Give girls a voice and quality education
Maputo, February 2014. Traveling across 70 countries in 288 days prior to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Queen’s Baton arrived in Mozambique in early February, with runners taking turns passing along the baton as it made its way through the country. One of the runners was a 15-year old girl named Amina Marcelino.
Amina looks like any other ordinary girl in Mozambique. But she is not. She is healthy, lives with both parents, attends the 11th grade, and enjoys going to school. Unlike many of her friends, getting married or having a baby is not part of her plans for now. Sadly, Amina is a rare exception among a disturbing majority of girls in the country, for whom early marriage and motherhood wreck their chances of completing school.
It is estimated that half of girls in Mozambique are married before they turn 18, with nearly one in five of them married before 15, preventing them from attending school and living a normal teenage life. Approximately 1.2 million school-age children were not in school in 2012, more than half of them girls.
“In my neighbourhood, it is normal for girls in their early teens to be having babies or abortions, and dropping out of school to care for their children", says Amina. "I've seen it at my school too. And it's not because they want to. Many are unaware or are deceived and abused by older people."
Amina lives near one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Maputo, and is surrounded by poverty. Many youngsters her age are already engaging in unsafe sex, and have become less interested in school, life skills and sports.
Early on, Amina decided to take a different route, and has been an outspoken children’s advocate in her school. At the tender age of 10, she was elected into the Mozambican Children's Parliament, which is supported by UNICEF, where she has been active since. Through her example and voice she hopes to inspire other girls in advocating for children’s rights such as participation, access to quality education and a child-friendly environment.
Amina believes that the best way to strengthen girls’ self-esteem is to encourage them to participate in education and sports, as this builds the needed skills to become contributing members of society. She herself likes to play football.
"I am inspired by the values of sportsmanship, such as equality, honesty, mutual aid, respect for others, willpower and perseverance," says Amina.
When the Queen’s Baton arrived in Maputo on February 4, Amina was at the airport to welcome it, invited by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education. In Mozambique, UNICEF works to improve the quality of education, by training teachers, providing school materials, building toilets in schools that girls feel safe using, and helping integrate sports programmes in the curriculum, encouraging girls to participate in particular.
Holding the Baton high on behalf of all Mozambican children, Amina and other young athletes circled Heroes’ Square and criss-crossed Maputo’s main avenues and streets, with this symbol of unity, sport and culture carried aloft for everyone to see. The first stop was the September 7 Primary School, where many other school children took turns holding the baton.
"I felt valued,” she says, recalling her emotions on that day. “I was carrying all Mozambican girls’ dreams and hopes.”
"My dream is to study sports, to increase my knowledge and become an adult armed with education and a healthy life. For my and other Mozambican girls’ dreams to become a reality, we need our parents, family and the whole society to provide us with the basic conditions so that all children, especially girls, attend school at the right age, and complete at least secondary education," said Amina to the large audience. "Let no one force girls to marry, get pregnant, or leave school, nor to subject them to abuse and violence."
Amina’s passionate words did not fall on deaf ears, with all who spoke after her repeating her words and emphasizing her message.
"Physical education is particularly important for girls, as it helps them stay in school and contribute to women’s literacy, one of the important factors for national development," said UNICEF Representative Koen Vanormelingen. "We would like to associate this event to Mozambique's efforts in improving access to quality of education, especially for girls".
For more information, please contact:
Patricia Nakell, UNICEF Mozambique,
Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique,