Tomorrow marks an unprecedented day for the 57 million children and 69 million youth who don't have the opportunity to go to school and learn. Thousands of young people from around the world will participate in Malala Day -- a youth takeover of the UN General Assembly -- either at the United Nations in New York or satellite events around the world to call for a heightened commitment by world leaders to make education for all children a reality.
One of the other young women celebrating Malala Day at the United Nations is Zarmina Rasouli, an Afghan woman who has experienced firsthand the barriers to education that millions of other youth face. Zarmina grew up in turbulent Afghanistan during the Taliban rule when it wasn't safe for women and girls to leave their homes. Instead of fleeing to Pakistan, like so many did during that time, she stayed and continued to attend school despite the daily threat of violence. Like Malala, Zarmina made the decision to risk her life to complete her secondary education. Zarmina now works for the international organization ActionAid to ensure other girls and marginalized children have the same chance she did to finish their studies.
Afghanistan has made great progress in enrolling girls in school. The estimated female gross enrolment ratio rose from less than 4% in 1999, when the Taliban was in power and had banned girls' education, to 79% in 2010, but the country still has a long road ahead. Today only 7 girls are in school for every 10 boys and girls' schools still continue to be targets of attack.
At the launch of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's Global Education First Initiative last September Chernor Bah, Chair of the Initiative's Youth Advocacy Group, said "it is not an uncommon experience for children to live through the agony of war, but the outcome [of finishing school] is an exception -- and that's not right." Malala and Steeza's stories are also not uncommon. Children throughout the world continue to take a risk each morning they go to school - as we saw with the attack on the Nigerian school last week and the bombing of the school in Pakistan earlier this month.
In Afghanistan 46 percent of girls are married by age 18 and between 60 to 80 percent of all marriages are forced. This is not a barrier girls face to education in Afghanistan alone. Globally, 10 million girls become child brides every year denying them the opportunity to go to school. Worldwide there are also 215 million children aged 5-17 years old involved in child labor, limiting their time in school (if they are attending school at all). And almost half of the worlds out of school children live in conflict affected countries and regions.
Through Malala Day world leaders have the opportunity to recommit to ensuring the leaders of tomorrow are not thwarted of the opportunity today to learn, prosper and be successful, engaged citizens. A youth resolution, drafted with input from young people in over 45 countries, will be distributed to all Member States of the United Nations tomorrow making clear that children and youth are energized, all they need is the support of their leaders.
With only 900 days left to get all children into school by 2015, fulfilling a promise the global community made in 2000, this is not a challenge to be taken lightly. As UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown often says, giving children the right to go to school gives them the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The events tomorrow will show that the youth are committed to making education for all a reality: Will world leaders do that same?
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in association with the A World at School campaign to mark Malala Day. Malala Day will take place at the United Nations on July 12, 2013 -- the 16th birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. On that day, Malala will address 500 young campaigners as part of a special youth takeover of the United Nations. For more information, visit aworldatschool.org.
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