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Jasmina Khatul, 6 years, goes to Bethany Sisters (IM's partner) training school outside Guwahati in India. Going to school is vital in a country where many girls, instead of getting education, are forced into child marriage. Photo: Erik Törner/IM

End child marriage

Published 30 March 2017

One girl every other second – that means 15 million child marriages every year around the world. 700 million of women alive today married before the age of 18. Unless more countries overcome the problem of child marriage 1,2 billion women will have been child brides in the year of 2050*.

Poverty is one of the most important factors behind child marriage, but also one of the causes of poverty. Many families find no other option than to marry off their daughters for the survival of the family. The result is that the girl falls even deeper into poverty, since she is forced to quit school and loses the opportunity of education and thus the chance to make a living. In turn her children will be disadvantaged and in turn even forced to work or get married instead of going to school. It is a vicious circle. IM works to prevent child marriage, together with partner organizations, in the countries we operate. 

Knowledge is key

In many cases tradition gets in the way of the fight against child marriage. For example, in Malawi, it is common that young people are encouraged to early sex. Harmful rites occur and young people do not get enough knowledge to make responsible decisions concerning their sex life. Therefore, it is of great importance to affect both parents and policymakers to stop harmful practices through both education and legislation.If a girl gets pregnant it is common that the family forces her to get married to avoid that she gives birth to an illegitimate child. Abortion is illegal in many countries. What remains is illegal abortion or childbirth at a young age. Both entail major physical risks.

Sex education

A girl that survives childbirth often get chronical physical problems. Her reproductive system is not fully developed, not ready to neither have sex nor give birth. The mucous membranes are damaged and the girl can get the very painful disease fistula. Researchers have found that many child brides have HIV, and that one reason for this is that the girls are too young to demand safe sex. Perhaps they haven’t had any sex education and do not know how HIV is transmitted. Moreover, it is common that the man is considerably older than his wife and therefore has had many sex partners and thus higher risk to have an HIV infection.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which most countries stand behind says that children should be protected from abuse and that the best interests of children should come first when decisions that affect the child are made. Child marriage deprives a girl her right to education, her right to decide her own future and her right to her own body. A woman who lacks education is unable to support herself and her family and this in turn has negative effects on the entire community. The conclusion is obvious: We have to stop child marriage!

*Figures from the organization Girls not brides.

Facts: What is child marriage?
A child marriage is a formal or traditional commitment where one or both parts are under the age of 18. It is often girls who are affected but also boys may feel forced to get married at an early age. If the tradition says that cooking, cleaning and other household chores are the job of a woman it may for example be required that the eldest son marries at a young age to increase the amount of hands in the household. To marry off children at a very young age is most common in South Asia and in Africa, south of Sahara, but occurs even to a great extent in parts of Central and South America.