When I was 12 years old, my life revolved around playing with my friends, and trying to do my best at school. My biggest worries were whether I’d finish my homework on time, and more importantly, whether it would get an A* (I was a very conscientious pupil). My greatest responsibilities were helping my mum with chores around the house, and looking after my little brothers.
I was safe, protected, and enjoying my childhood, exactly as any 12 year old should.
But if I had been born into poverty – in Bangladesh, Mali, or Niger, for example – chances are, that at age 12, my childhood would have ended. I could have been forced into marriage. Into pregnancy. Into giving birth to a child, while still a child myself. If I survived all that, I’d have faced a life of drudgery, of doing whatever necessary to support my family. That might entail selling everything I had, including my body, to men, for sex.
10 million girls around the world are forced into early marriage each year. That’s about one girl every three seconds.
Think of yourself aged 12. Or your daughter. Or your granddaughter. Is this the childhood you would choose for her?
Today, Thursday 11 October 2012, marks the first ever International Day of the Girl Child: a chance to amplify awareness of the inequalities which confront girls, just because they are girls. In announcing this day, the UN has demonstrated its commitment to ending the discrimination, violence, and poverty that disproportionately affect girls.
But we need more than just this one day. We need, every day, to remember the millions of girls who graduate from childhood to womanhood far, far too quickly. We need to remember this injustice, and act, and advocate for global change.
We need to recognize that when girls’ rights as children and human beings are valued and respected; when girls are educated, not forced to marry, not made mothers when they’re still children themselves; when girls grow up and have the confidence, knowledge and skills to make a decent, dignified life and living; they become women who have the power to break the cycle of poverty forever.