In West and Central Africa, girls are amongst the most excluded and vulnerable groups, often faced with gender-based injustice, These often lead to to life-changing consequences such as unequal opportunities, missing out on a basic education, and being forced to marry as a child. Around the world, child marriage continues to be one of the greatest obstacles to girls thriving, and with WCA being home to 6 of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world, we believe it is essential to campaign with girls to put an end to this harmful practice.

In 2018, the WCA region committed to ensuring that young voices were given the space to speak at the highest level on issues affecting them. One of the key ways in which we honored this commitment was through our girl champion, Maryam.

Maryam is from Northern Nigeria where only 4% of girls complete secondary education. She is campaigning to end child marriage and sexual abuse, and to ensure girls have access to education and reproductive rights. Writer, singer, reporter and leader, Maryam uses her voice to hold governments accountable.

Save the Children in Nigeria’s engagement with Maryam truly kicked off in 2017 when she was invited to attend and participate in International Day of the Girl Child celebrations and discussions in Washington D.C. alongside U.S government representatives such as Deputy Secretary of State, John Sullivan, NGO representatives, other youth activists and more.

In 2018, we aimed to provide Maryam with the platforms to continue advocating for children’s rights and calling on world leaders to establish laws and policies that protect them, during key international dates such as the High-Level Political Forum, the UNGA, the International Day of the Girl Child, and 16 Days of Activism.

High-Level Political Forum:

                During the High-Level Political Forum, Save the Children UK launched a report on our progress regarding our commitment to Leave No One Behind. Maryam alongside two other girl champions co-authored the report’s foreword in which they demanded that leaders include children in decision-making processes, support them in leading the change they want, and invest in their future.

The United Nations General Assembly:

                During the UNGA in New York, Maryam participated in a high-level event on accelerating efforts to eliminate child marriage in Africa, hosted by the governments of Zambia and Canada, along with UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women. The event aimed to create a platform for Heads of States to exchange and renew efforts to ending child marriage. Maryam addressed the event’s participants, reminded them of the devastating consequences of child marriage on girls, and called on them to put the right laws in place to prevent child marriage, work with traditional and religious leaders for social behavior change at the community level, and involve young girls in decision making processes.

International Day of the Girl Child (IDOG):

                To commemorate the IDOG, Save the Children in Nigeria and Maryam teamed up to highlight the importance of providing girls with an education and maintaining them in school. Accompanied by members of our Child Rights Advocacy Club from a junior secondary school in Nigeria, they took to local radio channel, Nigerian Info 95.1 to discuss the significance of giving girls equal opportunities. Later, at the event hosted in the junior secondary school, she called for stronger support from the government in the fight to end child marriage and gender-based discrimination that causes girls to perform poorly at school.

16 days of activism

                On November 23rd, the High Commissioner of Canada launched the 2018 edition of the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence against Women and Girls, alongside the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, UNFPA, CHAI, Save the Children and other development partners. Maryam, panelist and speaker, took this opportunity to commend the Canadian government on its support to addressing critical challenges associated to sexual and reproductive health rights that Nigerian girls and women face daily.

Over the past year, Maryam’s advocacy nationally and internationally to defend the rights of the most excluded groups, particularly girls with regards to child marriage and education, has demonstrated how important it is to ensure that children are part of the discussions affecting their lives, and how Save the Children can be their voice by providing them with the platforms to be their own voice.