Monday, July 31, 2006


I would like to acknowledge the philanthropic contribution of Fuad Musa. After my speech at 2006 Badr Conference Fuad approached me and on behalf of his company, FuFu Products, he donated 40 beautiful mugs with the simple condition that all the proceeds go to the orphans and vulnerable children I work with in Ethiopia. Due to his altruism and the compassion of the Ethiopian Muslim community, I was able to raise enough funds to support two of the kids in Project FACE for a year.

The children I work with through Project FACE are kids who have lost one or both of their parents to HIV/AIDS, children who are engaged in child labor, children who have inherited a life of poverty, children with limited opportunities for the future. Fuad’s support will allow me to help these children secure their most basic needs: food, clothing and shelter.

Fuad and those who purchased the mugs are an inspiration and exemplify the generosity needed to affect change in the lives of some of the Ethiopia’s most vulnerable children.

Please accept my sincere gratitude,
Nasir Al-Amin

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I would like to give my sincere appreciation to the First Hijrah Foundation (FHF) for affording me the opportunity to speak about the plight of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) to the Ethiopian Muslim communities of North American and Canada that convened in Vienna, Virginia for the 2006 Badr Conference. I hope that I was able to convey the realities of vulnerable children and inspire the community into action!

Nasir Al-Amin

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Yemeni children smuggled to Saudi

VIA: Middle East Online

Poverty-stricken parents encourage trafficking of their children from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to work as beggars.
By Christian Chaise - SANAA
Misery in Yemen continues to encourage child trafficking into Saudi Arabia, with widespread cases of parents paying smugglers to take on their offspring to work as beggars on the streets of the oil-rich neighbour. Thousands of children, as young as seven and including girls, continue to be entrusted by their parents to traffickers who help the youngsters cross the desert borders illegally into Saudi Arabia, UN officials said. The children, who mostly come from large and poor families, sweat to earn money through small, menial jobs or most often by begging on the streets. Thousands of them are regularly caught by Saudi police and sent back home.
Trafficking mostly feeds on extreme poverty in northern Yemen, particularly in the province of Hajjar which is close to the Saudi border.

"Now families are paying smugglers to take their children to Saudi Arabia," Ramesh M. Shrestha, a representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said. "We've heard of agreements between traffickers and parents with government officials as witnesses to make sure the traffickers will pay," he said. He said "each kid is sending 200 to 500 dollars to their family each month," in a country where annual revenues per capita are just a bit more than 500 dollars. The alarming situation has prompted UNICEF and the Yemeni ministry of social affairs to organise the country's first conference on the subject in Sanaa in January. It was the first time that Yemeni authorities officially admitted the problem, most probably because it constituted negative publicity for the country.

Prime Minister Abdel Kader Bajammal however still insists that trafficking of children - words that authorities do not like to use to refer to the problem - involved only "cases, not (a) big quantity." Shrestha also said that the situation was even more complicated by the fact that many children were also illegally brought into Saudi Arabia from Yemen by their own parents.
In the first quarter of 2004, more than 150,000 Yemenis, including 9,815 children, were expelled from Saudi Arabia. The number of those who were victims of trafficking however is not known. Most of the Yemeni children smuggled into Saudi Arabia were boys aged between 10 and 16, said Shrestha.

The Yemeni Centre for Social and Labour Studies said in a study that "the child trafficking problem is one which, though it did not originate at that specific time and might be very old, became significant as a result of the Gulf crisis (war) of 1990-91." "Due to the opposition of the Yemeni government to the Saudi cooperation with America and the allies against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia repatriated many Yemeni migrant workers and since then, there has been greater difficulty in legally obtaining employment in Saudi Arabia," it said.

Shrestha said that another main hurdle obstructing efforts to curb the problem is that "in Yemeni criminal law, there is no mention of trafficking of human beings. So it is not legal or illegal." "Even when traffickers are caught, they are released, because it is not illegal," he said, calling for legal amendments. Shrestha said that another main problem that encourages the trafficking of children is the miserable state of the educational system. School may be mandatory in Yemen, but only 80 percent of children actually enroll. With half of the 20 million population under 18 years old, Yemen only has 13,000 schools, among them 800 for girls.
"I am really not so sure what is feasible in the short term and in the long term," added Shrestha.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More than 600 children die every day

VIA: CNN World

Report: Congolese children bear brunt of war LONDON, England (AP) -- More than 600 children die every day in war-ravaged Congo and even more are displaced, sexually abused and swept up into the camps of combatant groups, according to a UNICEF report released Monday.
Martin Bell, a former war correspondent and UNICEF ambassador, wrote "Child Alert: Democratic Republic of Congo." The report was released less than a week before the country's elections, the first democratic ballot in more than 40 years.
"It is easy to be overwhelmed by what has happened in DRC [Congo] because of the sheer scale of it," Bell said. "But we owe it to the children to give them the future they deserve. ... These elections may be the opportunity of their lifetime." The United Nations is helping organize the July 30 vote, the biggest elections the world organization has ever undertaken. Its biggest peacekeeping force of 17,600 troops and a recently arrived European Union force of 1,000 soldiers are deployed to maintain calm at 50,000 ballot stations, scattered across a country the size of Western Europe with only a few hundred miles (kilometers) of paved roads.
Thirty-three candidates are running for president and 9,000 for legislative seats, but many are asking to have the campaign suspended until charges of campaign cheating, backed by several human rights groups, are investigated.
Bell presented the report in central London with Tony Bloomberg, UNICEF representative for Congo, at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.
The two discussed bolstering support for education and schools, which UNICEF sees as a path to reintegrate child soldiers and molestation victims as young as 6 back into a stable community.
"The role of the school here is very important -- a normalized school environment not only helps the child in terms of trauma, but it also gives them a tool for the future," Bloomberg said.
"It gives them hope."
UNICEF estimates Congolese rape and sexual assault victims number in the hundreds of thousands -- epidemic proportions because of combatant groups deploying sexual violence as a weapon of war.
"They [children] are caught up in war as refugees and internally displaced people: Constant migration robs them of schooling, health care and the chance for a normal life," the report says. "And they are caught up in combat as soldiers and camp followers."
Young girls are singled out for sexual crimes, the report states, due to false beliefs that having sex with them will cure HIV/AIDS.
An estimated 1.1 million people now live with the disease in the Congo -- a number UNICEF says will only climb as war, gang rape, genital mutilation and community displacement continue to wrack the country.
The report also states that
more children under the age of 5 die every year in Congo than in either China -- a country with 23 times the population -- or in all the Latin American countries combined.
"Children bear the brunt of conflict, disease and death, but not only as casualties," Bloomberg said. "They are also witnesses to, and sometimes forced participants in, atrocities and crimes that inflict physical and psychological harm."

Images of the Most Vulnerable

Via: CNN

People and vultures compete over scraps in the main garbage dump of Nairobi, Kenya.

There are more than three million people in Kenya infected with HIV/AIDS, and more than two million have died of AIDS-related complications, according to Kenya's National AIDS Control Council.

The people who live in Nairobi's slums often collect plastic bags from the dump and sell them for a few cents.

Fatma prepares food for her husband, Hussein, who is dying of AIDS, while their 11-year-old son Mukhtar watches. Fatma also is infected with AIDS.

There are as many as one million AIDS orphans in Kenya, and grandmothers are often the only ones left to care for the children. The disease has destroyed even indigenous communities deep in the Kenyan countryside -- such as the Masai community shown here.

Children sit in class at the Stara Rescue School in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Of the 470 children in the school, approximately 70 percent are AIDS orphans.

Masai grandmothers struggle to find food for their orphaned grandchildren.

Many AIDS orphans are themselves HIV positive.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

World fails to save Africa's AIDS orphans

Via: CNN

ISIOLA, Kenya (CNN) -- AIDS invaded our consciousness 25 years ago. A whole generation around the world has now grown up knowing only a world with AIDS. We have watched the efforts to find a vaccine, to find drugs to control the disease, to educate people about preventive measures, and to end the stigma of AIDS. There have been many successes in helping adults with the disease, but when it comes to the children, the world has failed dismally.

Millions and millions of AIDS orphans are the devastating legacy of this epidemic. Africans suffer the most. According to the United Nations, there are 12 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and in four short years that number will skyrocket to 18.4 million. That means AIDS orphans will make up 15 to 20 percent of the population in some African countries.
Traveling around the region, we met young children heading entire households, after losing one or both parents. Because the adults are missing, entire economies are collapsing. There's no one left to plant crops, tend livestock or look after the young. And AIDS is killing the children as well.
According to the United Nations, HIV infection is more aggressive in children less than 18 months old than in adults. In the absence of any treatment up to 50 percent of HIV-infected children die by their second birthday. In Africa, less than 5 percent of HIV-positive children who need treatment have access to it. And every day, another 1,800 children are infected with HIV, mostly at birth or from their mother's milk.

In Europe or America, this is almost unheard of because there is effective treatment to stop pregnant mothers from passing on the virus to their newborns. But in Africa, there is little access to this life-saving prenatal therapy. Furthermore, only 10 percent of pregnant women in Africa have access to basic treatment that could half the rate of transmission of HIV to their newborns. "It's another grotesque double standard," said Stephen Lewis, the U.N. AIDS envoy to Africa.

'It's everybody's fault'
Ninety percent of all HIV-positive children under 15 are infected mainly through mother-to-child transmission, according to UNICEF's global figures. Special pediatric AIDS drugs have only been made for children in the last two years.
We asked Dr. Chris Ouma, UNICEF's AIDS specialist in Kenya, why children have gotten such a raw deal.
"I think it's everybody's fault really," he said. "We were slow on the science. We did not speak out for them. Companies did not see the incentive to invest in drugs for children as there's no one to pay. And all this has now resulted in an unacceptable death [rate]."
He added, "I think now as technology brings out superior drugs, things are starting to change. It's 10 years too late, but at least something is being done now."
Indeed Kenya is one of the countries that has made a significant dent in AIDS prevalence and treatment. But there still is much more to do. There are currently one million AIDS orphans in Kenya alone. UNICEF reports that around the world, there are about 2.3 million children under 15 living with HIV. Two million of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, or 90 percent of the world's HIV-infected children.

Grandmothers increasingly raising orphans
Our journey took us from Isiola and the rural tribes in northern Kenya to Kibera just outside Nairobi. Kibera is the world's largest slum, where 50,000 AIDS orphans scratch out a living.
There we came across the amazing phenomenon of African grandmothers -- a whole generation of elderly women now looking after their grandchildren, after the mothers and fathers died of AIDS. Without them, these vulnerable children would be dead, or turn to a young life of crime and prostitution.
In Isiola, where Kenya's paved road to Ethiopia and Somalia ends, the incidence of HIV is almost double the national average, and it's due to the convergence of truck routes and tribal traditions. The drought and famine that recently hit this part of Kenya exacerbates the AIDS and health crises. Tribesmen told us the appalling story of sending their wives out for prostitution, in order to afford food. But along with the food, they bring AIDS back to their tribe and their village.

Motor bikes get drugs to remote areas
However, all is not bleak. In the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro on Masai tribal lands, a team of local doctors and community health workers is bringing 21st century medical care to rural Africa. American philanthropist Anne Lurie, who is also a pediatric nurse, has planned and paid for the AID Village Clinic here, along with its sophisticated medical equipment and highly trained Kenyan doctors. For the Masai villagers, all the treatment is free.

What makes this clinic truly remarkable, though, is the outreach. Doctors don't just sit and wait for patients, they go out and find them, treat them, and make regular follow-up calls.
The outreach project is the brainchild of two British dirt bikers, Barry and Andrea Coleman, who realized that a transport network was the missing link. "The entire continent of Africa is more or less grounded when it comes to health outreach. Which is a pretty big problem when you think of the effort that goes into sending drugs, sending health care expertise and it all doesn't reach the people who need it," said Barry Coleman. Without any government help, they've sent hundreds of motor bikes to Africa's wildest places with money they've raised at bike rallies in England. They have also trained the local health workers how to drive and maintain them.
It seems to be making a difference in Africa's medical catastrophe. The Colemans have similar and bigger bike outreach projects in Gambia and Zimbabwe, and doctors there tell them that they are having an effect on reducing the disease and illnesses by getting patients much-needed medicine. He said more such programs are urgently needed: "People are just dying for absolutely no reason at all."

He told us that the project we saw in the Masai country could be replicated around Africa. With so much money being poured into AIDS research and government coffers, perhaps one solution is to seek the simple effective approach. It does work. In the heart of rural Africa, we saw one pregnant mother infected with HIV who got the right prenatal drugs and did not pass on the virus to her son. One life saved, one child saved from becoming another African AIDS orphan.

From child slave to film director

Via: The Age

Andra Jackson
July 10, 2006
THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD internationally acclaimed children's film director Sahiful Mondal draws on his early experience of slave labour in making his latest film, The Inner Eye.
Sahiful is one of more than 500 children rescued from child labour by Swapan Mukherjee, founder of Muktaneer (meaning Open Sky), a home for destitute children in Kolkata. In Melbourne to speak to schoolchildren, the young director described The Inner Eye as a parable about indifference and cruelty."When we were hungry, the masters were eating, but they had not the eyes to see that we were hungry," said Sahiful, who was put into servitude at the age of four.

His father had died and his destitute mother, two sisters and a brother had ended up living in a roadside hut made of bamboo, plastic and leaves.
He worked nine hours, seven days a week as a dishwasher in a household where he was beaten for breaking a glass. He was "paid" a bowl of stale rice a day, which he shared with his mother.He also did back-breaking work crushing mud with a brick for which he earned the equivalent of 20 cents a day.His last job was goat herding, for which he earned two portions of stale rice a day.

"One day I couldn't find a goat and I came back and told my master and they didn't give me and my mother food for two days and I was beaten," he said.
He was seven when taken into Muktaneer. There he received four meals a day, slept in a bed and was allowed to play for the first time.

Sahiful is one of 40 boys who live at Muktaneer, the house Mr Mukherjee set up during the devastating floods of 1978 that left many homeless. Some of the children had worked as slaves, while others had been kidnapped and sold.
Mr Mukherjee is the secretary of the Centre for Communication and Development in Kolkata, which runs Muktaneer, its own school and physiotherapy centre and 65 schools in West Bengal villages.

He is in Australia to establish links with educational and medical organisations and appeal for more volunteer teachers, after the Melbourne-based Friends of Kolkata attracted 18 volunteers. It is also helping build a new English-medium school and a girls school.Sahiful's fascination with Mr Mukherjee's video camera led to the idea of boys making their own films.

His first effort, I Am — about the boys' dreams — won the Grand Prize at the 2004 International Children's Film Festival in Athens. His second film, We Are, won the festival's 2005 Grand Prize. This year, he attended the festival in Cyprus, where The Inner Eye won second prize.The bright-eyed youngster's ambition is to make films in the tradition of the great, socially insightful Indian film director Satyajit Ray to "help people".

Friday, July 14, 2006

Understanding Child Labor, Patterns, Types, and Causes

The following is a summary of the article: Understanding Child Labor, Patterns, Types, and Causes
Via: eJournal USA

by: Nasir Al-Amin
In the article Understanding Child Labor, Patterns, Types and Causes, by Eric Edmonds, child labor is viewed as a facet of poverty, in which emphasis is placed on addressing a family’s inability to secure their most basic needs. This financial constraint leads destitute parents to face the “difficult decision” to either engage their children in the informal labor market or to invest in their children’s future by sending them to school. The economic contribution of children is vital to poor families living standards and their ability to cope with extreme poverty. However, a family’s decision to engage their children in child labor is not exclusively driven by a family’s impoverished state.

Furthermore, during this decision-making process, parents must also asses the value of their child’s time against the opportunities afforded the child. Parents will not opt to forego their child’s economic contribution if the alternatives to child labor are not attractive enough. Another influential factor is a families ability to access credit. Households that are able to borrow against future earnings are able to allocate these funds to schooling expenses such as textbooks, uniforms and school supplies.

The later section of this article looks at polices aimed at eliminating child labor. Vital to effective policy is that it eliminates the need for child labor, rather than simply eliminating employment options for children. Interventions that have been effective are programs that pay children a stipend for attending school. Oportunidades, one such program operating in Mexico, has assisted five million families. Essential to Oportunidades effectiveness is its ability to mitigate the impoverished family’s need for their child’s financial contribution.

Child labor is pervasive and destructive to children’s health and development, as well as their ability to break the generational transmission of poverty. Thus efforts to address their plight must be grounded in a sound understanding of the various facets of child labor and seek to redress the poverty and environmental factors that cultivate child labor.