Resist. Resist. Resist. “I don’t want to go to the bedroom!” “Help!” “Stop!” She fights with all her might. But her husband’s friend comes in and beats her. Suddenly, everything silences, and her body collapses.Melka wakes up in the hospital with her whole body aching. Everything hurt so badly, she couldn’t move, she could barely even open her eyes. She's there for thirty days. There, the nurses discover her illegal marriage and report what happened to her and the marriage gets annulled. Her stepfather, mother, and the man who she was forced to marry goes to jail. She had a somewhat lucky escape. Today, Melka works at a school, teaching girls about their rights. She asserts, “It was hard, but I’ve come out stronger… Now, I’m not afraid of anything anymore.”
As a fervent opponent against child marriage and an advocate for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation that works to help girls in Malawi, India, Ethiopia, and other countries with major human rights violations, I think to myself, “I am fifteen, what if I were them? I would have two children by now.”
While my answer fluctuates constantly between politician and surgeon, the girls in these countries who are forced to marry by fourteen also have similar dreams. But I often ponder, “What makes them different than me? Why do I have the opportunity to pursue my dreams and not them?” The truth is, child marriage is a manifestation of gender inequality, and so is the lack of secondary education for girls. When these girls have a proper secondary education, they can work in better jobs with better pay, marry later, and be able to care for their families.But how do we do it? How do we stop girls from being married to men three times their age? The key is law enforcement. There are laws in place: in Ethiopia, girls are not able to be married before 18. But Melka was. This is a especially true in rural areas, traditional practices such as child marriage still occur countlessly, so it is absolutely critical to enforce already passed laws in order for them to be effective. One way to do so is prioritizing the effort of addressing issue of the lack of law enforcement in developing countries in the US Department of State and USAID.
We can also provide secondary education for these girls so they marry later. By supporting non-profit organizations such as UNICEF and the United Nations Foundation, and petitioning governments to make education more accessible and affordable, we can achieve that end. Education gives these girls a platform to change the world, it is the key to achieving aspirations. That is powerful.Finally, for girls who are already married, it is absolutely imperative to increase access to reproductive healthcare. Childbirth is already extremely dangerous; we need to help these girls be safe by building clinics in villages and countries where this practice is prevalent. It’s 2016. There is no time to lose.
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