* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A teenager who escaped a forced marriage will lobby for girls’ education at the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa on Monday.
Christiana*, 17, from Sierra Leone, is one of a youth delegation from the global children’s rights charity Plan International who will take over the AU on June 16th 2014.
Christiana and the other young people from Sierra Leone, Egypt, Malawi, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Norway, Liberia, Kenya and Germany will ask governments across the world to increase their spend on education, with a focus on helping girls achieve their right to education.
“I was denied access to education because my mother was unable to pay my fees,” explains Christiana. “A man twice my age saw me and asked for my hand in marriage. I refused but my parents forced me into the marriage because they said the man was rich and that he would take care of me.”
“I was beaten not only by the man when I refused him sex, but also by my family, and the man’s family. Because of the lack of my fees and the marriage, I dropped out of school for a while and later sent myself back to school against the wish of my parents.”
Christiana believes that only by educating girls can they progress to have a successful future.
“Girl’s rights are important to me because girls face lots of problems in their homes and communities,” she explains.
“They are the ones that are force to leave school because their parents don’t have money to pay their fees, they are the ones who are doing all the domestic work at home, and they are the ones who are denied their rights to education.
“If they are given their rights, especially their right to education and they are educated, they and their children will be well taken care of.”
Globally, one in five girls around the world is denied an education because of poverty, child marriage, discrimination and violence.
Some 52% of out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa, a region where four out of five girls receive no formal education.
Plan International believes that supporting girls’ education is one of the single best investments that can be made to help end poverty.
The young people will call on governments across the African continent, where the average spend on education is just six per cent of GDP, to commit to increase budgetary expenditure on education.
Ten days later, African and world governments will be asked to pledge this commitment at The Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Pledging Conference in Brussels on June 26th.
“I have experienced issues affecting girls’ rights to education because I was forced into marriage, and I’d like to share my experience and the experience of other girls in my country about these issues,” says Christiana.
“I want actions to be taken to solve these issues. I am inspired by my class teacher, who’s a woman. When she speaks to us it’s very powerful, I’d like to be powerful like her. I believe that she is powerful because of her education. I believe that education can give you power.”
The ten day event begins on June 16th 2014, dubbed Day of the African Child, and continues until June 26th 2014.
*Christiana’s name has been changed to protect her identity