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The Tragedy of Child Brides

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This Thursday the first International Day of The Girl Child aims to focus attention on two major issues affecting millions of vulnerable girls -- the tragedy of child brides and the importance of girls' education.

Ten million girls every year are removed from school and forced into marriages they did not choose. Girls of nine, ten and eleven are among those whose childhoods are stolen, and destined instead to a future of poverty and exploitation.

My recent report on child marriage makes clear that the surest way to end this scandal of child brides is to ensure that every girl goes to school. Ending the destruction of talent and opportunity that comes with early marriage would also generate wider benefits. Children born to very young mothers (who often live in extreme poverty) are more likely to die before their fifth birthday; keeping girls in school and out of marriage delays them having children so young. Prolonging girls' education could therefore save an estimated 500,000 infant lives between now and the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goal on child mortality.

That is why every government, UN agency and donor should include in their education strategies clear targets for eliminating early marriage, backed by policies and financing provisions. On Thursday I'll be supporting the call by a number of UN agencies and leading campaigners including Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson to accelerate progress in reducing the number of child brides.

Commendable progress in narrowing the gender gap in education has been made, though far too many girls are still denied their right to schooling because of gender discrimination. This week Plan International will publish its findings on girls' education. Providing girls with learning opportunities makes them less likely to be a child bride and more likely to be informed about HIV/AIDS, hygiene, nutrition and employment prospects.

Later this year Sarah Brown and Sue Smalley will publish a study summarizing what needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goal promising basic education for every girl by the end of 2015.

Part of my remit as UN Special Envoy for Global Education is to work to end the scandal of violation of girl's rights by offering education for all. Our guarantee on International Day of The Girl Child is that we will do everything, everywhere to ensure that the millions of girls who have not gone to school today will get their chance of an education and have their basic human rights respected.