Alemnesh was seven years old, living in Amhara, Ethiopia, when her family secured for her a marriage to a much older man. She was expected to drop out of school and take on the burden of household responsibilities. In this new life, Alemnesh would never learn to read or write. She would likely be sexually exploited at a young age and, vulnerable and disempowered, and she would never have appropriate access to information about sexual and reproductive health. This could have led to early pregnancy and obstetric complications, the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19.
Experiences like Alemnesh’s are common throughout developing countries such as Ethiopia, Indonesia and India. In the entire developing world, one in seven girls marries by age 15, and half of all girls will become mothers before age 18. Because their families often believe they are doing their daughters a service by marrying them off to an older man who can provide for them, these girls have little to no choice regarding their futures. Child marriage not only robs girls of their childhood and their education; young brides are at heightened risk for sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, are subject to domestic abuse and often become trapped in the cycle of poverty. These factors all contribute to lasting and prevalent gender inequality in much of the developing world, not to mention a high death rate among young women and girls due to widespread disease and pregnancy complications.
Reading these sobering statistics, one wants to scream out the need to end child marriage. Girls need a chance to be girls. They need to grow and play and laugh with their friends, free of sexual exploitation, household responsibilities and husbands four times their age. They need the right to stay in school; to learn to read, write, and find passion outside domesticity and servitude. They need the right to put off marriage and motherhood until they are knowledgeable about sexual and reproductive healthcare and can make informed, safe choices.
Every girl deserves control over her own future.
Today is the very first International Day of the Girl, a day when girls in every corner of the globe should be celebrated. To support girls everywhere, Pathfinder International is one of the organizations raising awareness of the need to put a stop to child marriage. For over 50 years, Pathfinder has worked with girls around the world to help them take charge of their life choices and gain confidence and strength.
With guidance from a Pathfinder scholarship program, Alemnesh was able to divorce her husband in Amhara and continue her education. She hopes to soon graduate from high school and continue on to university.
Every three seconds, a girl under age 18 is married against her will. If this issue is left unattended, 100 million more girls will be married in the next decade and will never have the chance to reach their full potentials.
By signing this letter to Sec. of State Hilary Clinton, your name will be added to a request for U.S. support to help girls escape this often damaging and demeaning life. Girls should be girls, not wives.