Last summer, the video of an 11-year-old Yemeni girl, Naha al-Ahdal, caught the attention of the international media. Speaking from inside a car, she explains why she ran away from her parents, who tried to force her to marry a 26-year-old man. “I’m better off dead,” than getting married, she says. Speaking directly to her parents, she says, “I’m done with you. You’ve ruined my dreams.”
Naha escaped to live with her uncle, but most girls in Naha’s situation aren’t so lucky. They’re forced to marry men far older than them, exposing them to rape and domestic violence inside the marriage. They often become pregnant before their bodies are ready, compromising their health and the health of their children. They are pulled out of school; without education, their future is cut short, and the cycle of poverty continues. From India, to Nigeria, to Afghanistan, child marriage is a scourge that devastates girls around the world.
On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark piece of legislation that not only protects women and girls in the United States from violence, but it also ensures the U.S. is doing its part to protect girls from being forced into early marriages. Most importantly, last year’s VAWA reauthorization contains a crucial provision that calls on the State Department to develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent child marriage in developing countries. Catherine Russell, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, has been tasked with developing this strategy.
It’s a huge step that the U.S. has recognized ending child marriage as foreign policy priority, and developing countries are taking measures to address this endemic problem in their own countries. For example, Yemen is currently drafting a new constitution that sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both boys and girls. This is a promising development for Yemen, which is one of the few Arab states left that does not set a minimum age of marriage, and where 52 percent of girls are married before they’re 18.
But outlawing child marriage isn’t enough. As activists on the ground know, educating communities about the harms of child marriage, and teaching girls the importance of continuing their education, are a few of the critical components needed to address the problem. In Nigeria, IWHC’s partner INCRESE is working to end child marriage through its Hajara Usman Girls' Leadership Training Program, which provides girls with leadership skills, educates them about their bodies and rights, and teaches them how to respond to inequalities and injustice like forced marriage. This training increases young girls’ self-esteem and gives girls a voice in deciding their futures. The program also engages parents and provides them with information about the benefits of keeping their daughters in school to advance their education and avoid child marriage.
Please help us reach our goal of $3,000. Donating just $25 enables two girls to attend this life-changing training program. Ending early and forced marriage is vital to the goal of ensuring that girls around the world are able to lead healthy, empowered, educated, and safe lives.
Thanks to your support, our work to end early and forced marriage is making a difference in the lives of adolescent girls in northern Nigeria.
The International Women’s Health Coalition and our Nigerian partner INCRESE are working in communities to educate girls and their families about the harms of early marriage. We provide support to girls who have survived child marriage and help them share their stories with other vulnerable girls. We also partner with other Nigerian groups, Girls Power Initiative and Action Health Incorporated, to provide girls across the country with the information, skills, and care they need to make a healthy transition to adulthood. Together we have developed a national sexuality education curriculum that not only informs, but helps to empower girls.
But child marriage is not a problem that’s limited to Nigeria. It’s a practice that devastates the lives of girls around the world; it spans continents, cultures, and religions. Every year, 14 million girls are married as children before they are physically or emotionally ready. Worldwide, nearly 50 percent of all sexual assaults are against girls aged 15 years or younger.
The International Women’s Health Coalition has made advancing the rights and health of adolescent girls a key focus area of our work. In Latin America, Africa, and Asia, we are partnering with local groups to promote girl-friendly health services, keep girls in schools, and eliminate child marriage.
In Pakistan, we are supporting Aahung to implement a comprehensive sexuality and life-skills-based education program in primary schools in Sindh province. This is a groundbreaking achievement. Many of the girls are completely unaware of their own bodies, or even what menstruation is, before entering the program.
In Brazil, we work with Reprolatina to educate adolescent girls about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Reprolatina reaches youth directly in local communities, online, through health centers, and in public schools. The results have been outstanding: After Reprolatina ran its education programs for two years in the town of Barro Alto, the proportion of adolescent girls giving birth dropped from 40 percent of all births in 2010, to 10 percent in 2012.
At the global level, we make sure that the world’s leaders do the right thing for girls. The Girl Declaration is a powerful statement written by adolescent girls who are living in poverty around the world.
Please take a moment to read the Girl Declaration. Share it with your friends and networks. Also, please help us to reach our fundraising goal of $3,000! An additional $2,605 for INCRESE would go a long way towards giving girls in Nigeria the education, opportunities, and support they need to lead healthy and productive lives. Help us build a better future for girls and stop the cycle of poverty and abuse before it starts.
Thank you again for supporting IWHC's partner INCRESE to end early and forced marriage in Nigeria!
Child marriage is a widespread practice that cuts across countries, cultures, religions, and ethnicities. Every year, approximately 14 million girls are married before they turn 18. That's 37,000 girls who become wives every day. In the developing world, girls as young as 5 years old are married off to much older men.
Child marriage perpetuates a cycle of poverty. This is a global problem, and it requires a global solution.
With your support, we can continue to work with groups like INCRESE to help individual girls avoid early marriage. At the same time, we are working with the U.S. government and the United Nations to develop comprehensive strategies to combat child marriage globally.
These efforts include the recent passage of the Violence Against Women Act in the United States. We now have, for the first time ever, a mandate for the U.S. government to strategically invest in effective policies and programs that prevent child marriage and support girls who have already been forced into marriages.
Now is the time for the world to come together and say: Enough is enough. Girls’ lives matter.
Please share this project with your friends and networks. You can make a difference. We can start by raising the remaining $2,605 of our $3,000 for INCRESE. This investment will go a long way to giving girls in Nigeria the education, health care, and social support they need not only to survive, but to thrive.
Together, we can end child marriage.
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