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#TakeTheMic: How the next generation of girls are speaking up to end child marriage in Mali

Bintou and the members of the Girls Rights Group in Mali. PHOTO: Elliasaph Diassana/CARE

Bintou and the members of the Girls Rights Group in Mali. PHOTO: Elliasaph Diassana/CARE

"The day they told me about my marriage, I was 12,” Bintou, a girls’ rights activist in Mali, said. “I was confused. I turned to my mother and asked, 'What even is marriage?'"

Every year on October 11, the United Nations celebrates “International Day of the Girl Child” to “recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.”

Early and forced marriage is one of the most challenging — and most often overlooked — crises facing girls and young women around the world.

Every year, another 12 million girls are thrust into early marriages, endangering their education, health, and emotional well-being.

And the rise in conflict and displacement worldwide is only increasing girls’ risk of marrying young.

Without further action, UNICEF estimates more than 100 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.

This year, CARE is celebrating International Day of the Girl with a multi-day digital campaign to elevate girls’ voices worldwide, #TakeTheMic.

In Mali, Bintou is a prime example of the good things that can happen when girls – even those in extreme circumstances like forced marriage – get to speak for themselves. But Bintou is also a prime example of how hard facing these challenges can be.

“This wealthy man they wanted to marry me to was about 40 years old, the same age as my father,” she says. “I refused, saying that I wanted to complete my studies. My father was furious.”

Bintou at home in Mali. Photo: Elliasaph Diassana/CARE

A girl’s life is a human life

Child marriage is a devastating form of gender-based violence, trapping children in often-abusive unions. In many countries, child brides lack legal recourse, such as divorce, and access to shelters due to their status as minors.

Shockingly, pregnancy, childbirth complications, and unsafe abortions are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19, as reported by the World Health Organization.

“Early marriage can lead to unwanted pregnancies, severe bleeding, and even maternal or child mortality during childbirth,” Bintou says. “This situation can have lasting psychological trauma, particularly if a girl’s mother has passed away. Forced marriages can lead to physical harm, often perpetrated by husbands. In most cases, it’s the wife who suffers abuse. The husband can also beat the wife until she is seriously injured.”

“Girls should marry at 18 when their bodies and minds are prepared."


Bintou’s strength in refusing marriage is one of the reasons she has become a leader in a local program run by CARE’s Tipping Point project, where young women learn about leadership, empowerment, and their rights.

The Tipping Point program views child marriage as a consequence of a deeper issue – the social norms which stand in the way of girls having their say and choosing their own futures. Encouraging girls to challenge these expectations is helping girls like Bintou take their demands to local leaders and communities.

International Day of the Girl

“We astounded everyone in Siribougou when we confronted the Imam, the village chief, and our parents, insisting that we shouldn’t be married before the age of 18,” says Bintou.

“We passionately pleaded our case and received their agreement. We then went to the town hall and informed the mayor, who also agreed.”

While the community confrontation was tough, back at home, Bintou also had to confront her father.

“What truly astonished me was receiving this training and then confronting my father, telling him that I didn’t love the man he intended me to marry,” Bintou says. “I explained all the dire consequences of such a practice. After a thorough discussion, he promised not to marry me off until I turned 18.”

Bintou and the members of the Girls Rights Group, Mali. PHOTO: Elliasaph Diassana/CARE

How “enlightened and courageous” men can help

Bintou’s father has also transformed his perspective on forced marriages, leading a local association for fathers.

“When Bintou refused the marriage I proposed, I was initially angry and frustrated,” he says. “However, I eventually realized she was right. Bintou will continue her studies until she’s 18. I will ensure that. I’ll do my best to support her education.”

Bintou and her father, Mali.

One focus of #TakeTheMic is to encourage allies of the next generation of girls to step up and use whatever privileges or power they might have to help girls like Bintou achieve their dreams.

“Enlightened and courageous men assisted us,” Bintou said. “They documented their decisions legally. The village chief, the Imam, our parents, and us girls all signed this document. We informed the mayor, who accepted it. Consequently, no marriages involving individuals under 18 have occurred in Siribougou since.”

Bintou knows that such change is only possible when girls have a say in decisions that affect them. It’s not limited to ending child marriage; now girls are heard and play a role in decision-making.

“In the past, girls’ voices went unheard, and even older women had difficulty being heard. However, after the Tipping Point program, our voices are being heard. Girls must be brought up front because only they can talk about their problems. No one else can do it for you.”

These transformative changes have now been enshrined in local laws, resulting in a significant increase in the age girls are marrying within Bintou’s community. She hopes the community’s example will serve as a model for all of Mali, galvanizing a nationwide movement to end child marriage.

“I want our village’s name to be known. We, girls, can bring positive changes in the world. If you educate a man, you have educated one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a whole community, family, and the whole world.”

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