» Archive for: September, 2012

Global Literacy Data

Category: Uncategorized

27 Sep 2012

Posted by Roy Huijsmans

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics released new data on literacy rates for adults and youth across the globe. The data depict positive trends with basic literacy levels increasing among both the adult and youth population. Still, gender gaps remain. For example, in 2010 87% of female youth possessed basic literacy skills against 92% of male youth. Moreover, of the global illiterate population of 15 years and older two-thirds are female.

Next to gender differences, literacy data are also plotted by GDP per capita. This shows a general corelation between literacy and GDP p/c levels. However, outlyers show that GDP p/c does by no means determine literacy levels (and vice versa). For example, Angola’s GDP p/c is about 15 times higher than Burundi’s GDP, yet it has a lower youth literacy rate (73.10% vs. 77.6%).

The UIS pages also shed an interesting light on the production of literacy data. The question ‘can you read and write’ is commonly used in survey and census research and often forms the basis for literacy data. The UNESCO’s Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme (LAMP) is designed to produce more robust and comparable literacy data. However, dilemmas remain. For example, level 1 in LAMP means that ‘the individual has very poor skills and may, for example, be unable to determine the correct dose of medicine to give a child from the label on a package’. Yet, how is this measured in contexts in which labels are frequently written in foreign languages? Also, should one strive for globally uniform questions (for sake of comparable data) or contextually relevant questions? Also, is it literacy in the national language that determines the national literacy level (e.g. Lao PDR), or is literacy in other language also taken into account (e.g. Namibia). And if the latter, which languages are included, and which not?



posted by Roy Huijsmans

Since 2005 the Dutch organisation ‘KidsRights‘ has awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize to ‘an exceptional child, whose courageous or otherwise remarkable acts and thoughts have made a difference in countering problems, which affect children around the world’.

Yesterday, the 2012 prize was awarded to Kesz Valdez (go HERE for a short clip about Kesz), a 13 year old Pinoy boy from the Philippines for his efforts to improve the lives of street children. Kesz was one of three nominees, the other two were Amina from Ghana (girls’ rights to education) and Anwara from India (anti girls’ trafficking), and he is the second Asian child to be awarded this prize following Ohm Prakash Gurjar in 2006 (from India, and also a young man). The three nominees were selected from a total of 97 entries from 43 different countries. The selection process was done by an ‘expert team’ consisting of European adult ‘experts’ primarily and the prize was awarded in the Dutch city of the Hague.

KidsRights seeks to associate the International Children’s Peace Prize initiave with the Nobel Peace Prize (another northern rooted initiave). For example, the initiative was launched in 2005 in Rome at the Nobel Peace Laureates’ summit and each year it has been a Nobel Peace Laureate handing over the prize.  This year, it was the patron of KidsRights, Desmond Tutu and also a Nobel Prize Laureate handing over the prize. This construction of global legitimacy and this approach to putting children’s issues (e.g. streetchildren) on global agendas by singling out individual and often particular efforts is, no doubt, done with the best of intentions yet it also raises some questions.

The neutrality implied by the term ‘expert committee’ glosses over the fact that children’s rights are political. Hence, there are important differences of opinion about the interpretation and promotion of children’s rights, whilst for others the very idea of a separate set of rights for children, or its particular conceptualisation in the United Nations Convention remains a topic of debate. Furthermore, the actual prize may translate into highly particular children’s rights based interventions. The end of the day, the Euro 100,000 prize money is ‘awarded by KidsRights to a direct aid project (or multiple projects) in the spirit of the young winner’s efforts’. It would thus be of interest to watch closely what sort of ‘street children project’ will benefit from this prize and what sort of interventions are deemed not to be in this particular spirit.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

Following an earlier post on ‘child migration‘, this post draws attention to an excellent research paper by Véronique Hertrich, Marie Lesclingand and Mélanie Jacquemin entitled Girls’ Labour Migration in Rural Mali (106 pages).

The paper makes a novel contribution to the literature on girls’ migration by:

*combining quantitative and longitudinal material with a thick description of the context and rich qualitative data;

*analysing girls’ migration in relation to some other key events such as fosterage earlier in life and marriage (and also divorce);

*looking at ‘non-migration’ in a context in which becoming a migrant before turning 18 forms the majority experience;

*by paying close attention to elements of both continuity and change in relation to girls’ migration.

One of the interesting findings emerging from the research is that women who had spent more than two years of their adolescent life in labour migration showed lower levels of divorce in the first five years of marriage than those who had not been involved in labour migration, or had done so for a brief period only (1/5 vs 1/3 divorce rate).

Full reference:

Hertrich, V., M. Lesclingand and M. Jacquemin (2012). ‘Girls’ Labour Migration in rural Mali: Patterns trends and influence on marriage’. Working Paper prepared for the Population Council (New York), project: ‘Adolescent Girls’ Migration’. Paris: Institute National d’Etudes Démographiques (INED).


posted by Roy Huijsmans

The recently elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has endorsed a new health insurance scheme for children below school age. The scheme covers all children from birth through to school age (7 years). The costs are 8 Egyptian pounds (just over 1 Euro) per child per year to be paid by the parents or caretakers and the Egyptian government contributes another 12 Egyptian pounds to the scheme for each child covered.

Whilst the general idea of a health insurance scheme covering the very young is fine and the cost appear reasonable, this new scheme also raises a number of questions. Is a contribution in the form of a (flat) fee for each child the most desirable way of financing a public health insurance system? Would there still be out-of-pocket expenses even if one has a health insurance? Is children’s health care actually improved by addressing the question of expenses, or, are concerns about quality of services and treatment more pressing? What happens to children who have turned 7 and don’t enter school and thereby don’t enroll in a student health insurance scheme, yet, are forced out of the 0-6 health insurance scheme?


The excellent Geography Department at Durham University (UK) has an opening for a post-doctoral position in a European Research Council funded project on:

‘the experience and meaning of citizenship for youth in three countries that have experienced division and conflict: South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Lebanon. The project examines the efforts of international organisations, civil society organisations and states to foster citizenship amongst youth. The project’s critical intervention is in extending the analysis of these efforts to consider the ways in which youth interpret, experience, challenge, and potentially remake citizenship. The project examines the constructions of citizenship that travel through networks of states and international and civil society organisations and that are experienced and remade as youth move through their daily lives.’

Sounds interesting? more details HERE (closing date 6 October)

Political Breakdance

Category: popular culture

3 Sep 2012

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Lao PDR may not be known for its B-boying scene (or ‘breakdancing’). However, the dance group ‘Lao Bang Fai‘ is working hard to change this. Started by a group of local youngsters who were inspired by this global youth culture, Lao Bang Fai is now regularly staging shows across Lao PDR and beyond and exciting crowds wherever they are.

In the Lao context, ‘culture’ tends to refer to traditional Lao culture, rather than new forms of cultural expression like ‘breakdance’ that have obvious foreign (read US) roots. A main task of the Lao Ministry of Information and Culture is the preservation of ‘Lao culture’ in times of rapid socio-economic change. In this light, it is remarkable that Lao Bang Fai was accepted for official registration under the Ministry.

Lao Bang Fai often works with development organisations, hosting breakdance workshops and shows with and for disadvantaged youth. This development gloss no doubt helps to depoliticise Lao Bang Fai’s culture work. Yet, a closer look at their work shows that Lao Bang Fai breakdance shifts the parameters of Lao culture and does so in subtle, beautiful, yet deeply provocative ways.

Its very name and logo (see above) are already deeply hybrid. ‘Bangfai’ means rocket in Lao and in the Lao cultural field this is associated with ‘boun bangfai’ (rocket festival) a Lao folk (fertility) festival celebrated at the start of the rainy season.  With the dragon (or ‘naga’) in its logo, Lao Bangfai incorporates yet another element of traditional Lao folk culture. Furthermore, in this clip key symbols of the official version of Lao national culture, like Patouxay, That Luang and Buddhist temples feature as platforms for modern youth culture. A yet more explicit engagement with highly politicised elements of Lao culture was demonstrated in a recent presentation by Lao Bang Fai representatives at the 3rd International Conference on Children, Young People and Families at the National University of Singapore. Here, a clip was shown of a show that Lao Bang Fai had performed with disabled youth in neighbouring Cambodia (through Handicap International). The main female dancer wore a royal crown and a beautiful silk skirt (sin) and performed traditional royal dance which was beautifully juxtaposed with breakdance. In a country where a communist party has been in power since the socialist revolution of 1975 and where the royal family was removed from the scene soon after such expressions of cultural hybridity are no light matter. Whilst scholars have followed the re-embracing of some elements of Lao royalty by the Lao state with keen interests (see for example here), the way young people through modern youth culture shift the parameters of Lao culture (including through the incorporation and adaptation of elements of royal arts) has received much less attention.

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