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By Aidan Ledwell

The problem that I would like to tackle is the issue  of education and literacy rate in South Sudan. Due to fifty years of civil war and strife in the country, the quality of education in the country is abysmal. The most prominent example of this is the literacy rate in South Sudan – only 27% percent of the entire population is literate overall, which is the lowest literacy rate in the entire world. In addition, there is a huge discrepancy between male and female literacy rates – while the male literacy rate is 34.84%, the female literacy rate is only 19.19% (about half of the male literacy rate). Other education issues include the fact that over half of the 1.8 million-strong child population of South Sudan are currently out of school, and many schools have been destroyed by armed groups or are empty simply because students and teachers alike are too afraid to attend. A report by UNICEF in South Sudan states that 70% of children between ages six and seventeen have never been inside of a classroom, and that only one in ten students completes primary school. The government of South Sudan has stated that 6,000 additional schools need to be built, but only 4% of the government’s budget in 2018 was allocated to education funding.

    South Sudan’s education minister, Deng Deng Hoc Yai, has stated that he wants to improve the country’s education system to deliver quality education, saying that living can be a “powerful weapon” for achieving peace and security. However, his goal will be hard to reach, due to the country’s constant civil strife, the government’s lack of prioritization for education, and the fact that South Sudan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be an aid worker, with 95 aid workers having been killed already since the conflict began.

    Another issue is the lack of trained teachers – the majority of available teachers in South Sudan have only received primary or secondary certificates of education. In addition, between 2006 and 2010, the number of primary students more than doubled, from 700,000 to 1.6 million; however, the number of available educators has not risen to accommodate for this, leaving the resources for teaching stretched far too thin.

    However, several efforts to mend this problem have been made – while most of the international donor aid for South Sudan goes to humanitarian efforts, education has been supported by the UK’s Department for International Development, through an $85 million dollar program known as Girls Education South Sudan that will last six years. More than 200,000 have been able to remain in school thanks to this program, and DFID has considered funding a second phase. In addition, the EU has been helping by topping up teachers’ salaries by up to $40 per teacher per month, as well as funding a pilot promoting education for roving and isolated communities in South Sudan, run by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Industry. Finally, the Global Partnership for Education allocated the government $36 million in 2012, and has also agreed to provide an additional $30 million subject to the ministry’s proposal getting approval from the GPE board later this year.

Overall, while domestic funding for South Sudan’s education system is declining and proper educators in short supply, the fact that many organizations are making the decision to offer educational aid to South Sudan means that the future may be brighter than hoped, although whether all of these organizations can or will continue to support South Sudan’s educational system remains to be seen.

Child Marriages in Niger: The Story of Poverty and Tradition

Just as women’s rights become more widely respected and accepted, so to do the rights of girls. The practice of child marriages is a practice not beneficial to the protection and promotion of girls rights, and nowhere is this practice more prevalent than in Niger. According to Girls-not-Brides, 76% of girls in Niger marry by the age of 18, and 28% marry by the age of 15. In the Diffa region, 89% of girls are child brides. Child brides are at a higher risk of complications during birth, contracting diseases, and being victims of abuse. They are also less likely to pursue an education/career and are less likely to develop fully mentally, physically, and emotionally. 2010s research from the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) suggests that ending child marriage in Niger could save the country more than $25 billion between 2014 and 2030.

If child marriage has such an adverse effect on Niger and its women why hasn’t it ended? The answer is poverty and tradition. Niger was the 11th most impoverished country in the world in 2018 with the average person living on $510 a year. Families tend to want to marry their daughters as soon as possible for economic reasons. A man must pay a girls family to marry her, essentially buying a person; a married daughter is one less mouth to feed, and if the daughter becomes pregnant before marriage, it is nearly impossible to find a husband. Some girls are married to wealthy men from Nigeria who will pay thousands of dollars for a bride. The BBC reported on a woman, married at 13 to a wealthy Nigerian man, who said, “He was always trying to make it clear that it was as if he had bought me, that it was not because I wanted him but because he had bought me.” Child marriage is slavery.

With a poor economy and strict patriarchal traditions, women’s education is lacking. Lack of women’s education leads to more pregnancies and diseases in child brides. The high rate of child pregnancies is a large factor in the reason that Niger has the fifth highest infant mortality rate with 116.6 deaths per 1000 births and the maternal mortality rate of 26.4 deaths per 1000 births. Niger also has the highest birth rate in the world with 7.24 births per woman. Niger has a tradition of child marriages, and many believe that if a girl is physically ready to be married, has had her first menstrual period, then she should be. At a Koranic school in Agadez, Sheikh Abbas Yahaya told the BBC, “It depends on the body of the girl and the man’s body. If the two are mature, the marriage can be OK also, because in Islamic religion even at age nine years, if the girl is in the right condition, she can be able to get married.” Culture is much harder to change in a country.

While child marriages are a significant problem in Niger, it is not a lost cause. The UNFPA has had a 5-year program in Niger since 2013, that works with the Nigerian Government, to fight the causes and effects of child marriages. It also works to educate women and provides them with a birth certificate and health check. In 2014 Niger launched the African Union Campaign to end child marriages. In August 2016, the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Child Protection set up a national committee to end child marriages in Niger. Also, UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage selected Niger to be one of the 12 countries it sponsors. The United States can be at the forefront of this fight for justice and lead the world in protecting young girls.

Still On Alert for HIV in Southern Africa

I would like to propose to spend a year in southern Africa studying the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). I would travel to Botswana, Eswatini, South Africa, and Lesotho for three months each, observing firsthand the different approaches they have taken to combating HIV/AIDS.

In Botswana I would live in the capitol city of Gaborone near the US embassy, communicating with PEPFAR officials and taking small trips out to see their work up close. Botswana is one of the richest countries in the region because of their diamond mining industry. They are also one of the most stable and least corrupt countries in southern Africa. Their government is a parliamentary republic. Their adult HIV prevalence rate is very high, however, hovering around twenty-five percent. They have a relatively low population of approximately 2.3 million. Their goals include decreasing the number of new HIV infections to less than 7,500 annually, increasing HIV literacy and ensuring all people diagnosed with HIV are immediately provided with antiretroviral treatment, focusing service for key populations such as female sex workers, men who have sex with other men, and non-citizens, improving the Botswana Ministry of Health and Wellness electronic health information systems, and increasing coverage of voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) services for those aged 10-49. Since 2004, PEPFAR has invested a total of $954,838,751 in Botswana. 56% percent of that investment goes towards care and treatment, 22% towards management and operations, 15% towards prevention, 5% towards orphans and vulnerable children, and 2% towards health systems strengthening. In 2018, PEPFAR Botswana has provided antiretroviral treatment (ART) for 317,378 people, provided 57,471 men with voluntary medical male circumcisions, provided HIV testing services for 708,102 people, and given care and support to 35,805 orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.

Eswatini, formally known as Swaziland, is one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. It is one of the smallest countries in southern Africa and has a small population of 1.4 million, most of which lives in the countryside and follows the traditional ways of life. They are mostly classified economically as lower-middle class. I would live in the capitol city of Mbabane near the US embassy, communicating with PEPFAR officials and taking small trips out to see their work up close. Their HIV infection rate is almost 28%. Their goals are to expand ART through same-day initiation and 6 month clinical visits; scale up and monitor new and targeted approaches to HIV testing services; focus combination prevention interventions of adolescent women ages 15-29, orphans, and vulnerable children; increase the provision of condoms, lubricant, and voluntary medical male circumcision, expand chiefdom led coordination and scale up community action plans to rapidly increase HIV service uptake among men, decrease stigma, and reduce sexual and gender based violence; and ensuring priority and key populations have access to their health and social services. So far, PEPFAR Eswatini has invested $480,917,969, 52% of which goes towards care and treatment, 17% towards prevention, 10% towards orphans and vulnerable children, 7% towards health systems strengthening, and 14% to management and operations. In 2018, PEPFAR Eswatini has provided ART to 347,430 people, VMMC to 46,005 men, HIV testing services to 630,301 people, and care and support to 212,075 orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.

Lesotho is a small country with a population of 2.2 million. I would stay in their capitol city of Maseru near the US embassy and take small trips out to witness the work of PEPFAR in the countryside. Lesotho is surrounded by South Africa and highly dependent on it. Lesotho is led by a king and Prime Minister. Their HIV prevalence rate is nearly 24%. Their goals are to expand into more efficient and effective testing strategies, increase the coverage of ART to 90% across all age and gender groups, and increase the number of voluntary male circumcisions and emphasize biomedical interventions including pre-exposure prophylaxis for adolescent girls and young women. Since 2004, PEPFAR Lesotho has invested $1,987,281,343, 65% of which goes toward care and treatment, 15% toward prevention, 10% toward management and operations, 6% toward orphans and vulnerable children, and 4% toward health systems strengthening. In 2018, PEPFAR Lesotho has provided ART for 403,870 people, VMMC to 82,910 men, HIV testing services to 1,266,939 people, and care and support for 151,566 orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.

South Africa is one of the continent’s largest countries and has one of the continent’s biggest and most developed economies. It is a parliamentary republic. It has a large population of 50.7 million. South Africa has a HIV prevalence rate of nearly 20%. I would stay in the capitol city of Pretoria near the US embassy, taking short trips to witness PEPFAR’s work for myself. PEPFAR South Africa’s goals include quickly expanding the provision of ART to all living with HIV, increasing coverage of VMMC among target age groups, speeding up HIV service delivery through direct support of human resources for health, and increasing cooperation between community based interventions and facility based support in order to enhance treatment adherence and retention. PEPFAR South Africa has invested $6,258,586,198 since 2004, 62% of which goes toward care and treatment, 19% toward prevention, 7% toward health systems strengthening, 6% toward orphans and vulnerable children, and 5% toward management and operations. In 2018, PEPFAR South Africa has provided ART for 3,515,573 people, VMMC for 1,632,962 men, HIV testing services for 16,259,596 people, and care and support to 1,270,567 orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.

By living in these four different countries and experiencing the different ways in which they have dealt with the unique challenges presented by the HIV epidemic in their regions I would gather valuable insight into how the current mechanisms could be improved. I could experience different government types such as a Parliamentary Republic and an Absolute Monarchy, which might affect how HIV is handled. I could also research the effect the size of a country’s land and population has on its handling of the HIV epidemic. This is a valuable opportunity for me to witness firsthand how HIV is being fought and attempt to learn how to streamline and improve the process.

Mali’s Child Soldiers

In the face of tension over economic, environmental, and religious issues, one of the most consistent problems that Africa faces is conflict with militant groups. The wide reach of terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram perpetuates strife across the continent, harming the countries and people who are caught in the crossfire. In particular, this affects children.

The conflict in Northern Mali is a notable encapsulation of the way violence impacts children — in addition to the 41 schools 34 reported incidents of killing and maiming, the UN office for Children and Armed Conflict has reported 159 cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers in 2017 alone. And the animosity causing this is not new, remaining consistent from the rebellions in the 1960s, through the 2015 peace accord, which the Human Rights Watch reports was only met with further deterioration of security as anti-terrorist operations led to numerous human rights violations. To combat the effects of this ongoing issue, the United States should provide funding to organizations focussing on the control of violence in Northern Mali, following through with the protection and reintegration of children susceptible to abuse and soldiering. The two best candidates for this funding are the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as these organizations specialize in the field necessary to address areas of conflict.

Due to the multi-faceted nature of child soldier recruitment, addressing the issue must take into account both the management of conflict and the reintegration of child soldiers. One NGO which specializes in this vital role of conflict management is the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). Founded in 1992, this organization has been the first African NGO to address the UN security council, and has received praise from late South African president Nelson Mandela as well as the United Nations for its approach to conflict intervention. In addition to a five-year operations plan responding to African conflict that considers international variables, ACCORD demonstrates a high level of understanding on the push-and-pull specifics of child soldier recruitment. This expresses the importance they place on reintegration after conflict resolution, making them one of the best organizations for following through with the analysis and resolution of conflict in Africa.

For specializing in the protection of children amid violence, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) provides a focus on the Northern Malian conflict in order to monitor and prevent human rights violations. Due to the size of the IGO, provides personnel to oversee the legal recognition of children’s rights. In addition to its work in freeing and providing security for child soldiers. MINUSMA’s mission includes specialists called child Protection Advisors, who administer operations involving children in order to minimize human rights violations and maximize legal and martial security. This advisory group demonstrates the training and care that is dedicated to MINUSMA staff, supported by the 2018 Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation in Mali, which provides reporting on the security and rectitude of MINUSMA workers. The high level of integrity and specialization of the MINUSMA mission and personnel  qualifies them as one of the most active and influential organizations doing work for child soldiers in Mali at this time.

While the tensions in Northern Mali have been long standing, they are still a very recent issue. Just three weeks ago, the Long War Journal reported on statements from Al Qaeda on the presence of French troops in the Operational Coordination Mechanism (MOC), and alleged crimes committed during their patrols among the Malian military and the numerous opposing militant groups. As the presence of violence continues in this manner, so too does the practice of recruiting and violating child soldiers; in conjunction with the reported 150,000 children denied education due to occupation or destruction of schools, the effects which conflict has on Mali’s youngest generation is significant and undeniable. Considering the push-and-pull causes of recruitment analyzed by ACCORD, controlling violence and reintegrating children is vital for efforts to end the conflict as a whole. The aforementioned organizations would be the prime candidates for these task, providing the most effective action in addressing the issue of child soldiering.

NGO Subcontracting in Sudan

Since South Sudan’s split from the rest of the country in 2011, the rights of Sudanese reporters were restricted by the government. In December of 2013, however, however, the already precarious position of journalists was exacerbated by the war. Reporters were not permitted to publish anything relating to the ongoing war, what little coverage that was authorized by the government is highly censored. Some of the known human rights violations in South Sudan include harassment, persecution, and violence against journalists, as well as government-sanctioned restrictions of the right to speech, privacy, and press. Multiple media companies have been closed or restricted, articles are censored from newspapers, and online sites are blocked. Specific institutions as well as individuals are targeted for views that were seen as inciting hate speech or being anti-government, even when these viewpoints were not expressed publicly. Any discussion of corruption or unrest within the reigning political party, discontent within the country, or pro-militia stances could result in a cancellation or even jail time.

Non-Government Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International are in positions to offer assistance to persecuted reporters who, without outside interference, are likely living in danger of retaliation from the Sudanese government.  

In 2015, Sudan’s president called for violence against journalists who reported on any topics that could be seen as inflammatory against the state. “If  anybody among [journalists] does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it”. Only one day later, a Sudanese journalist named Peter Moi, a reporter for South Sudan’s Corporate Weekly, was shot and killed. He was the seventh journalist killed that year. In 2015 another reporter, Issac Vuni, was found dead months after he was kidnapped from his home. At least 10 journalists have been killed since 2011.

Since just the beginning of 2018, at least 15 journalists have been questioned, arrested, or charged for a variety of crimes, including tarnishing the reputation of the country. While shocking, the unfair targeting and censorship of journalists in Sudan is a common practice. Seven journalists were arrested in January of 2018 in Sudan. The journalists, some of whom worked for Reuters and Agence France-Presse, were covering peaceful economic protests in the capital.  The Sudanese government was not open about why the arrests took place, what laws had been broken, or when the reporters would be released.

Wini Omer, a Sudanese journalist and women’s rights activist, was arrested and detained for five days in February 2018 on charges of prostitution, and was told she may also be charged with espionage. These charges carry the death penalty. Omer and many of her supporters believe that this is an intentional attack from the Sudanese government as retaliation for her investigations into violations of women’s rights. Omer said “They are trying to make us behave”.

On November 1st Salah Goush, Sudan’s head of National Intelligence Security Services, accused several Sudanese journalists of being spies. The journalists, who had met recently with western diplomats, were released from custody and all charges against them were dropped.

Reporters have been forced between fleeing their country or facing harassment, violence, or even death for refusing to censor their work.

Reporters Without Borders is an international NGO that protects freedom of expression and information. Based in Paris but known worldwide, RWB challenges governments and regimes from afar as well as from the ground. By increasing public awareness, offering information and training, and influencing leaders, this NGO has worked for 30 years to “increase the attention that governments pay to freedom of information”. Already established in South Sudan and connected with influential organizations such as the UN, Reporters Without Borders is in a strong position to offer assistance to Sudan.

Amnesty International is an NGO that works to protect the human rights of all people. AI “finds the facts, exposes what’s happening, and rallies people together” to fight governments and save lives. Extremely effective in mobilizing and acquiring results and globally established, Amnesty International could, with the State Department’s assistance, be highly productive in Sudan.

Water Crisis in Cape Town, South Africa

For months, the citizens of Cape Town were threatened by Day Zero, the government’s proclaimed day that water would be shut off and citizens would be forced to collect their daily rations of water under the supervision of armed guards. Day Zero had been pushed back several times thanks to a rainy winter season and citizens abiding by the water usage restrictions. Currently, the government no longer has a set date for Day Zero, only the looming threat that it may still occur in 2019.

A combination of factors led to the world’s most severe urban water crisis in 2018. Exacerbated by climate change, a record drought, now classified as a natural disaster, dramatically reduced Cape Town’s resources. Then, due to politicking in a contested region, errors in governmental preventional planning occurred, and the city failed to make adequate infrastructure advancements to keep up with the growing population.

Capetonians have been restricted to 50 L, 13 gallons, of water a day. Divided between water for personal hygiene, drinking water, water for dishes or laundry, and meals, it is difficult for Capetonians to adapt and abide to such an extremely limited supply. The government has also suggested acquiring an emergency supply of drinking water, but bottled water is nearly nonexistent and when it does arrive in stores it sells out  immediately.

The citizens have adapted to the withering golf courses, the public restrooms that now urge visitors to flush only when absolutely necessary, and the high-end restaurants using disposable table settings, but the more detrimental impacts of the water crisis has prompted distress. The water crisis has caused some 300,000 jobs to be lost in the agriculture business and some tens of thousands more in the service, hospitality and food sectors. The economy worsens further as the population’s productivity decreases when they are distracted by the water crisis, such as taking time off work to wait in line for water.

Adding to the potential economic downturn, Cape Town has faced a decrease in tourism. Cape Town struggles to convince tourists that their city welcomes and is adequately able to supply water to tourists. They are trying to dispute the fear that tourists would be siphoning water from locals, citing the fact that tourists make up 1 % of the population and are vital to maintain the tourism industry.

Additionally, the water restrictions in Cape Town make it difficult for people to maintain proper personal hygiene. The 13 gallon a day limit only allows for roughly a half gallon a day for washing hands and brushing teeth, which is approximately one-eighth of the amount of water people consume each time they wash their hands (using sanitizing gels does not adequately substitute washing). Water-borne illnesses will become more prevalent as locals take to storing water in contaminated containers.

The government fears the anarchy that may ensue if Day Zero was implemented, but struggles to control water usage without it. After the removal of a date for “day zero,” there was an increase in water usage, so the government is considering implementing a tariff increase of 27% on water in order to keep water usage down. Despite this threat, there has been a growing lack of compliance to water restrictions.

The Water Project NGO, based in Concord NH, has begun to help the South African government provide services to its people and give supplies to those in need, such as sanitation supplies and clean water education. The state department should subcontract this NGO to specifically target the immediate needs of the Capetonians.

The State Department should also allocate money to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Climate Action Partnership to help alleviate the overarching problem of climate change. The WWF works toward greater wilderness preservation and reducing human impact on the environment. WWF plans to improve sustainable agriculture, reconnect natural areas and reduce the environmental impact of food production. These plans include helping farmers improve land use planning, as well as use better production and responsible farming practices. The Climate Action Partnership is an alliance of South African NGOs working towards increasing the resilience of South Africa’s biodiversity and communities by reducing the impact of climate change. Their efforts include alleviating the water shortages by protecting ecosystems throughout South Africa. Supporting these NGOs will help prevent natural disasters, such as the drought, with added benefit of job creation and economic development.


Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM), is a cultural practice that has affected 200 million women and girls, the majority of whom are African. The practice involves any and all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.  There are four forms of FGM, the most common being the clitoridectomy and excision. Both involve the partial or total removal of the clitoris and excision also includes the removal of the labia minora. In Africa, FGM is practiced in ~28 countries focussed in the area ranging from Tanzania to Egypt. Because FGM is an ethnic practice, the ethnic communities often spread across country borders bringing FGM with them, leading to its spread among populations. FGM is also prevalent in countries in the Middle East and Asia, and migrants from these countries have caused its dispersal in Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.   

The reasoning behind FGM lies in the social and cultural beliefs of those who practice it. Where FGM is the social norm there is societal pressure of a woman’s communal acceptance. The large motivation behind FGM is a woman’s marrigabilty as FGM aims to ensure premarital virginity, marital fidelity, and a woman’s preparation for adulthood. It is considered a cultural tradition which is often used as an argument for its continuation.

Female genital mutilation is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women which has led to the strong motivation behind western cultures’ desire for its limitation and elimination. The rights violated include, the rights of children, a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death due to the numerous and common health consequences. For westerners, FGM represents inequality between the sexes and is an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls.

In response to the increased awareness of the lasting harm FGM poses for women’s health and the numerous rights of those women that it violates, female genital mutilation has a host of NGO’s and IGO’s fighting against the practice and the discrimination it represents. One of those NGO’s includes an organization called 28 Too Many. 28 Too Many is a registered charity in England and Wales established in 2010 to undertake research and provide knowledge and tools to those working to end FGM in African countries and the worldwide diaspora. The NGO makes globally available the data from their research through Country Profile Reports and Thematic Papers to engage key influencers, encouraging them to advocate for change within their sphere of influence; this could include legislation and community education and action.

Another NGO, the FGM National Clinical Group, is a UK-based registered charity committed to working with women and their daughters who have been affected or are at risk of FGM and are living in the UK. Their mission is to advocate for FGM to become a part of the core syllabus in the training of midwives, nurses, obstetricians, gynecologists, and mental health professionals. They also aim to perform research of FGM victims residing in the UK.

The United Nations, an IGO has been concerned with the issue of FGM since 1948 within the context of the universal declaration of human rights. With FGM addressed as a violation of international human rights law, it places responsibility on governments who have a duty to ensure the enjoyment of human rights in their jurisdictions which allow the various government organization fighting against FGM to take action.

With the joint efforts of NGO’s and IGO’s, the issue of female genital mutilation has made progress over the years including the implementation of laws against FGM in 26 African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as in 33 other countries with migrant populations from FGM practicing countries. The legislation and actions of NGO’s and IGO’s has led to improvements in public policy, but FGM is still highly prevalent in Africa. For example, Somalia has a 98% prevalence rate. This rate and those alike still exist because even with the legislation, FGM is practiced in secret and prosecution is rare. The only way FGM is going to be eliminated is through spreading awareness of the issue and the sustained collaboration from all parts of society. The limitation and elimination of FGM by way of NGO’s and IGO’s can only be done with rightful funding, and the United States State Department could help greatly by taking the issue into serious consideration and providing organizations with the money they need to keep fighting.