By Ashley Rickards
What was your life like when you were 13? Did you hide out in your room a lot to read or listen to music? Did you go the mall with your friends so much that the mall cops and all the cashiers in the food court knew your name? Or did you scramble every night to clean up and make dinner for your husband in between nursing your newborn?
Did that last one seem outrageous and weird to you? Good. Consider yourself lucky. What's shocking to you is real life for tens of millions of girls around the globe. 25,000 girls younger than 18 are forced to marry each day. Across the developing world, you’re far more likely to see a teenage girl with a husband and children than with a diploma.
If the only thing wrong with forcing a girl to marry was that it takes away her basic right to make her own decisions, that would be enough reason to object -- and loudly. But forced child marriage does so much more than that. It does major physical and emotional damage to the girls who suffer it. Girls forced to marry young are forced to have sex and get pregnant before their minds and bodies are ready. Girls who have babies at 15 or younger are five times more likely to die during labor than women in their 20s. And teens who don’t die during birth often suffer fistulas, or the rupture of the wall separating the birth canal from the intestines.
Even the girls who get by with their bodies in one piece pay a huge price. Girls forced to marry usually never go back to school. Without an education, and totally cut-off from their network of friends, their ability to ever make a living for themselves and their kids is severely diminished.
Me writing about it and you reading about isn’t going to magically fix anything. But a lot of people writing about it and lot of people reading it can.
Today is the UN’s first International Day of the Girl. It’s part of a growing movement to advocate for girls’ rights everywhere. For me it means to stop forced child marriage and empower girls to be whatever they choose to be. If we unite for girls around the world, the world leaders who have the power to help them are more likely to do the same.
Please take a couple minutes to learn about ending child marriage, and use the #Unite4Girls hashtag on Twitter to tell everyone you know about this unfair practice. Spreading the word leads to changes and that's one the many reasons I'm glad this day exists.