“When my husband came to see me the first time I was playing with the other children. I was 12 years old. He was 20.”

“I was married when I was 14. If I said no there were men with sticks who would have beat me.”

“When I was 13 I was married and I had my child when I was 14 years of age.”

These are just a few of the stories from women at the Village Organization, a women’s group started and supported by War Child Canada in Kabul, Afghanistan. I’ve visited Village Organizations before and you learn quickly that the women have no hesitation in telling you what they think. Today they’re trying to sell me on their desire to start a chocolate factory in Kabul. If you know me, you know that’s not a tough sell.

The groups were originally started as a means of providing education, vocational training and business skills to women who had no previous opportunity for education. When the women started with the groups they were illiterate and could not count well enough to count out money, making going to the market by themselves impossible. They are all now running their own businesses, employing others and mentoring other young women.

While the groups still provide peer business support and micro finance loans to the women, they also now provide education on their rights. Today’s topic was marriage, including the age at which you should marry.

It’s a tough topic in a country where 40% of women are married under the age of 18.  But War Child Canada is making progress. At a previous session on the topic, a young boy returned home to advocate for his sister. She was under-age and set to be married. He explained to his father that she was too young and that they should wait until she was 18. After much discussion the family agreed and the girl’s marriage was postponed.

Listening to these women tell the stories of their early marriages isn’t heartbreaking, as you might think. They’re smiling as they talk. They’re smiling because they can share their stories with each other and know they’re not alone. But they’re also smiling because they know they’re creating a different future and a different world for their children – one in which a 12 year old girl is left to play with the other children and experience the joys of childhood.