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K.I.N.D. Fund Scholarships Help Stop Early Marriage in Malawi
When high school girls in Malawi talk about what they want to be when they grow up, their answers probably aren't all that different from what American teens might say. A lawyer, a doctor, a poet, a journalist.
But as MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell learned on a visit to Malawi, when he asked girls where they'd be if not in school, any similarities end there.
"Here in Malawi, girls marry at early ages," Happiness Ndawu told him. "So at 15, maybe I would have been married by now."
Thanks to the K.I.N.D. Fund Scholarship she received, however, Happiness was spared that fate and is now working hard toward her ultimate goal of being a journalist one day.
O’Donnell, host of MSNBC's The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell, created the K.I.N.D. Fund with UNICEF in 2010, to give more girls and boys in Malawi the chance to pursue their dreams. Most of the close to $20 million raised has provided 830,000 Kids In Need of Desks with what is rare in Malawian schools — a chance to learn seated at a desk rather than on the floor. But about 25 percent of supporters' donations have gone towards scholarships to educate the nation's girls, nearly half of whom are married before age 18. Happiness is one of the 5,000 girls now in high school thanks to the K.I.N.D. Fund.
Child marriage is a violation of children’s rights that doesn't just keep girls out of school. In Malawi, early marriage is also linked to a higher incidence of domestic violence and the potentially life-threatening health risks of early pregnancy. To safeguard girls from those dangers, UNICEF Malawi is pursuing a multi-pronged approach.
Last year, UNICEF joined other United Nations agencies to advance an amendment to the Malawian constitution to raise the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18. UNICEF has also persuaded religious leaders and traditional chiefs to support girls' rights to go to school. But according to O'Donnell, economic inequity is an obstacle to girls' education that must be addressed.
"In Malawi, as in many African countries, high school is not free," explains O'Donnell. "Families who can afford for one child to go to school usually pay for one of the boys in the family — not one of the girls."