Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? 68 million child marriages averted

Steep declines in South Asia have pushed progress along.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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68 million child marriages averted

“Child marriage in decline—but will take 300 years to eliminate.” “Child marriage rate falling too slowly.” Headlines about the recently released United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report on child marriage borderlined on the dour.

There is plenty to be dour about. In the future, it’s likely sub-Saharan Africa will have more child brides as populations there increase without strong economic development. It’s forecasted that the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted progress on reducing child marriage rates, although data is not yet available. Progress has stagnated in some regions. And the “too slowly” comment is in regard to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted in 2015. Ending child marriage by 2030—an ambitious goal—was one of them, and it’s highly unlikely to be met. 

The basic finding of the report, though, is positive. Child marriage is on the decline, particularly in South Asia, where almost half of child brides live. Globally, an estimated 68 million child marriages were averted in the past 25 years.

An estimated 68 million child marriages have been averted globally over the past 25 years, thanks to declines in the practice. “Today, one in five young women aged 20 to 24 years were married as children,” UNICEF reports, “versus nearly one in four 10 years ago.”

In the last decade, the likelihood of a girl from South Asia marrying in childhood has dropped from 46 to 26 percent. Of the area’s countries, Sri Lanka and Bhutan have the same child marriage rates of 25 years ago. But Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have all registered substantial declines, and Maldives is close to eliminating child marriage entirely. Maldives didn’t start from an already low rate, either. Twenty-five years ago, the prevalence rate of child marriage there was over 50 percent. Now it’s two percent.

If we’re talking sheer numbers, though, the leader of the group is India. Because of its huge population, India alone accounts for one-third of the world’s child brides, says the report. Prevalence rates there have dropped as well, from 74 percent in 1970 to 23 percent in 2020.

The three dotted lines represent future child marriage declines in India if (starting from the top): progress of the past 25 years continues, progress of the past 10 years continues, progress of the past 10 years doubles.

This is why trends like the ones I mentioned last week, that India is urbanizing and becoming richer, are so exciting. These trends have many ripple effects—child brides in India (and other countries) are more likely to live in poor households, have less education, and reside in rural areas. Around the world, where there has been economic development, poverty reduction, and access to employment and education, so too have there been fewer girls getting married. Indeed, as the report shows, in some places child marriage rates have increased recently among the poorest. A bit simplistically: it is good on multiple levels when people have more money.

As always, a lot remains to be done. There are challenges ahead, and in many ways it makes sense to keep emphasizing those in the media coverage, as many outlets have. The organizations that help make all this progress need funding, after all! 

But they—and we—might need a little cheerleading, too. While writing this I was reminded of a conversation I had with an acquaintance who works on UNICEF child poverty campaigns. She was stunned when I told her that poverty globally is on the decline, and asked me to send her some data. She told me it would be really helpful to know that what she does actually makes a difference. So this summary is offered in that spirit.

Quick hits

To bolster the point our collaboration with Warp News on the sixth mass extinction made: humans care a lot about saving animals. So much so that we’re trying to save koalas from chlamydia

Chimpanzees talk to each other, kinda. Specifically, about snakes.

The case for climate optimism. And, with Americans’ trust in media and the government near record lows, what can be done to repair some of the faith that has been lost? Writer Katherine Brodsky has some ideas.

Below in the links section, swimming in the Seine, brain surgery in a fetus, Frankfurt to Dubai in under two hours, and more.

Following decades of a growing gap between the top and bottom earners, US income inequality has begun to lessen. “Incomes of people in the bottom half of income distribution grew by 4.5 percent in the last calendar year,” TIME reports, “much faster than the 1.2 percent average income growth of all Americans.”

Op-ed: The Trust Factor

With trust in the media and government near record lows, what can be done to repair some of the faith that has been lost? | Read more 

Demon Drugs and Moral Panics | S4 E13

Is drug use always harmful? How does empathy play a role in addiction? Could it be more beneficial to approach drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal one? In this episode, we speak with Maia Szalavitz, an award-winning journalist and author, about the potential benefits of harm reduction for addiction treatment and addressing larger societal issues. Plus, we take a look at smart guns and serial killers. | Listen to the episode

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You can tap your fingers so that the world you live through the screen becomes a piece of art.

Why we picked it: I deleted my Twitter account in 2014 and have regretted it exactly zero times since. Last month, though, when Substack introduced its new Twitter-like Notes feature, I decided to give it a try. Predictably, I was on the fence about it. But then, via an exchange on Notes, I found this great essay, which has helped me to see the internet (and social media) as a practice. It has also inspired me to “block and prune” some of the more negative online reading habits from my life. Join me? —Brian Leli

Until Next Time

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.