Paper Orphans : Adoption or Sale?

November 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

Terre des Hommes and UNICEF came out with the documentary, ‘Paper Orphans’ in  2010. Obviously I’m a bit delayed, but I offer it now because the problems with intercountry adoption (unsurprisingly) still exist.

Before you go talking to friends about ‘child trafficking’ in adoption, however, consider the fact that ‘child trafficking’ requires end-point exploitation (according to the UN Palermo Protocol). Judge for yourself, but at least consider using the term ‘illicit adoption’ instead of ‘child trafficking.’ After all, the name by which we call a crime can have significant impact on the type and quantity of attention it receives, the policies and laws created to combat it, and the effectiveness of interventions designed to serve and protect victims of it.

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Interesting Debate on Poverty

November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s short, scattered and inconclusive (of course), but nonetheless this debate is something to whet your pallet when investigating the multiple causes and solutions for poverty. Watch the debate.

Joined by the former British prime minister Tony Blair, Oby Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian government minister, Vandana Shiva, a scientist and grassroots activist from India and the South African author Moeletsi Mbeki, Zeinab Badawi hosts the BBC World Debate on Poverty from Johannesburg.

Too Young To Wed?

November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Too Young to Wed: Destaye from TooYoungtoWed on Vimeo.

Child marriage is not uncommon throughout Africa, Asia and South America. It is a part of culture and religion, yes, but it’s also a form of gender discrimination.  An estimated 10 million young girls (or 1 out of 7 in developing countries) are married off each year before the age of 18–often to men much older than themselves. These young brides are usually forced to abandon their formal education upon marriage–which, in the long run, is a huge impediment to breaking the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty. This is to say nothing of the physical and psychological violence that many such young girls experience as a result of the perilously unequal balance of power in underage marriages.

In 2010 The Elders (which refers neither to Mormons nor to Lord of the Rings) started Girls Not Brides, which brings together NGOs from all over the world to end child marriage by 2030. As their website notes, child marriage contributes to the congestion of progress toward a whole cadre of Millennium Development Goals. In particular, however, are the goals for child and maternal health :

Neither physically or emotionally ready to give birth, child brides face higher risk of death in childbirth and are particularly vulnerable to pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula. Unable to assert their wishes and negotiate safe sexual relations with their often older husbands, child brides are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than unmarried girls of the same age.

When a girl marries as a child, the health of her children suffers too. The children of child brides are more likely to be born with a low birth weight and are 60% more likely to die in their first year of life than those married to mothers older than 19.

 Many organizations have recently come together to alter the injustice  of child marriage by donating millions to the cause, but it is important to recognize that the existence of child marriage has many causes, and will therefore require many–culturally sensitive–solutions. In some instances children are married for the sake of tradition (virgins are honored in many societies–so the younger the better) or to form family alliances; in other cases it is a mere manifestation of poverty (in communities where girls are given to their husband’s families, marriage proves to be a means by which there is one less mouth to feed in the daughters’s father’s home). Whatever the case, interventions to stop child marriage must be culturally sensitive so as not to deter and exclude the very communities in which they hope to take root.

Other articles on the topic: New York Times, and again

Photoessay by VII

Two Revolutions : What has Egypt’s Transition Meant for Its Women?

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Egypt, social class, religious observance, and the differences between city life and village life lead to enormous divergences of experience among the country’s women. The professional, well-travelled young woman from an upper-middle-class Cairo family and the illiterate country girl from a conservative family seem to inhabit different countries—indeed, different centuries.

Though such a truth can be said of the divide between rich an poor (and even urban and rural poor) in every country, Wendell Steavenson‘s recent New Yorker article is an engaging read with an needed discussion regarding the impact of Egypt’s revolution on women.

[contact me if you need a copy of the article]

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s a bit delayed, but the BBC recently ran an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo, who has released a book entitled ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.’ To complete this book, Boo spent three years in the Mumbai slum of Annawadi, and as the BBC notes, “[her book] reads like a novel, but the characters are real.”

Listening to the interview, one can witness the poetic and insightful realism that Katherine Boo is so acclaimed for. As she expresses the intent of ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers,’ she insists that she was “not looking to write about the poorest and abject, …not looking to make you feel sorry for people. [She wanted] readers to have a connection more blooded and complex than pity or revulsion.” And in this, Boo succeeds. Pity, revulsion and even the patronizing admiration that we so often provide to the poor are all subsided in this book as human biographies emerge–with all of the complexity that they deserve.

That being said, and as impressive as three years in a slum may be to many of us in the West, we cannot assume that such an amount of time would permit anyone (particularly someone who admittedly stood out and apart in Annawadi) to tell a story from the citizens’ perspective. But that’s not all you should be looking for here. Boo is a journalist–an American journalist–and she notes that which strikes her as notable, honest, or worthy of revelation. As will always be the case, she carries biases. But that being said, Boo is a rare breed who skillfully sidesteps biases where possible and beautifully conveys perspectives that we may never have otherwise. Take it at that, and this book will be a fascinating read. To play on my previous post, it will ‘shake the dust.’

I recommend both the book and the interview.

Shake the Dust

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I heard Anis Mogjani years ago and his words still ring in my ears now and again.

When I have had time, and in the times that I will make time to post on Bell Tolling, I hope that it ‘Shakes the Dust’ in its own way.

Suicide and Female Property Rights in India

November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Somewhat recently, BREAD (the Bureau of Research and Economic Analysis of Development, house at Duke University) released a working paper on suicide and female property rates in India. It sheds interesting light on the need to study the effects of our well-meaning interventions and policy changes. I believe we’d all agree that women have the right to own property…But what to do with such unintended effects?

Authors: Siwan Anderson, Garance Genicot

Abstract: This paper studies the impact of female property rights on male and female suicide rates in India. Using state level variation in legal changes to women’s property rights, we show that better property rights for women are associated with a decrease in the difference between female and male suicide rates, but an increase in both male and female suicides. We conjecture that increasing female property rights increased conflict within household and this increased conflict resulted in more suicides among both men and women in India. Using individual level data on domestic violence we find evidence that increased property rights for women did increase the incidence of wife beating in India. We develop a model of intra-household bargaining with asymmetric information and costly conflict to explain these findings.

I’m sure that many of you have heard about the US protestation in the early 90s that lead to a factory abroad being closed for using child laborers– –only to discover months later (via a UNICEF follow-up) that many of the young female workers had since entered prostitution to make ends meet. Or perhaps you’ve heard about PlayPumps (though they’ve since turned themselves around)? Or perhaps you’ve heard of Scared Straight, the juvenile justice intervention that actually increases crime? Or, if you don’t care about the evaluative science, perhaps you care about your tax dollars?

Whatever the case, don’t forget that good intentions are not enough. Question your assumptions, and study them out. If you happen to be involved in an NGO (i.e. non-profit), ensure that they join the recent band-wagon of evaluative methods. You can’t be sure of what your really doing until you test it. In fact, even then you may not know. But at least you’ve tried.

If you donate to a non-profit or are active in politics, don’t be afraid to let some of your money not go directly “to the cause.” Let it also go to impact evaluation. Demand that it does. Who knows what you’ll find? Perhaps something to put even more money into. Perhaps something to put nothing into.


Chalmers, I, (2003). Trying to do more good than harm in policy and practice: the role of rigorous, transparent, up-to-date evaluations. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 589, Sept, 22-40.

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