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Young African activists share powerful stories on child marriage in first ever UNICEF Twitter takeover

NEW YORK, 16 June 2015 – Five young activists from across Africa are sharing their powerful personal experiences of child marriage in UNICEF’s first ever global Twitter takeover on this year’s Day of the African Child (June 16).
The inspiring young women from Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Uganda are each telling their story by taking the reins of the @UNICEF account – one of the largest non-profit Twitter presences in the world with more than 4 million followers.
The girls, two of whom were child brides themselves, overcame adversity to become advocates for other women and girls around the world.

“This is an incredible opportunity to share my story and contribute to the campaign to end child marriage in Africa, particularly in Chad,” says one of the participants, activist and former child bride Mariam Moussa. “I hope it will also save my daughter and other young girls from the same path I have had to take.”
Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, and more than 1 in 3 were married before the age of 15.  Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 40 per cent of girls married by the time they reach the age of 18. 
“Child marriage robs girls of their childhoods and can scar their lives forever,” says Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection. 
“Child brides often drop out of education.  They are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and experience horrific violence, exploitation and abuse. These incredible young activists are beacons of hope.  We need all parts of society to follow their example and take urgent action to protect those at risk.”
Day of the African Child commemorates a march in 1976 in Soweto, South Africa, when thousands of school children took to the streets to demonstrate for better education.  The focus of this year’s events is accelerating efforts to end child marriage in Africa.
You can follow the takeover on Twitter @UNICEF (from 7am EST/ 11am GMT on June 16).  A Storify post will be available at the end of the day. #youthtakeover #endchildmarriage
Note to Editors

Multimedia materials on child marriage are available here: http://uni.cf/1Qzkc8w 

Details of the five UNICEF Twitter takeover participants are below. 

Mariam Agrei Musa (31, Chad)
Born in Libya to Chadian parents, Mariam was forced to marry by family members in Chad at age 16. After getting pregnant shortly after being forced to wed, Mariam fled to Cameroon with her daughter where she eventually finished high school and enrolled in University.  When she returned to Chad to look for work, her daughter was removed by her former husband’s family. She is now a women’s rights advocate.
Jennifer* (24, Uganda)
At the age of 13, ‘Jennifer’ was abducted from her home in the middle of the night. She and her five siblings were sleeping when they heard their names being called and saw soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) flashing lights in their eyes. She and the other abductees were forced to walk until they reached a town called Kitgum. From there, they were taken to Sudan, where the Jennifer and the other girls were ‘given’ to different commanders, who became their ‘husbands’. After a number of years, she escaped captivity and returned to Uganda, and she is now living with her daughter. (*Name has been changed to protect identity)
Ilwad Elman (25, Somalia)
After her peace activist father was killed in the Somalia civil war, Ilwad and her family emigrated to Canada. Ilwad's mother later returned to Somalia to set up the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Mogadishu – Somalia’s first ever programme to care for victims of gender-based violence through counselling, health care and housing. Ilwad returned to Somalia in 2010 and has been working alongside her mother ever since.

Halima Laoual Bachir (24, Niger)
Born in Niger, the majority of Halima’s friends were taken out of school and forced to marry at a very young age. As one of the few fortunate girls in her community who was able to graduate, Halima has built a career and is a vocal advocate for girls’ rights to an education and ending child marriage. 
Josephine Kamara (22, Sierra Leone): Josephine started her advocacy work at the age of nine when she joined Peacelinks Sierra Leone, an organization that promotes peace and unity. Last year, she formed Women of Wonders Sierra Leone (WOW-SL), a movement targeting vulnerable young women in the country, including those living in poverty, those who are illiterate, school dropouts and teenage mothers. She is currently hosting a local television programme addressing issues affecting female children in Sierra Leone.
About the Day of the African Child
The Day of the African Child commemorates the 1976 march in Soweto South Africa, when thousands of African school children took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand injured. To honour the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity. The Day also draws attention to the lives of African children today.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit: http://www.unicef.org.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter using #youthtakeover and #endchildmarriage
For further information, please contact:
Rose Foley, UNICEF New York, +1917 340 2582, rfoley@unicef.org

Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York, +1 917 209 1804, nmekki@unicef.org




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