Reduced Inequalities: More Than 78,400 Children in the US Were Married Between 2010 and 2014 #childmarriage


Child marriage is still legal in some form in every state.

Though all 50 states in the US have set the minimum age for marriage at 18, legal loopholes mean that child marriage is still legal in some form in every state.

According to the recent study “Child Marriage in the United States: How Common Is the Practice, And Which Children Are at Greatest Risk,” approximately 78,400 children in the US today are or have been married.

While it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of children have been married across the country over the last two decades, precise figures on the number of those affected have been difficult to obtain. But researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health have begun to paint a more accurate picture of the problem, using data from the American Community Survey — an annual survey conducted and released by the Census Bureau.

Researchers analyzed the survey responses of teens between the ages of 15 and 17 from 2010-2014 and found that an average of 6.8 of every 1,000 girls and 5.7 of every 1,000 boys had been or were currently married at the time they completed the survey, according to a press release.

The study found that immigrant children, especially those from Central America, Mexico, and the Middle East, were more likely to be married than children born in the US. It also identified substantially higher incidences of child marriage in states like West Virginia, North Dakota, and Hawaii, where more than 10 in every 1,000 children were married.

In several states, children under the age of 18 can be married with the consent of a parent or judge, or if they are pregnant.

However, “these marriages are not leading, to the best of our knowledge, to long-term marriages where they’re living together,” Dr. Jody Heymann, co-author of the study and dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told Teen Vogue. “So, I think that’s really important for people who believe that child marriage when there’s a pregnancy is actually forming a family and a long-term marriage. It’s not. It’s really not the solution.”

Previous Census data backs up Heymann’s claim, with 70% of married teens getting divorced. US Census data from 2010 also shows a significantly higher number of married, divorced, separated, and widowed children, putting the figure at about 500,000.

Around the world, 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, according to Girls Not Brides. While West and Central Africa have the highest rates of child marriage, India is home to the largest number of married children in the world, UNICEF reported.

Child marriage disproportionately affects girls, who are often forced to drop out of school and have children before they are ready.

“Studies show that girls in the US who marry as children have lower education attainment, are at greater risk of living in poverty and suffer adverse health consequences,” added Heymann in a press release. “The large number of child marriages in the U.S. have profound implications on the lives of children and youth that need to be addressed.”

Over the past few years, several states — including Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, and New Jersey — have voted on bills that propose setting the minimum age of marriage at 18 without exception. Though many of the bills have resulted in stronger legislation that protects minors against child marriage, no state has succeeded in fully banning child marriage yet.



Quality Education: Africans Are Among the Best Educated US Immigrants, Study Finds #education #globalgoals


African Graduates

By Salem Solomon

WASHINGTON — When you picture an African immigrant in the United States, do you imagine someone with little or no schooling, struggling to find work? New research shows a different reality: African immigrants in the United States are college-educated and employed at about the same rates as the general population, and far more likely to be educated and working than their counterparts in Europe.

The report, by the Pew Research Center, found 69 percent of sub-Saharan African immigrants in the United States have some college education. That number is six percentage points higher than the level for native-born Americans, and far higher than levels in Europe.

In Britain, about half of sub-Saharan African immigrants have some college education. In France, the number is 30 percent. In Italy it is only 10 percent.

The Pew study, based on 2015 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Eurostat’s Labor Force Survey, also found about 93 percent of African immigrants in the United States were employed, whereas in Europe employment figures ranged from 80 percent in Italy to 92 percent in the U.K. These numbers were roughly equal to the general population in each country.

Monica Anderson is a research associate at Pew and a co-author of the report. The research team wanted to compare demographics of African immigrants in the United States to their counterparts in Europe, Anderson told VOA by phone.

“What we found is that the sub-Saharan African immigrant population [in the U.S.] really stands out and that they are a very highly educated group,” Anderson said.

“The majority of sub-Saharan African immigrants in all of these countries that we looked at are employed, and when you look at their employment compared to those who were actually — who were born in those specific countries — there’s really not a lot of difference,” she added.


In 2015, about 2.1 million African immigrants were living in the U.S., according to Pew. That number has more than doubled since 2000.

They came to the United States in different ways – to study, for employment opportunities, and through family reunification programs, the latter denounced by President Donald Trump as “chain migration.”

Some Africans come to the United States as refugees and asylum seekers. In 2016, about 31,000 Africans were admitted into the United States as refugees, accounting for 37 percent of all admissions. About 19 percent of admissions came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where conflict has displaced nearly two million people in the past 18 months.

Thousands more come through the State Department’s diversity visa lottery, which provides 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, African immigrants made up 46 percent of applicants invited to request immigrant visas.


One explanation for the difference in education levels is that Europe is much easier to reach for low-income Africans who travel by boat or other means.

Since 2010, violence, turmoil and poverty have driven approximately 1.5 million Africans to leave the continent for the United States or Europe, and the numbers have grown each year, according to the United Nations.

Hundreds of thousands have risked crossing the Mediterranean Sea on rickety boats, hoping to make it to Italy or Greece.

In contrast, Africans coming to America often have the money to travel by plane, and the permission to enter the country once they arrive.

“It is also about proximity, and I think there are other studies and literature out there about how proximity might impact the kind of characteristics that different groups might have when they’re migrating,” Anderson said. “So those who have a lower socioeconomic status may not have the capabilities or have the resources to move to a distant country.”


Higher education and employment levels don’t necessarily translate into a higher quality of life for African immigrants in the United States, based on previous research by Pew.

Despite high education and employment rates, black immigrants — including those from Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and South America — have a median household income that’s about $8,200 lower than the U.S. average, Pew researchers found.

Forty percent of black immigrants are homeowners, 24 percent less than the overall U.S. population, and 20 percent of black immigrants live below the poverty line, compared to 16 percent of the overall U.S. population.

These numbers suggest that, despite relatively high education and employment rates, African immigrants face challenges getting access to all the opportunities that other groups enjoy.


Reduced Inequalities: 160 Babies, Children Rescued in Latest Nigerian ‘Baby Factory’ Raid #sdgs #globalgoals

The victims have all been relocated to government-approved homes.


More than 160 children were rescued from a Nigerian “baby factory” and two illegal orphanages this week, according to a report by the BBC. It was one of the largest raids in recent history.

“The children and teenagers rescued from the baby factory were placed at Government Approved Homes for Care and Protection,” the Lagos State government said in a statement.

But the war on human trafficking is far from being won.

Baby factories are a recurring problem in Nigeria, where it is not uncommon for unmarried pregnant women to be lured to a location with the promise of healthcare only to be imprisoned and have their baby stolen. In other instances, women are kidnapped, raped, and forced to become pregnant.

The children are then “sold for adoption, used for child labour, trafficked to Europe for prostitution or killed for ritual purposes,” according to the BBC report.

Some of the babies and children rescued had been sexually abused, said Agboola Dabiri, the Commissioner for Youths and Social Development in Lagos State, in a statement.

The Commissioner also noted that of the 163 children rescued in total, 100 were girls and 62 were boys.

More than 4.8 million people worldwide are victims of forced sexual exploitation, or sex trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization. It’s also estimated that one in three trafficking victims are children below the age of 18.

Reduced Inequalities: France Is Giving $61,900,000 to Help People in Syria #sdgs #globalgoals


By Joanna Prisco, for Global Citizen

After seven years of strife and an estimated 400,000 deaths, Syria’s Civil War shows no signs of resolution. But renewed aid efforts from Europe may help those struggling to survive there.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said France would contribute 50 million euros ($61.9 million) toward humanitarian aid for Syria, reported Reuters.

“This evening I brought together NGOs working on the ground in Syria. Faced with the humanitarian situation, France is setting up an emergency programme of 50 million euros,” Macron stated on his verified Twitter account.

Following a chemical attack in Douma last week, France had already deployed a humanitarian medical shipment via Turkish authorities, according to France Diplomatie, and participated in US-led airstrikes on suspected chemical weapons facilities, as reported by the New York Times.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley stated earlier this year that “from a humanitarian standpoint, the US has been a massive donor to this situation.”

But last month President Donald Trump suspended $200M funds allocated for recovery efforts, as reported by Politico.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is so dire that officials have lost track of how many people have died, according to the New York Times.

The new injection of French funding will be designated toward organizations already operating in Syria, such as the U.N. office for humanitarian affairs.

Macron’s meeting at Elysee presidential palace gathered together two dozen NGOs, including Action Aid, Handicap International, the Red Cross, and Care.

Reduced Inequalities: Meghan & Harry’s Wedding Will Help Tackle Period Taboo, Homelessness, and HIV #sdgs #2030now #globalgoals


The royal couple are asking for donations in their name as wedding gifts.

Isn’t it the worst when, with a month to go before a wedding, you realise you haven’t got the happy couple a gift yet?

Luckily, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have found a great solution for anyone struggling to come up with gift ideas.

And it doesn’t involve a last-minute dash to get a gravy boat, either.

The royal couple are asking for donations to seven different charities to be made in their name, for “anyone who might wish to mark the occasion of their wedding” on May 19, according to Kensington Palace.

“The couple have personally chosen seven charities which represent a range of issues that they are passionate about, including sport for social change, women’s empowerment, conservation, the environment, homelessness, HIV, and the armed forces,” said the palace in a tweet.

“Many of these are small charities, and the couple are pleased to be able to amplify and shine a light on their work,” it added.

One on the list is an Indian charity, the Myna Mahila Foundation , which works in Mumbai’s slums to combat period stigma and to empower women. It works to educate women and girls about menstrual hygiene, provides low-cost sanitary products, and also provides women with stable employment.

Markle visited the organisation’s offices in January last year, on a trip that inspired an article published in “Time” about stripping away taboos around periods.

Another charity on the list is UK homelessness organisation Crisis , which is particularly pertinent following the uproar around the treatment of homeless people in Windsor in the run-up to the wedding.

In preparation for the wedding and the expected influx of tourists, council leader Simon Dudley released a letter directed to the commissioner of the Thames Police, asking for action to be taken to stop “aggressive begging and intimidation in Windsor.”

“It is becoming increasingly concerning to see the quantities of bags and detritus that those begging are accumulating and leaving on our pavements,” he wrote . “The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light.”

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, said they are “hugely grateful” to the royal couple.

“Homelessness is one of the most urgent issues of our time, but at Crisis we know what it takes to end it,” he said .

He added: “Donations will help us to support more people to leave homelessness behind through our housing, employment, education, and advice services across the country, and to campaign for the changes needed to solve the homelessness crisis once and for all.”

Other organisations on the list are Chiva , which supports children diagnosed with HIV, an issue that Harry’s mother Princess Diana campaigned fiercely on; StreetGames , a children’s sports charity; the Wilderness Foundation , which works to preserve the great outdoors and enable young people to access it; and Scotty’s Little Soldiers , which helps children who’ve lost a parent in the military.

Also on the list is marine conservation organisation Surfers Against Sewage , which recently called on the UK government to eliminate single-use plastics after research showed more than 2 million “avoidable” plastic items were bought by the British parliament in 2017. 

Good Health & Well-Being: Hunger Is Making the World Less Stable, New Report Shows #sdgs #globalgoals #2030Now #hunger


You see it in the headlines: Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria – the world is experiencing a rise in conflict, instability and human suffering. More people are currently displaced from their homes because of violence, conflict and persecution than any other time since the World War II. One of the consequences is that we’ve seen an uptick in the number of hungry people on the planet for the first time in over a decade.

That war and conflict produce poverty and hunger is something that we’ve long understood – it has been proven in every major sustained violent confrontation in human history. By some accounts, more people died in World War II from starvation than from fighting. What we are learning in the context of modern crises is that hunger is not simply a byproduct of war, but can be the root cause of instability. From competition over land and water for food production to violent protest in urban centers from food prices spikes, food-related instability features in many modern conflicts.

Food security is a fundamental requirement of any stable society. Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas once said: “Show me a nation that can’t feed itself, and I’ll show you a nation in chaos.” More and more countries today face this precise challenge. Over 124 million people are in need of lifesaving humanitarian food assistance today, up from 80 million just two years ago.

Hunger produces profound desperation, the type that can cause a parent to put a child in a raft on a perilous journey to Europe; or that forces a young man with no income, limited opportunity and a hungry family to pick up arms for a cause he doesn’t even believe in. In a comprehensive review of the work on this topic, a new report from World Food Program USA shows that food insecurity has been empirically linked to at least nine separate types of instability, ranging from protest to interstate conflict, with terrorism and civil war in between.

When we think of food-related instability, food riots very often come to mind. Food riots have played a role in the French Revolution and have been captured in headlines worldwide for generations – pasta riots in Italy, tortilla riots in Mexico, bread riots in the Middle East. Americans spend only 10 percent of their income on food, while citizens in the world’s poorest countries spend closer to 60 percent. Global food price spikes can have major effects on political stability in these settings.

Food price spikes were responsible for social unrest in at least 40 developing and middle-income countries in 2008 in what has been termed the “silent tsunami.” These spikes and the resulting unrest are widely recognized as leading to regime change in Haiti during this period. A second wave of price spikes owing to agricultural commodity production shocks in China and Russia in 2011 has also been linked to the rise of the Arab Spring in the Middle East.

We also see food-related instability playing out in conflicts between pastoralists and farmers over dwindling agriculture resources and territory. This is the modern story of the African Sahel. In the decades leading up to the 2003 outbreak of war in Sudan, for example, the Sahel region of northern Sudan had witnessed the Sahara Desert advance southward by almost a mile each year, forcing Arab herders into ethno-African farming communities and producing unrest.

Price spikes and resource competition are increasingly driven by the impacts of climate change. Climate change disproportionately impacts the agricultural sector –especially in the global south – and is the subject of a growing body of research on the climate-conflict nexus. It is estimated that 80 percent of agricultural production in developing countries does not employ any form of irrigation.

In the lead-up to the civil war in Syria, more than 1 million farmers were affected by crop loss from long-term drought. One author called this “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” As a result, the southwestern city of Daraa, situated in one of the traditionally fertile areas of Syria, saw a large influx of migrants and was one of the first sites of social unrest in the country in 2011.

Meanwhile, the rise of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria has been linked by some to prolonged drought conditions in the Lake Chad Basin of West Africa. In recent decades, the water surface of Lake Chad has shrunk by over 90 percent compared with its size in the 1960s, contributing to a loss of livelihoods and threatening food security in the region. Climate impacts are expected to worsen as the Earth faces a 3 degrees Celsius rise in mean temperature in the coming decades, forcing another 122 million people into poverty and hunger.

Modern crises are almost never driven by a single cause. But when food insecurity meets with poor governance, a lack of economic opportunity and existing societal grievances, the conditions for conflict to emerge – or re-emerge – can be met.

Legislation has also been introduced to encourage further collaboration between the traditional “instruments” of U.S. foreign power – defense, diplomacy and development – in order to tackle these same root causes.

Breaking the cycle of hunger and conflict is among the great challenges of our day. Doing so, however, begins with acknowledging the link between food insecurity and global instability. Surely, one of the best investments we can make in global stability is to help people who can’t feed themselves or their families.

With the rise in state fragility and a proliferation in conflicts involving non-state actors, the U.S. defense and intelligence communities are beginning to turn their eyes toward non-traditional security threats and root causes of instability like food insecurity. As a salient example, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said in the AFRICOM 2018 posture statement to Congress, “None of Africa’s challenges can be resolved through the use of military force as the primary agent of change. Therefore, our first strategic theme is that AFRICOM activities directly support U.S. diplomatic and development efforts in Africa.”

This article originally appeared on Malnutrition Deeply. You can find the original here.

Good Health & Well-Being: How South Africa Is Tackling Its AIDS Crisis, One Test at a Time #sdgs #2030now #globalgoals #hiv #aids

There are 7.1 million people living with HIV in South Africa.

Millions of self-screening kits for HIV are being handed out in target areas in South Africa and they could be the key to putting an end to the country’s AIDS epidemic.

South Africa has 7.1 million people living with HIV, which accounts for 18.9% of the adult population, according to HIV awareness NGO Avert.

The UN has set global standards for how to combat the AIDS epidemic, and the first step is making sure people are tested and aware of the their HIV status. By 2020, the UN is calling for 90% of people living with HIV to be diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed to be on antiretroviral, and 90% of people on treatment to have viral suppression.


In South Africa, the statistics for these targets sit at 86%, 65% and 85%, according to The Guardian.

In response to these numbers, 4.8 million self-screening kits will be handed out across Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland by 2020 thanks to the HIV Self-Testing Africa (Star) Initiative . This program is funded by the global health organization Unitaid.

The self-tests use an oral sample and they only take 20 minutes. They are 90% accurate when it comes to confirming an HIV-positive result.

It can take hours to get in for tests at a regular clinic in South Africa and because there is such stigma attached to HIV, many people don’t want to be seen getting tested and will therefore avoid it. People are also afraid to hear their results. That’s why the self-screening tests can be conducted in private tents or taken at home.

The hope is that self-testing will become as normal as doing a pregnancy test, according to experts.

These tests are given out by people like counsellor Mokgadi Mabuela in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

“Usually we give out 300 kits in one day,” Mabuela told The Guardian.

Mabuela said that often the people she gives the test to have never been tested before.

“They are just scared to know. It’s just the thing of knowing you could be positive that’s quite scary,” she told The Guardian. “Especially in a place like Hillbrow where you have your brothels, strip clubs and everything. The discrimination that comes with having HIV is still a huge thing.”

To get a test in Hillbrow, people give their information to a counsellor and then are given advice on how to handle their result.

At this testing site, people have access to a list of clinic referrals, as well as the phone number for Mpumelelo Sibanda, who is the site coordinator.

“I get a lot of calls,” Sibanda told The Guardian. “People text me on WhatsApp saying, ‘I need to speak to you now’ … People are in a state of panic, so they want to be seen soon.”

If a person tests as positive, she says they can generally can be seen the following day to take a confirmatory test and start antiretroviral treatment.

The South African government has made great improvements when it comes to access to treatment and encouraging testing. In fact, South Africa has the largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) program in the world.

In 2012, there were 360,000 new HIV infections. By 2016, there were 270,000.

As of December 2016, there were 3.7 million people on antiretroviral treatment, which lead to an increase in national life expectancy from 58.3 years in 2011 to 62.4 years in 2015, according to South Africa’s National Strategic Plan For HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022.

Still, more needs to be done to meet the UN’s targets.

Reduced Inequalities: The 9 Warning Signs That Modern Slaves Are Hidden in ‘Plain Sight’ #modernslavery #sdgs #globalgoals #2030now #slave


Members of the public can play a vital role in the fight against servitude and forced labour.

Members of the public could be “unwittingly” hiring the victims of modern slavery who are hidden in “plain sight” across the world.

Victims of forced servitude and labour could be washing your car, serving your meals, working in the hotels where you stay, painting your nails, and even working in your home.

But there are series of signs to watch out for, released by Crimestoppers UK , that could help officials in the fight against modern slavery.

“Being forced into domestic servitude, being trafficked for work, or subject to exploitation is a horrendous fate, and one most of us can’t even imagine — but the sad truth is that there is a good chance that modern slavery is taking place in the towns, cities, and villages where we live,” Simon Blackburn, of the UK’s Local Government Association, told the BBC .

But most householders are “unaware of the hell” victims were living through, he warned, saying that many victims are hidden in “plain sight.”

Across England and Wales, local councils are stepping up efforts to tackle modern slavery, following a rise in the numbers of victims the are reporting.

The number of cases reported to law enforcement by local authorities rose by nearly 50% in just a year in Britain — up to 1,322 cases reported between July and September 2017.

In the US, according to a report released last year by Polaris, an organisation that fights human trafficking and helps survivors, modern slavery is a problem in restaurants, bars, and food trucks, as well as nail salons, hotel work, and domestic service.

The report was described as a “major breakthrough in the field,” by Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris.

It’s the largest data set on human trafficking in the US ever compiled and publicly analysed — including over 32,000 reports of human trafficking, and over 10,000 reports of labour exploitation.

According to the report, which was based on calls to the organisation’s hotline, people from places Vietnam, China, Mexico, and Guatemala, lured by promises of a better live, were instead being trapped in forced labour conditions.

Of the more than 1,700 cases involving the US restaurant industry, nearly 20% involved children.

Traffickers often exploit language barriers, according to the report, and those who try to escape may be threatened with deportation, or violence against themselves or their families.

But members of the public can play a vital role in the fight.

Signs to look out for, according to Crimestoppers UK , are: 

  • Appearing scared, avoiding eye contact, or being untrusting.
  • Showing signs of injury, abuse, and malnourishment.
  • The person may look unkempt, often in the same clothing and have poor hygiene.
  • They may be under the control and influence of others.
  • Living in cramped, dirty, and overcrowded accommodation.
  • Lacking appropriate clothing or safety equipment for the work they are doing.
  • They may have no access to identification, like a passport or driving licence.
  • The person may be collected very early, or returned late at night, on a regular basis.
  • They may be isolated from the local community and their family.

The UK government estimates there are between 10,000 and 13,000 potential modern slavery victims in the UK. But that figure has been described by anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland as “far too modest”

Reduced Inequalities: More People Than Ever Before Are at Risk From #Slavery in the UK #sdgs #globalgoals #2030now #modernslavery


Some 45 million people are trapped in modern slavery around the world. From forced labour and child slavery, to women and girls forced into prostitution or marriage, these people are living in abhorrent conditions.

And it’s happening in the UK too. In 2017, a total of 5,145 potential victims of modern slavery  were recorded in this country — up 35% from the year before.

Victims of human trafficking could be washing your car, working in hotels where you stay, painting your nails, and all hidden in plain sight.

Within the UK last year, potential victims of trafficking were identified from 116 different nationalities, according to the National Crime Agency, including Romania, Sudan, India, and Poland.

But of all of these, British nationals were the most commonly reported potential victims, with 819 identified in 2017. Albanians were identified in 777 cases, and Vietnamese in 739.

Despite the scale of human suffering, our laws are ill-equipped to deal with the problem.

In England and Wales, victims of modern slavery are guaranteed just 45 days of support. Support for victims at present is limited to the time when they are being identified — which should take 45 days. In practice, delays in decision-making about whether or not someone has been trafficked can take longer.

The government has promised to increase this to 90 days guaranteed support for people who are confirmed as having been trafficked, but we believe this is still not long enough.

People who escape modern slavery have suffered the most horrific violations of their human rights. If and when they escape, they need proper support to rebuild their lives or they are at risk of becoming homeless and vulnerable to being re-trafficked.

Right now, a bill is going through parliament to try and make this support happen.

If passed, the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, introduced by Lord McColl of Dulwich, would require the government to provide a year of guaranteed support to victims.

That would include a safe place to stay, access to medical treatment, mental health support, legal advice, training, education, and support as they figure out the next steps in rebuilding their lives.

But this potentially life-saving bill will only pass if enough MPs vote for it.

Quality Education: How Muppets Are Helping Refugee Kids Get an Education #refugee #muppets #education #sdgs #globalgoals #2030now


They’re helping bring hope to children around the world.

Conflicts across the Middle East have had a tremendously adverse effect on children, the most vulnerable members of the population. With the Syrian civil war now in its seventh year and the Iraqi territories retaken from the Islamic State still unstable, millions of children in refugee camps have had to spend their early years dealing with the dire consequences of war.

But the American non-profit behind the popular children’s show Sesame Street, Sesame Workshop, says it is sending its lovable and furry Muppets to these countries to help bring laughter and build resilience in the affected kids.

In an interview with VOA, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president for international social impact, Shari Rosenfeld, said her organization was teaming up with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to provide early education to help children and families overcome the trauma of conflict.

“We will deliver this in two ways: direct, in-person services for 1.5 million of the most vulnerable children, as well as a new educational broadcast that will reach 9.4 million children across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria,” she said. 

In December 2017, the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change program — a competition for funds to support a program that promises measurable progress in solving a critical contemporary problem — awarded Sesame Workshop and the IRC a grant of $100 million to help implement the project.

Rosenfeld said the program would introduce a localized version of Sesame Streetto provide engaging educational messages covering reading, languages, math and social skills.

Character customization

Instead of using popular character names such as Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster, the puppets will have regional names and will speak Arabic and Kurdish.

“Not only will our content be made available through traditional television broadcast, but it will also be available on digital platforms like WhatsApp,” she said.

The program also will directly support children and parents at learning centers equipped with material for play-based learning, she added. Its trained workers will give home visitation and caregiving sessions to nearly 800,000 caregivers to mitigate the impact of toxic stress on children up to age 3.

“Toxic stress” occurs when a child’s brain development is disrupted because of prolonged adversity and leads to problems such as self-harm, suicide attempts and aggressive behaviour.

Save the Children, a children’s rights and relief NGO, last year found that millions of Syrian children exposed to war could now suffer from “toxic stress” and needed immediate help to keep the damage from becoming irreversible.

The U.N.’s children agency, UNICEF, estimates that 1.75 million Syrian children remain out of school, and that 2.6 million Syrian children are living as refugees or are on the run for their safety.

In neighbouring Iraq, the agency says, more than 1 million children have been displaced and 4 million are in need of assistance as a result of the war with the Islamic State group.

Affected children

Iraqi officials have expressed concerns, particularly about children who were schooled by IS. Counterterrorism officials have listed about 2,000 children needing therapy after having been influenced or brainwashed by IS.

Rights organizations say a majority of children affected by extreme violence do not receive proper education and rehabilitation.

The IRC estimates that of the billions of dollars spent on humanitarian aid, only about 2 percent is reserved for education or child development.

Rosenfeld of Sesame Workshop said the organization’s project would meet the children’s needs to recover from violence and extremism by emphasizing critical issues, such as mutual respect and understanding, diversity and inclusion, and gender equity.

If the program is successful in achieving those goals, the organization would try to expand it for other crises.

Projects elsewhere

Sesame Workshop has created local versions in several conflict-torn areas, such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Kosovo.

In rural Afghanistan, where women’s rights are sharply restricted, particularly by extremist groups like the Taliban, the local version of Sesame Street, known as Baghch-e-Simsim, has targeted girls’ empowerment. The program features a vibrant hijab-clad female role model called Zari, a 6-year-old Muppet who loves going to school and has big dreams for her future.

An impact assessment by the organization showed that children who watch Baghch-e-Simsim test 29 percent higher in believing in girls’ and boys’ equal ability to do various tasks compared with their peers who did not watch the show.

In another assessment, Israeli and Palestinian children who watched the show were more likely to take someone else’s perspective and express the need for the use of dialogue to solve a problem.

Some experts say that by providing education for children and promoting messages of tolerance, the program also could be used as an effective counterterrorism tool.

Countering Boko Haram

Naomi Moland, a lecturer at American University in Washington who studies the Nigerian version of Sesame Street, said the program producers tried to indirectly combat Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

The terror group, whose name loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden,” has abducted hundreds of girls for going to secular schools.

“As far as gender equality, especially in regions where Boko Haram is active, even saying that girls should go to school is a counterterrorism message, because Boko Haram has fought against it,” Moland told VOA.

She said the creators of the localized show, called Sesame Square, feared being targeted by Boko Haram or having their show boycotted.

“They would say things like, ‘If we do one thing wrong, nobody in northern Nigeria is going to watch this because a certain extremist imam might say the show is not appropriate,’ ” she added.

Her forthcoming book, Can Big Bird Fight Terrorism? Children’s Television as Soft Power in Nigeria, concludes the creators faced other dilemmas, such as celebrating diversity without exacerbating divisions and stereotypes of others, and localizing the show to reflect children’s reality.

“I think that is a difficult challenge that Sesame will face in this new program with Syrian refugees — that is, how do you present something that seems somewhat realistic to the children in that it connects their experiences of trauma and displacement while also giving them hope that something could be different and they might be able to get along with people who are different from them?” asked Moland.