Child marriage affects millions of girls worldwide. From 2010-2013, The Elders brought together organisations working locally, nationally and internationally in a global partnership to end this harmful practice.
While boys are sometimes married early, girls are disproportionately affected and form the vast majority of victims of child marriage. Every single day, it is estimated that more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. This practice not only harms the young brides, but also impedes the development of their communities and societies as a whole.
Source: UNICEF 2010, The State of the World's Children
Girls face huge risks when they marry at a young age. They are much more prone to death or injury due to early sexual activity and early childbearing. A girl under the age of 15 is five times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in her twenties.
The children of young mothers are also at much greater risk. When a mother is under 18, her baby is 60 per cent more likely to die before its first birthday than a baby born to a mother older than 19. As young brides often have older husbands, they may not have the power to negotiate safe sexual behaviour. This means they are more vulnerable to HIV infection and more likely to suffer domestic violence.
Girls who marry young also find it very difficult to complete their education. This increases the education gap between boys and girls and increases the likelihood that the girl and her family will live in poverty.
Six of the eight MDGs are directly and negatively affected by the huge prevalence of child marriage:
Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates, “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” Several UN bodies and conventions consider 18 to be the minimum age when a young person is able to make a significant life decision such as marriage. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Human Rights Committee (HRC).
Child marriage is a clear violation of human rights, including the rights to life, liberty, self-determination and health.
Efforts to end child marriage face enormous challenges:
There are many groups tackling child marriage. Their approaches include:
Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt with young people participating in the Jagriti campaign to stop child marriage in Bihar, India, February 2012
The Elders are committed to promoting equality between women and men, girls and boys, in all aspects of life. They are particularly concerned by the frequent misuse of religious and traditional beliefs to justify and perpetuate gender discrimination.
Child marriage is an important focus of this work. Ending this harmful practice is essential to protect the rights of women and girls and to improve maternal and child health, education and empowerment in developing societies worldwide. The practice of child marriage is declining slowly. However, approximately 14 million underage girls married off each year, The Elders believe this process can and must be accelerated – and that this requires a concerted, international effort.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson speaking with a woman who was married as a child, in Ethiopia, June 2011
In 2010, The Elders began to forge a global civil society alliance for a world without child marriage. Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage brings together non-governmental organisations working all over the world to end this harmful practice. It aims to give a voice to girls at risk of child marriage, to defend their rights to health and education, and to give them the opportunities they need to fulfil their potential.
The partnership works by:
Find out more and how you can get involved at www.GirlsNotBrides.org.