Child rights analysis in Asia: 
On an equal footing with girls and boys

In an Asia-wide survey, Kindernothilfe has looked in detail at child rights violations. For the first time, children and young people participated actively. An important learning process for all involved.

Text: Simone Orlik

The 16-year-old Alisha, of Muslim origin, lives with her family in a slum in the city of Patna in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. According to tradition, Alisha has long since reached marriageable age. The family is seriously considering marrying off their daughter. The fact that this would now be an illegal child marriage is not something anyone chooses to talk about.

A lack of schooling, child trafficking, child marriage: Since the youngest members of society are unable to escape this situation without external assistance, Kindernothilfe supports around 182,000 children and young people in 324 projects in 11 countries throughout Asia. The work is based on strategy papers that are updated every five years. And always with the primary objective of improving the children's situation.

CRSA-workshop in September 2019 in India (Source: Silvia Beyer)
CRSA-workshop in September 2019 in India

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides the working basis

The reference point for the child rights situation analysis is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which came into force in 1989. In the intervening years, opportunities for millions of children throughout the world have improved. But there are new emerging challenges that have to be surmounted, as the discussions have identifed. A good example is the.  increased access to digital media which is resulting in online pornography presenting a new threat to children and young people. Families, village communities and teachers are extremely concerned, because they often don’t know how to fulfil their responsibilities with these new technologies.” Children now experience an increasedrisk of being subjected to bullying and blackmail through the sharing of intimate images. .

Th survey has also indicated  that natural disasters and impacts of climate change currently being witnessed in Asia are another major challenge. Rising sea levels, severe flooding or earthquakes deprive people of their livelihoods, claim lives and leave girls and boys without protection: "This has an impact on the rights of girls and boys." Alongside disaster management, preventive measures and environmental protection projects, the governments themselves are called on to act. Early warning systems, for example, already provide protection by forecasting imminent disasters. Something that also benefits children.

Partners learn from each other across national borders

In several respects, the child rights situation analysis in Asia represented new ground for Kindernothilfe. One new aspect, for example, was that the surveys were carried out in all project countries in Asia simultaneously – despite the geographical challenge. Guido Falkenberg, head of department for India, reports that, “In a single, large country like India, gathering data is challenging. That is why we were particularly dependent on the co-operation of our partners on the ground.” E-learning courses, workshops and interim reports ensured that staff and partners were well prepared and surveys and results were consistent with each other.. This provided an opportunity for the countries to work as a team, collecting and analysing data together, learning from each other and sharing their experiences.

Survey among children in India concerning the children's rights (Source: Silvia Beyer)
 Survey among children in India concerning the children's rights

On an equal footing: looking at things from a child's perspective

Another new aspect for Kindernothilfe was the involvement of the girls and boys, who actively participated in all phases of the survey – from the survey, itself, to drawing up the final document. To help create an atmosphere of trust among the children and young people, child-friendly rooms and survey approaches were prepared meticulously. In Guido Falkenberg's view, an indispensable feature in the effort to obtain valid results: “If you want to hear an authentic voice speaking about the child rights situation in a country, you have to get down to children's level. You have to listen to them and involve them actively in the process.”

Head of department for Asia, Jörg Denker, believes children's active involvement was a key element in the child rights situation analysis. “Working with secondary data provides a sound basis for strategies and developments in project countries. But by listening to what children, themselves, have to say, we can gain a first-hand insight into their problems, thereby enabling us to have a bigger impact on addressing child rights violations.” This represents a change in perspective and one that has opened the eyes of many local partners.

CRSA-workshop in September 2019 in India (Source: Silvia Beyer)
 CRSA-workshop in September 2019 in India 

One issue affects all countries: the early marriage of underage girls

After eighteen months of work, the results of the child rights situation analysis are now available. As it turns out, the surveys actually corroborate many of Kindernothilfe's long-held major priorities: investment in child education, support for street children, tackling child trafficking and environmental protection are part of the solution, constituting active protection of children. However, one issue that is a surprise, runs like a common thread through Asian countries: the early marriage of underage girls – a serious violation of children's rights, forcing millions of underage girls to leave school prematurely. Although it is true that boys are also married underage, girls are much more likely to be affected. Parents are usually the driving force behind child marriage. Acting in response to their own poverty, they may genuinely want the best for the children. But the reality usually turns out to be entirely different: the physical consequences may include early pregnancies with higher mortality rates or the risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence, sexual abuse or forced labour.

Jörg Denker: “All countries in the region have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that no child or young person under the age of 18 may be married. And yet we see that, even within the framework of national law, many Asian countries disregard this.” In Bangladesh, for example, the marriageable age has been reduced to 14, while, in Pakistan, marriage at the age of 12 was not uncommon. “The children and young people clearly spelled out to us that we should put more emphasis on integrating the issue of child marriage into our community projects and implement awareness-raising measures. And that's what we will do."

Increasing children's involvement in the processes

From Kindernothilfe's perspective, the survey across all project countries proved successful in several ways. The collected data allows country strategies and the projects concerned to be revised and improved with respect to children's rights. But the most decisive impact was the learning process experienced by local partners. Guido Falkenberg: “In essence, we have managed to get our local partners to change their attitudes towards children and to look at challenges from their perspective. We should also be open, in the future, to involving girls and boys more actively in our processes; not simply interviewing them, but involving them in discussions on progress and concrete measures.” Today, all teams are well-equipped to integrate their concepts into future projects and develop them on an ongoing basis. One thing is certain: the future will bring new challenges.

Kindernothilfe-CRSA-Workshop 2019 in Duisburg
Kindernothilfe-CRSA-workshop 2019 in Duisburg
Kindernothilfe-CRSA-Workshop 2019 in Duisburg

Kindernothilfe discussed the results of the analysis at a joint conference with the Asian country coordinators in Duisburg in November 2019. It became clear that the child rights violations identified in the different countries are in many cases similar. The results also serve as a basis for the new country strategy papers that Kindernothilfe is currently developing for the years 2020-2024. 

 A girl is kneeling on a bed. (Source: Jakob Studnar)


Early marriage of girls

Rachel Thomas, project co-ordinator with Kindernothilfe India, told us the following story from her experience of interviewing children during the child rights analysis in Patna:

Alisha (16 years old) is a Muslim living with her family in a slum in Patna in Bihar – one of the poorest states in India. According to the traditions and customs of the society, in which she is growing up, Alisha reached marriageable age some time ago. Her family, too, is considering marrying off their daughter. "My uncle, in particular, is putting pressure on me and my family," Alisha said. "He is convinced that girls my age should have been married long ago." The fact that this would amount to illegal child marriage is not something anyone is prepared to discuss.

Under pressure from relatives, Alisha's father is contemplating marrying off his daughter after she completes basic schooling. But Alisha's dream is to get a college degree and a job. "I want to be independent. I can't even imagine getting married at 18.” She is struggling desperately against the patriarchal culture, religious norms and traditional attitudes. She has been trying to convince her parents that studying is better for her and that she can still get married when she is over 20. It often seems as if she has managed to persuade her father. "But every time my uncle visits, he poisons my parents' thoughts," she complains. Making Alisha's attempts at persuasion increasingly difficult. Her own mother does not have much to say in the family. “People like my uncle think that girls don't need education or schooling. That there would be a danger of us then fighting tirelessly for our rights. And the consequence of that would be that our parents could no longer control us, and we would refuse to get married and stay at home with our husbands.”

Rachel reports that another reason for forcing girls into underage marriage, is that a lower dowry payment is required: parents pay less dowry for the marriage of a child than for that of an adult woman. Some parents worry that they will be unable to afford the dowry later and that their daughter will thereby remain unmarried.

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