National Geographic : 2017 Jan
i am nine years old 33 Eriah’s claim might sound too optimistic to Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s principal adviser on gender and development. With respect to gender inequality, she says, “we’re not seeing an expira- tion date for it yet”—but there is progress. For global citizens under age 10, recent dec- ades have seen more gender equity in areas such as primary school education access, says UNICEF’s Claudia Cappa. But statisticians can count only “those who were able to survive,” she notes, and “sex-selective abortions of female fe- tuses” persist in some countries. Past the age-10 mark, however, the closing gap is replaced by a wide gulf. “ Things change com- pletely in adolescence,” Cappa says, with “strik- ing” gender gaps in access to secondary schools, for example, or exposure to early marriage and violence. “ This is when you stop being a child,” she says. “You become a female or a male.” What do you want to be when you grow up? Lokamu Lopulmoe, a Turkana girl living in ru- ral Kenya, says that when she grows up, her par- ents will “be given my dowry, and even if the man goes and beats me up eventually, my parents will have the dowry to console them.” Some 300 miles away, in a gated community in Nairobi, Chanelle Wangari Mwangi sits in her trophy-filled room and imagines a much different future: She wants to be a pro golfer and “help the needy.” In Ottawa, Canada, William Kay confidently plans a future as “a banker or a computer, like, genius guy.” Beijing’s Yunshu Sang wants to be a police officer, “but most police are men,” she says, “so I can’t.” In Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, budding journalist Hilde Lysiak rides her neigh- borhood on a silver and pink bike, hunting for news—all the while suspecting that a boy report- er might “get more information from the police.” What is something that makes you sad? For Tomee War Bonnet, an Oglala Lakota, it’s “seeing people kill themselves.” What plants such thoughts in a nine-year-old’s head? Her reserva- tion’s history of suicides, by kids as young as 12. Mumbai’s Rania Singla feels sad when her lit- tle brother hits her. Lamia al Najjar, who lives in a makeshift home in the Gaza Strip, says, “I feel sad- ness when I see [how] our home is destroyed”—a result of fighting in the area in 2014. What makes you most happy? High on this list: family, God, food, and soccer. And friends. Other answers give a flavor of kids’ individual lives. One youngster loves powwows, another Easter eggs. For Amber Dubue in Ottawa, happiness is “room to run.” For Maria Eduarda Cardoso Raimundo in Rio, whose parents are separated, happiness is “Mom and Dad by my side, hugging me and giving me advice.” Around age nine, Bede Sheppard says, chil- dren are “developing important feelings of empathy, fairness, and right from wrong.” As deputy director in the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, Sheppard has worked with child laborers, refugees, and other young- sters in dire circumstances. He says the most oppressed and disadvantaged can also be the most empathetic and selfless. Turkana herder Lopeyok Kagete dreams of giving away money and “slaughtering [livestock] for people to eat.” Though Sunny Bhope and his family live in a single concrete room, the Indian boy aspires to “provide rooms to the homeless.” when nine-year-old girls and boys discuss themselves and each other, points of consensus emerge. Boys get in trouble more often than girls, both sides agree, and girls have to spend a lot of time on their hair. Such things are part of their reality—but much weightier matters are too. If you could change something in your life or in the world, what would it be? Rio’s Clara Fraga would make thieves “good, so that they wouldn’t steal.” Abby Haas would free her South Dakota reservation of the “bad guys.” Kieran Manuel Rosselli, of Ottawa, says he would “destroy terrorists.” The grim content of some an- swers, and the grave tones in which they’re de- livered, give the impression of a miniature adult speaking, not a child. If she could, says China’s Fang Wang, the thing she would change is “what it’s like when I’m lonely.” The aspiration mentioned most often, across lines of geography and gender, was summed up by Avery Jackson. If the world were hers to change, she said, there would be “no bullying. Because that’s just bad.” j Between them, Geographic staff writer Eve Conant and photographer Robin Hammond worked with 80 children on four continents to create this story.