My niece, the 10-year-old bride

In a few months, my niece, Alyssa, turns 11. Already, she’s considered old enough for marriage  and motherhood  in some parts of the world. She’s just a little girl. Alyssa doesn’t even know algebra. She hasn’t yet experienced the wonders (and/or horrors) of middle school.

But if she had been born in some African, Asian or Latin American countries, Alyssa might be preparing for a wedding instead of her first cheerleading competition.

Yeah, it’s a pretty disturbing thought.

Child marriage is a real concern in some of the countries where CI works. India, Zambia and the Dominican Republic are three of the top 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage. One in seven girls worldwide becomes a child bride, often marrying an older man she doesn’t know.

But CI  along with a ton of other amazing human rights organizations  is working to change these sobering statistics! The United Nations designated Oct. 11 as International Day of the Girl Child to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face worldwide.

CI is working to help empower girls and change their futures through several programs:

  • Thousands of staff members and volunteers are trained every year on our child-protection procedures. They then fight abuse and exploitation and help prevent early marriages.
  • CI community centers offer safe spaces (protected by security guards!) where girls can study and hang out, reducing their exposure to potential traffickers.
  • CI’s Sports for Development program levels the playing field for girls through co-ed sports, encouraging them to challenge gender norms and boosting their self-esteem.
  • Teens in the Youth Health Corps receive training about gender, health, substance abuse and reproductive issues. The youth then become educators themselves, sharing their knowledge with peers.
  • Our Social and Financial Education program teaches youth about their individual rights and civic responsibilities, as well as how to manage money, conserve resources, plan a business and save for the future. Many girls have gone on to start their own businesses, making and saving enough to pay for college, instead of getting married! 
  • Job training gives young women access to vocational classes they might be barred from otherwise.

Members of the Youth Health Corps receive training in health issues, including substance abuse, HIV, AIDS and accurate reproductive information, as well as human rights.

Our efforts to educate and empower young girls can have a long-lasting effect in their communities and their families. When a girl in the developing world gets at least seven years of education, she typically marries four years later and has two fewer children. Educated women also experience less violence, are more likely to make more money and have healthier children once they do decide to become moms.

And if there’s only one thing I want for girls like my niece, it’s that they realize they are the ones who control their own futures. Girls should have the opportunities to live the lives they choose to lead  not the lives they are born into.

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