Today, October 11, is the first International Day of the Girl Child. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution last December to “recognize girls’ rights and highlight the unique challenges girls face worldwide.” This year’s theme is “Ending Child Marriage.”
Each year nearly 10 million girls are married before age 18, with roughly 25,000 girls becoming child brides each day, and one in three girls married before age 15 in developing countries. This equates to 19 girls married every minute.
Girls Not Brides, a global organization that works to prevent child marriage, says “child marriage is a serious human rights violation.” Child marriage directly violates girls’ rights to health, education, security and the choice of whom they marry. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states, “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”
According to the UN, child marriage can have horrific consequences on a young girl’s health. It often leads to early and unwanted pregnancies before their bodies have fully developed and are able to cope with the strain of pregnancy. In developing countries, complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death for girls 15-19 years old.
UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon believes education is the key to preventing child marriage.
“When they are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, girls can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families,” he said.
Where does childhood marriage happen? It is happens all over the globe, from Asia to Africa and Latin America. South Asia is the most prevalent, with 46 percent of girls married before 18. In Africa, 42 percent of girls are married before 18 and in Latin America, 29 percent of girls are married prior to age 18.
Why does childhood marriage happen; most of the time it’s due to tradition, gender roles, poverty and security. In many countries child marriage is a tradition that has been carried on for generations and going against the norm can lead to families being ostracized from the community. Traditional gender roles also play a key part in the continuation of child marriage in certain countries because girls are often not as valued as boys and are seen as a burden. Many families who live in poverty, allowing a daughter to marry at an early age eases their financial burden. In countries where dowries are paid, it’s a way for poor families to receive some extra income. As for security reasons, parents feel early marriage will protect their daughters from the dangers of sexual or physical assault in high risk areas.
The key question now is how do we prevent child marriage from occurring? The key is education, education, education. Statistics show girls with secondary education are six times less likely to marry at an early age than those with little to no education. Education also shows girls they can have a life outside of marriage while also increasing their socio-economic status and earning potential.
Another key way to end child marriage is the inclusion of men in the discourse. Qamar Naseem, a man from a conservative family in Pakistan, has spent his life advocating and protecting the rights of women and girls, working with families to prevent early child marriage.
On this day, let’s remember that these young girls are our future and if we can’t protect them now who will protect them later? Who will protect their children? It is up to us to stop this cycle of child marriage now.