Every year 15 million girls are married before their 18th birthday. Today there are 700 million women alive who were married before their 18th birthday, and 1 in 3 of these women, about 250 million, were married before they turned 15. If we do not take urgent action to address child marriage now, by 2050 there will be 1.2 billion women in the world who will have been married before they turned 18. Tomorrow is the International Day of the Girl and it is imperative that we recommit ourselves to putting girls at the center of the development agenda. Eliminating child marriage will help us to succeed on 6 of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
MDG 1 Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
Poverty is both a cause and an effect of child marriage. Girls from poor households are nearly two times more likely to marry before they are 18 years of age than other girls. Once these girls are married they are often trapped in poverty because they are pulled out of school. Unable to complete their education, these girls will have limited economic opportunities and are more likely to remain poor.
MDG 2 Achieve Universal Primary Education
When girls get married they are often removed from school, which will limit their ability to lift their families out of poverty. Education is also one of the best tools to help girls avoid child marriage. Girls who have secondary schooling are up to 6 times less likely to be child brides than girls who have little or no education.
MDG 3 Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
Child marriage disempowers girls. It not only prevents them from completing their education; it generally means that they will have little choice or control over whom they will marry. Child brides are effectively denied gender equality, and are more likely to experience physical, sexual and psychological violence. Child marriage, in fact, may be the single biggest obstacle to achieving MDG 3.
MDG 4 & 5 Reduce Child Mortality and Improve Maternal Health
Child brides are often encouraged, or even forced, to have a child before they are physically or emotionally ready to become mothers. This has a devastating effect on the health of child brides. Girls under 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. Child marriage, in fact, is one of the biggest impediments to reducing maternal mortality and achieving MDG 5. When a mother is under 20, her child is 50 percent more likely to die within its first weeks of life than a baby born to a mother in her 20s, undermining progress on MDG 4 (reducing child mortality).
MDG 6 Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other Diseases
When girls marry young they do not have the power or knowledge to negotiate safe sexual behavior, and are therefore more vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS and other STIs.
These are just a few of the reasons why ending child marriage must be part of the post-2015 development agenda. If we do not end child marriage, it will undermine progress on many of the other development goals. So this International Day of the Girl let us raise our voices and speak out to prevent another 15 million girls from becoming child brides next year.
Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy