New York based Derry nun Sr. Deirdre Mullan: ‘The unbelievable misery of children and the power of an education’

As the world continues to grapple with the Covid pandemic, which has wrecked havoc on our lives, and while technology has been used to bridge the gap between classrooms, visits to loved ones and watching funerals of those who have died, the digital divide is both real and challenging. The dark side of technology is also coming to the fore causing untold misery to children!

By Sr. Deirdre Mullan
Saturday, 29th May 2021, 9:56 am
Children in new uniforms paid for by local children.
Children in new uniforms paid for by local children.

Many charities are struggling as the impact of Covid has interrupted usual fundraising activities. Donors are rightfully making careful choices on who can be supported as people struggle to help our more vulnerable brothers and sisters.

Being able to move help from A to B is without doubt the best way to ensure that those who most needed aid, get it as quickly as possible.

Amidst the uncertainty of this our time, the vulnerable are being adversely affected by the fact that most people are just trying to keep safe and so our eyes are not always on what is happening elsewhere. One group that is particularly at risk is young girls, some as young as one-years old!

For example, in the past month, there has been deliberate targeting of schools attended by young women. Dozens of girls were buried recently at a desolate hilltop cemetery in Kabul; a day after their secondary school was targeted making it the bloodiest attack in Afghanistan in over a year. And despite this, the surviving students are determined to return to school.

Since the 2012, shooting of Malala Yousafzai, which made world headlines because she dared to promote the right of girls to attend school, there has been a deliberate targeting of Girls’ Education worldwide.

In Nigeria, boarding schools attended by girls have been targeted again and again. Because the eyes of the world have been averted due to the global pandemic, the insurgents have become emboldened.

From traffickers, to water carriers, to early childhood marriages, to inappropriate intimate pictures of baby girls being sold on the dark web, the situation is dire.

Sister Deirdre Mullan.

I first became aware of the severity of the situation and the plight of the girl child when I attended a conference many years ago. That conference highlighted for me, the importance of girls getting even a basic education.

The speaker was Roshni Unavar from India, who told a personal story of how as a seven-year-old girl, she was trafficked and sold in Bangkok for $250, to provide sexual services for a European businessman, with young daughters of his own!

When the little girl became very frightened and refused to do what he wanted, he beat her up and left her for dead. Her story is one of many and begs the question of all of us – What can we do?

Educating a girl is one of the most powerful and effective ways to address global inequality, harmful practices, and early childhood marriages. It is the key to addressing and eventually ending poverty.

When a girl is provided with even a basic education, research has shown that she can develop the skills needed to negotiate key life decisions.

When a girl has the opportunity of a secondary education, this leads to smaller families, lower HIV infections and higher wages.

Educated women are more likely to educate their own children, thus ending the cycle of illiteracy in one generation!

A recent UNICEF report estimates that 150 million children have no access to basic education and about two thirds of these are girls.

So often one hears the comment – “What Can I do as this problem is so overwhelming”. While this comment is true, perhaps we might think about what Oscar Romero said: “We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well.”

What you can do:

1. Watch the YouTube film, The Clock is Ticking.

2. Support ARISE, the Anti- Trafficking and Human Slavery organization based in London who does sterling work with victim’s

*Sister Deirdre Mullan from Derry has worked at the UN and UNICEF for nearly 18 years.