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7 Reasons Ending Child Marriage Is Absolutely Necessary

An adolescent girls group raises issues of education, child marriage and vocational training skills to village elders in Chapriawan, Jamua block of Giridih in India. Giridih district has one of the highest rates of child marriage in India where 6 out of 10 girls are married before 18 years. UNICEF Jharkhand in partnership with the Jago Foundation has launched a pilot programme to make 65 villages ‘child marriage free’ in the district.
Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNICEF

On International Day of the Girl Child, India has just made a landmark ruling declaring that men who have sex with their underage wives can be classified as rapists. 

It’s a big step in the fight for girls’ and women’s rights around the world. But in the fight to end child marriage, there’s still a long way to go. 

Every year, 15 million girls are getting married before their 18th birthdays. More than 750 million women and girls who are alive today were married as children. 

And globally, we’re still not doing enough end child marriage. According to UNICEF, at the current rate of progress in Africa — where child marriage is most common — it will still take us 100 years to put a stop to the obsolete practice. 

Take action: Keep crisis-affected girls in school.

Child marriage is one of the greatest barriers to girls around the world, with a knock-on impact on so many aspects of their lives. 

So, on International Day of the Girl Child — which aims to highlight and address the challenges that girls face around the world — here are seven reasons why we need to keep fighting to put an end to child marriage once and for all. 

1. Because Gender Equality is a Global Goal…

In the UN’s list of the 17 Global Goals — which we need to achieve if we’re going to end extreme poverty by 2030 — gender equality is ranked No.5. 

That means promoting girls’ empowerment and fulfilling their human rights, regardless of where they live, how old they are, or their economic situation.

Within Goal No.5 are a number of specific targets that break down exactly how to go about achieving gender equality worldwide. Target 5.3, for example, aims for the elimination of all harmful practices, including child marriage. 

2. …And It Affects All These Other Goals Too

What’s more, achieving gender equality is consistently highlighted as being fundamental to achieving so many other of the Global Goals as well — at least eight of the 17, including ending climate change

Campaigners say that ending child marriage will boost efforts towards achieving the Goals by improving access to education, encouraging economic growth, enhancing nutrition and food security, and improving maternal and child health.

Read more: Palestinian Girl, 14, Escapes Child Marriage After Being Sold to Man 20 Years Her Elder

“Child marriage is not just a gross human rights violation, it also prevents us from achieving many other development goals,” said Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director of Girls Not Brides, in a statement.

“How can we make progress on education, health, or gender equality, for example, when so many girls are married off, kept out of school, have children before they are ready, and are exposed to violence and exploitation?” she said.

If you’re still not convinced, Girls Not Brides has made this short animation explaining just how ending child marriage will make the world better for everyone. 

3. It Stops Girls From Accessing Education

While both boys and girls experience child marriage, the number of boys who get married before 18 is about one-fifth the number of girls, so the impact of child marriage is predominantly felt by young girls. 

When a young girl gets married, she is expected to drop out of school and she is not likely to return. As she becomes a wife and mother, her domestic duties become the focus of her life, as she is expected to care for her home, her husband, and her children. 

Worldwide, over 60% of women aged between 20 and 24 who have no education were married before the age of 18, according to Girls Not Brides

4. It Masks Violence and Exploitation

In some communities, as well as being an economic decision, child marriage can be seen as a way of protecting girls from the shame of having had pre-marital sex. 

In a 2017 survey of laws in 73 countries, it was found rapists in at least nine countries could avoid punishment if they married their victim — including in Bahrain, Iraq, the Philippines, Tajikistan, and Tunisia, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Read more: India Rules Sex With a Child Bride Is Always Rape in a Massive Win for Girls’ Rights

Marital rape is legal in at least 10 of the countries, including Ghana, Lesotho, Oman, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. And in four of these, marital rape is allowed when the “wife” is a child. 

Opponents of child marriage are hoping that India’s Supreme Court’s decision to criminalise sex with a child, even if the perpetrator is married to the child, will help to challenge these global practices.  

But commentators are concerned the Indian ruling will be extremely difficult to enforce, particularly in poor, rural communities, where the child’s parents are more likely to have consented to the marriage. 

5. It Keeps Happening Even Where It’s Illegal

At least 20,000 girls around the world are being married off illegally every day, according to a report by the World Bank and Save the Children

That’s 7.5 million girls who, every year, become child brides in countries where early marriage is actually banned. More than a fifth of these marriages take place in West and Central Africa — more than 1.7 million each year. 

Read more: 11-Year-Old Forced to Marry Rapist in Florida Inspires Legal Action to End Child Marriage

Bearing in mind the practice is so often entrenched in community traditions and religious customs, policing it and enforcing the law is a very real challenge. 

6. It’s Deadly 

A chilling statistic from children’s rights organisation Plan International says 70,000 girls die in labour every year because their bodies aren’t ready for childbirth.

In fact, in many low and middle income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19. 

And according to the International Women’s Health Coalition, girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and they face a higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries. 

As a result of sexual violence and poor access to health care, girls who are victims of child marriage are also more likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

7. It Impacts the Next Generation Too 

As well as negatively impacting the girls who become child brides, early marriage also has a negative effect on the generation to come. 

Infants who are born to mothers who are just children or adolescents themselves have a higher risk of being stillborn or dying soon after birth. 

Read more: A 10-Year-Old Rape Victim in India Just Gave Birth, Highlighting India’s Serious Problem With Violence Against Girls

Shockingly, the children of child brides are 60% more likely to die in the first year of life than those born to mothers older than 19.

If the infants survive, they are more likely to have had a low birth weight, which can have a long-term impact on their health and their physical and cognitive development. 

Owing to a child bride’s limited access to education or economic opportunities, she and her family are also more likely to be unhealthy, and spend their lives in poverty.

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