Nearly one third of girls in developing countries are married before age 18. Close to one in seven are married before age 15, according to the World Health Organisation.
That's why ending child marriage is the focus of the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child.
Childhood marriage violates millions of girls' rights, disrupts their education, jeopardises their health, and denies them their childhood, limiting their opportunities and impacting all aspects of a girl's life.
Women are at the centre of all of ActionAid’s work, because empowering women and girls to claim their rights to education, health and freedom from gender-based discrimination and violence is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and abuse.
Through ActionAid initiatives including our child sponsorship program and local rights programs, girls like Susan from Kenya, are able to access high school and tertiary education, and claim a better future for themselves and their communities.
Susan is one of six siblings. Her father died of AIDS and her mother is HIV positive, though she and her siblings are fortunate to not be infected with the disease. On the eve of International Women’s Day, in March this year, Susan reflected on the importance of fighting for a better future for women.
“I have realised that we have to break some of the old cultures that prevail in my community. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is wrong; early marriage is wrong; it is wrong when men take all the decisions; and it is wrong that men are allocated all the land.”
Susan’s mother sells vegetables to support her family. “My mother is smart. She has a shop selling groceries and food. She is doing okay and makes just enough to ensure that we get food every day,” Susan says.
But Susan has high aspirations for herself and for her community.
“I want to become a doctor. I would like to leave Pokot for a while and then come back when I have finished studying medicine and have had some experience. There are so many people to help around here, and I am becoming a very strong woman.”
She is appreciative of the sponsorship of ActionAid donors, but has an outward focus, already thinking of ways to support her local community.
“I love being a sponsored child. This is not about me. The support goes to the school and the community, so I am helping everybody around me – especially the children and the women. At the school, the sponsors have paid for two buildings and a playground. ActionAid is also doing a lot to empower girls and women in this area. They are really changing the mindset of the people. Because of ActionAid, I will not be circumcised and forced into an early marriage.”
This International Day of the Girl Child, stand with our sisters in Australia and across the world to demand that girls be allowed to be girls, not child brides.
Because girls like Susan have a right to be educated, to be healthy, to be leaders in their own right, and free to exceed their biggest dreams.