Young people in countries around the world are banding together to stop girls’ childhoods from being taken away.
In Malawi, girls as young as 10 are forced to marry. Child marriage not only takes the childhood of these young girls, it also steals their future.
“Many child marriages end in trouble or tragedy because of violence, complicated pregnancies, and extreme poverty, which does not improve by being married early,” said Feston, a 29-year-old leader of one of the youth groups supported by Plan International.
The youth groups are doing everything in their power to save girls from destructive and oppressive marriages.
Ideally, they are rescuing the girls before they are married. Whenever they hear about a child marriage being planned in their community, they take immediate action.
“In many cases we do not know the details,” said Festion. “We talk with the girls’ friends and maybe with the neighbours, before we talk to the girl herself and confront her parents. We offer advice to the girl and tell her that she has a bright future.”
The young activists visit the families in small groups. They are usually well received on their first visit, but can experience difficulties once their intent becomes clear.
“When they see that we can actually stop child weddings, they become more resistant,” said Feston “We will contact the chief of the area and if none of this helps, we'll notify the police.”
“We do not use violence or become abusive,” he added. “Dialogue is our weapon.”
Many girls who are rescued from child marriages often join the youth groups who helped them, wanting to save other girls who find themselves in the same situation. One of them is 16-year-old Hilda. She was only 14 when her grandmother forced her to get married. The marriage was abusive, and she is forever grateful for the support of the youth group.
“They explained my rights to me,” she said. “They said I did not need to stay in the marriage. They helped me to initiate the process to free myself.”
Over the past two months, Hilda has helped three girls escape their child marriages with the youth group.
“Being part of the group and contributing to helping other girls means everything to me,” said Hilda with a smile.