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Students, Not Brides

When girls stay in school, instead of marrying early, the benefits are not theirs alone; their countries’ economies gain as well. That should be enough to make any government pay attention, yet only nine developing countries have developed national strategies to end child marriage.

LONDON – A few weeks ago in Mozambique, 19-year-old Rosanna told me, “If I could give one message to other young girls, it would be to stay in education, and out of marriage.” She spoke from experience; Rosanna was a child bride, just like nearly half of all girls in her country.

The link between education and marriage is essential. Indeed, the more I speak to girls like Rosanna, who were wrenched out of childhood and married before the age of 18, the more I am convinced of the inverse relationship between the prevalence of child marriage and access to education. I will never forget the young Ethiopian girl who described her wedding day to me as “the day that I had to leave school.”

Rosanna, too, nearly had to write off her education on her wedding day. She was in school when she became pregnant. Growing up in a society where talking about sex is taboo meant that she did not understand what sex was, let alone that it could result in pregnancy. When she found out that she was pregnant, marriage became inevitable – and so, it seemed, did dropping out of school.

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