Helene D Gayle is president and CEO of CARE, an organisation that works to fight poverty and injustice in more than 80 countries around the world. She's an expert on humanitarian issues and has previously held senior positions with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control. She is also one of the signatories of the Girl Declaration.
"Thanks for saving my future life."
Those are the words of 13-year-old Eliza Sokoloti, a Masai girl in Tanzania whose father considered marrying her off early for dowry reasons. After Eliza told her teacher and hid at a friend's house, members of her community intervened. With help from CARE, girls such as Eliza are staying in school longer instead of getting married young.
When families in poor countries are in trouble and need money - when they've sold their belongings, their livestock, perhaps even their extra clothes - there are precious few options left to make ends meet. Across the world, poor families are arranging marriages for their young teenage daughters in return for financial or material benefit.
But in some cases, money isn't a factor and marriage comes as a result of social customs or gender inequalities. This can happen during times of war or unrest, when parents may feel that they are protecting their daughters by marrying them early.
End child marriage
Child marriage is a disaster: physically, emotionally and financially.
Girls who marry young are more likely to be beaten, less likely to be educated, and less likely to be able to earn an income. They're in greater danger when they give birth, and have less say in how money is spent on raising their children. Not only does marrying young prevent a girl from reaching her potential, it also makes life more difficult for her future children. Lacking skills, knowledge and experience, they and their families become trapped in a generational cycle of poverty.
Ending child marriage is one way to break that cycle and empower whole communities. By allowing girls to make decisions about what they want for their future, entire countries can benefit. When a girl in the developing world receives seven years of education, she marries four years later and has fewer children. In fact, according to the World Bank, every extra year of primary school education raises a girl's eventual wages by 10-20 per cent. And for every extra year of secondary school, income increases 15-25 per cent.
A woman with job skills participates more fully in her community and has more ability to exercise her rights. If they choose to have children when they grow up, educated mothers are better able to take care of children when they are sick, preventing early deaths. Women with earning power can pay for their children's education, as well as their food and clothes.
Change through communication
"I was not given life only to belong to someone else," the Girl Declaration reads. Yet one out of every nine girls is forced into marriage before her 15th birthday, according to UNFPA. CARE is working to change that.
In countries such as Nepal, CARE meets with political leaders to tackle child marriage. We create girl-friendly school environments, eliminating obstacles that prevent girls from getting an education. We get people from different generations talking about social customs related to marriage. We engage fathers, brothers and traditional leaders as agents of change.
In addition to partnering with communities around the world, CARE co-chairs the Girls Not Brides USA coalition and works with partners to ensure policy and funding changes to end child marriage. CARE asks the global community to join us in actualising the Girl Declaration - and ensure adolescent girls are at the heart of discussions in the next phase of the global development agenda.
"This is the moment I was allowed to be astonishing," says the Girl Declaration. For millions of girls across the globe, this is their moment. Let's make it happen.
Read the Girl Declaration in full
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