More than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
More than one in three (about 250 million) entered into marriage before the age 15. Ending child marriage is not just a priority for the world, but a necessity that will enable girls and women to participate more fully in society. Girls and women are at the heart of global development, and when given the opportunity, education, and tools, can go onto raise healthier and smaller families of their own that will, in turn, contribute to their communities and society.
We have seen an increase into the awareness of child marriage, thanks to organizations like UNICEF, Girls Not Brides, Save the Children, and Breakthrough. Just this month, Let Girls Lead (LGL), based at the Public Health Institute, celebrated the Malawian Parliament voting to pass the National Marriage Law, which raised the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. After over five years of advocacy by LGL partners and other key organizations, the victory guarantees a Malawian girl’s right to be a girl for the first time in history.
In Malawi, approximately 50 percent of girls are married by the age of 18, sometimes as young as 10 or 11. While it is a culturally-accepted way for families to lesson their economic burden the effects of child marriage are carried into a girl’s adulthood. Exposed to sexual exploitation, adolescent pregnancy, maternal death, infant mortality, malnutrition, equally transited infection and HIV, child brides have a greater chance for a life of poverty, and sometimes violence. Since 2009, LGL worked to provide individuals and organizations the leadership development, capacity building, and seed grant funding to improve girls’ lives. By engaging marginalized girls to advocate for themselves and other girls within their country, young people – especially girls – have been empowered to speak for themselves and against established cultural norms, including child marriage.
Other countries are joining Malawi in the fight to combat child marriage, including Tanzania, which has one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world – almost 2 out of 5 girls will be married before their 18th birthday. In February, authorities in Tanzania and development partners signed a new commitment to increase efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage within the country.
Last year, the world saw the first resolutions on ending child marriage adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the Human Rights Council. We saw the first-ever Girl Summit in London, focused on ending FGM and child marriage in London. And we launched the Campaign to End Child Marriage, led by the African Union. Yet, the work is far from over.
Truly sustainable change demands long-term investment in advocacy, local leadership, and global commitment. As the global development community focuses on the post-2015 agenda and the creation of “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs), we must continue to fight for the well-being of girls and women. We must demand an increase in investments that provide quality services to girls and expand opportunities for their future, such as education and employment. Girls and women must also gain increased access to health and reproductive health information and services to better understand their rights and futures.
Ending child marriage is not just possible, but a reality that is beginning to occur. It will require a continued effort, partnerships, and a serious global commitment. Working together, we can give girls’ the opportunity for the lives they deserve – lives they choose for themselves.
Cover Photo Credit: Jessica Lea DFID, Flickr Creative Commons