Sanita Rini, 22, is from Central Java, Indonesia. She is the youngest of five children. Sanita’s mother, Darsi, is a farm worker and her father Wasito works in construction.
The remote village she grew up in has a strong matchmaking tradition that sees girls paired with husbands from a young age and the district in which she was raised has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the country.
If you force me to marry, then nothing will come of me.
Sanita’s parents had found her a potential husband at 13 years old. This is not uncommon where they live, and their aim was to help reduce the economic burden on the family. But immediately, Sanita knew this was not the life she wanted.
“I said to my parents: ‘If you stop the marriage and let me continue my education, I will pay back all of the money that you spent on me. If you force me to marry, then nothing will come of me.’"
Thankfully, Sanita’s parents agreed. She completed her secondary education, paid back the money Wasito and Darsi had spent on her and went on to graduate from university.
Of their decision, she says, “I am proud of my parents who were willing to change their mindset to stop my marriage plan and support my dream of becoming a graduate.”
Role model and girls’ rights champion
Now Sanita is a champion for girls’ rights and a role model in her community who is determined to help other girls live to their fullest potential.
“I love my life and sharing what I have learned with others.”
Sanita’s drive and ambition have taken her to places she never dreamed she would go. She travelled to Japan to speak the Asian Development Bank’s 5th Annual Youth Forum, where she urged experts and thought leaders to consult youth in their efforts to tackle the major violations that young people, particularly girls, experience in Asia and the Pacific every day.
Her activism includes working to end child marriage with the Youth Coalition, an 80 member campaigning group of which she is now vice president. For the last two years the group, supported by Plan International Indonesia, has urged legislators to increase the legal age of marriage to 18 years.
Sanita even took over the Twitter account of Melinda Gates on International Day of the Girl to share her story with over 1.6 million people across the world.
It took a lot to be where I am, to be able to say no. Many girls are still afraid to do that and it is something I want to change.
“It was an honour to take over the account of such an influential woman for the Girls' Takeover.”
But Sanita knows she must share the skills she's developed in influencing decision-makers, which is why she teaches girls about advocacy and the importance of getting their voices heard at youth camps across the country.
“Being brave and daring to say no doesn’t mean a girl is insolent. We must encourage girls to claim their rights.”
Today, Sanita’s parents couldn’t be more proud of her drive and ambition:
“We wanted Sanita to get married in high school because we thought it would help minimise our responsibilities. It would have been a big mistake. Now we are the proudest parents - Sanita is the only graduate in our family.”
Helping girls take the lead
Not all girls are as lucky as Sanita. For a variety of reasons, including being forced to marry, there are currently 130 million girls who are not in school. This figure is set to rise to 800 million by 2030 if we don't advocate for change.
On 2 February 2018, world leaders have a chance to improve global education rates when they meet to agree their financial commitments for education for the next 4 years.
We are calling on leaders to increase global spending so that girls, like Sanita, can fulfil their ambitions and become the leaders of tomorrow.
It’s essential that world leaders don’t miss this opportunity to educate a generation.