Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, and Melinda French Gates recently visited Malawi and South Africa announcing to the BBC their aim to end child marriage within a generation, through a collaboration between their foundations.
They met girls affected by the issue, including Lucy, who resisted her father’s wishes to marry an older man at 14 – and so escaped forced marriage as a child, which is recognized as a form of modern slavery.
Instead, Lucy became the first girl in her village to go to university and now supports other girls in Malawi vulnerable to being coerced into marriage, to stay in education.
Slow progress of a global issue
Child marriage persists all over the world. More than 650 million girls and women alive today are married under 18, and more than 12 million girls a year are added to that number as they marry in legal and traditional ceremonies. Even when legal barriers exist, cultural barriers make change difficult. According to the U.N., at the current rate of progress, it will take 300 years to eradicate child marriage around the world.
“It is an issue that can be solved tomorrow. If all the world leaders got together and made it a priority, it wouldn’t take 300 years. It could happen in less than a generation.” – Michelle Obama
The younger a child is, the less control they have to give their free consent to marriage and the more vulnerable they may be to slavery.
Threefold collaboration against child marriage
The three women announced the collaboration of their organizations, who all act from different, but related perspectives, last year. Michelle Obama’s foundation Girls Opportunity Alliance focuses on increasing girls’ access to education, something that is hindered by teen marriages. Amal Clooney’s Waging Justice for Women program brings legal aid in the form of outreach and the establishment of legal clinics to teach women about their rights. Lastly, the projects supported by Melinda French Gates focus on improving healthcare, including help for girls experiencing complications due to becoming mothers at a young age. Considering the overlap of their missions to defend women’s rights and improve their livelihood, a coalition was born.
“You have to form alliances and fight against these kinds of injustices with the determination that it takes to win a war.” – Amal Clooney
Freedom United believes that by tackling early child marriage in countries where girls are vulnerable to slavery, we can help put an end to forced child marriage and slavery. You can learn more about forced child marriage and support the fight against this injustice by signing our pledge. Join us here!