What works best to end child marriage? This question is the main focus of all our work as a global partnership, and a movement working to ensure girls can live free from the practice. Child marriage is a barrier to girls accessing their rights, agency and choice over their lives – something Girls Not Brides is advancing with our member organisations around the world.
Now in our 11th year, we’ve heard many of the lessons learned from our champions and partners working in over 100 countries.
After over a decade of advancing progress on ending child marriage globally, we know that we need to work across multiple sectors, with multiple actors, take multiple actions, and promote change at all levels for child marriage to end. But what are some of our key learnings that have helped to create tangible change for girls?
Read on to find out the top six learnings on ending child marriage from across the global partnership.
1. Girls are leading change in their communities
Girls have the power to change attitudes, culture, and practices around child marriage. Yet in many countries where child marriage is being addressed, girls are not yet a big enough part of the conversation.
“Through campaigning, girls can stand up and speak up about the consequences of child marriage and how it impacts their futures”. Pooja Rajvi, Girls Not Brides State Partnership in Jarkhand, India.
Girls must be at the forefront of decisions that directly affect them, while being supported by their communities and governments, because they are experts in their own experience, and the next generation of leaders and decision makers in our communities.
2. Education is instrumental to ending child marriage
We know that education has two-way impacts on child marriage, because keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to prevent the practice, and child marriage simultaneously acts as a significant barrier to girls’ access to education.
In Lebanon, Nawal Mdallaly from our member organisation Sawa Association for Development says that: “We found that the best solution to reduce child marriage in refugee camps … is to offer opportunities to girls to earn their livelihood.”
Girls are at a higher risk of child marriage in humanitarian contexts and often have limited access to basic services, including education and economic assistance. Sawa is an example of how providing vocational education for girls in refugee camps can shift social norms around child marriage, so parents can see their daughters being able to earn their own living, support themselves and live free from an early marriage.
3. Working with local government helps change in the community
In Togo, Girls Not Brides National Partnership representative Kpatare Ayokassia says that “We need to … engage local governments to raise awareness and understanding of child marriage, and how it links to traditional, cultural norms and affects girls in marginalised groups.”
Through collective advocacy, the National Partnership works with local government to ensure funding and other resources like books and transport are allocated to girls and communities directly impacted by child marriage.
4. Learning, research and evidence must come from the Global South too, not only the Global North
Child marriage is often underreported, and access to research that validates what practitioners witness on the ground is a common challenge. This barrier could be overcome by increasing research and evidence on child marriage from more diverse institutions and research bodies, as well as broadening the ways in which evidence is gathered.
Marie Therese Sambou from Girls Not Brides Senegal notes that: “In Senegal, a recent study on the impact of COVID on child marriage [was] used as a powerful advocacy tool to show that ending child marriage should be a priority.”
Studies like this can provide a more accurate picture of the scale of child marriage in a particular context, especially if research includes and is led by local participants and researchers who have ownership over the project.
Promoting a more equitable system to share knowledge and advance accurate data on child marriage will only help to accelerate an end to the practice.
5. Collective action is the best way to achieve shared goals
“We must convene spaces for organisations, activists and people to come together, while prioritising the perspective of girls. Their voice is too often ignored.” Joseline Velasquez, from Girls Not Brides Guatemala says.
Through a process of working collectively across the coalition, Girls Not Brides Guatemala successfully worked together to advocate for an increase to the legal minimum age of marriage in their country, with no exceptions.
Member organisations working together at Girls Not Brides UK similarly achieved great things through collaboration: “We have been able to make huge progress to change legislation in England and Wales through teamwork,” Lubna Maktari from the Independent Yemen Group. She says, “Working as a genuine partnership with a flat management structure has enabled all involved to contribute meaningfully and successfully”.
As a movement, we know that by working together we are greater than the sum of our parts, and can make a difference for girls’ lives everywhere.
Counting the support of over 1,500 member organisations, National and State Partnerships and coalitions, Girls Not Brides continues to mobilise efforts to transform girls’ lives, taking these six top learnings with us along the way.
Let’s end child marriage together.
In the time it has taken to read this article 54 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