It seems remarkable that 11 October 2013 marks only the second time that the global community has come together to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. Has it really taken us this long to recognise that adolescent girls hold the key to building a healthier, safer, more prosperous world?
The theme for Day of the Girl 2013 – ‘Innovating for girls’ education’ – highlights this link, and recognises that we are unlikely to address global poverty if we don’t enable girls to complete their education. The case is clear. Girls who complete secondary school earn significantly more as adults. They are more likely to know about and use reproductive health services. And the benefits spill over to the next generation as well: mortality rates of children whose mothers have at least seven years of education are up to 58% lower than those among children whose mothers have no education.
Despite all we know about the benefits of education for girls, millions of girls miss out. Indeed, only 30 per cent of girls around the world are enrolled in secondary school. That is why on Day of the Girl 2013, we cannot ignore the practices that keep girls out of the classroom.
Child marriage is a major barrier to progress on girls’ education. When girls marry as children, they usually drop out of school, forced to abandon schoolbooks for household chores. They are denied the opportunity to learn the skills that could help them earn a safe, dependable income as adults and which are necessary to build a sustainable and prosperous future for their communities. Every year approximately 14 million girls a year marry before they turn 18. While not all of them will drop out of school, most do. How can we get all girls in school, when child marriage keeps pulling them out?