At the end of last year, 193 governments committed to ending child marriage by 2030. It was a fantastic achievement and something that Girls Not Brides members had been working towards for several years.
Child marriage is a core development and human rights issue and its inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals will help to build a healthier, safer, more prosperous world where no girl is left behind.
The target to end child marriage compels governments to act and gives civil society a tool to hold them to account. The inclusion of child marriage will also help us to achieve many of the other Sustainable Development Goals. Here is how.
Goal 1: No poverty
Girls from poor families are two and a half times more likely to marry before 18 than girls from wealthier families. Parents who marry their daughters often see child marriage as a way of securing her economic security or easing the family’s financial burden. In fact, quite the opposite happens.
Child marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty by cutting short girls’ education, pushing them into early and repeated pregnancies, and limiting their opportunities for employment.
When girls have access to economic opportunities, they can plan a more prosperous future for themselves, their families and their communities. Ending child marriage will help us build a more prosperous future for all!
Goal 2: Zero hunger
Food insecurity and malnutrition are both causes and consequences of child marriage. Faced with limited food resources, parents may marry off their daughters to lessen the burden on the family by having one less mouth to feed.
Child marriage also perpetuates the cycle of food insecurity and malnutrition. Child brides experience higher rates of anaemia and malnutrition than those who marry later in life, and babies born to girls younger than 15 are more likely to die before their 5th birthday, suffer from malnutrition and experience stunting
Tackling child marriage will help us make progress on nutrition for adolescent girls and food security.
Goal 3: Good health and well-being
Mounting evidence shows that child marriage is detrimental to girls’ health. Child brides are under a lot of pressure to have children. The majority (90%) of adolescent pregnancies take place within marriage. Early pregnancy puts their health at risk: every year, 70,000 adolescent girls in developing countries die of causes related to pregnancy and child birth.
Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous for girls: they are the leading cause of death for girls age 15-19. When girls survive childbirth, they can be left with devastating injuries such as obstetric fistula.
Marriage and early child bearing can also be emotionally challenging for girls who are still children themselves.
Delaying marriage and pregnancy will help to improve adolescent girls’ health and that of their children.
- 5 reasons why ending child marriage will improve maternal health.
- Resource: How the health sector can address child marriage.
Goal 4: Quality education
Child marriage usually means the end of a girl’s formal education. Once married, girls are burdened with their new responsibilities as wives and mothers and often stay at home as a result. Their husband or in-laws may not be supportive of their education and in some countries laws don’t allow married girls to return to school.
Being out of school puts girls at risk. Girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before 18 compared to girls with a secondary or higher education. Educated mothers are more likely to be able to provide for their children and less likely to marry them at a young age.
As long as girls are married as children, their education will suffer. Addressing child marriage will help to keep more girls in school.
- 5 reasons why ending child marriage and improving girls' education must go hand in hand.
- Resource: How the education sector can address child marriage
Goal 5: Gender equality
Child marriage overwhelmingly happens to girls because they are girls. Discriminatory norms around girls’ value, sexuality and role in society are strong drivers of the practice. In many communities where child marriage is practised, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden.
Girls also have little say in whom and when they marry. In fact they are rarely asked if they want to marry at all! When girls marry before the age of 18, they are more likely to experience violence within marriage.
Marriage ends girls’ opportunities for education, better paid work outside the home and leadership roles in their communities. We won’t achieve gender equality as long as child marriage persists.
Goal 8: Economic growth
When girls are able to go to school, learn the skills they need to secure a job, and have access to the same economic opportunities as boys, they will be able to support themselves and their families and help to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.
Addressing child marriage will open new economic opportunities for girls, their families and their countries.
Goal 10: Reduced inequalities
Child marriage is symptomatic of gender inequality globally. UNICEF estimates that 700 million women alive today were married before 18. That’s nearly 10% of the world population.
Child marriage holds girls back throughout their lives. Once a girl is married at an early age, her health and education suffer, and her economic opportunities narrow. Child brides are also more likely to endure violence at the hands of their husbands or in-laws.
We won’t achieve gender inequality as long as child marriage continues.
Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
Strong laws and policies are essential to protect girls from child marriage and enable them to fulfil their potential.
However, laws only work if people know they exist and there are strong systems in place to enforce them.
Tackling child marriage by strengthening birth and marriage registration systems, as well as working with communities and institutions at all levels to understand and effectively apply the law, will help us build a fairer world for all.
Ending child marriage is a smart investment
Ending child marriage is not only the right thing to do, but is also an economically practical decision.
Child brides are less likely to participate in the workforce once they become adults. When they do, it’s usually in lower skilled and lower paid jobs.
When girls have the skills and opportunities to secure a job, they can support themselves and their families and break the cycle of poverty.
Child marriage is costing countries trillions of dollars through its impact on fertility, population growth, earnings and child health, according to the World Bank and ICRW.
In the time it has taken to read this article 71 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds
Girls Not Brides
Ommera Zafar is Policy and Advocacy Officer at Girls Not Brides.