Ending Child MarriagesEven in 2019, child marriage remains a global problem. Every year, 12 million girls from all around the world will get married before the age of 18. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and poverty because in many communities’ girls are still seen as a burden on the family. Marriage is often considered the best way to assure their future. However, there are many organizations and individuals tackling the problem of gender inequality and child marriage. Below are

Five activists whose work is ending child marriages

  1. Nada Al-Ahdal defends children’s rights.
    Nada Al-Ahdal is a Yemeni activist with a personal connection to escaping child marriage. In 2013, at the age of 11, Nada Al-Ahdal ran away from her family’s home in order to prevent a forced marriage to a 26-year-old man. During her escape, Nada Al-Ahdal made a video explaining how, if the marriage had gone through, she would have lost her chance at an education and ruined her life. Furthermore, she would have lost her childhood.
    In the first month of the video being posted, it received more than 8 million views. Nada Al-Ahdal has appeared on Lebanese and Yemeni television, spreading her message for ending child marriages. In 2018, at just 15 years old, Nada founded the Nada Foundation to protect and defend children’s rights. The foundation offers to safe havens. Additionally, it has a number of awareness programs focused on protecting children.
  2. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete speaks out against child marriage.
    At eight years old, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete ran away from her home village in Kenya. She did this in order to avoid undergoing female genital mutilation. As an adult, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete has become an activist that negotiates with village elders in Kenya to convince them to adopt alternative rites of passage for girls. She is an officer with Amref Health Africa. Additionally, it is estimated that her work has saved more than 15,000 girls in Kenya for genital mutilation and child marriage. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete now speaks out on a global stage against mutilation and child marriage in Africa. In 2018, she even was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
  3. Fatoumata Sabaly enacts change as an activist.
    Fatoumata Sabaly is from Senegal, where child marriage and female genital mutilation is still fairly common. She is a respected member of her community as a grandmother and mother. She leverages this position as an activist through the Grandmother Project. The Grandmother Project is an NGO that uses the status of elders in communities to enact change and improve the well-being of women and children.
    Fatoumata Sabaly has explained the important work she does in the project: “Sometimes, girls come to tell me their parents are marrying them off, even though they want to stay in school. When this happens, I go to their parents. Out of respect for me, the parents listen to my advice and let their daughters stay in school.” Her activism and authority are helping girls stay in school and out of unwanted marriages.
  4. Arvind Ojha leads an organization fighting child marriage and violence against females.
    Arvind Ojha is the head of URMUL Trust, an organization active in the Indian state of Rajasthan for more than 25 years. Rajasthan has one of the worst child marriage rates in all of India. URMUL Trust works hard in ending child marriage, female genital mutilation and female foeticide. Arvind Ojha has said that “[URMUL Trust doesn’t] just focus on engaging women and children in programs but also older people and even religious leaders. Change is happening. The average age of marriage for girls is increasing.”
    In 2005, URMUL Trust launched a program in the districts of Sri Ganganagar, Hanumangarh and Jaisalmer called “Dignity of the Girl Child”. The program was aimed at ending child marriages, domestic violence and female infanticide. In 2011, URMUL Trust became partners with Girls Not Brides in order to strengthen their work to ending child marriage.
  5. Isatou Jeng defends women through advocacy.
    At 15 years old, Isatou Jeng found herself pregnant and with enormous pressure to get married. What she did next broke many societal norms in her home country of Gambia. She demonstrated her passion in ending child marriages by saying, “I stood my ground, refused to marry, and saw education as the best chance for a better life for me and my child.”
    Presently, she leads The Girls Agenda, a nonprofit she founded. The purpose of the organization is to fight for other girls facing gender-based violence and child marriage. Throughout her career as an activist, she has also worked as the advocacy and campaign officer for the Network against Gender-Based Violence. This is a group of organizations that works to defend women and girls in Gambia.
    In 2018, at a conference for women who transform the world, Isatou Jeng said about her involvement with The Girls Agenda, “I did not become a feminist, I was born a feminist.”

Every minute, 23 girls under the age of 18 are married around the world. Consequently, this is the reason that the work these activists and their organizations do is so important and urgent. Even in an era where child brides seem to be a relic of the past, ending child marriages is still a critical issue.

– Isabel Fernandez
Photo: Flickr