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Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), has worked tirelessly for decades on behalf of women, adolescents and children, championing their social, economic, health and reproductive rights.

How did he become so passionate about those issues?

“My mother, my mother, a remarkable woman,” he recently told CNN International anchor Isha Sesay. “She was very strong. She also believed in equity and social justice, so I saw her as a role model.”

Photo by Whitney Kidder, whitneykidder.comDr. Babatunde Osotimehin speaks at the opening of Too Young to Wed at the UN.

Photo by Whitney Kidder, whitneykidder.com
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin speaks at the opening of Too Young to Wed at the UN.

Born in Ogun State in southwestern Nigeria, Osotimehin said he grew up in a “gender-neutral environment” where girls were encouraged to pursue their dreams just as vigorously as boys.

From the age of 3 or 4, Osotimehin said he wanted to be a doctor. He went on to become a physician, the director-general of the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS and, later, the country’s minister of health.

On Jan. 1, 2011, the father of five became the UNFPA’s executive director. In the first half of his four-year term, he’s placed special emphasis on promoting the rights of young people, particularly their right to freely access information and services related to sexual and reproductive health.

He has also been at the forefront of the agency’s efforts to end child marriage, pointing to the dire health risks associated with the practice—domestic violence, increased risk of HIV/AIDS and pregnancy-related complications, like fistula and even death—not to mention the human rights implications.

“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” he said in October. “A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together to end child marriage.”

He makes an important point: Parents—of boys and girls—must be part of the effort to end child marriage. In many societies where the practice is common, they are the decision-makers, the ones who decide if their children marry young or instead stay in school and pursue their dreams.

They have influence, and the example they set for their children, for their communities, can have long-lasting impacts.

Just ask Dr. Osotimehin.

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