In celebration of the first International Day of the Girl, the U.S. government and major corporations made landmark commitments to girls around the world by investing in initiatives to prevent child marriage and to ensure that every girl has a chance to finish school.
I couldn’t be more thrilled about this new development announced this week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It represents what we’ve known all along at ICRW: Evidence shows that investing in girls worldwide yields critical development dividends in health, education and economic advancement. Girls are the entry point – creating a more prosperous and equitable world begins with supporting them as they grow into adulthood.
As co-chair of Girls Not Brides, ICRW is particularly pleased to see that the new commitments feature a strong focus on child marriage, a practice ICRW has been addressing for nearly two decades. The support of the U.S. government and private donors like the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and MasterCard Foundation is a powerful signal to the girls of the world that they matter.
And these girls – whether they’re vulnerable to early marriage or already married – need to know they are not forgotten.
In many poor, rural communities where child marriage is common, girls become women far too quickly. Early marriage leads to early childbearing, before girls’ bodies have fully developed. Early sexual initiation spells psychological trauma and increased risk for sexually-transmitted infections, complications from childbirth and even death for the young mother or her baby. Child brides are more likely to leave school early, compromising their education and economic potential. It is a vicious cycle, but one that can be broken.
This challenge is global in scale and severe in impact, but with political will and sustained investments, it is solvable. At ICRW, we have mapped successful solutions to end child marriage. We can prevent child marriage by empowering girls to have a longer, safer and more fulfilling childhood – where they go to school, play with friends, volunteer in their communities and develop their potential as productive citizens. We can ensure that this is the last generation of child brides.
The new commitments to improving girls’ lives are an important step forward, but we have a ways to go. A paltry portion of our foreign assistance dollars is directed to the world’s girls. We need targeted investments in programs for girls at risk of child marriage and girls who are already married. But for investments to have a lasting impact we need to build the evidence on what works for girls and ensure our programs and policies are tailored accordingly. More research is needed, for example, on how marriage and pregnancy prevent girls from attending secondary school. And we need more evaluation of how programs that improve girls’ access to education can help delay marriage and childbearing.
At least 10 millions girls are forced to marry each year. Now is the time to ask our leaders to support policies and programs that give girls worldwide a chance to make their own choices. Choices like whom to marry. When to marry. And who they want to be when they grow up.
Let’s turn these just-announced landmark commitments into a new reality for girls everywhere.
Related blog: Why I am Committed to Ending Child Marriage