Next, we visited a school on a beach in a district called Angoche. A grass hut with a thatched roof, the school is part of UNICEF’s child-friendly Schools for Africa initiative. In Mozambique, this program covers all primary schools in seven districts, benefiting 800 schools and 400,000 school-age children. Funds from the U.S. Fund for UNICEF help to provide desks, basic school materials, health intervention like deworming and immunizations, and “life skills development.” While life skills development may sound vague, we saw it in action—with kids learning how to make informed decisions about important issues affecting their lives, including early marriage.
A serious problem in Mozambique, child marriage has terrible health implications for young girls. Over half of Mozambican girls are married before the age of 18. As we walked into the beachside classroom, children aged 10 to 13 greeted us with smiles and a song that they had learned through educational materials provided by UNICEF. “I am a girl, 12 years old,”they sang. “My mother is very poor. She says that I should marry. I don’t want to marry; I want to go to school. I tell my mother I want to go to school. Mozambican boys don’t want to marry illiterate girls these days.” The Song made quite an impression on us. It was wonderful example of the power that young people have to change culture norms. When a member of our group later asked the UNICEF Child Protection specialist what motivates her to get up and go to work everyday, she answered, “those kids, singing that song.”