Bangladesh looks to curb child marriage with school curriculum overhaul

Child marriage remains prevalent in many lower-middle-class families in South Asia. (Shuttersotck image)
Child marriage remains prevalent in many lower-middle-class families in South Asia. (Shuttersotck image)
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Updated 01 January 2022

Bangladesh looks to curb child marriage with school curriculum overhaul

Bangladesh looks to curb child marriage with school curriculum overhaul
  • Country has witnessed its biggest surge in child marriage in the last 25 years
  • The problem has worsened during COVID-19 lockdowns

DHAKA: Bangladesh will overhaul its school curriculum and introduce a new subject covering reproductive health as the country addresses its biggest surge in child marriage in more than two decades, top education officials have said. 

Although the legal age for marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men, the nation has the highest rate of child marriage in South Asia. Of its 167 million residents, some 38 million women were married before their 18th birthday — 13 million of them before they were 15 — according to BRAC, the largest development organization in the country. 

The problem has worsened during COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns, which have aggravated existing economic and social problems.  

Primary and Mass Education State Minister Md. Zakir Hossain announced in December that the government would introduce a new curriculum to address the issue of child marriage. 

“A revision of the new curriculum is underway. It will be implemented from January 2023,” Nazma Sheikh, deputy secretary of primary and mass education told Arab News.

Prof. Syed Mahfuj Ali, senior expert in high school education at the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, said the new subject — Health Safety — will be introduced as a compulsory topic to “raise awareness on child marriage, adolescent health, mental health, et cetera.”

While the subject will initially be taught to secondary school students in grades six to 10, Prof. Dr. A. K. M. Riajul Hasan, the board’s member for primary education, said it may also be introduced for younger children.

“Considering the present context, we may add the awareness issues on child marriage into grade five’s curriculum,” he said.

The Bangladeshi government aims to eliminate child marriage by 2041. Its National Action Plan for Prevention was launched in 2018, but was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As child marriage is closely linked to poverty and affects girls’ educational opportunities, it came into the spotlight when Bangladeshi schools reopened in September and authorities noticed that large numbers of girls were not attending classes.  

For now, information about child marriage in the country during the pandemic remains largely anecdotal, but while UNICEF data from 2019 showed that more than 15.5 percent of Bangladeshi girls had married when under the age of 15, BRAC estimates that rate has increased by 13 percent to its highest level in the last 25 years.  

“Removing child marriage from the country is our top priority and we will not leave any stone unturned to achieve this goal,” Ali said.

The board’s three-year pilot project — Generation Breakthrough, or GB — was carried out in the southern region districts of Barguna, Barishal and Patuakhali, where child marriage figures were among the country’s highest, and the results were promising. 

“The GB initiative brought good results in reducing child marriage in these areas,” Ali said. “Now we will introduce this program in textbooks across the country from 2023.”  

The curriculum overhaul, he said, is also intended to make “education more helpful in real life.”  

“We will also teach them about reproductive-health issues, which were mostly evaded for years due to social taboos,” he explained. 

With one year before the launch of the new curriculum, the textbook board is taking immediate smaller steps to help raise awareness.   

“For the new academic year, starting from January 2022, we have printed two emergency toll-free numbers — 333 and 109 — on the back cover of all textbooks so that the students can ask for any help regarding the abuse of women and children,” Ali said.  

“We are considering introducing a national emergency hotline from the next academic year also, so that students can ask for help to stop child marriage.”


11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire
Updated 56 min 55 sec ago

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire
  • The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal
  • In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed

DAKAR: Eleven newborn babies died in a hospital fire in the western Senegalese city of Tivaouane, the president of the country said late Wednesday.
Just before midnight in Senegal, Macky Sall announced on Twitter that 11 infants had died in the blaze.
“I have just learned with pain and dismay about the deaths of 11 newborn babies in the fire at the neonatal department of the public hospital,” he tweeted.
“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy,” Sall added.
The tragedy occurred at Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in the transport hub of Tivaouane, and was caused by “a short circuit,” according to Senegalese politician Diop Sy.
“The fire spread very quickly,” he said.
The city’s mayor Demba Diop said “three babies were saved.”
According to local media, the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital was newly inaugurated.
Health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was in Geneva attending a meeting with the World Health Organization, said he would return to Senegal immediately.
“This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful,” he said on radio. “An investigation is under way to see what happened.”
The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal, where there is great disparity between urban and rural areas in health care services.
In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed. The mayor of that town had cited an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward.
Wednesday’s accident also comes over a month after the nation mourned the death of a pregnant woman who waited in vain for a Caesarean section.
The woman, named Astou Sokhna, had arrived at a hospital in the northern city of Louga in pain. The staff had refused to accommodate her request for a C-section, saying that it was not scheduled.
She died April 1, 20 hours after she arrived.
Sokhna’s death caused a wave of outrage across the country on the dire state of Senegal’s public health system, and health minister Sarr acknowledged two weeks later that the death could have been avoided.
Three midwives — on duty the night Sokhna died — were sentenced on May 11 by the High Court of Louga to six months of suspended imprisonment for “failure to assist a person in danger” in connection to her case.
Amnesty International’s Senegal director Seydi Gassama said his organization had called for an inspection and upgrade for neonatology services in hospitals across Senegal after the “atrocious” death of the four babies in Linguere.
With Wednesday’s fresh tragedy, Amnesty “urges the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the culprits, no matter the level they are at in the state apparatus,” he tweeted.
Opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo also responded with outrage to the Tivaouane blaze that killed the babies.
“More babies burned in a public hospital... this is unacceptable @MackySall,” he said.
“We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough.”


Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly
Updated 26 May 2022

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly
  • Onlookers begged police gathered outside the school building to rush in urgently
  • Authorities say about 40 minutes elapsed from when Ramos opened fire to when he was shot dead

UVALDE, US: Frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the Texas elementary school where a gunman’s rampage killed 19 children and two teachers, witnesses said Wednesday, as investigators worked to track the massacre that lasted upwards of 40 minutes and ended when the 18-year-old shooter was killed by a Border Patrol team.
“Go in there! Go in there!” nearby women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who saw the scene from outside his house, across the street from Robb Elementary School in the close-knit town of Uvalde. Carranza said the officers did not go in.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside the building.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They were unprepared,” he added.
Minutes earlier, Carranza had watched as Salvador Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a nearby funeral home who ran away uninjured.
Officials say he “encountered” a school district security officer outside the school, though there were conflicting reports from authorities on whether the men exchanged gunfire. After running inside, he fired on two arriving Uvalde police officers who were outside the building, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine. The police officers were injured.
After entering the school, Ramos charged into one classroom and began to kill.
He “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
All those killed were in the same classroom, he said.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told reporters that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him, though a department spokesman said later that they could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school or when he was killed.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.
“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.
Uvalde is a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third and fourth grades, is a single-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared, authorities said.
Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.
Ramos ran out the front door and across the small yard to the truck parked in front of the house. He seemed panicked, Gallegos said, and had trouble getting the truck out of park.
Then he raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air.
His grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.
Gallegos, whose wife called 911, said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, who he rarely saw.
Investigators also shed no light on Ramos’ motive for the attack, which also left at least 17 people wounded. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Ramos, a resident of the small town about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
“We don’t see a motive or catalyst right now,” said McCraw of the Department of Public Safety.
Ramos legally bought the rifle and a second one like it last week, just after his birthday, authorities said.
About a half-hour before the mass shooting, Ramos sent the first of three online messages warning about his plans, Abbott said.
Ramos wrote that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then that he had shot the woman. In the last note, sent about 15 minutes before he reached Robb Elementary, he said he was going to shoot up an elementary school, according to Abbott. Investigators said Ramos did not specify which school.
Ramos sent the private, one-to-one text messages via Facebook, said company spokesman Andy Stone.
Grief engulfed Uvalde as the details emerged.
The dead included Eliahna Garcia, an outgoing 10-year-old who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth-grader, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department.
“You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” Uvalde Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell said, fighting back tears as he recalled the children and teachers killed.
The tragedy was the latest in a seemingly unending wave of mass shootings across the US in recent years. Just 10 days earlier, 10 Black people were shot to death in a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
The attack was the deadliest school shooting in the US since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
Amid calls for tighter restrictions on firearms, the Republican governor repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among Texas young people and argued that tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York and California are ineffective.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor, interrupted Wednesday’s news conference, calling the tragedy “predictable.” Pointing his finger at Abbott, he said: “This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen.” O’Rourke was escorted out as some in the room yelled at him. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin yelled that O’Rourke was a “sick son of a bitch.”
Texas has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation and has been the site of some of the deadliest shootings in the US over the past five years.
“I just don’t know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old,” Siria Arizmendi, the aunt of victim Eliahna Garcia, said angrily through tears. “What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?”
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that “the Second Amendment is not absolute” as he called for new limitations on guns in the wake of the massacre.
But the prospects for reform of the nation’s gun regulations appeared dim. Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other curbs have run into Republican opposition in Congress.
The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston, with the Texas governor and both of the state’s Republican US senators scheduled to speak.
Dillon Silva, whose nephew was in a classroom, said students were watching the Disney movie “Moana” when they heard several loud pops and a bullet shattered a window. Moments later, their teacher saw the attacker stride past.
“Oh, my God, he has a gun!” the teacher shouted twice, according to Silva. “The teacher didn’t even have time to lock the door,” he said.
The close-knit community, built around a shaded central square, includes many families who have lived there for generations.
Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.
But that night, her niece had a question.
“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
 


G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies

G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies
Updated 26 May 2022

G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies

G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies

BERLIN: Ministers from the world’s wealthiest democracies will wrangle over how to keep climate change goals on track as they meet in Berlin on Thursday for talks overshadowed by spiralling energy costs and fuel supply worries sparked by the war in Ukraine.
Energy, climate and environment ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries want to reaffirm a commitment to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius and protect biodiversity at the May 25-27 meeting.
The group will also consider committing to a phase-out of coal power generation by 2030, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters, though sources suggested that opposition from the United States and Japan could derail such a pledge.
The draft, which could change considerably by the time talks conclude on Friday, would also commit G7 countries to have a “net zero electricity sector by 2035” and to start reporting publicly next year on how they are delivering on a past G7 commitment to end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has triggered a scramble among some countries to buy more non-Russian fossil fuels and burn coal to cut their reliance on Russian supplies, raising fears that the energy crisis triggered by the war could undermine efforts to fight climate change.
Campaigners urged the ministers of the G7 to make clear commitments that the fallout of the Ukraine war would not derail their targets.
“We have a new reality now. The G7 need to respond to that, and they should respond through renewables, and not through fossil fuel infrastructure,” said David Ryfisch, climate policy expert at non-profit Germanwatch.
While seeking consensus on an oil embargo on Russia, the European Union is pushing to accelerate the bloc’s pivot to renewable energy while finding fossil fuel alternatives to Russian supplies.
Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate think-tank E3G, said tackling climate change was the best and quickest way for countries to achieve energy security.
“Climate impacts are worse than scientists originally predicted and there’s far worse ahead if we don’t cut emissions rapidly,” Meyer said. “Delivering on climate promises really becomes even more vital in this tense geopolitical environment.”
Ahead of the meeting, the B7 group of leading business and industry federations of the G7 states called on the group to back a plan along the lines of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s “climate club” to harmonize standards on emissions and CO2 pricing.
Scholz had suggested the idea to try to avoid trade friction in areas including green tariffs, the development of markets for decarbonized products, carbon pricing and removal methods. 


Flexible working will be a lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic, WEF panel hears

Flexible working will be a lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic, WEF panel hears
Updated 26 May 2022

Flexible working will be a lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic, WEF panel hears

Flexible working will be a lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic, WEF panel hears
  • Participants in the discussion agreed that the experience of working from home during the crisis has left many employees wanting a better work-life balance
  • One panelist said that all workers, regardless of profession, should be given the opportunity to work more flexibly to prevent a split within the workforce

DAVOS: One of the lasting legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a more flexible approach to working because employees increasingly desire “more time for their life,” according to participants in a panel discussion on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“I think that’s been a really good evolution; I would say (it was) unusual at first but I think we can see that this is what our employees are looking for: More control, more choice,” Jonas Prising, the CEO of ManpowerGroup, said during the discussion, titled The Four-Day Week: Necessity or Luxury?

ManpowerGroup is described as a world leader in innovative workforce solutions that connect human potential to the power of business.

Prising argued that all workers, regardless of profession, should be given the opportunity to work flexibly to prevent a split within the workforce. 

CEO of ManpowerGroup, Jonas Prising, addresses a panel at the World Economic Forum. (WEF)

“This needs to be equitably distributed across many categories of workers; not only knowledge workers, not only those that can work from home, but people who are in production lines, who are driving trucks, who are in warehouses, and who are manufacturing,” he said.

“Otherwise, we’ll have a bifurcation of the workforce, and an inequitable distribution of this very valuable benefit that is truly something that all workers are looking for.”

Ohood Al-Roumi, the UAE’s minister of state for government development and future, agreed that people are demanding more flexible working options as a result of their experiences during the pandemic. 

UAE Minister of State for Government Development and Future, Ohood bint Khalfan Al-Roumi, addresses a panel at the World Economic Forum. (WEF)

“They worked from home and the line between their personal and professional life blurred,” she said.

“And then when they started going back to their organizations … there was more demand for flexibility, well-being, there was a discussion about mental health.”

The UAE moved to a four-and-a-half day working week this year, with employees of federal organizations now working normal business hours from Monday to Thursday and until noon on Friday.

Al-Roumi said that there should a coordinated effort by public and private sectors to introduce more flexible working practices.

“In the UAE, the shorter workweek was implemented for government (workers), we did not impose it on the private sector,” she added.

“What happened, interestingly, was that 50 percent of the private companies followed the decision. And even some of the global companies who have offices in the UAE took that practice and applied it in their offices across the world.”


Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine

Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine
Updated 26 May 2022

Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine

Syrian refugee puts medical skills to use in Ukraine
  • UK-trained Dr. Tirej Brimo used hospital work leave to treat hundreds in Lviv
  • ‘War is like a nightmare you can’t wake up from while praying for a miracle that just doesn’t happen’

LONDON: A Syrian refugee who traveled to Britain almost a decade ago and trained as a doctor has provided volunteer medical treatment in Ukraine for war victims, The Independent reported on Wednesday.

In 2013, Dr. Tirej Brimo left Syria amid the country’s brutal conflict. He was in his final year of medical school. In 2017, he graduated as a doctor in London.

Five years later, Brimo, now an emergency doctor in Cambridge, put his skills to use in Ukraine.

In order to make the trip to the Ukraine-Poland border and the city of Lviv, Brimo used up seven weeks of his work leave.

“In Syria I ran away. I was a student and felt helpless. In Ukraine, I chose a different destiny. I chose to be there and stand up for what I believe in,” he said.

He helped launch a makeshift medical center in Lviv that treated hundreds of Ukrainian refugees as they fled eastward. 

Back in Cambridge after his trip, Brimo said: “At Lviv train station, the situation was horrid. Every day we got dozens of trains from eastern Ukraine — trains full of injured people, and trains full of refugees who just wanted to flee and leave everything behind.

“In my very first week, a paramedic and I saw 339 patients. It only took a few seconds into the consultation for these emotions to come out. They had been through a lot and they had seen a lot.

“Some of them lost their loved ones, some of them left everything behind, and some of them were so in shock that they were not aware of what was happening around them.”

The experience brought back painful memories for Brimo. “Sadly, the atrocities of war are similar. The horror in peoples’ faces, backpacks that have been filled in a rush, and children who have lost their spark, are some of the images that stay with me,” he said.

“War is like a nightmare you can’t wake up from while praying for a miracle that just doesn’t happen.

“As a doctor in the humanitarian world, our fight is different. We look after those wounded by all kinds of trauma, those who have been forgotten about, those who feel rejected by life and its atrocities.

“We hope that these few minutes of care will one day be remembered as a small light in our patients’ journey. Their journey to heal from all that happened.”

Brimo praised his fellow volunteers, saying: “In a clear message of resilience and rejection of war and its violence, we started our day with a smile and we ended our day with a prayer. A prayer that we hope one day will be heard.”