Today is the first International Day of the Girl, and the theme is ending child marriage—an issue that MADRE confronts with our partners In Kenya.
Girls in rural communities there are often forced to marry in exchange for a dowry that their families need for survival. Often, families place a daughter into an early marriage because they believe it is the best thing for her, a more secure situation and circumstance than they can offer her themselves.
To prepare for marriage, they’re subjected to the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), which often leads to a lifetime of health problems. And married girls—some as young as 10 years old—are forced to give up their dreams of an education and may face the health threats of early pregnancy.
Our partners in Kenya know firsthand the hardships that these young girls face in connection to child marriage. That is why we work with the Indigenous Information Network (IIN) to support the Nanyori Shelter Network. The Nanyori Shelter Network provides girls from Indigenous communities in rural Kenya with a safe environment where they can pursue their education, instead of being forced into child marriage.
The network is made up of six different long-term girls’ shelters that also serve as primary and secondary education boarding schools. The shelters meet girls’ needs for healthy food, clothing, clean water and other basic essentials.
The Indigenous girls who are fleeing forced early marriage often would not be able to obtain an education otherwise. The education provided at the shelters allows girls to become fully engaged members of society, make informed decisions, obtain productive employment, and play an active role in ending the cycle of poverty. Hundreds of graduating girls will become teachers, nurses, social workers and lawyers who elevate entire communities.
Access to education is an essential human right and no girl should be deprived of it. Young girls need to be given the opportunity, resources and access to grow into leaders in their communities.
Education is an essential tool in ending child marriage. Girls with a secondary education are six times less likely to marry young compared to girls with little or no education. Girls who earn a wage are less dependent on other people to provide for them, and they are viewed as leaders and as contributors to the local economy.
So today on the International Day of the Girl Child, as we educate ourselves about child marriage, we have an opportunity to educate others as well. We can begin to push back against the conditions that lead families to marry off very young daughters.
Most importantly we can reflect on the International Day of the Girl Child’s mission, “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.” And we can work to achieve this every day of the year.