The world has made incredible progress in the fight against poverty, but progress has not been spread equally or fairly. Millions of girls continue to be married as children, miss out on basic education, and die from preventable causes.
Every 3 seconds, a girl under 18 is married. Child marriage continues to be one of the greatest barriers that prevents girls from realising their full potential. It curtails their education, exposes them and their children to increased risks in childbirth, and limits their opportunities for the future. And, every day more than 20,000 girls are married illegally. This is why Save the Children is campaigning to end child marriage and ensure all girls have access to quality education and healthcare.
We also believe that children should be at the centre of our campaigns. Below are the stories of inspiring girl champions who are working to empower girls and women, and achieve gender equality in their communities.
I have been campaigning for girl’s education in my community in Govandi, a poverty-stricken slum located next to the largest dumping ground in Mumbai. It lacks the most basic amenities for people, but discrimination prevents girls from accessing resources simply because they are girls. That’s why I have conducted more than 250 sessions on menstrual hygiene and other water and sanitation related issues over the last 3 years. I have influenced more than 2,500 adolescent girls, who now adopt healthy menstrual hygiene practices.
I am also a part of a child-led initiative called called ‘Parivartan’ (Change). We work together on issues affecting our community, from health, water sanitation and hygiene to girls’ education. Together, we have reached over 10,000 community members through our street plays, photo exhibitions and talk shows.
I want to remind all communities that the Sustainable Development Goals are meant for all of us. If we don’t care then who else will? They directly impact our lives and can create a better future for generations to come. Like Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘be the change you want to see’. I believe each one of us has a role to play in making the SDGs a reality for people in my city, country and around the world.
I am calling on our world leaders to keep their promises. They must engage with young people like us so that we can lead the change. Most importantly they must focus on girls around the world and invest in our future. To ‘leave no one behind’ means that everyone, everywhere should benefit equally from the commitment made by the political leaders, especially for those who are missing out.
Our campaign in India:
In India, we have been campaigning to end all forms of violence against girls and boys so that every last child is given the opportunity to survive, learn and thrive. Along with our 2018 World of India’s Girls report, we are closely working with the government and the community to bring about behavioural change. Through programs such as Speak Up: Say No to Violence Against Women and Girls, Marriage No Child’s Play, Sanitation Projects and Sanitary Napkin Manufacturing Units, we are tackling barriers that impede gender equality at the community level and empowering girls to break stereotypes and lead the change.
Due to poverty, children in my community lack access to quality services. I am campaigning to ensure that most in-need girls and boys have access to quality education and have the ability to actively participate in their school and their community. These children have very few opportunities to develop skills and engage.
Due to poverty, ethnic discrimination and disability, girls face difficulties in accessing education, developing skills and securing employed. There is discrimination between boys and girls. Child marriage is another phenomena happening to girls living in poor families and ethnic minorities. Our families think that girls are born to take care of the house and children, and obey parents or other adults.
Last year, as a member of the Child-Led Group, we, asked for all girls and boys to have equal accessibility and treatment in school. Together we also received municipal support to improve accessibility for children with disabilities in the school.
I want my government to support poor girls’ education and equip them with knowledge and skills that will help them have a better life. I would like my community to change their attitudes towards girls’ education and participation in school and community activities.
World leaders should ensure that girls get educated and empowered to speak up and get equal to boys.
Our campaign in Albania:
In Albania, we are campaigning with and for children to build an environment that is accountable to children’s rights and respectful towards children’s opinion. Xhorda, has been involved and has led the process of collecting views of her peers on the children's rights to participation and education. She campaigns for zero tolerance toward violence and anti-bullying and speaks about safety, non-discrimination, inclusion and raised awareness on children rights and their future. These views and suggested recommendations were presented to authorities and media in the National Conference and in the report, “Young Voices, Albania” last year.
I am campaigning to end child marriage and sexual abuse, and to ensure girls have access to education and reproductive rights. For the past four years, I have worked with various organizations and the media to promote the wellbeing of girls. I organise discussions with adolescent girls where they talk about issues they face.I use my voice to hold government accountable. I produce songs and speak at forums on girls health and education. I am a youth reporter and the leader of the Chibok girl’s ambassadors, where I organised marches demanding the release of the Chibok girls.
I would like my community to change the mindset about educating girls because educating and empowering girls is one of the best ways to eradicate poverty. I would also like my community to change their views on child marriage, because it leads to many health challenges for girls.
I am calling on our leaders to include us when making decisions that affect our lives. I urge them to set up programs that will remove social barriers that limit us or hurt us, and to establish laws and policies that protect our rights.
I will be 30 when the Sustainable Development Goals will end. This means my generation is responsible for holding leaders accountable for delivering these goals. By investing in my health, my education and my decision making capacity, the cycle of poverty can be broken and all of the sustainable development goals can be achieved simply by empowering me to reach my full potential.
In Nigeria, we are campaigning to ensure that child, early and forced marriage is reduced and girls and boys are able to fulfil their equal rights. In Nigeria, 39% of girls are married before they are 18 and 16% are married before they turn 15. Our campaign is aimed at advancing the knowledge and skills of boys, girls, families, and communities through equitable access to education, vocational skills, and life skills training, with a focus on leadership, child rights, and gender equality as a strategy towards ending child marriage in Nigeria.
I come from a community plagued by poverty where many girls turn to older men to provide for them. Girls as young as 13 have sex with older men for cellular air-time, food or clothes.
Girls are being taught that their future is to become somebody's wife and that is it. Even their own mothers encourage them to get married young rather than pursue their studies as studying requires money. Teenage pregnancy is a major concern as girls look for love in all the wrong places. But also, sell their bodies for money and material things.
Young people have potential, guide and show them the path that they are supposed to walk. Give them opportunities regardless of where they come from. Give them the chance to show their abilities.
Strong role models are highly effective. Young girls relate better to a peer rather than to a poster or an expert. For example, while volunteering at a local community clinic, I met a 14-year-old girl, named Lereto*, who left home. She was an alcoholic, not attending school and sleeping with older men for money. I helped her by counselling her. I also met with her mother and encouraged her get closer to her daughter and communicating with her more. Today, Lereto* is back at school. She has returned home to live with her mother. She would like to become a social worker when she finishes school. This makes me very proud.
*name changed to protect identity
In South Africa, young girls are the most effected by violence particularly sexual violence. It is the norm and many cases go unreported. From accessing school to seeking out medical care young girls are surrounded by perpetrators. For young girls lucky enough to access school, challenges such exposure to sexiest taunting and rape on their way are highly likely possibilities. Adding to these violations is the high probability of contracting HIV/AIDS through sexual assault. To address this serious concern, Save the Children South Africa, has mobilised civil society, government and community forums to ensure every last girl child is kept safe from harm. Our 5-year campaign is aimed at reducing violence against children including sexual violence against young girls. Through community dialogues, corporate investment, pressure on local municipality to improve infrastructure and resources, and active engagement with young children we envision an end to violence against children.
I am campaigning to end child marriage and to promote facility delivery so that every mother can deliver at a health facility. I’ve seen the problems that are associated with child marriage very closely. Teenage girls become pregnant, maternal health is threatened, and their children’s health is also threatened. In my village, many girls are married off before 18, they drop out of their school
Instead of getting married in their teens, girls should be encouraged to grow and educate themselves because they have immense potential in the future Bangladesh. They need the support of the society and their families to grow with equal opportunity. They need access to adequate health care facilities to avoid preventable deaths of mothers and the children.
I want the government to have stronger policies against child marriage. I want the government to end child marriage. The government should have better girl’s enrollment projects in education, so that they are incentivized to study and grow with equal opportunities. I also want the government to provide more health facilities and improve access to these health facilities so that every mother can deliver safely at a health facility, and every child can be born at a health facility.
The community must address the fact that child marriage is prevalent and must take measures to end it. The community must also address the fact that many mother and children are dying from preventable deaths, due to the lack of adequate health facilities in the community. Every mother should have access to a health facility and be able to delivery at a health facility. The community must incorporate the opinions of the youths -- they are the future.
In Bangladesh, we are campaigning for girls and boys living in remote and rural areas. These children and their families lack access to quality healthcare and education. In Sylhet division, for example, only 21% of births take place at health facilities. This is why we are promoting differential health programming and investments for children in deprived areas. We are also campaigning to involve communities in preventing child marriage and violence against children. Today in Bangladesh, 59% of girls are married before their 18th birthday.
I am campaigning to end child marriage and for all girls to attend school. Due to poverty and some beliefs, girls are forced to go into marriage so their parents can concentrate on fending for their younger siblings or boys.
I was married off at 15 to a man double my age. But I didn’t want to get married, I wanted to go to school. Instead, I had to cook and fetch water for my husband and his family. I tried my best and got out of the marriage and went back to school. Now I work with a girls group and have helped 10 girls like me return to school. I hope to be Minister of Education one day.
Communities need to change their attitude towards girls’ education, I normally have a tough time when I go to visit girls that are not going to school, some parents shower insults at us, it becomes so frustrating at times, but I will not stop.
In addition to child marriage, girls miss school for many other reasons. Most girls miss school when its their time for monthly periods. They don’t have sanitary pads and facilities so they prefer staying home. Their families also struggle to afford school fees, so most girls drop out and fail to continue with their secondary education. The government needs to help girls attend school.
In Malawi, we are campaigning for children living in the most remote areas, especially adolescent girls. These children lack access to basic health, education and child protection services. 20% of girls have experienced sexual abuse and half of all girls are married before the age of 18. While the minimum age of marriage was raised from 15 to 18 in 2015, until the Constitution is amended, the age can still be contested in courts. We are campaigning to ensure the age of marriage is enforced. We are also campaigning to ensure adequate budget is spent on health and education for all children.
I am campaigning for girls’ right to learn and be educated. Our society is not fully aware of the importance of educating girls. They say girls should only learn how to cook and clean as they will become wives and that it is their only duty in life.
I am also campaigning against child marriage, which prevents girls from going to school. Here in Yemen, customs and traditions don’t support a girl’s education. For instance, some people believe that a girl seeking an education means that she is escaping her responsibility to get married and be a good wife. In some villages, communities think it is a disgrace when families educate their girls.
I am one of the children who is being affected by this war. I was displaced from my city along with my family. I want to deliver a message to the world to end the war. Because of the war there is now no income. Parents see it as an extra burden to send their girls to school especially if they need to pay for transportation, books, notebooks, uniforms, etc., and when they do have a little money they would prefer to give it for the boys’ education.
I think girls and boys should be treated equally and that girls’ future is beyond knowing how to cook and clean. Girls want to be someone in the future and we can only do so if we study and learn.
In Yemen, we are campaigning to ensure all girls have access to quality education in a safe and protective environment, especially those that have been affected by conflict. The conflict in Yemen has devastating the lives of over 10 million children who are now in need of humanitarian assistance. As of January 2017, 1.5 million children have been forced to flee their homes and nearly 2,000 schools are out of action because they are destroyed or damaged, sheltering displaced families, or are being used for military purposes. Approximately 2 million of school age children do not have access to school, with girls being the most affected.
In my community, I have been campaigning for children, especially girls, access to quality education, keeping them in school and protecting them. Children and young people are the lifeblood of every nation and it is essential that they have access to education and are protected. This, because education is the basis for human development and for me, it is essential to create all the necessary conditions to guarantee all children have a bright future.
Very early on, I was engaged in the Children's Parliament where I was focusing on promoting and defending the rights of a child. This has allowed me to be involved in and become aware of the difficulties that innocent beings face. After leaving the Children's Parliament, my engagement continued through the National Advisory Council of Children and Youth.
The most important problem that must be addressed by my community is that of keeping children, especially girls in school, training and technical and financial support for young entrepreneurs.
I would like to see the Government of Mali effectively implement a policy for all girls to be enrolled in education and complete school. In my community, I would not like to see girls dropping out of school or not enrolling. Moreover, I would like that through education, no girl has an early or unwanted pregnancy. Finally, I would like to see more leadership and empowerment of girls.
In Mali, we’re campaigning for the most deprived girls and boys. Specifically, we are campaigning to end child marriage. While the country has made great progress, child marriage still remains a huge concern. 55% of girls are married before they turn 18 - the legal age of marriage in Mali is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. Our campaign aims to both increase the age of marriage for girls and ensure accountability.
I lead workshops with adolescents, on the prevention of teenage pregnancy. I am part of the Network of Girls in my municipality, and in my community I develop workshops with girls about self-esteem, sexuality, gender equality and empowerment. I also organize theatre groups with children and adolescents, where we identify the problems of our community and then introduce it to the community through a play.
Girls in my community don’t receive support from their parents. There is teenage pregnancy and not all girls in my community finish school. Some girls suffer from physical abuse and there are no recreational spaces for girls.
I am also a literature entertainer: at the community’s school where I read stories to children. I like reading to children, because with the book they can learn, understand, be better. My wish is that all children fall in love with reading, to see it is fun and useful to learn.
What inspires me is that we can achieve change; letting girls and boys know they can raise their voices and defend their rights. That all those barriers that are preventing us from fulfilling our dreams may disappear and thus contribute to a better future for the children. A future in which they can make their dreams come true, with better opportunities and a better life.
If I were president I would designate more resources to the rural area because this is where most children do not have access to quality education and their rights are not respected. I think that when there is investment in childhood you can create a better future for each child. Children can continue in school, study and have a better life.
In Nicaragua, we are campaigning for girls and boys who are living in rural areas and missing out on healthcare and education. We are supporting central and local governments to increase investment in children in rural areas. We are ensuring public policies on education, health and protection of children in rural areas are implements.