Every year, 12 million girls are married before they turn 18. And while global child marriage rates are declining, there are still communities where girls have little to no choice in when or who they will marry.
But World Vision and the Afghan people are working to change the story for girls. World Vision’s Community Change Groups empower women and girls to learn about their rights and how to speak up if they face child marriage, while Community Change Groups for men are helping fathers and husbands realize the dangers of child marriage.
Below, see how three brave girls in Afghanistan are working to stay in school instead of being married, and how World Vision is supporting them on their journey.
Rowaida* and her 11-year-old daughter Ilham* attended a World Vision Community Change Group in Herat, Afghanistan. When Rowaida found out that her husband had arranged for Ilham to be married in exchange for a bride price, she enlisted the Group to help. Community leaders intervened, but the husband refused to stop the marriage. So Rowaida left home with her children.
It’s a brave move for a woman to leave home in Afghanistan. Her family turned their backs on her. But she’s determined to break the cycle of child marriage in her family. “My father sold me when I was 11. He was a drug addict, just like my husband now,” Rowaida says. “He used to beat me and my mother. I don’t want the same thing to happen to [my daughter] that happened to me. When I was a girl about to get married, my mother told me that it would be okay, that I would be happy and that my husband would take care of me. But it wasn’t okay.”
Ilham wants to stay in school too. She knows marriage would put an end to her education.
“If I get married I wouldn’t be able to be a teacher,” she says. “Girls don’t want to be married; they want to go to school.”
Rowaida knew that she and Ilham had rights because of her participation in the Community Change Group. Their case is being escalated in the community, but their future is still uncertain. Pray for Rowaida and Ilham and all girls who face the threat of child marriage in Afghanistan.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
In Afghanistan, the pressure to marry often comes from a girl’s father.
But that’s not the case for 12-year-old Nasima. Her father Abdulhay has been attending World Vision’s Community Change Group sessions for men. There he’s learned how harmful child marriage can be, and he’s vowed to support Nasima’s education and let her marry someone of her own choosing — in her own time.
“I learned a lot about the value of education and how young girls are still children. I hope that Nasima will finish her education and choose her own husband, this is key to a good marriage and reduces violence in the home.”
Nasima watched one of her best friends get married at age 13, and Nasima hasn’t seen her friend since. She’s determined to stick with her education. “I’m very happy that I don’t have to get married and I can go to school,” she says. “I want to be a doctor, I will do my best.”
There will be a cost associated with Nasima’s education, but the Group sessions helped Abdulhay understand the value of his daughter staying in school. “School supplies and uniforms are expensive, but I will do what’s necessary to support Nasima to help her reach her goal. People in the community have asked me whether I will marry Nasima off, but I’ve told them that she is my child and I will not be selling my daughters for money.”
Abdulhay is father to four daughters and a son.
Thirteen-year-old Esin* found out that her father had arranged for her to be married when she overheard him making arrangements on the phone. She was to be married in exchange for $8,000 USD.
“When I heard my father making these arrangements I cried and cried. I immediately went to my mother and told her, ‘I don’t want to be married!’” Esin says. Esin’s mother, Shakib*, had been attending the World Vision Community Change Groups and understood the physical and mental consequences of child marriage and child pregnancy. She knew that Esin had the right not to get married if she didn’t want to.
Shakib herself was married at 13 and pregnant at 14, and she didn’t want Esin to have the same fate. She asked her husband to stop the marriage, but he refused. He was out of work with serious health issues, and he saw the bride price as a solution for the family’s financial troubles. So Shakib and Esin asked the Group for help. The Group joined together with community elders and spent nearly a month trying to convince Esin’s father to stop the marriage. Finally, he changed his mind.
Esin is overjoyed. “I love math, I want to be either a doctor or an engineer, I haven’t decided. I’m so happy that I’m not going to get married, I am going to work even harder in school and be the top of my class; someday I will support my family.”
Shakib is grateful for the Change Group sessions. The family is still facing financial troubles, but Shakib has started washing clothes and cleaning homes so that Esin can stay in school.
“I tell my friends about what happened so they know their right not to get married,” Esin says. “I would like to be an advocate for girls, I hope all Afghan girls get an education so they can use their talents to build this country.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
World Vision is proud to support girls around the world in their choice to stay in school. Helping girls stay in school creates powerful change — global experts agree that ensuring girls have access to a quality education is one of the best ways to break the cycle of poverty. Educated girls are more likely to educate their own children, earn more income, and participate in community discussions.
When girls are allowed to speak, to learn, and to make their own choices, the entire world is stronger.
Update: Good news! The Keeping Girls in School Act passed in the House of Representatives on January 28, 2020. Let’s keep progress going by asking the Senate to follow suit! Ask your senator to support the bill that breaks down barriers to girls’ education.
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Top photo: Ilham, 11, reviews her schoolwork with her mother Rowaida in Herat, Afghanistan. Rowaida recently attended World Vision Community Change Groups and learned about women’s rights and the dangers of early marriage. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Brett Tarver)