When my cousin got pregnant at 17, her life changed forever.
She dropped out of school, started staying home all day doing housework, and before long she was changing nappies and waking up in the night to feed her baby. A couple of years later she had another child. Her hopes of going to university became a distant memory.
I didn’t think there was anything unusual about this situation - in my country, Honduras, we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Central America.
Child marriage is even worse: 36 per cent of girls are married off before the age of 18.
That’s why I was so happy when last week, the Honduran government made the decision to outlaw child marriage once and for all. No longer will girls who fall pregnant – like my cousin – be forced to marry a man sometimes several times their age because their families tell them they should.
The best thing of all is that I played part in the campaign to change the law – spearheaded by Plan International and its partners Unicef and UN Women. I feel proud of myself for having this role, in something which will mean more happiness and independence for so many girls in Honduras.
Why did I get involved? Because recently, Plan International came to my school and ran a workshop about girls’ empowerment. They talked to me and my classmates and told us about child marriage and how it’s happening a lot in rural areas of Honduras.
I felt this was important for the girls and women of my country and I also learned that it could affect our economy. Did you know that preventing girls from marrying could lead to an increase in GDP of up to 3.5 per cent?
I knew Plan International Honduras had been working on banning child marriage since September 2015 when they met with the MP Fatima Mena to come up with a strategy.
I couldn’t believe it when, on 12 July, they invited me and 13 other girls to join them at the Honduran congress. We all heard Belinda Portillo, Plan International Honduras’ Country Director, give a speech telling MPs to close a loophole in the law which allowed girls to be married off before the age of 18 if their parents gave permission.
“Throughout the world, marriage is often idealised as a way to inaugurate love, happiness and security, but for many teenagers in Honduras, getting married is often one of the worst things that can happen to them,” she said.
I was so relieved when every one of the MPs who heard her voted to change the law.
My dream is this will mean more girls finish their studies which will help our country to progress and break the cycle of poverty. If I’m poor and I have a baby at 16 years old, my baby will also be poor and it creates a cycle. Plan International showed me that I can break that cycle by getting an education.
Getting child marriage outlawed was amazing. But we can’t stop there. There’s so much inequality between boys and girls – for example, in my school, like in most schools, most of the pupils are boys.
So it’s not enough to pass laws which promote greater equality – they also need to be implemented. People who break them should go to prison.
I’ve got lots of dreams and want Honduras to flourish as a country. I don’t want girls to have to grow up to be housewives – we should run the world! I want us to be able to go as far in life as we want to and to be as happy as possible.
I’m not just on this planet to have babies and do housework, like my cousin. Having a family is important – but I know I have so much more to give.