Opinion Editorial Archive December, 2023: Indigenous Girl of the Year

opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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You could be forgiven for thinking that I photographed my "Indigenous Girl of the Year" for 2023 at her wedding. After all, I actually photographed a relatively rare sight in Africa — a young, indigenous girl walking home from school. In some parts of that continent, even a girl this young might have been getting married.

Last month, Melinda French Gates, Michelle Obama and Amal Clooney were in Africa promoting initiatives to end child marriage there. It is unlikely they will succeed in eradicating it entirely. There are simply too many factors there and in other parts of the world where marriage below age eighteen is illegal but still practiced. Still, their work deserves support.

Another problem that largely affects African children, but one that perhaps could be eradicated, is the hundreds of thousands of deaths each year from malaria. Although they have received little media attention, malaria vaccines have been in clinical trials in Africa in recent years. The R21/Matrix-M vaccine recently joined RTS,S/AS01 with WHO-approved status. Supplies began reaching some African countries last month for an early- to mid-2024 rollout.

One reason why malaria may never be entirely eradicated is religion. We have, for many years, seen people refuse to be vaccinated against polio for that very reason. Coincidentally, religion is also often cited to justify child marriage.

It may seem like all that's called for to solve these and other problems (such as wars) is common sense. Sadly, that seems to be a rare commodity these days. Last month, in a bizarre, Monty Python-style move, the United Kingdom appointed a Minister for Common Sense (although it is her unofficial title). The move was, predictably, ridiculed by opposition politicians and the public.

Perhaps what the UK (and other countries) need most is a Minister for Indigenous Knowledge. After all, IK is, in large part, common sense. My "Indigenous Girl of the Year" is from a tiny Mandinka village in the Gambia. She has IK in abundance. Unfortunately, millions of girls like her must rely on Western common sense to avoid childhood marriage and death from malaria.

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