Aissatou stands up for girls
Can you close your eyes, please, and count to 7?
Now, just imagine – every 7 seconds of every day, somewhere in the world, a girl who’s not yet 15 has to get married – has to start cooking, cleaning, having babies.
Now, come and meet Aissatou. She won’t stand for it!
Listen to the WoW! News podcast about Aïssatou!
Aissatou is 13 and lives in Guinea, a small country in West Africa. The law there says people must normally be 18 to get married. But more than half of all girls are younger than that when they marry.
One in five is married before she is 15.
One day, when she was 12, Aissatou learned that one of her friends would no longer come to school because she was getting married. That’s when Aissatou decided she had to do something to stop that happening to other girls.
We think Aissatou’s story is especially interesting because so many of you, our readers, are also missing school today because of corona virus.
Two weeks ago, we introduced you to Malala from Pakistan. Do you remember? Like Aissatou, she spoke up to say she wanted girls like her to keep going to school.
Aissatou met a group of other brave young people who have stood up for their legal rights – The Girl Leaders Club of Guinea. And she is now runs their group on marriage. She’s the president of this group.
It’s a grand title. Do you think she has a big office?
Far from it!
When Aissatou isn’t at school herself, she spends her time talking to girls in other schools. She explains that they don’t have to get married if they don’t want to. She tells them why staying at school will give them more choice for their future. And that it’s fine to wait and get married when they’re older.
Aissatou also spends her time on the street. She walks around the local market with a loudspeaker, telling parents not to make their daughters get married too young.
With her friends from the Club, Aissatou has even saved girls at the last minute. If they hear about an illegal wedding, they go and get the police to stop it. In Guinea, they’ve saved dozens of child brides.
To show that speaking out works, international experts reckon that since 2010 about 25 million girls have been saved from early marriages.
How to be brave
What Aissatou says doesn’t please everyone in Guinea. Not at all.
Lots of grown-ups say girls have always got married young and nothing should change. But Aissatou knows that just because something has been wrong for a long time doesn’t make it right. She says she stands up to adults because she cares about girls like herself.
“I tell myself I can’t give up and let these girls suffer something that isn’t fair,” she says.
Aissatou’s dream is that every girl can continue having lessons:
“All girls should be able to go to school, to learn lots of things, to be independent, to learn their rights and also what they have to do, to give themselves goals.”
And what about Aissatou’s own goals?
She wants to be an international journalist. That makes a lot of sense to us. Her voice is already being heard far from home. She took part last year in a film about children making a difference in the world.
12 million girls a year marry before they’re 18. Most leave school. It’s not good for them and harms the community and the economy.
Adults often ignore girls’ rights. Girls who speak up can change that. Giving girls more time at school can help everyone get healthier and richer.
This readable World Bank report explains the link between forced marriage, girls’ education and national prosperity
The BBC follows a young woman fighting forced marriage in Guinea in this video: