It’s every girl’s right to choose if, who and when they marry. Yet globally, nearly 41,000 girls are forced into child marriage every day.
Early, forced and child marriage is a complex global issue that affects both boys and girls. However, it disproportionately affects more girls – 82% of all children married before age 18 are girls.
Child marriage robs girls of their childhood, often forcing them to drop out of school, exposing them to violence – sexual, physical and emotional – and thrusting them into experiences that their young minds and bodies are not ready for, like motherhood.
Despite being prohibited by international law, child marriage continues to be practiced in countries around the world, and often in communities struggling with extreme poverty.
Ending this practice won’t be an easy feat, but change is possible if we work together. Through collaboration with youth, parents, community leaders and governments, we can change the story and end this harmful practice.
Here are 5 ways Plan International is working to prevent and end child marriage in the communities where we work:
1. Educating girls
Education plays a critical role in keeping girls safe from child marriage. In fact, the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before age 18 and have children during her teenage years.
In addition, education ensures girls acquire the skills and knowledge to find employment and a means to support their families. This can help break the cycle of poverty and prevent child marriages that occur as a result of extreme poverty and/or financial gain.
2. Empowering girls
Every girl has the right to decide her own future, but not every girl knows this – that’s why empowering girls is so crucial to ending child marriage.
When girls are confident in their abilities, armed with knowledge of their rights and supported by peer groups of other empowered girls, they are able to stand up and say “NO” to injustices like child marriage.
Empowered girls are able to re-shape perspectives and challenge conventional norms of what it means to be a girl.
SEE ALSO: Meet 3 girls who refused child marriage
3. Rallying the wider community to stand up for girls’ rights
Parents and community leaders are often responsible for deciding when and whom a girl marries. In many traditional communities, it’s believed that marriage keeps girls safe, protected and economically provided for by their husbands.
However, the opposite is true – marriage endangers girls’ physical and mental health. In fact, girls who are married before 18 are more likely to experience domestic abuse and to report that their first sexual experience was forced. Furthermore, child brides are more at risk of HIV infection and more likely to experience deadly complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
When parents and community leaders are educated about the many negative consequences of child marriage, it can inspire them to change their views, speak up for girls’ rights and encourage others to do the same.
4. Providing girls and their families with income opportunities
Providing families with livelihood opportunities like microfinance loans is an effective way to prevent child marriages that occur as a result of financial need.
When families have increased economic opportunities, they’re less likely to perceive their daughters as economic burdens. This is especially true if a girl is in school gaining valuable skills that will help generate income in the future.
5. Petitioning government and encouraging supportive laws
In countries where child marriage is prevalent, petitioning government to increase the minimum age for marriage to 18 years is a critical first step for positive change.
Once the minimum age is increased, it’s imperative to continue raising awareness of these laws among government officials and community leaders to ensure the laws are being enforced.
Other legal policies, such as registering birth certificates and marriages, are powerful tools for preventing child marriage.
Time is running out for girls at risk
In the time it took to read this story, 80 girls were forced into child marriage.
With each passing moment, progress that has been made for girls’ rights to say NO to child marriage is being undone due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. We are now faced with the reality that more girls will become child brides as a direct result of the pandemic.
We must stop the clock and stop the setback so that girls can decide their own futures.