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Why girls are the solution to 'overpopulation'   

Arab News - 10 May, 2012
Author: Nowell Sukkar Blacklaw

In the midst of rapid, constant and never-ending change it is easy to overlook one of the fundamental causes at the core of many social, economic and environmental problems… "overpopulation."

Demographers, environmentalists and scientists estimate that the earth has the capacity to support and sustain approximately 4 billion people. At this point in time we are 7 billion, the United Nations projects this to reach 9.3 billion by 2040.

Population growth is destroying ecosystems, affecting climate change and causing loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development.

China has succeeded with its one child policy which has prevented more than 400 million births since its inception.

India, however, increases its population every year by approximately 25 million.

The Philippines is already beyond its carrying capacity, its population is close to 100,000,000 the country can no longer feed itself, and has become the biggest rice importer on the planet.

What it desperately needs is a government-supported family planning program, but this is proving to be impossible, some blame the lack of progress (with passing a reproductive health bill in Congress) on corruption, others blame the Catholic Church and while the battle of ideologies rather than economics continues 2 million Filipino babies are born every year.

A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute found that the cost of providing birth control to the quarter billion women on the planet, who want it, is about $ 4.50 a year per woman, this could be the difference between having 8 billion mouths to feed by the end of the century, instead of 15 billion.

The UK government’s chief scientist has warned that food reserves are at a fifty-year low and that the world will require 50 percent more energy, food and water by 2030.

We need to break the vicious cycle of poverty, lack of education, lack of employment and incessant breeding which has left many charities; NGO’s and aid organizations overwhelmed and forever playing catch up.

The solution to this problem rests on the shoulders of all 12-year-old girls living in poverty.

If we can support girls, by providing them with a safe environment to learn, give them life skills, mentoring and nutrition we can go above and beyond impacting the life of a child. We will impact the whole family, the whole tribe and its community in the most positive way.

Last December as I traveled through Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, with an estimated population of 90 million, I was able to interview many people in Arabic, as I spoke with one, others would gather around anxious to tell their stories; the common thread of despair, frustration and hopelessness was evident in all.

Mona, a single mother of six, in Luxor said “my husband left when I was seven months pregnant, he told me he would send money once he found work.” A year later she learned he was in Cairo with another woman and a baby on the way. “I cannot send my girls to school, I cannot pay for shoes or books,” She said.

Divorce is endemic; most re-marry and have more children they cannot support. It is girls who suffer most; many are married off as soon as they are old enough to bring in a dowry, usually to a much older man.

Souad another single mother, has four children, her husband went to Saudi Arabia three years ago, he sent her a message, saying that he had met someone else and was starting a new life. Souad said: “He promised to send money, he lied, we needed food, I sent my 14-year-old daughter to work in Cairo, the broker told me she would come home every 6 months; that was 2 years ago.” Souad is desperate; she has 2 other daughters and is scared of what their fate will be.

I was unable to reach remote country areas where I’m told there is a growing trend of exploitation of young Egyptian girls by their families and brokers, who arrange what is known as “seasonal marriages.” These marriages provide a smokescreen for exploitation by wealthy married men.

Female children, in small villages are forced to marry against their will in order to provide money for their families.

The girl is taken as a bride so that the man is not shunned by his community. Within 3-6 months the girl is divorced, in most cases she is too ashamed to return home, often remaining and existing in abuse and enslavement by the first wife. This is also common practice in Yemen. While girls in developed countries have the freedom to go to school, raise their hands in class and share their opinions, girls in developing countries are burdened with chores and responsibilities from a very young age.

There are many reasons for high illiteracy amongst girls in developing countries; society shapes their role and too often cultural and religious practices such as female genital mutilation are the cause of such unbelievable suffering, that attending school is the least of a child’s worries.

A girl should be able to study in a safe, peaceful environment; however life in most homes is harsh and cramped. Families have many children; noisy toddlers are a constant burden on their older sisters.

Mothers do not allow their girls to study until housework and other chores such as collecting water are done, once these are attended to, girls have very little time or energy for homework.

Poverty is the reason why many girls in developing countries cannot go to school. They marry early, work in the fields or as domestic laborers in order to help their families put food on the table.

The solution starts with a 12-year-old girl. Don’t take her out of school when she’s old enough to bring in a dowry, provide an incentive for her family (i.e. a cow, a goat or plough), keep her there through secondary school and then connect her to a decent job.

When I presented this information to The CORONA charity group, Riyadh chapter, it’s members voted overwhelmingly to allocate a substantial part of funds raised in 2012 to the girl effect.

We all have a social responsibility to provide an incentive to poor families to send their girls to school please visit www.girleffect.org or www.globalgiving.org.
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