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Obama, Clooney and Gates: 'We can end child marriage in a generation'

World

The Obama Foundation

7 months ago
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Three of the world's most influential women have told BBC News they want to end child marriage within a generation.

Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney and Melinda French Gates announced last year a collaboration between their foundations to combat the problem.

At the current rate of progress, the UN has warned it will not be eradicated for 300 years.

But former First Lady Mrs Obama told BBC News: "It is an issue that can be solved tomorrow."

The three women spoke exclusively to BBC 100 Women during a visit to Malawi and South Africa.

"I'm sorry," said 26-year-old Lucy, as she choked back tears. "I feel emotional."

Lucy was in the library of Ludzi Girls secondary school in the central region of Malawi. US secret service agents stood outside, under the red flame trees of the school grounds. She had just been speaking about the importance of girls staying in school, and spared the fate of marriage to much older men, before emotion suddenly overcame her.

Around the table, three of the world's most influential humanitarians - Melinda French Gates, Amal Clooney and Michelle Obama - had quietly listened to her story.

According to the NGO, Girls Not Brides, Malawi has one of the highest child marriage rates in Eastern and Southern Africa, with 42% of girls already married by the age of 18. In Mchinji District, where Ludzi Girls school is located, 33% of girls are reported to fall pregnant before they reach 18, and leave education.

Lucy could have been one of those girls. Her father had wanted her out of school when she was 14, but she resisted, and later became the first girl in her village to go to university. Now, with a degree in education, she is a district leader for AGE Africa, an organisation that provides scholarships for vulnerable girls in Malawi, a country where secondary education is not free. Lucy was once a student in the programme, and now she helps girls like herself.

The Obama Foundation

Michelle Obama: “I see myself in the girls that we are fighting for” Her mother is overjoyed at her achievement, Lucy said, although her father is less so. She said he is still coming to terms with an independent daughter. Sharing all this left her overwhelmed.

The former First Lady of the US, sitting to Lucy's left, spoke up. "Will you send your father a message for me? Next time you see him, tell him that Michelle and Barack Obama are so proud of you, and the woman you have become."

Lucy looked up, smiling. On Lucy's right sat international human rights barrister Mrs Clooney. "And tell him you have a lawyer too now," she added.

source: BBC