Building a Brighter Future for Girls Everywhere

This summer thousands of American and British girls risk being taken abroad, not for a family vacation, but to be cut. In a terrible rite of passage they will have their genitalia partially or totally removed, leading to a lifetime of physical and mental damage.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is happening all over the world every day. There are 125 million girls and women who have been cut, including an estimated 66,000 women in the UK that are living with the consequences of FGM. In the US, an estimated 200,000 women are at risk every year. And yet the international community has historically shied away from tackling this issue. FGM has been filed away as too difficult, too entrenched or too sensitive to address.

The same is true for child marriage. One in nine girls in the developing world are married by the age of 15. This is a tragedy for the girls themselves and it's a tragedy for their countries too. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19. The children of child brides are 60 percent more likely to die before their first birthday than the children of mothers who are over 19. Last year, an 8-year-old Yemeni girl named Rawan died after suffering internal injuries on the night of her arranged marriage to a man more than five times her age.

It is time to break the silence and take action on these issues. The good news is there is a growing movement for change. We're seeing girls and women, and many boys and men, national and community leaders speak out against these harmful practices. Thousands of communities in West Africa have abandoned FGM. In December last year, Ministers of Education and Health from 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa committed to eliminating child marriage by 2020.

It is up to us to support this momentum and accelerate the pace of change in developing countries and our own. The US and the UK are both at the forefront of this. Last year, the UK's Department for International Development announced a $60 million program to support the African-led movement to end FGM. This program aims to see a reduction of cutting by 30 percent in 10 countries over five years. The US support for the Nairobi Centre of Excellence on FGM, will contribute to the advancement of a hub for learning and research serving all Africa.

However it's clear we need to go further and faster, and we need this to be a broader international effort. That's why the UK hosted a global Girl Summit on 22 July for governments, charities, businesses, activists, young people and faith groups. This Summit, co-hosted with UNICEF, aimed to rally a global movement to end FGM and child marriage for everyone, including girls in the US and Britain. The event shared experiences of what works, saw new programs announced and the launch of a bold new agenda to eliminate these practices in a generation.

The UK and the US are both committed to doing more. The UK announced that we will spend $42 million on a new UN joint donor program to help end child marriage in the countries worst affected, through national measures and community initiatives. We will also invest $52 million in a new research program to find the best ways of transforming the lives of poor adolescent girls. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it would help fund programs in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Tanzania, and Yemen to end child, early, and forced marriage.

We know that this campaign can't be driven by government action alone. I firmly believe we can all play a part in ending FGM and child marriage. In the last few weeks alone thousands of people from around the world have signed a pledge calling for action to be taken to end FGM and child marriage. This includes actors, pop stars, newsreaders, religious leaders and politicians. For everyone who feels strongly about these issues, we need your voice to keep up the pressure for change. You can also pledge your support and help us build the momentum.

Too many girls around the world reach adolescence and find their future is already mapped out. They never have a chance to finish school or get a job, or an opportunity to travel and experience life. It's time to give these girls the chance to write their own future.