Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press
President Barack Obama announced a new government-wide initiative on Tuesday to help millions of girls around the world attend and stay in school.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced a new government-wide initiative on Tuesday to help millions of girls around the world attend and stay in school.

His wife, Michelle, will visit Japan and Cambodia later this month to start promoting it.

More than 60 million girls worldwide, half of them adolescents, do not attend school, Obama said. He said lack of education limits their advancement opportunities and makes them more vulnerable to social ills, like gender-based violence, and early and forced marriage.

He said the U.S. quietly does a lot of work in support of educating girls but that it's time to tie the programs together under a single coordinated strategy.

The effort is being called "Let Girls Learn."

"We're making clear to any country that's our partner or wants to be our partner that they need to get serious about increasing the number of girls in school," Obama said at the White House, where he was joined by the first lady.

Mrs. Obama said the issue is personal for her because "I see myself in these girls. I see our daughters in these girls."

The Obamas are parents of two teenage girls. Both say their own success would have been impossible without education and everywhere they go they encourage young people to focus on education. In the U.S., Mrs. Obama also encourages students to continue their education after high school.

As part of the broader girls' education effort, the Peace Corps and the first lady's office will work jointly on a new program to highlight community-based solutions to help girls attend and complete school.

Mrs. Obama will visit Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan, from March 18-20 and Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia from March 21-22, the White House said.

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