By Charlotte Rose
Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That’s nearly one girl every two seconds, forced to grow up too soon.
But 2018 brought with it some encouraging news. Although we still have a long way to go to end the practice for good, UNICEF reported that global rates of child marriage are declining, with 25 million child marriages averted over the last decade.
And the good news didn’t end there. Here are seven more ways the world got closer to ending child marriage this year.
1. Two US states outlawed child marriage
Fraidy Reiss, activist and founder of Unchained At Last, the only organisation dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the US, even got a tattoo to celebrate the victory.
"The end of child marriage in Delaware and New Jersey were historic victories for girls, but they're just the start,” she told Girls Not Brides. “It's two states down, 48 to go.”
2. Naomi Campbell VOWed to end child marriage
Naomi Campbell donned a candy ring for the launch of VOW, which gives couples and companies the power to help end child marriage — by donating a portion of profits from wedding registries and products to girls’ rights organisations.
So every time a couple says “I do,” they can now help millions of girl say “I don’t.”
3. Governments moved to raise the age
The past year saw a number of governments move to raise the minimum age of marriage.
Norway approved a law banning child marriage, in an effort to set a global example. Malaysia and Indonesia considered proposals to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 after child marriage cases in both countries sparked public outrage.
And in the UK, a new bill has been proposed which will raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions.
4. A child marriage activist was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People
Nice Nailantei Leng’ete is no ordinary girl. After escaping FGM as a Maasai child in Kenya, Nice has gone on save an estimated 15,000 girls around Kenya from child marriage and FGM in her work with Amref Health Africa.
Nice joined big names like Rihanna and Oprah Winfrey on TIME’s 2018 list.
“We are already seeing change happen to ensure the rights of girls and women in Africa,” Nice told Girls Not Brides. “Women, girls, men, and boys are working together every day to empower women and girls.”
She added: “My hope is that this change gets stronger as more and more people join the movement.”
5. We saw the biggest gathering of child marriage activists ever
Almost 500 activists from more than 70 countries gathered in Malaysia for the biggest ever global meeting on ending child marriage, hosted by Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of civil society organisations working to end child marriage.
They were joined by youth activists, governments, religious leaders, and representatives from the UN and African Union to call for renewed efforts to end child marriage.
6. Ending child marriage? There’s an app for that
The fight for girls’ rights went digital in 2018, with several governments adopting new apps to help end child marriage.
In Bihar, India, a new mobile app enables girls to alert authorities to forced marriages using an SOS button.
In Bangladesh, an innovative new app developed by the government of Bangladesh and Plan International allows matchmakers, priests, and officers who register marriages verify the bride and groom’s ages through a digital database. In just six months, it’s stopped over 3,700 marriages.
7. A Tanzanian girls' rights activist won the UN Human Rights Prize
In 2016, 31-year-old Rebeca Gyumi took on her country's legal system, winning a landmark ruling to raise the age of child marriage for girls in Tanzania from 14 to 18.
This year she was awarded the 2018 Human Rights Prize by the United Nations in recognition of her contribution to girls’ rights.
The announcement came shortly after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a third resolution on child, early, and forced marriage, which sets out the responsibilities of UN member states in ending child marriage.