Mariam was nine when she entered a classroom for the very first time. Until then, her gender had prevented her from going to school. Mariam is from Chad, a country where only 42.2% of females aged 15-24 can read or write. Rather than get an education, girls in Chad are expected to stay at home, carrying out the daily chores, supporting the family income and preparing for marriage - 68% of girls in Chad are married as children, one of the highest child marriage rates in the world.
Before coming into contact with our Family Strengthening Programme in N’Djamena, Chad, Mariam’s days began at five o’clock in the morning when she would immediately clean the house before heading into the village to work as a vendor. After a long day, she would return home to cook for her family.
The chance to learn
Today, Mariam’s day is very different. She now spends her time learning all sorts of new and exciting things, because today Mariam is a student.
At the start, everything about school was new and Mariam was overwhelmed. “When the bell rang to signal break time, I thought it was time to go back home,” she says. “I took my writing slate and went out, believing that it was the end of the day. The teacher asked me to back into the classroom. The children laughed at me, I felt silly.”
Many of her classmates are much younger than her; she joined the pre-school when she was nine years old. “We began by learning the French alphabet,” she remembers. “The class was full of children, Christians and Muslims and I was afraid of them. I was ashamed to be in a class with six-year-old children, while those of my age were in the upper class. Sometimes I felt that they were looking at me and laughing.”
Five years later and Mariam loves school - especially playing with her friends! She dreams of becoming a teacher so that she can help other children learn and have a brighter future.
Inequality: Progress has been made, but more can be done
The specific focus of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is on adolescents - teenagers and young women. This focus recognises the fact that while over the past 15 years a lot of progress has been made for girls during early childhood, older girls still face many significant barriers to equality.
Today, there are more girls under 10 enrolled in primary school than every before. They are also more likely to get the essential vaccinations they need and less likely to die from easily preventable diseases and malnutrition. The same progress has not been made for girls over the age of 10.
The number of girls completing, let alone attending, secondary school is incredibly low. In 2013 alone, 32 million girls of secondary school age were out of school. This has serious implications for the employment prospects of young women the world over, as well as impacting on the overall development of some of the world’s poorest countries. Women who have completed more years of education tend to have fewer health issues, have fewer children and are more able to bring those children up better.
Mariam knows just how important her education will be for her future: “Now I can achieve anything,” she says.
Teenage girls and young women have the same right as any other person to safety, good health and an education. Help a girl like Mariam have access to the same opportunities as everyone else, and sponsor a child today.