October 11 marks the 10th annual International Day of the Girl Child, declared by the U.N. to address global challenges faced by young girls — many who suffer unique injustices simply because they’re born female.
In a perfect world, a young girl’s childhood is protected as a time for learning and stair-stepping into the responsibilities of adulthood. But that’s not always the case, especially in communities that continue to practice child marriage. Every minute, 22 girls under the age of 18 are married, and the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19 are driving that number even higher.
A deep-rooted tradition with even deeper tolls
In some communities, female genital mutilation (FGM) is carried out on girls ages 10 to 14 as a rite of passage into womanhood, often signaling her eligibility to marry. But when a girl is forced into marriage at a young age, it bends the course of her life, replacing her education and dreams for the future with a role she isn’t ready for — physically or emotionally. Because the practices of FGM and child marriage are so harmful, the question many of us ask is: Why?
Why would a parent allow this for a daughter they love?
Often, it’s because desperation robs families of better options. Caught in the jaws of unimaginable poverty — with the promise of a bride price or a husband’s provision for their daughter — many families don’t have the luxury of choice. They’re choosing between bad and worse, and doing it within the silo of deeply rooted tradition. Without alternatives, up to 10 million more girls are estimated to be at risk of child marriage in the coming decade. But thankfully, odds and statistics don’t get to have the final word.
The formula for lasting change
Through initiatives like the Kenya Big Dream project, families are discovering they don’t have to choose between bad and worse. There’s a third door, and it opens when alternatives become available — alternative sources of income, and alternative rites of passage for girls.
World Vision works with communities to shift long-held mindsets about FGM and child marriage, increasing educational support and providing training and opportunities for economic development. Our programs engage children, parents, government and community leaders, and faith leaders to challenge the status quo together. One community at a time, people are turning away from the harmful practices of FGM and child marriage. It’s an arduous road, but it’s one deeply worth traveling. And it’s marked by stories of redemption and hope that will echo for generations, thanks to the generosity of our donor partners.
When given opportunities at an early age, girls will seize them, weaving beauty and light into their own lives and the fabric of their entire communities. Since 2016, we’ve equipped more than 25 million women and girls with the tools they need to overcome barriers and reach their full, God-given potential. This International Day of the Girl Child, we’re committed to working — alongside you and communities around the globe — toward a world that honors the dignity of children everywhere.
Here are two meaningful things you can do this International Day of the Girl:
Join our Day of the Girl virtual event on October 11.