A SAUTI YETU CASE STUDY
The Wright Group’s pro bono client, the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women and Children, provides culturally responsive and language specific children and family services to low income African immigrant communities. Their case managers are fluent in over 20 languages.
While several prominent civil rights groups have been working hard to draw attention to the trafficking and exploitation of immigrant girls, Sauti Yetu’s work has brought them to the conclusion that there are not enough legal protections to shield immigrant girls from the harmful practice of forced early marriage, often to a much older spouse. To understand the depth of this problem one needs to know that 18 out of 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa. In Niger, for example, 70 percent of young women are married by the age of 18 and 36 percent by the age of 15. These cultural tendencies follow immigrant populations to the United States, where traditional social services are hard pressed to deal with the consequences they bring:
“Early marriage increases social isolation and launches girls into a cycle of poverty, gender inequities, and higher risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. ”
The Wright Group encouraged Sauti Yetu to develop the report entitled, A Closer Look at Forced and Early Marriage in African Immigrant Communities in New York City. Then TWG worked on circulating the report and framing the issues in a way that conveyed urgency and relevance to New York City and State policymakers.
Once their message was finely honed, TWG set about introducing Sauti Yetu’s leaders to City Council members and their staffers, State Legislators, City and State child welfare agencies and several caucus groups at the State and local levels. Sauti Yetu testified at State and City hearings about the need to protect these vulnerable young women both for their own sake and for the health and well being of their future children.
Once policy makers were made fully aware of the pervasive and insidious nature of the problems of forced and early marriage they encouraged Sauti Yetu to respond to requests for proposals that would impact these issues. As a result Sauti Yetu has seen a 75% increase in discretionary funding to support its initiatives.
Sauti Yetu now works with ethnic and cultural associations to develop a community engagement strategy to respond to the problems of early/forced marriage. They work with students who have had their formal educations interrupted due to early marriage and childbirth and provide relevant – culturally sensitive – sexual and reproductive health education to immigrant girls and young women, and men too.