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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? Philippines bans child marriage

Plus, new marine reserves from Portugal and Ecuador, how to sponsor an Afghan refugee, and more

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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This month the Philippines banned child marriage, outlawing both marriages and unofficial unions between an adult and a child as well as between children. While the country’s laws have set the minimum age of marriage as 18 since 1988, this change ends the exception for Muslim children. Until now, Muslim girls were allowed to marry as soon as they reached puberty, as long as they were at least 12, and Muslim boys at age 15. 

“The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building and shall therefore protect and promote their empowerment,” the law reads. “This entails the abolition of the unequal structures and practices that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.” It also calls for sex education curriculum to teach about child marriage in schools, and directs the start of a federal information and prevention campaign. 

Child marriage affects large numbers of Filipino girls. In the latest data available, from 2017, 17% of Filipino girls married before their 18th birthday, bringing the Philippines into the top 10 countries with child brides in terms of absolute numbers, according to Girls Not Brides, an advocacy network for ending child marriage. That’s over 800,000 Filipino women today who were married before 18. This is an especially concerning figure given that the Philippines is one of the only two countries—the Vatican being the other—where divorce is still illegal. That, too, however, may change soon, with a bill that would legalize divorce currently moving through the Filipino government. These legal updates will improve the fortunes of many Filipino women and girls.

Ending child marriage is one of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. While it’s unlikely the target will be met by then, worldwide, child marriage is on the decline, and laws like the one the Philippines just passed are a critical part of that movement. According to UNICEF, “during the past decade, the proportion of young women who were married as children decreased by 15 per cent, from 1 in 4 (25%) to approximately 1 in 5 (21%). The new figures mean that 25 million child marriages have been averted in the past ten years.” 

In South Asia, progress has been especially pronounced. “A girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped by more than a third, from nearly 50 per cent to 30 per cent,” says UNICEF. And in West and Central Africa, where child marriage is most prevalent, countries like Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and others have made significant headway, more than halving child marriage rates every year.

Data showing the annual rate of reduction in child marriage in Ghana and other West and Central African countries from UNICEF’s “Ending child marriage: A profile of progress in Ghana.”

As for the United States, this Newsweek headline says it all: “Philippines Bans Child Marriage While 44 US States Allow It.” New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are the only states where child marriage is outlawed without any exceptions—for example, parental consent. Wondering about another country? You can see the status of each country’s laws on this map by toggling “legal age of marriage” in the lower left hand corner. (Europe’s shining stars are Germany, Sweden, and Finland.)

One last piece of news in the realm of women’s advancements. Brazil’s biggest retailer is doing the most to help their female employees escape abusive relationships, intervening for almost 700 of them in the past four years. From acting as a guarantor on a new apartment rental contract to providing legal support and therapy, “it’s an extraordinary level of involvement from a corporate entity in a matter most companies view as too complex and legally dicey to intervene in,” writes MaryLou Costa for Reasons to Be Cheerful. We have to ask: if they can do it, why can’t others?

Covid quick hits
The crystal ball we consulted last week was correct. Omicron cases are dropping. 

New confirmed cases of Covid-19 in US states as of January 15, 2022 from the Financial Times’ Covid tracker.

The Biden administration has unveiled the website where you can order four free Covid-19 tests per address, and while we would have preferred this to have been put together much earlier, that’s no reason not to take advantage of it. Go order some tests, y’all. Concerned over the trustworthiness of rapid tests in the first place? Check out this explainer in Slate by a mathematician of how accurate rapid tests really are. Spoiler: if you get a positive result, sorry, honey, but you better listen to it.

Moderna expects a Covid-cum-flu vaccine combo in two years, and COVAX, the global vaccination initiative, delivered its one billionth dose last weekend.

Who are we going to be on the other side of the pandemic? In China, the trauma of the past two years has yielded an unexpected social change: a new cultural willingness to address mental health issues, from depression to body shaming.

Before we go
Portugal has created Europe’s largest marine reserve, and Ecuador a new one north of the Galapagos islands. Lest we underestimate the importance of protection efforts, a reminder that the seas still hold plenty of surprises, like this one in Antarctica: the largest fish breeding colony ever discovered, featuring the clear-blooded icefish. (They apparently don’t mind getting hot and heavy in the near-freezing waters.) And we loved this list of “ten big wins for farm animals in 2021.” Fur farming? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Alternative protein investments? A warm welcome to you.

Private American citizens can now sponsor Afghan refugees. Vox has put together a guide for how to do it. (The basics are that you’ll need five adults without a criminal record to form a “sponsor circle” and a little over $2,000.) If you sponsor someone, it means that “you’re speeding up the process of resettling Afghans who have already entered the US through what is known as humanitarian ‘parole’ but who are stuck on military bases because the official resettlement infrastructure . . . can’t get everyone settled right away.” Later this year Americans may be able to directly sponsor an Afghan family to enter the US. 

Below in the links section, debt relief is on its way to hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers, sustainability labels are coming to clothes, scientists are gaining ground on potential PTSD treatments, and more.

Anecdotal news distracts,” says Stewart Brand, president of The Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit that fosters long-term thinking. “Statistical news rules.”

Bonus Podcast Episode: The Crypto Dream

What are we to make of the social and financial phenomenon of cryptocurrency? Will it spell the democratization of money free from government control, or is it simply a bubble that is going to pop? The Progress Network founder Zachary Karabell sits down with Wences Casares, a technology entrepreneur and one of the early advocates of Bitcoin, who believes that it will prove to be bigger than the Internet. This recording was first released on January 23rd, 2018. | Listen to the episode

Read an excerpt:

Zachary Karabell (ZK): I’m always curious about this, because a lot of people throw out price points for Bitcoin—how does one assess an eventual price?

Wences Casares (WC): I think that if Bitcoin succeeds it’s going to be worth at least a million dollars per Bitcoin. Because a scenario in which Bitcoin succeeds is a scenario in which Bitcoin becomes the first global and political standard of value. Today, the only political standard of value we have is gold, and it hasn’t been very important financially for at least 100 years. We are using the US dollar and the Euro and Yen to a lesser degree as standards of value. But they’re very political standards of value. So if you were to replace all of that for a truer political standard of value, the value of all gold above ground is about $7 trillion. The value of global money, M1, is around $60 trillion. A million dollars of Bitcoin would be $21 trillion. So more than gold, but less than money. And it’s consistent with what we have seen so far. Now, that would imply about 2 billion people using Bitcoin.

ZK: People also throw out arguments, right? “Here’s why Bitcoin isn’t a currency. There’s not enough transactions. It’s not a good store of value because it’s a volatile.” How do you respond to those complaints or criticisms?

WC: It’s like saying in 1994, “the internet is not going to work because I just waited three minutes for my picture to download.” If you’re looking just at that moment in time, you’re missing the movie and where these things are going. Eventually pictures are going to download faster and eventually you’re even going to be able to see video. Eventually you’re going to be watching home movies on the internet. But this is what makes sense for Bitcoin today. In fact, Bitcoin cannot be a global standard of value and a global standard of settlement if it’s only a couple of hundred billion dollars. Global trade needs a lot more than that. It needs a few trillion dollars. To exaggerate, if we have a currency that only has a hundred dollars worth of that currency, you cannot accommodate a thousand-dollar transaction.

So, for Bitcoin to get to the trillions, it has to go up many, many times from where it is today. And if it has to go up a lot, the only healthy way for it to go up is with a lot of volatility. Imagine if I am right, it’s going to go to a million dollars. Imagine that it went from where it is now to a million dollars. It has to go up 50 times or more. Imagine that it went up 1% every week. First, if the price were stable, the currency is too small. It cannot accommodate global trade. So it needs to grow as people come in. If it’s going to grow in a stable manner, it’s only a matter of time before people are saying, “Hey, this thing is awesome. It goes up every week. We should mortgage our house and put all the money here.”

And one great, great thing about Bitcoin is that, today, most of the money that people have in Bitcoin is money they can afford to lose. I don’t know almost anyone who has an amount of Bitcoin they cannot afford to lose. And that’s not because regulators are brilliant or because people are wise or because the companies do a great job. No, the only reason people are not putting money in Bitcoin they cannot afford to lose is because of volatility. We can thank volatility for that. So from here to a million dollars a coin, the more volatility, the better.

Of course, once you have something that is in the trillions, volatility will also decrease, right? Volatility is like a little boat. If you and I are in a little tiny dinghy, I can close my eyes, and I can tell what you’re doing—you went to the bow, you went to starboard—just because I feel the boat moving. That is the currency of $200 billion. A little flows in and out, and it jumps up and down in price. But if we’re in a cruise ship, I can close my eyes and you can do all you want, jump up and down, go to the bow, go starboard, port, and I have no clue what you’re doing. That’s the currency in the trillions, right? We will get there. But right now, volatility is our friend. I think that one of the riskiest things that could happen to Bitcoin, and one of the most likely ways it could fail, is by people putting an amount of money they cannot afford to lose, collectively. That can easily create a panic that can drive Bitcoin to close to zero. . . . | Finish the conversation

Progress, Please

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Other good stuff in the news

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Social Media on Campus: Advantageous, Addictive, or All of the Above? | Manu Meel | January 27

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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.