RTE broadcaster and charity ambassador Sharon Ni Bheolain has spoken of her heartbreak seeing girls as young as 10 -- the same age as her own daughter, Faye -- being groomed for marriage during a visit to Malawi.
The newsreader visited the African country with ActionAid last month and told how she saw first-hand the great hardship endured by girls and women.
"I guess I braced myself for the 'textbook African experience' -- poverty, hunger, disease. What took me aback was just how much more difficult life is for young girls and women. It seems the odds are stacked against females from the start," she told the Irish Independent.
"What gutted me was seeing girls no older than my own daughter, who's 10, being groomed for marriage. I met one child whose would-be husband, one of the so-called village elders, had been chosen and her bride price secured when the child was just three years of age."
Ms Ni Bheolain said Malawi is a highly patriarchal country, particularly in the rural north.
"There's such strong resistance culturally and traditionally to schooling girls who, without an education, are vulnerable. Many live horrendous lives of grinding poverty and abuse," she added.
The broadcaster launched the 'Gifts in Action' campaign yesterday, which includes 11 gifts such as bicycles for schoolgirls, mosquito nets and honey bees to enable women to earn a living.
Details of the gifts on: www.actionaid.ie/ giftsinaction or by calling 01 8787911.