October 24th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

From our NextGens on the ground in Honduras

NextGen Marlon Bishop reports back from Honduras: “Day 2 and already this is an amazing and fruitful trip. My partners are brilliant, brave, and easy-going, and Radio Progreso is a truly remarkable operation, doing so much with few resources.”

NextGen Marlon Bishop and partner Iolany Perez from Radio Progreso in El Progreso Honduras.

NextGen Marlon Bishop and partner Iolany Perez from Radio Progreso in El Progreso Honduras.









October 20th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Health Effects of Mercury on Ghana’s Small Scale Miners

Health Effects of Mercury on Ghana’s Small Scale Miners

This story originally appeared in the Daily Guide.

BY Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

Mercury used to burn the gold

“This is the box we use; we put the gold inside and add some chemicals. It gets rid of the impurities inside the gold and gives you the pure gold,” says 27-year-old Abu Quarm, a worker at a small gold mine in Prestea.

Mercury is the chemical used by Quarm and other small scale gold miners in extracting the gold small miners sell to prospective buyers who intend trade the precious mineral to gold companies.

Mercury may be an efficient chemical in the gold mining process but it is also lethal, according to Michael Ali, principal programmes officer of the mining department of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

He says the effect of mercury is long-term.

“It has to bio-accumulate for a longer time before you can get the symptoms of contamination and the effect on the human beings.  Research didn’ t reveal instant reaction to mercury but we know it is a slow killer,” Ali says.

The government has not regulated the use of mercury by small scale miners, but Ali claims the EPA is on the ground educating miners on the harmful effects of mercury on their health.

A miner holding gold dust

He says the government has subsidized an alternative method of extracting gold, which is called “mercury retort,” in which miners use mercury without being directly exposed to the chemical.

Moreover, the University of Mines and Technology is conducting research to try and identify alternative ways of extracting gold without using mercury, according to Ali.

Dr. Mohammed Mbenway, medical superintendent in charge of the Prestea government hospital, is one of the few medical officers who have seen the devastating effect of the small-scale mining on the health of the people.

He adds that the mercury is also having a harmful effect on the entire community as it gets into the ecosystem.

Small scale miners handle mercury with their bare hands and they inhale the fumes from the burnt mercury and dust from the crushing machines continuously into their bodies making them prone to mercury poisoning. 

He says most of the miners come complaining of coloured skin itching, insomnia and hypertension all symptoms of mercury poisoning.

Dr. Mbenway however says the hospital which serves over forty communities in addition to Prestea, doesn’t have the equipment to undertake mercury tests or treat mercury poisoning.

“Only emergencies bring them to the hospital when it is near-death. Then they are carried to the hospital,” Dr. Mbenway says.

Dr. Mohammed Mbenway

Quarm says he is aware the burning of mercury in the extraction of gold can be harmful to his health but seems helpless at what alternative means to use.

“This is what we have been using since I came here to do the mining work,” he says. Quarm says the job is risky for workers, including children, who often die from mysterious illnesses. “I have so many friends who have died without knowing what caused their death,” he says. A lot of the dead miners, Quarm says, lost their appetite, became lean, and suffered from severe coughing and numbness. “Recently one of the miners, Francis Andor, a brother of the owner of the mine died suddenly,” he notes.

Most deaths are attributed to superstitious beliefs like witchcraft, says Hannah Korantang, Associate Executive Director of the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), a human rights and environmental mining advocacy organization that works with mining communities to develop the capacity of affected people.

“So there is a whole mystery about why people are dying. It has not been proven scientifically that the mercury is the cause of the deaths in the community,” says Korantang.

EPA has not conducted any studies on the effect of the lethal substance on residents of the mining communities since 2001 when, according to Ali, large concentrations of mercury were found in the sample areas of small mining communities. 

At the time, Ali says those communities were educated about the harmful effects of mercury but not much has been done since then. Quarm - right-  with one of the young miners

Dr. Mbenway says the government should strengthen the education of small scale miners on the use of substances like mercury in extracting gold.

He also advocates for the legalization of small scale mining which is mostly done illegally so their activities can be monitored and controlled.

“There’s one thing that’s sure: the government cannot stop the small-scale mining because unemployment has skyrocketed,” he says.

Quarm has been living in the small gold mining town in the gold-rich Western Region for almost a decade, working at the mine located on the peripheral of the town.

Miners do not only have to go deep down the surface of the earth to get the gold-specked stones but also have to spend long hours at the extraction point, grinding the stones into powder, mixing it with water, straining it (using their locally manufactured method) to add mercury, and then burning it to get the pure gold.

He explains that the process of removing the precious mineral through their amateur method is tedious.

The water in the mine

“The mercury has been mixed with the gold already. After we burn it, it turns to yellow, and then we add palm oil to shine the gold and make it very yellowish,” Quarm says, as he points to the dusty equipment in the ‘kitchen’.

All of this is done without protective clothing, according to Korantang.

“Because of fear of being robbed, some of them store the gold under their tongues and it has an effect on their health,” she says.

Koranteng believes importers of mercury should indicate what the substance is going to be used for so the authorities in charge can regulate the use of the mercury especially in the mines.

“If they allow people to import quantities of mercury, they should show what they use it for. Why should people have access to mercury in the community? That is my question, and that is the responsibility of government,” she adds.

Maddy Crowell contributed reporting.  This story and pictures was produced in association with Round Earth Media, a nonprofit organization that mentors the next generation of international journalists.   

October 18th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Round Earth Media Weekly, October 15

Here’s something positive!Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 6.04.38 PM

I know, I know, the news has been dreadful. The NBC cameraman with Ebola was – what else? –  a freelancer without sufficient health insurance.  Around the world, freelancers have replaced staff journalists as the source of our most reliable international news and information.

YOU can help help the great freelancers who look to  Round Earth for support — and who we all depend on to know what’s going on in our increasingly interconnected world.

Give to Round Earth Media’s cool new Kickstarter project and your gift will be maximized thanks to a match from a generous donor — turn a $10 donation into $15!

Please support these great young journalists who will bring you stories rich in humanity and place – from Ghana, Mexico and Jordan.
Heartfelt thanks from me and them!

Mary Stucky
Round Earth Media
651.470.1572 (mobile when I’m in U.S.)

Mentoring and supporting the next generation of global journalists, while producing under-reported stories for top-tier media around the world.

October 13th, 2014  |  By Round Earth Media

Our NextGen captures the pain and resilience of Morocco’s “children of the moon”

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 10.26.04 AM


Our NextGen photographer Rachel Woolf captured the pain and resilience of Morocco’s “children of the moon” for the Baltimore Sun’s visual journalism blog the Dark Room. Click here to see the rest! For 800 children in Morocco, damaged or burnt skin is genetic, irreparable, and needs to be replaced. Mohamed-El Kotbi, 17, and Driss Hamouti, 21, live with this tragic condition. Due to a disease called Xeroderma Pigmentosum – which medical professionals generally shorthand to XP – they are prone to blistering and burning of their skin and eyes upon the slightest sun exposure.


October 10th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Please take a look!


I hope everyone will forgive me for this email blast. As you know, I founded and lead Round Earth Media, which supports independent international journalism from under-reported areas of the world and the training of young correspondents.

We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign for reporting projects in Ghana, Jordan and Mexico. Please take a look:
If you can see your way to giving just $1 or more, we certainly would appreciate it. If you’ve already given, thank you! And if you’d be willing to share this with friends or social media, that would really give us a boost.
Here are a few incentives:


September 25th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Round Earth Media Weekly–September 24


September 25th, 2014  |  By Round Earth Media

Love and Witchcraft in Morocco

Love and Witchcraft in Morocco


This story originally appeared in The Riveter magazine. Click HERE to read it there.


article and photos by Ailsa Sachdev

top illustration by Lora Hlavsa

The first time Salma consulted a shawafa, or witch, she went with friends on a lark, solely for entertainment. When the shawafa predicted that she would never get married, an outrageous thought for a Moroccan woman in her twenties, Salma brushed it off.

“At that time, when we left the shawafa, we laughed and we didn’t trust her,” said Salma, who didn’t believe in witchcraft or magic.

Twenty years later, the 42-year-old Salma has never married, and she has visited more than 100 shawafas in an effort to lift what she believes is a curse preventing her from getting married.

In a country where 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, Salma is one of many Moroccans who cannot afford counseling or mental health therapy. Instead, they turn to the mystical, seeking advice from shawafas who say they can tell the future, even though the practice of witchcraft is illegal and considered anti-Islamic in Morocco. This is because the Quran says that nobody can tell the future, except for God.

Some women ask shawafas for luck and wealth for their families. Others want to exorcise a spirit or contact a dead loved one. Most women, however, go to find love, to retain love or to forget the person they love.

In 2012, Colleen Daley, an American studying intercultural communications at the University of Pennsylvania, visited Chefchaouen, a historical Moroccan city, in search of a shawafa.

At the time, she was working for Moroccan Exchange, an organization that brings American students studying in Spain to Morocco. She was taking a group of students from the Syracuse University Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion to observe different health services, both traditional and medicinal, in Morocco.

She wandered along the cobbled streets past the sky-blue walls of the medina, or old city, asking people in her broken Arabic where she could find a shawafa.

“I heard so much about shawafas before, as evil women who do black magic, who girls will go to get a man to fall in love with,” Daley said.

But when she finally found a shawafa, Daley was surprised by how ordinary the woman looked.

“Less than a full mouth of teeth, white cloth tied on her head, pajamas stained with food from cooking, and a light cloth hastily thrown over her head at the sound of male visitors,” Daley wrote in her blog.

Daley did not want her future told, even though it was a mere 20 dirhams, or two dollars. She just sat there, quietly listening as her translator recounted the shawafa’s story about using her gift to heal people and to earn money for her daughters, ever since the death of her husband.

The shawafa “had a real light about her and a real happiness, a kind of aura,” Daley said in an interview with her. “And I’m Christian; I believe in God. I really felt the presence of God in that room at that time.”

Moroccan women turn to shawafas in times of need. Bouchra Saaidi, 32, wanted to forget her cheating ex-boyfriend. She told me her story when we met at a bar in Rabat.

In 2007, Saaidi’s cousin took her to a shawafa after Saaidi admitted to having suicidal thoughts. The shawafa predicted Saaidi’s future by studying the motion of melting lead in water. Eventually, she decided to help Saaidi forget her boyfriend. Saaidi paid the shawafa 600 dirhams, or 70 dollars, hoping that all her worries would go away. The shawafa instructed her to buy trinkets and wear a dress that would allow smoke to flow up the skirt, a practice that, shawafas say, opens up sexual energy. Then the shawafa asked her to tap her ex-boyfriend’s shoulder at noon on Friday. Saaidi was told this action would complete the spell and afterward, she would have no more feelings for her ex-boyfriend.

As the shawafa instructed, Saaidi tapped her ex-boyfriend’s shoulder and ran away before he had the time to react. She then washed herself with water provided by the shawafa. The shawafa also used Kobol, a substance used to attract people and render them in awe of you, to bless Saaidi and to make her the woman everyone looks at when she enters a room. Saaidi then walked the main avenues of Rabat and found a new man that very day.

“One man helps you forget another,” Saaidi said. “That’s the truth of life, for me anyway.”

Though Saaidi believes in shawafas and their abilities, she also admitted that the effects could be purely psychological.

“When you go to a shawafa and she says you’re going to meet a guy in three days, it stays in your head and you keep thinking, ‘Oh I’m going to meet a guy in three days,’” Saaidi said. “It ends up affecting the reality.”

However, placebo effects, like the vitamin pill Airborne, also occur in western medicine and therapy, which makes it almost impossible to deem one better or more effective than the other. How important is the means if the ends are just as, if not more, successful?

In addition, this process can have an impact on a woman’s judgment in a society where there is a lot of pressure to get married. Women who are unable to find a husband resort to spiritual consultation to solve their problems or simply act as an emotional outlet.

 How important are the means if the ends are just as, if not more, successful?

Some people go to shawafas who practice witchcraft “because they do not have money to solve their problems” through therapy, said Ali Chaabani, professor of sociology at University of Mohammed V-Aghdal in Rabat.

A single 50-minute therapy session in Rabat is approximately 300 Dirhams, or 35 dollars, which is cheaper than a lot of options in the US. However, when Saaidi went to the shawafa, it cost about 600 Dirhams or 70 dollars, to talk, have her future told, engage in a spell to forget her ex-boyfriend and eventually find a new man. If you add up the several sessions it can take to solve your problem, it actually costs less, in the long term, to go to a shawafa and fix the problem in one go. For a lot of Moroccan women, it’s a no-brainer: You visit a shawafa, pay less and have your problem solved by supernatural forces in two sessions.

Salma, whose real name is being withheld because she fears social stigma, believes that her lover’s mother, who did not want Salma to marry her son, has put a curse on Salma to prevent her from getting married. Even though shawafas have been unable to help her, Salma continues going to them.

You visit a shawafa, pay less and have your problem solved by supernatural forces in two sessions.

“If I go sad, she tells me some very nice words and I go back and I am a little happy,” Salma said. “It’s like if I go to a psychotherapy session.”

Some women in Rabat visit a marriage well that is hidden in the Oudayas Castle near the beach. Idrissi Saleh, the marriage well keeper, said the water from the well mixed with rose water changes a woman’s luck and helps in the search for a husband. Then, a woman can light a candle for the Djinn, spirits in Muslim legends, which prevent her from getting married. The women leave old underwear behind as a symbolic change in sexual fortune.

The marriage well also has a shrine dedicated to a dead saint, Sidi Abouri. Women use the saint’s tomb as an intermediary through which to ask God to change their luck, despite religious taboos.

Acts like these, including the abandoned underwear, are common occurrences in shrines dealing with fertility issues in Morocco, despite the fact that explicitly leaving something behind as sexual as underwear is often looked  down upon by Morocco’s conservative society. However, since shrines are already a controversial space, these women desperately engage in this act in hopes that it will make their problems go away.

“Even though the saint is dead, it’s like he’s sleeping,” said the keeper’s son, Mohammed. “He solves all problems.”

Religion, however, is controversial for shawafas and shawafa-goers alike. Sunni Islam, the predominant sect of Islam practiced by 99.9% of Muslims in Morocco, a Muslim-majority country, forbids intermediaries between God and people – like shawafas and saints. Moreover, the Quran states that nobody but the prophet Mohammed can view the future, said Dr. Khalid Saqi, associate director of the Islamic School Dar Al Hadith Al Hassina.

“Nobody in the heavens and on earth can tell you about the unseen things except God,” Saqi said.

Under Islamic law, it is illegal to practice witchcraft in Morocco and shawafas can be heavily fined by the government under the charges of sorcery. Still, shawafas are ubiquitous in Moroccan society. Many Moroccans visit them in secret to solve personal issues. This is because some Moroccans are only Muslim by culture and don’t follow the religious laws, Chaabani said.

“A large percentage of the community is illiterate, so they don’t know what Islam says about witchcraft,” Chaabani said.

In fact, 32.9% of Moroccans are illiterate and therefore, religion is taught through word of mouth in some communities.

Despite the illegality of her craft, a 22-year-old shawafa named Miriam said that she didn’t receive trouble from the police and that she even sometimes helps male officers with their personal problems. However, shawafas’ male clients are less frequent and often come to them for assistance with issues like employment and wealth.

Miriam has no choice but to follow her craft because she believes somebody cast a spell on her when she was nine years old. Since then, Djinns have possessed her and forced her to become a practicing shawafa.

Another shawafa named Fatima also suddenly became haunted by Djinns, except she absorbed the spirits by washing her dead aunt’s clothes. I heard about her through a friend of a friend, so I decided to pay her a visit.

In Tiflet, a small town in northwestern Morocco, Fatima fiddles with the beads between her fingertips as she tells the customer her future in a secluded room located in the corner of her house. She wears bright pink pajamas concealed by a flimsy old cloth to connect with the Djinn that haunts her. Everything around her, from the tablecloth to the Islamic tapestry behind her, is green.

There is a teal lace-like fabric hanging over the entrance that you have to lift above your head to get past. Inside, the walls are white like alabaster, but almost everything else has a leafy hue. There are pine green candles and a repugnant henna concoction spread out across a table covered by a harlequin green cover, couches covered in a dim emerald cloth, green glass rose water bottles, a deep olive Islamic tapestry and other green Koranic posters.

According to Fatima, green is the favorite color of the specific Djinns that connect with her. Though witchcraft is prohibited, Fatima says she enjoys helping people. Nevertheless, Fatima and Miriam asked that their real names not be revealed because of social and legal implications of being a shawafa in Morocco.

Later, I was reading through the translator’s notes of my conversation with Fatima. I’d asked her about skeptics, of course, in which she has answered confidently: “I want them to live as I am living and live this daily suffering that I live so they understand I practice that work without my control.”

Ailsa Sachdev spent several months in Morocco on an SIT Study Abroad program and produced this story in association with Round Earth Media, a non-profit organization that mentors the next generation of international journalists. Amal Guenine contributed reporting.

Lora Hlavsa is The Riveter’s resident graphic artist. She’s a graduate of Macalester College, where she majored in geography and art, and currently lives in Minneapolis. You can follow her on Twitter@loramariehlavsa and on Instagram @coloraco

August 19th, 2014  |  By Round Earth Media

These Salvadoran parents detail their sons’ harrowing journey to meet them in the US

August 18, 2014 · 6:15 PM EDT

This story originally appeared on PRI’s The World. Click HERE to hear it.

Credit: Courtesy of José and Ester

José and Ester sent for their two sons, 11-year-old Kevin and 9-year-old José Jr. They were detained in Texas and transferred to a few centers along the southwest before they were sent to a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Miami and then reunited with their parents in Maryland. Their faces aren’t shown to protect their identity.

More than 50,000 underage migrants, mostly from Central America, have been caught trying to cross the US southern border since the fall of 2013.

They face tremendous risks, just getting to that point. Some jump onto a freight train known as “The Beast,” where one wrong move could mean a lost limb — or worse. Some are kidnapped by drug cartels. So why, given all the risks, would any parent put their children through the journey?

Jose and Ester, who asked that their last name be withheld to protect their identity, are just such parents. They have two boys — the oldest is 11, the youngest is 9.

“They’ve been strong,”Ester said, referring to her boys as “my little bugs.” But she has been very worried about them.

“It’s not the same to say ‘Son, I love you’ from far away,” Ester said.


July 21st, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Next Gens Hannah Rehak and William Matsuda on underage marriages in Morocco

This article appeared in the GlobalPost. Read it HERE.
Hannah Rehak July 21, 2014 06:22
The Moroccan legal code forbids girls under age 18 to marry, but exceptions are granted most of the time.

RABAT, Morocco — Salima Dakani has a bruised right hand, two children, and nowhere to sleep tonight.

She is only 19, but she bears the weight of a woman who says she has spent years tortured by a man addicted to drugs and violence, a man chosen for her by parents who believed marriage was the best option for their daughter, an alternative to a life of poverty.

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)


July 21st, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Underage Moroccan girls married off with judges’ consent

This article was published by the Global Post. Read it HERE.

Hannah RehakJuly 21, 2014 06:22

The Moroccan legal code forbids girls under age 18 to marry, but exceptions are granted most of the time.

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

RABAT, Morocco — Salima Dakani has a bruised right hand, two children, and nowhere to sleep tonight.

She is only 19, but she bears the weight of a woman who says she has spent years tortured by a man addicted to drugs and violence, a man chosen for her by parents who believed marriage was the best option for their daughter, an alternative to a life of poverty.

Dakani was married in 2010, at the age of 15. Now, after a four-year marriage to a man she says kept her locked inside for weeks at a time, beating and electrocuting her until she couldn’t move, Dakani has secretly left home with the hope of finding someone who can help her file for divorce.

She is just one of many young girls married under the legal age of consent in Morocco, about twice as many as 10 years ago, according to statements by the Moroccan minister of justice. In 2004, changes to the country’s Family Code, the Moudawana, pushed for egalitarian reforms to outdated laws and set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. But according to Fatima Maghnoui, President of L’Union de l’Action Feminine (UAF), an organization committed to helping young women find shelter, work, and healthcare in Rabat, the changes still fall short.

“The spirit of the Moudawana is the equal treatment of men and women, but there are parts of the text that contradict that philosophy,” Maghnoui said.

She is referring to Article 20 of the Moudawana that states a girl may be married under the age of 18 with the consent of her legal tutor, often her father, and the authorization of a family affairs judge. The girl herself must also consent to be married.

Salima Dakani, age 19.

(William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

Though judges are only supposed to give their authorization as an exception in a “well-substantiated decision,” proposals to marry underage girls are accepted 89 percent of the time, according to a report submitted by the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) to the United Nations.

Sixteen percent of Moroccan women in their early twenties were married under the age of 18, compared to only 2 percent in neighboring Algeria, according to 2010 UNICEF data.

Maghanoui says what’s behind these marriages is the patriarchal mentality of Moroccan judges.

“It is a sort of authority limited to the judge, who makes his decision on behalf of the young girl,” she said. “But…when a young girl comes in, maybe she’s only 14, but she looks heavier, bigger, so the judge gives her his authorization.”

Stephanie Willman Bordat, an expert in Moroccan law and co-founder of Mobilizing for Rights Associates (MRA), a non-profit women’s rights organization, agrees that Article 20 relies heavily on judges’ subjective appraisal.

“The law doesn’t give any guidance of what an exceptional reason would be,” she said, “so there are lots of different reasons why judges are authorizing underage marriages. If she is pregnant, or if she is dating, or seeing some boy, or having sex with him, they are saving family honor and avoiding scandal.”

According to women’s rights advocates, in many cases, judges also grant permission with the idea of saving a girl from poverty.

“When parents come in they explain they have four children, for example, and they want to get rid of their daughter,” said Maghanoui. “They want to get her married, even if she is underage. Imagine a girl who does nothing, who has no professional future, who lives the routine of daily life. What else can she be? Sometimes it’s her who wants to get married, because she doesn’t do anything.”

Still, there are Moroccan judges who resist the pressure from girls and their families.

“I had a private conversation with the judge. He asked regular questions about my age, my health, my family, et cetera,” says Selwa Adil, 20, who was once engaged to a man nine years her senior. “But the marriage registration was turned down and the judge told us to come back the year after.”

Instead of waiting until she came of age, Adil’s family decided to employ a traditional marriage ceremony in Morocco — the reading of the Fatiha, a binding verse in the Quran. These marriages, though they are unrecognized by the state, are often the solution when a judge refuses to approve the underage marriage. Adil’s marriage was brief, as problems arose and she promptly moved back into her family home just 12 days after the wedding.

Such conflicts are common. Though she didn’t particularly want to get married, Ghizlane Asmane says it was her idea to quit school at the age of 11 and, until her engagement at the age of 16, she says she did nothing but stay in the house and cook. However, once she had moved into her husband’s family home, which is typical for underage brides, Asmane found she did not have the freedom she’d hoped for.

“I had conflicts with both the groom and his family,” said Asmane. “With the family it was mostly about the household. I got scolded by my husband’s family for things like cooking and cleaning.”

Not all underage marriages are unhappy and unsuccessful. Rachida Diani, 27, was married when she was 14. When she looks back on her marriage, Diani comments on the difficulty of moving into a new home at such a young age, but focuses mostly on the happiness her three children have brought her. For Diani, getting married was the start to her life. Still, when asked if she has an opinion on the prevalence of underage marriages, she is quick in her response.

“No girl should be allowed to marry before the age of 18,” she said.

For Bordat, of MRA, it is simply a human rights issue.

“I think when you are looking at the dangers of underage marriages, you have to look at the totality,” she said. “Underage marriages raise the risk of the underage marriage brides not being able to take advantage of and enjoy a host of their other rights.”

One of those rights involves education, according to advocates.

“The place of young girls is in school and not in a conjugal household,” said Maghnaoui. “To eradicate poverty, we need to put structures in place: schools and information centers; and we need to integrate women in other ways once they have left school.”

The Moroccan government is working on awareness raising campaigns and is considering making 16 the minimum age limit for judge-authorized marriages, according to judge Abdelhadi Elbattahe of the Ministry of Justice. But it’s not easy to overcome cultural traditions that approve of underage marriage, he adds.

“This phenomenon isn’t linked to the law in particular, it is linked to mentality and prevalent social concepts,” says Elbattahe.

In the meantime, women’s advocacy groups are working to provide services for young women, like Salima Dakani. Though Maghnaoui and her coworkers at UAF hope to eventually help Dakani file for divorce, they face an even more pressing concern: finding a safe place for her to stay.


Hannah Rehak and William Matsuda spent several months in Morocco on an SIT Study Abroad program and produced this story in association with Round Earth Media, a nonprofit organization that mentors the next generation of international journalists. Malak Mihraje contributed reporting.

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