Think of a teenage girl you know. What is she like? Is she happy, smart, playful, athletic, artistic, and creative? What are her dreams? What do you hope for her? Likely you are excited for her, as she embarks on a promising future, filled with educational and career opportunities, and perhaps marriage and motherhood when she is ready for them.
Sadly, for many girls at this age, their dreams and future come to an abrupt halt due to the practice of child marriage. According to UNICEF, 15 million girls each year are married before age 18, and a report from UNICEF warns that number could grow to 310 million by 2050.
The consequences of this practice are disastrous for girls, families, and nations. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake says, “The sheer number of girls affected – and what this means in terms of lost childhoods and shattered futures – underlines the urgency of banning the practice once and for all.”
These girls don’t want to be married, but due to circumstances of poverty, families often bend to tradition rooted in discrimination and gender inequality. It’s often born of not seeing another way to meet their needs, even though the legal marrying age in many countries where child marriage is practiced is 18.
In Chad, a girl is more likely to die from childbirth than graduate from school. Watch a moving video from UNICEF on child marriage in the country.
Child marriage isn’t just a bad idea that perpetuates poverty cycles, it is life-threatening to the girls involved. Child brides are more likely to be victims of violence and HIV/AIDS. Early pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of mothers not surviving childbirth; when they do survive, they often have babies who are underweight, stillborn, or who die shortly after birth.
The African Union has been at work with a continent-wide campaign to end child marriage, which includes creating and implementing policies to protect girls’ rights. UNICEF is working on these campaigns by helping change families’ minds and teaching parents the importance of not marrying their daughters off too early.
Another way UNICEF helps end child marriage is through programs promoting girls’ school enrollment and retention. When girls go to school, and finish, they obtain the skills they need to lift them out of poverty, making them far less vulnerable.
Take Action Challenge
Read the full article from UNICEF, and be sure to watch the video. Support UNICEF’s education programs, which focus special attention on keeping girls in school. Use the hashtag #ENDChildMarriageNow to add your support to the online conversation.
Lead photo is of a young girl named Nafissa, 17. It was taken on November 18, 2015. She was married when she was 16. She has been married for 10 months, becoming pregnant 3 months after marrying. Nafissa’s baby was still born in November 2015. Photo courtesy UNICEF/UNI202947/van der Velden