"I believe it is vitally important for men like me to acknowledge this as loudly and openly as [other] role models do," the royal said

By Simon Perry
March 23, 2016 11:00 AM
Danny Martindale/WireImage

Prince Harry made a powerful speech supporting the fight against child marriage during his last morning in Nepal on Wednesday.

The passionate prince told the crowd that education had the power to lift young women out of poverty, and he echoed First Lady Michelle Obama in the need to empower girls from “the bottom up,” and that it shouldn t just be women who speak up for them.

“I am proud to stand with you today,” he said during his speech at the Nepal Girl Summit in Kathmandu.

He also encouraged people to be “open about some of the challenges facing young women.”

He added, “Here in Nepal, nearly half of all women who are today in their twenties, thirties and forties were married before their 18th birthdays. And a little under half gave birth while still in their teens.

“It may be obvious to say it, but girls who marry young stay at home. They don t finish school. And they soon become locked in a cycle of illiteracy, poverty, ill health and, ultimately, powerlessness.

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“How can this cycle be broken? We all know what the answer is education.”

Harry stood alongside the country’s first female president, Bidya Dev Bhandari, who he praised for championing “the opportunities for women and girls in Nepal for many years.”

He also highlighted the fact that across the world, 62 million girls are not getting the education they deserve. Two-thirds of the nearly 800 million people who were never taught to read and write are women, and more than 700 million women alive today were married as children and nearly 250 million of them were married before the age of 15.

Harry said the “unique challenges” facing girls across the globe had “become obvious” as he witnessed those working both in the U.K. and with his own African charity, Sentebale, trying to help young girls and women achieve their full potential.

“Whether it’s a girl in Lesotho living with HIV or the talented young woman in Britain who doesn’t get taken seriously because of where she grew up or the 14-year-old girl forced out of school so she can get married here in Nepal, we need to acknowledge that so many countries and cultures are failing to protect the opportunities of young women and girls in the way they do for boys,” he said.

“I believe it is vitally important for men like me to acknowledge this as loudly and openly as role models do – like President Bhandari, the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and activists like Malala. As the First Lady has said, change needs to come from the bottom up. We won’t unlock these opportunities for young women and girls unless we can change the mindset of every family and community.

“To achieve this, it cannot just be women who speak up for girls,” he concluded.

Harry s moving speech came at the end of a five-day tour that has seen Harry experience the challenges facing those helping support wildlife and rebuild their lives in earthquake-hit regions.