04/03/2014 04:34 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2014

Laila Was 13 When She Was Forced Into Marriage. Now She's Speaking Up For Change

When Laila was 13 years old, the Yemeni teenager returned home from a fun day at school to find her mother crying in bed.

Her father returned home soon after and announced Laila was to be married within the next two weeks to a man 20 years older than she was, according to UNICEF. She entered her "nightmare."

"I started screaming, and my mother rushed out to grab me while my father angrily threatened to beat -- or even kill -- me, if I refused," Laila said to UNICEF.

She spoke with the human rights organization in order to shine a light on the damaging effects of early marriage, because, unfortunately, Laila's story is not rare. According to the International Center for Research on Women, one in nine girls globally will be married before the age of 15.

Girls younger than 15 who are forced into marriage are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. They also are more likely to experience domestic violence and live in poverty.

"Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects," Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D., executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, said in a press release last year. "A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled."

While early marriage exists virtually everywhere, rates differ dramatically based on region. In rural South Asia, for example, nearly a half of girls will be married before their 18th birthday, according to statistics produced by the United Nations.

Learn more about early marriage and take action at Girls Not Brides.



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