents at the Texas border in order to curb the influx of immigrants migrating to this country illegally.
Despite the happy reunion at our college brunch, there was also that sad reality of what was happening in our country. I was fortunate enough to have amazing friends to help open my eyes about what it’s like to immigrate to this country at a young age. My friend Adelyn emigrated from the Dominican Republic with her family when she was 10 years old. In 1991, her dad lost his job as a production manager at one of the biggest oil refineries in the country.
They took their life savings and decided to come to America. Adelyn’s parents, along with their four daughters, came to NY on a Visitor Visa. Adelyn said that her family was one of the fortunate ones to be in a position where they could obtain a visa which is often hard to obtain and often unavailable to poorer families in many third world countries. Fortunately, Adelyn and her family had a path to citizenship through her grandfather who became a US citizen and petitioned for the family to get permanent residency once they were here.
Adelyn’s father, who had been an executive in the Dominican Republic, now worked at a factory and sometimes held three jobs at one time to make ends meet. One of the things he is most proud of is that despite all the hardships that he had to endure, he never asked for help from the US government to support his family. That is a big source of pride for him. He, along with his wife, worked hard, paid their taxes and saved enough money from their jobs to send all their children to Catholic School and their hard work helped create a better life for their children.
In this current political climate, it is easy to misunderstand the plight of the majority of immigrant families trying to come to the United States. Adelyn’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Lopez, came to this country for very different reasons than Adelyn and her family. Mrs. Lopez fled from a country, Nicaragua, where people were being persecuted, starved and killed due to the change in regimes at the time. The majority of immigrants being held at the US border right now are primarily families escaping situations as hostile as those that Mrs. Lopez described. Families seeking asylum need help!
Adelyn took a deep breath and said, “America was a beacon of hope for all people looking to create a better tomorrow for their families. We once were a country that gave asylum to people who were oppressed and in need of protection. Now we are a country that would rather turn a blind eye to the plight of the suffering.”
As I sat and listened to these stories, I realized that it is through listening to these stories that these mothers and children and families are not just another statistic, another “Immigrant” or attempt by this administration to de-humanize the term. It is through these stories that we realize these people are human and not so different than you and me. They are our friends. They are our family. They are women and mothers I share a Tres Leches cake with during brunch in Corona Queens. They are people I share my American dream with.
I looked down to see my daughter Lily crying and holding out her arms to me. I picked her up and, after a hug and a kiss, she continued playing with Evie. For that moment, she just needed her mother. I looked down at the two beautiful, innocent children- two innocent children that could now be in a cage in Texas waiting for judgement, waiting for their mother to hold them. Waiting for their mother to hold them and tell them everything was going to be alright.
I realize that it is not through hate, but through LOVE that we will persevere as a country. Together we can work with this administration to help find a more humane and just immigration policy. May we hold out our hands and our hearts to these mothers, fathers and children and help fight to stop this inhumane separation of families at our borders. I think about these mothers and realize in another life, I could be the mother praying for someone to fight for me when all hope is lost. I could be the one on the other side, my child ripped from my arms, praying for a new and better life.
I put myself in their shoes, and they are the reason why my daughter and I marched this weekend.
On Saturday, June 30th, people joined to march throughout the United States and around the world to demand an end to the separation of families at the U.S. border. For more information on the march and what can be done next, go to the Families Belong Together website.
Melissa Kuch is a World Mom from New York, USA and author of the young adult fantasy and adventure series, The Hypothesis of Giants.
Photo credit of “Keep Families Together Sign” to Jill Ion. This post has a creative commons attribution license.
Photo credit of the author’s daughter at the Families Belong Together March in Huntington, NY to Melissa Kuch.
World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good.
Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms
I know a lot of people – women and mothers especially – doing really amazing things in the world. It is this that comforts me when I start to get depressed about the news. There are people all over the world who are using their unique gifts to creatively tackle the difficulties of our time – income inequality, racism, sexism, xenophobia, war, gun violence, climate change – name a problem and you’ll find a person or group of people devoting time, energy, and talent to both the causes and effects of these problems. My faith in humanity lies in its willingness to figure out the messes we keep creating.
Now that my oldest is nearing 5 years old, his questions about the world are becoming more complex. He is beginning to see the interconnectedness of the world and I am of course trying to make sure that my answers both satisfy his curiosity and invite him further into critical thinking.
To me, this feels like an essential part of raising a socially conscious child; I don’t want to teach him what to think about the world, I want to teach him how to think about the world, and then how to translate this critical analysis into meaningful action.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to one of the authors of the book This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century speak about social movement ecology at the nonprofit I co-founded. Paul Engler spoke directly to something I’ve struggled with as a person committed to social change. What should I be doing? Do we fight the system? Do we “be the change”? Do we scrap everything and start over?
Paul’s answer was that for real social change to happen, we need a healthy ecosystem of efforts. For some of us this will mean a focus on personal transformation and healing, for others it will mean modeling a different way of operating outside of existing institutions, and for some it will mean taking a stand against existing structures in an effort to change or influence them. For most of us, we will move between and among all three, depending on where we are in our own lives. All approaches are necessary and all lead to meaningful social change. Like all other ecosystems, diversity is key!
So how do we, as parents, model this?
How do we empower our children to take meaningful action in the world in the way that makes the most sense for them at each point in their life?
And how do we model the necessary cooperation and collaboration that has to happen between all people working for social change so that the ecosystem can be healthy and productive?
Well, like all things we want to teach our children, we do these things ourselves! The work for us then, as parents, is to identify what we have to offer the world, and to commit to using these gifts and talents in a way that makes the most sense for where we are in our lives. I think the mistake I’ve made in the past has been feeling like whatever I did to address social woes had to be big and bold. Since having children I’ve learned the impact of small things. Each choice, every day, can be a socially conscious one.
This, perhaps, is what I want to make sure I teach my children: when it comes to social change, every choice matters and our choices must be informed by a commitment to personal transformation, a willingness to approach the existing institutions with a critical eye, and the courage to create new ways of doing and being outside of what already exists.
Do you have a way that you try to teach your children to give back in the world?
This is an original post written for World moms blog by Ms. V.
Photo Source: the National Archives and Records Administration
Ms. V returned from a 3-year stint in Seoul, South Korea and is now living in the US in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, their two kids, three ferocious felines, and a dog named Avon Barksdale. She grew up all over the US, mostly along the east coast, but lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, so considers NYC “home.” Her love of travel has taken her all over the world and to all but four of the 50 states.
Ms. V is contemplative and sacred activist, exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism and social change. She is the co-director and co-founder of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center, a non-profit yoga studio and the spiritual director for Hab Community. While not marveling at her beautiful children, she enjoys reading, cooking, and has dreams of one day sleeping again.
Every organized mom knows that the key to getting things done is a good to-do list. That goes for parents of toddlers or teens…and for world leaders, too! That’s why I’m so excited that this past week in New York City, world leaders at the United Nations committed our planet to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. It’s a to-do list on a massive scale. Known simply as the Global Goals, they are 17 goals to help us all achieve three extraordinary things in the next 15 years:
1. End Extreme Poverty
2. Fight Inequality and Injustice
3. Fix Climate Change
That’s a tall order, but that’s precisely the point. We have a lot to get done if we want our children and their children to inherit a world worth living in. As it stands now, 1 in 9 people go to sleep hungry, 6 million children die before their fifth birthday each year, and 2.5 billion don’t have access to basic toilets. That’s simply not acceptable. We have a lot of work to do to make our society and planet stronger, but it’s our moral obligation as global citizens taking up space on this Earth to pitch in and help.
If EVERY family in the world teaches their children about these goals, we will help our kids become the generation that changed the world!
What do you, as a parent, need to tell your kids about the Global Goals? First of all, take a look at this graphic to get an overview of all the goals.
Pretty ambitious right? From good health to clean energy to living sustainably to fighting inequality to climate change, these goals have something for everyone. They aren’t just “nice ideas” either. These goals will have measurable targets and reportable data to go along with them. What they are missing is YOU and your family working together with other families all over the world. The only way we can achieve our global goals is if we all work together on them…globally.
The first thing you can do is to sit down with your kids and watch this 6 minute video called “The World’s Largest Lesson.” It will help explain that we all need to make these goals famous by telling everyone about them AND we each need to pick at least one goal and take actions – big and small – so that together we can reach them by 2030!
Make the Global Goals your to-do list as well! Pick one…or two…or three goals and take on what you want to change in the world. It’s hard for me to choose favorite children or favorite goals, but my personal top three are:
#1 End Poverty
#3 Good Health and Well Being
#4 Quality Education
I pledge to work on these three and I am so thankful that other people are coming on board who will be moved to work on the others, too There are more than enough of us to save our planet and all the people in it if we all pitch in and work together.
What is(are) your favorite Global Goal(s)? Come on and #TellEveryone ! You can start by leaving yours in the comments below…
Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.
Me and my boys on one of my very first training sessions. And on our very first training session on an island!
“You’ve got big muscles, Mom!” my six-year-old giggled as he poked at my legs.
“I’ve got muscles like you too,” he flexed his biceps and smiled proudly. He has been watching me get stronger physically through strength training, but he’s observing much more than me building muscle.
On September 26, 2014, I made a commitment to myself and my boys. I walked down a long gravel driveway to my first outdoor strength training session unsure of what to expect. All I knew is that I wanted to take care of myself and become as strong physically as I already was mentally. If I could take care of myself – mentally, physically and spiritually – then I could be the best mom for my kids.
The previous seven months were long and hard. I separated from and divorced my husband, made some incredibly tough decisions, sold my house, moved into a much smaller rental with my two boys, changed my name, worked on my book and started a brand new life.
I was happier than I had been in a long time, but I was worn out. There were days that I felt like I should have been wearing war paint. In the process of all this change, I lost weight. They say the divorce diet either makes you eat more or not at all. I had to force myself to eat during the hardest months because I was in survival mode for so long, my body never told me to nourish itself.
My first workout at WolfPack Fitness was intimidating. Training is done outside or in a barn, and the equipment is unconventional. I had very little arm strength and could barely lift a wooden beam with two arms for a landmine press or control a lightweight sledgehammer to smash a tire. My form was terrible, and I had a lot to learn.
It took time, but I learned. I learned proper form. I learned how to master basic movements we use in everyday life. I learned what my body was capable of. What I was capable of.
In the process of this learning, my kids were watching. My gym is also a wonderful, supportive community. I made instant new friends and so did my kids. They often come with me when I work out. They can explore nature or they can join me. Either choice is an enriching experience for them.
My boys spray painting cinderblocks, our home gym equipment.
I have gained a solid ten pounds of lean muscle. I am strong, not only for a woman, but for a human being. My body has never looked better, and I have never felt better.
I’ve gained the muscle, as my six-year-old likes to note, but I gained much more than that.
Lifting weights has brought me closer to friends I have known for years and introduced me to new friends who have loved and accepted me from day one. It has given me the energy to jump with my kids at a trampoline park for two hours as other parents sit and look on.
My training has grounded me, allowing me to handle all the wonderful things the universe has thrown my way over the past year. It has given me a level of self-worth that I have not had in a very long time.
As mothers, we do whatever we need to do to take care of and protect our kids. Too often it’s our own self-care that suffers in our quest to be the best mom we can be.
I choose to lift myself up through strength training. How do you lift yourself up?