October 11 is International Day of the Girl Child. We are strengthening our promise to improve the lives of young girls through education. CAI is committed to the mission of Let Girls Learn, a program initiated by Michelle Obama dedicated to clearing the path for girls education around the world. One of the major barriers to education for adolescent girls is childhood marriage, which effects 15 million girls each year. Fortunately, education is also the most powerful tool to reduce the number of child brides in developing countries.
Child Marriage Cuts Dreams Short
What do you imagine for your daughter or sister’s future? Will she be an engineer, a doctor, or an astronaut? We encourage our girls to try on new identities and follow their dreams through childhood. What if that time of discovery was cut short by child marriage? What if those same girls were forced to marry, leave school, and become mothers before they turn 18?
According to the United Nations, more than 700 million women across the world married before their eighteenth birthdays. Two-hundred and fifty million of those girls entered into marriages before they turned 15. October 11 is International Day of the Girl Child. Once the marriage ceremony is over, childhood ends for many of these young girls.
When societies force girls to marry early, they miss out on education and bear children before they reach adulthood. According to the World Health Organization, girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women who wait until they are 20. Complications from childbirth rank as the second leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 across the world.
Child brides are still prevalent in developing countries for many reasons: poverty, cultural norms, and a prevailing view that deems girls and women property of their fathers and husbands. Impoverished families may view girls as a burden because they cannot earn money. When they are married off before they have a chance to achieve an education, they miss the opportunity to become a wage-earning family member.
Saida, one such girl from LaLander Village outside of Kabul, struggled to convince her father to let her attend school. After a series of tragic events that left her three brothers dead, her father finally agreed to let her attend a newly built CAI school. She flourished and moved to Kabul to continue her studies after she completed the fifth grade.
Soon after a prominent police commander took notice of Saida and demanded she marry his son. The man had money, a house, and influence. Her father could not refuse him, so at 15 years old she was pulled out of school and locked away in the family compound. Saida’s fate is not uncommon, but there is a way to keep these girls from becoming child brides. Changing the way cultures view women’s education is the key.
Ending Child Marriage Keeps Infants Healthy
Education is a major indicator for the likelihood of a girl to enter a marriage before she turns eighteen. Girls with little to no education are at a much higher risk of becoming child brides than those who have attended through secondary school. For every year a girl is in school past the fifth grade, she delays her marriage a year.
A report put out by the United Nations Population Fund found girls who completed a secondary education are six times less likely to marry before they turn 18. Education not only delays early marriage, but many schools teach lessons on hygiene and care. These lessons help mothers keep infants healthy and reduce the rate of childhood morbidity.
The report explains, “Education is a right in itself, and being in school confers numerous protections and benefits for girls. Educational opportunities offer girls positive alternatives to child marriage that are generally acceptable to the family and community.”
Child Brides Miss Out On Education
Several of the women participating in CAI-sponsored literacy programs say they have more authority to demand education once they can read and write. They point to laws that dictate women have more rights than conservative family members may lead them to believe. They call out passages in the Qur’an that require both men and women to seek knowledge.
When a girl defers marriage to stay in school she gains confidence, develops social networks, and learns valuable skills she can use later in life. She can read and understand her rights and the laws put in place to protect her. She can earn money to help her family and increase their chances to escape poverty.
Lend Your Voice Grant Dreams
International Day of the Girl Child was created to spark action, to give girls in developing counties a voice and a choice in their own futures. At Central Asia Institute, our programs provide girls the opportunity to live their own dreams, even if they don’t match society’s historical expectations. One day these girls can be engineers, doctors, and even astronauts if they have the opportunity to attend school past the fifth grade.
By building schools and providing opportunity for education to girls in villages of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, CAI is taking action everyday to fight for girls’ equality. You can learn more about the work we’re doing by checking out our latest projects here. If you educate a girl, you can change the world.
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