This week Norway hit international headlines as the story of a 12-year-old girl preparing for her upcoming marriage to a 37-year-old man both horrified and confused people. Wasn’t Norway an enlightened country? The young girl, Thea, was blogging about her wedding plans, discussing possible venues, gown conundrums and when she should start having children with Geir, her husband-to-be.
The blog went viral, causing immediate outcry. #stoppbryllupet (Norwegian for #stopthewedding) began to trend on twitter. People contacted the authorities, so incensed were they at the thought of the child bride marrying a man 25 years older than her. However, the wedding was actually stunt by the charity Plan International to raise awareness about International Day of the Girl, which falls today, and the 39,000 girls who are forced into marriage every day. 39,000. Every day. That’s 14.2 million girls annually.
In late 2011 the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th the International Day of the Girl Child to draw attention to the challenges girls face across the world from the day they are born. That same year WHO predicted that between 2011 and 2020 more than 140 million girls would be married before they are 18. 50 million of those will be under 15.
Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, Because I am a Girl Ambassador and Ms Justina Mutale, African Woman of the Year (2012) at the launch of Plan Ireland’s Because I am a Girl report.
While Thea’s fictional wedding upset millions of readers, there are 39,000 girls today who deserve the same level of attention, mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In India 47% of girls are married before they are 18. In Niger this number is 75%. Plan Ireland’s latest report found that 1 in 3 girls in the developing world are married before reaching adulthood. Victims of child marriage are at more risk of intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later. They fall pregnant before their bodies are ready to bear children. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading causes of death in girls aged 15-19.
Child marriage forces girls out of school. 64% of the 793 million adults globally who cannot read are women. Only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary school. Research has found that when girls are educated they are less likely to marry, which is why charities like Plan work with communities to keep girls in school and empowers them to pursue the lives they want. Earlier this week Séan Sherlock T.D., our Minister for Trade, praised Plan for their “valuable contribution to these global efforts”. Plan’s targeted campaign, Because I Am A Girl, tackles the barriers to girls’ education such as forced labour, sexual violence, and child marriage. In a world where Malala Yousafzai shot by Taliban in 2012 for speaking out for girls’ right to education, organisations like Plan are doing some of the most important work of our generation. Malala survived the attack and is now internationally recognised as one of the leading voices for women’s rights. Yesterday the now 17-year-old was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her activisim (she shares the Prize with Indian children’s rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi).
It’s a powerful message from the Nobel Committee that we need to take girls’ rights seriously. Thea’s blog is now the homepage for the Plan International campaign and showcases the support of celebrities like Ashton Kutcher to #stopthewedding. Instead of Thea’s wedding blog, 15-year-old Latifa from Tanzania now shares her story. She was married as a girl,raped on her wedding night, and gave birth to a child nine months later. Her husband abandoned her and she now lives with a friend and looks after her daughter every day. She plans to help her daughter attend school and not be forced into a marriage against her will.
Visit plan.ie for more details.
Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun