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In a situational analysis conducted by Save the Children in 2018, Early marriage was cited as a key issue, with Laos PDR considered to have the highest percentage of early marriage in East Asia and the Pacific.
National Data also shows that 41.8% of girls aged 15-17 are currently out of school and 23.5% of girls aged 15-19 are currently married.
A key driver of early childhood marriage in Laos ethnic groups is cultural norms and traditions. In 2018, 94% of Hmong, 61% of Khmu, and 52% of Lao participants said that girls should marry between the ages of 12 and 17. Of respondents, 25% said women should marry between ages 12-14.
Trafficking (for labour and sexual exploitation) and prostitution were cited by key informants as significant issues in the target communities with well-established networks in existence that pose considerable threats to very young adolescents.
The “Safe in my Community” project focuses on improving resilience of these very young adolescents aged 10-14 years old and ensuring that they develop in safe and supportive communities.
The aim of the project is to reduce risk factors and enhance the protective factors that adolescents need to avoid risky behaviour, to resist all forms of violence, including gender-based violence, and to recuperate and grow following episodes of violence, trauma and poverty that disproportionately affect ethnic minority boys and girls.
Safe in my Community also works with parents and communities to reduce and reject harmful practices, such as early marriage, sexual exploitation, or unsafe migration, that impact adolescent well-being.
The $20,000 investment from Footprints will pay would pay for 215 young people to participate in Friendship Circles.
Friendship Circles are safe-space meetings through non-formal learning/peer-support learn to build resilience and challenge discriminatory social-norms that drive harmful practices.
These Friendship Circles promote behavioral changes based on greater understanding of gender norms and gender equality. Topics tackled in the curricula include self-awareness, communication, decision-making, inter-personal relations, gender equality, challenging gender norms, understanding the early-marriage consequences.
Save the Children has been working in partnership with national and local governments and local communities throughout Laos for this program, in particular the Laos Women’s Union (a government department).
The Safe in my Community program is part of Save the Children Strategy 2019-21 where they are working to ensure violence against children is no longer tolerated.