Getting girls into school is best way to stop child marriage

By A World at School Global Youth Ambassador Munira Khalif

As an African proverb says: “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a nation”.

As the post-2015 development agenda is discussed, universal education must be prioritised – particularly girls’ education.

The ripple affect of educating just one girl is undeniable. When girls are educated we see economies blossoming, a rise in living standards, empowered communities and a cycle of development. Simply put, investing in girl’s education is not just the right thing to do, it also the smart thing to do.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers that stand in the way of girl’s education: one of these barriers being child marriage. According to Girls Not Brides, an estimated 15 million girls aged under 18 are married worldwide. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday. Without any action, by 2030 an estimated 15.4 million girls a year will marry as children.

UNICEF says: “Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence”.

The 15 million girls married under age 18 annually are 15 million chances missed in creating a better and more prosperous world.

With this in mind, I mobilised young people in my community to send in letters to their senators asking for their support of the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2011 as part of movement started by the UN foundation campaign Girl Up.

Through Girl Up, young people in the United States were able to demand change by sending letters to Congress, signing the child marriage petition and partaking in district meetings. On May 24, 2012, the US Senate passed the bill. And in March of 2013, the House of Representatives passed the child marriage legislation as part of the Violence Against Women Act. Now, child marriage is a priority of US foreign policy.

While taking part in A World at School’s #UpforSchool rally, as both a recipient of the UN Youth Courage Award and as a speaker, I was reminded of the power young people have in shaping the world.

It is a misconception that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. We, young people, are leading today to ensure a better tomorrow. Today there is a global movement of young people around the world joining hands in demanding education for every child, regardless of gender.

So, as International Day of the Girl Child approaches on October 11, child marriage will be one of this year’s themes. We have the opportunity to ensure that fewer girls are married young, and are kept learning in school, by signing the #UpforSchool Petition.

Because “no country can move forward with half of its people behind”.

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