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Making Girls Count

Posted: 09/25/08 06:13 PM ET

Nearly six months after becoming an international celebrity for winning a divorce from a man three times her age, 10-year-old Nujood Ali returned to school this month.

Per tribal custom, Nujood's father had pulled the little girl out of second grade to be married to a man in his 30s who beat and sexually abused her. The Yemini child bride, with the help of an aunt, found the courage to fight back and was ultimately granted a divorce.

While Nujood has regained some semblance of childhood, most child brides do not. That is why one of the topics world leaders took up at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI)'s annual meeting was ways to address the critical challenges faced by adolescent girls.

Adolescent youth are the fastest growing segment of the world's population, primarily in the poorest developing countries. With one person in eight being a girl or young woman age 10-24, the welfare of the world's girls fundamentally impacts a country's economic, environmental and social outcomes. The fact that the world's girls and young women tend to be less educated, less healthy and less free than their male counterparts impacts us all.

We applaud CGI for keeping this vital issue at the forefront of world leaders' agenda and hope it serves as a wake-up call to donor governments that have found it too easy to ignore adolescent girls and label them lost victims of social custom. It's time for girls' voices to be heard and their realities to change.

Tamara Kreinin is the Executive Director of Women and Population at the United Nations Foundation.