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Child marriage is a human rights violation that robs children of their childhood and denies them their basic right to education. Education, in turn, facilitates their empowerment and has lasting positive effects on global health, poverty, hunger, the environment, and other global challenges. Children denied an education face dire consequences such as child exploitation, domestic violence, and lifelong poverty. Child marriage has long-lasting consequences for girls, as they often miss out on opportunities to go to school and take part in other essential parts of childhood and adolescence. It also means they are likely to have children early and more frequently than if they hadn’t been married at a young age. For these reasons, child marriage is a key factor that perpetuates extreme poverty in some countries.
Child marriage is a global problem: the chance that a girl will be married as a child increases with how poor her family is, and where she lives in the world. One in nine of girls is married before 15. Child marriage is a violation of human rights. It can have devastating consequences for the lives of young women and their children. It can trap them in a cycle of poverty, from which it is very difficult to escape and place their health, safety, and education at risk. Child marriage violates their right to decide the way they live and has been recognized as a major contributor to female illiteracy, poverty, maternal mortality, and other harmful practices such as early motherhood and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Child marriage is an institution, commonly defined as a marriage where one or both spouses are under eighteen. Journeys to Change defines child marriage as forced marriage, based on the idea that no child has the maturity to make such a life-altering decision on their own. They marry simply because they have been unable to resist the will of others who want them to marry. It is clear then that marriages between minors from their perspective cannot be considered free and voluntary, lacking legal recognition cannot be considered equal. Almost every country in the world has a legal framework for marriage, defined by civil law and/or religious tradition. In June 2014, international human rights experts confirmed that child marriage constitutes a human rights violation, explaining that it represents ‘an unacceptable and immoral practice that seriously harms the health of women, children, and adolescents.’ (Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Child Marriage, UN General Assembly Office of the High Commissioner).
The good news is that child marriage is preventable. In certain situations, parents are convinced — or convinced themselves — that a child will be better off if they marry young. And they also believe that these marriages will last. If we can intervene in those cases, providing alternate ways for families to meet their needs and protecting girls, we can change these communities’ practice of child marriage from the bottom up. Girls not Bride honors the agency and power of girls to change their own lives for the better. It recognizes that often this is best done in collaboration with others—their families, communities, peers, and development agencies. To end child marriage, we all need to think about what true success looks like for girls, respect their choices, and support them as they try to realize their aspirations.