Michelle Obama, Melinda French Gates & Amal Clooney Team Up to End Child Marriage in Malawi in BBC 100 Women Documentary “12 Million Girls”


Global humanitarians Michelle Obama, Melinda French Gates, and Amal Clooney join BBC correspondent BBC Gender and Identity correspondent Megha Mohan and director Yousef Eldin on a trip to Malawi to meet girls at risk from child marriage and the organizations striving to stop it.

This special documentary, part of the BBC’s 100 Women season focusing on the impact of climate change on women and girls, sheds light on the devastating effects of child marriage and the inspiring work being done to combat it.

12 Million Girls” premieres on BBC News on Saturday, December 9, offering viewers a glimpse into the lives of Malawian girls facing the threat of forced marriage and highlighting the crucial efforts of local organizations like AGE Africa.

Michelle Obama, attorney, author, and one of the BBC 100 Women for 2023, emphasized the interconnectedness of women’s rights globally, stating, “If we let one thing slip, it all just starts to unravel. In the United States, we’re dealing with a rollback in reproductive rights, things that people thought they could take for granted… And a lot of it is because of the devaluation of women, and the belief that women don’t have choice and power over their own being. That’s what’s happening here.”


Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who is also a Women for 2023 ambassador, stressed the importance of raising awareness. She said, “What’s the point of having a beautiful constitution that protects girls from child marriage if the girls who are the victims of this don’t know about it? So, we formed a network of mobile legal aid clinics that go out in a community and say to girls these are your rights, and if you need a lawyer for free to protect you, that’s what we are here to provide.”

Key statistics:

  • According to UNICEF, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 each year.
  • 650 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
  • South Asia has the highest number of child brides, followed by sub-Saharan Africa.
  • According to NGO Girls Not Brides, child marriage rates have declined in Asia and Africa over the past decade, but in Latin America and the Caribbean, there has been no progress for 25 years.
  • Worldwide, about 21% of girls are married in childhood, according to aid organisation World Vision.

Despite progress in some regions, child marriage remains a widespread problem. The documentary calls for urgent action to address this issue and ensure girls have the right to education, health, and a future free from violence and exploitation.

Ulanda Mtamba, Malawi’s country director for AGE Africa (Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa) and one of the BBC 100 Women for 2023, highlighted the transformative power of education, stating, “We believe that when we educate just one girl, that one girl can be able to change her community and her society. By educating a girl we’d be able to break the cycle of poverty because this girl, be assured, will be able to transform her community, educate more girls and be a role model.”

You can learn more about the documentary, including a behind-the-scenes account of the trip to Malawi here.

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