Child marriage costs countries billions in lost earnings: World Bank

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Schoolgirls are pictured in Kanda neighbourhood of Accra, Ghana November 27, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Children attend the evening class in Jamestown, Accra, Ghana November 28, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Children attend evening class in Jamestown, Accra, Ghana November 28, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 06 December 2018
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Child marriage costs countries billions in lost earnings: World Bank

  • More than a third of girls in sub-Saharan Africa marry before their 18th birthday, which costs countries billions of dollars in lost earnings
  • Despite growing awareness of the practice, as policy makers met in Ghana a 17-year-old girl in South Sudan was auctioned for marriage on Facebook, causing international outrage

ACCRA: Respect Ruvimbo Topodzi was 15 and walking home from school in her native Zimbabwe when a 22-year-old man asked her out. She turned him down but it was too late.
Her father saw them and assumed they were already together. He told her she had to marry the man and live with him. She dropped out of school and soon became pregnant.
It was only when her husband became abusive that she was allowed back to the family home. Since then, Topodzi has been working to stop other girls having the same experience.
She took on the government to change the law and increase the minimum legal age of consent for marriage from 16 to 18.
“As a mother and survivor of child marriage, I am so passionate about ending child marriage,” she told AFP at a recent conference on the subject in Ghana’s capital Accra.
“I know how it feels to be married early and I know how you handle things in your marriage — that is so difficult.”

According to a new World Bank report, more than a third of girls in sub-Saharan Africa marry before their 18th birthday, which costs countries billions of dollars in lost earnings.
Estimates for 12 countries suggest some $63 billion (55.5 billion euros) is lost because child brides complete fewer years of formal education than their peers who marry later.
Every year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of marrying before the age of 18 by five percent or more, it added in the report, “Educating Girls and Ending Child Marriage.”
West Africa in particular has the highest prevalence of marriage before age 15, and of the top 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world, 18 are in Africa.
Yvette Kathurima Muhia, from the Girls Not Brides organization of more than 1,000 civil society groups working on the issue, said governments and communities need to work together.
Twenty-four countries have launched national strategies to end the practice since the African Union began a campaign to stop child marriage by 2023.
But she said more needed to be done, particularly to keep girls in school by providing free meals, sanitary items and transport.
“Then the families feel they can send the girls to school, where they have support and incentives rather than if they were at home,” she added.

The causes of child marriage are complex and include traditional beliefs, climate change and conflict. But poverty is an underlying factor.
The UN last month said that the drought in western Afghanistan, which has displaced more than 250,000 people, has worsened an already dire humanitarian situation, compelling some families to sell their daughters to pay off debt or buy food.
At least 161 children between the ages of just one month and 16 were sold between July and October, according to Unicef.
Kathurima Muhia, head of Africa engagement at Girls Not Brides, conceded that the AU’s 2023 target to eradicate the practice was “not going to happen,” describing progress so far as “slow-moving.”
As well as addressing policies and legal reforms, social norms must change in communities too, she added.
At the same time, people need to understand that there are no cultural or religious reasons to marry off young girls, she said.
In September, the marriage of a 15-year-old Malaysian girl to a 44-year-old man sparked anger, two months after a girl aged just 11 was married off to a 41-year-old.
But child marriage is not just an issue in the developing world: in June last year, the US state of New York overhauled legislation that allowed children as young as 14 to get married.
The age of consent to marry there is now 18, putting pressure on other US states to follow suit.

Despite growing awareness of the practice, as policy makers met in Ghana a 17-year-old girl in South Sudan was auctioned for marriage on Facebook, causing international outrage.
The viral post eventually led to the largest dowry ever recorded in the fledgling war-torn nation, with the highest bidder a man three times older than her.
Others bidding included a deputy state governor, according to reports.
Kathurima Muhia said that indicated the scale of the task at hand.
“One of the challenges we are having on the continent is where the policymakers themselves who are supposed to protect the law are the ones who are breaking it and child marriage is a key way of demonstrating that,” she added.


Russia’s murky whale trade meets China demand

Updated 22 February 2019
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Russia’s murky whale trade meets China demand

  • Pictures surfaced of an unprecedented number of marine mammals — a total of 11 orcas and 87 belugas — crammed into small enclosures at a secure facility in Nakhodka
  • All 17 killer whales that Russia has exported since 2013 — valued at over $1 million each by customs — have gone to China

MOSCOW: Dozens of orcas and beluga whales captured for sale to oceanariums have brought Russia’s murky trade into the spotlight, but efforts to free them are blocked by government infighting.
Russia is the only country where orcas, or killer whales, and belugas can be caught in the ocean for the purpose of “education.” The legal loophole has been used to export them, especially to satisfy demand in China’s growing network of ocean theme parks.
The practice sparked a global outcry after pictures surfaced of an unprecedented number of the marine mammals — a total of 11 orcas and 87 belugas — crammed into small enclosures at a secure facility in the Far Eastern town of Nakhodka.
“There have never been that many animals caught in one season and kept in the same facility before anywhere in the world,” said Dmitry Lisitsyn, head of the Sakhalin Environmental Watch group who has emerged as a point person in the campaign to release the whales captured last summer back into the wild.
Under public pressure, Russian investigators launched two probes into poaching and cruel treatment of the whales, while Russia’s environmental watchdog said it has refused to issue permits to export them.
But the investigations and any potential court case could drag on for months.
And a major hurdle remains in the Russian government which is split between the environment ministry that says the animals must be urgently released, and the fisheries agency that defends their capture as part of a legitimate industry.
The captured killer whales belong to the rarer seal-eating, or transient, population of the species, which does not interbreed or interact with fish-eating orcas.
The environment ministry has tried to list the seal-eating type as endangered, ministry representative Olga Krever said.
“This population has only 200 adult animals” in Russian waters, she said.

Nakhodka, esatern Russia, where captured marine mammals are held for export to ocean theme parks.

But the agriculture ministry, which controls the fisheries agency and oversees non-protected sea species, views orcas as a dangerous competitor for Russia’s fish stocks and doesn’t believe they are under threat, Krever said, calling the dispute a “big problem.”
The heads of the two ministries could sit down and decide the fate of the Nakhodka animals quickly as “this needs a political solution,” she said.
But while marine mammal researchers say there are good chances of a successful release, the fisheries agency told AFP that releasing the captured animals “carries high risks of their mass death.”
“Neither orcas nor belugas are endangered,” and are simply a resource that can be used according to existing legislation, agency representative Sergei Golovinov said.
The high-profile clash became heated at a Moscow conference last week where Alexander Pozdnyakov, a fishing lobbyist tied to firms keeping the animals in Nakhodka, suddenly linked it to Russia’s geopolitical struggle with the United States.
“Today there is a battle for the Chinese market,” Pozdnyakov said. If the Nakhodka animals are not delivered there, “this market will be taken over by American companies.”
What he failed to mention is that catching wild orcas stopped in both the United States and Canada in the 1970s due to public opposition.
There are 74 operational ocean theme parks in mainland China featuring whales and dolphins, according to the China Cetacean Alliance, which monitors the industry. More are under construction.
“Orcas are like the cherry on the cake” for new Chinese venues, said Greenpeace Russia campaigner Oganes Targulyan at a recent protest against whale capture.
“They are the stars of the shows.”


All 17 killer whales that Russia has exported since 2013 — valued at over $1 million each by customs — have gone to China, according to CITES wildlife trade figures.
Though the animals in Nakhodka are unlikely to get green-lighted for export, their fate is unclear: it could be up to President Vladimir Putin to make the political decision on their release, campaigner Lisitsyn said.
In the West, there is widespread opposition to keeping the highly intelligent marine mammals in parks like the US chain Sea World, but in Russia public opinion is not so certain.
Companies that caught the animals are not giving up. At the weekend, they launched a new Instagram account, praising the Nakhodka facility and defending the oceanarium industry.
On Saturday, dozens of pro-industry supporters disrupted a rally to free the whales. They showed up with signs reading “Each orca is 10 jobs” for the crews hired to catch them, and only left when police arrived on the scene.
“We see that the capturing companies are putting up a fight,” Lisitsyn said. “They are using their lobbyist muscle.”
Researchers meanwhile are already starting to organize to prepare for a potential release of the animals.
“There has never been so many animals released in the past,” said Dmitry Glazov, a beluga whale researcher at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in Moscow.
He said a project of that scale would certainly require international expertise and funding. The whales, which have been fed dead fish, would need to go through an adaptation period to make sure they can rely on their natural food sources.
“For science, releasing this many animals would be invaluable,” he said. “But there needs to be a decision first.”