By Erica Oakley with Humanitas Global Development
In 2008, the world was introduced to 10-year-old Nujood Ali — a Yemeni child bride that became an international figure against child marriage after demanding a divorce from her much older husband. An unheard of request - particularly from someone so young. She was beaten and raped by her husband, but she is considered one of the lucky ones. She had the heart and most importantly the strength to stand up for herself and demand a divorce - and she won.
According to CARE, there are currently 60 million girls under the age of 18 that have been subject to child marriage — many of which are to men that are at least twice their age. CARE estimates that if child marriage continues on its current track, the next decade will see an additional 10 million child brides. This equates to nearly 25,000 girls a day forced into marriage, far too young. This is not only a health and societal issue, but a human rights violation.
Child marriages take place across the world. While most child brides are girls, boys are also subject to this practice. It is a global problem and requires global action. On May 24th 2012, the United States Senate passed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2011. This Bill seeks to protect the millions of children forced into early marriage and makes preventing this a priority in the US’ development approach by integrating prevention methods across programs.
Why does child marriage happen? Some of the biggest causes of child marriage are poverty, lack of education, tradition, and gender-stereotyped roles by family and society. The rights of a girl child are no match for the plight of poverty, of greed, of tradition, and of ignorance.
There are many detrimental effects for child brides including being taken out of school, pulled even further into a cycle of poverty, and poor family planning – not to mention the toll taken on her body from having children before her body is ready. Early childbearing increases the risk for death and injuries. These child brides suffer from powerlessness, isolation, abuse, and far too often are raped by their much older husbands, as was the case for Nujood. While this tradition has seen a downturn in the last decade, there is still a high occurrence particularly in rural and impoverished areas.
Child marriage is just one of the barriers from preventing a society from developing and moving forward. We must invest more in girls and provide them with the opportunities to grow and learn with dignity and safety. We must let girls have access to education, health and be able to break the cycle of poverty. And most importantly, we must let them be children and not brides.
For more information on how to tackle this important issue, visit http://girlsnotbrides.org/.