On March 8th, teenagers from across the world are calling on the global community to join them in making a stand against the harmful practice of child marriage.
The campaign, supported by the international aid charity Compassion Australia, marks the anniversary of the UNICEF report released last year that revealed an additional 10 million girls were at increased risk of child marriage over the next decade due to the impact of COVID-19.
Four girls from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Brazil and the Dominican Republic have taken part in a staged photoshoot, dressed in wedding dresses to remind the world that child marriage robs girls of their childhood, limits their opportunities and takes away their choice to shape their own futures and live out their potential to lead change in their communities.
Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Brazil are among the five countries that account for about half of the 650 million child marriages globally. Although poverty is one of the leading drivers of child marriage, girls in higher-income nations are at risk too. The practice continues to take place across the world, including in Australia, with 92 cases of forced marriage reported to the Australian Federal Police in 2020. Recorded cases are likely to be only a fraction of the number of unreported cases, both here and overseas.
Sidney Muisyo, Chief Program Officer for Compassion International says, “It is basically a marriage to hardship and hard labour.”
Education is proven to prevent early marriage, with each year of secondary school reducing a girl’s likelihood of marrying before age 18. School closures triggered by COVID may cause girls to drop out entirely or be less likely to re-enrol.
Muisyo says, “COVID has created a situation where we know that millions of children will not go back to school. Every girl who gets educated delays marriage and delays bearing children. The health of the mother, the health of the children and the health of the family is impacted for years to come, simply because of an early marriage.”
Along with school closures, the pandemic has isolated children from social services. Vulnerable girls have been cut off from teachers, health professionals, the justice system and other services that can recognise and support a girl in crisis.
The economic devastation wreaked by COVID has plunged more families into desperate poverty. Muyiso says, “When a family is struggling with the basic necessities of life, like food, any child is an extra mouth to feed and if a girl can get married, that is one less mouth they have to worry about.”
To support these girls in their fight, Compassion projects across the world are increasing access for girls and their families to counselling and discussions around the dangers of child marriage. Focus is given to sexual health education, supporting girls’ rights as women as well as the importance of education and careers advice in giving them the opportunity to choose their future. This runs alongside their education programs and the support they provide families to enable children to attend school.
At only 14, Yolane (Brazil) is still deciding what she wants her future to look like, she says, ‘Before I get married, I want to finish high school, go to college, and have a job. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.’
“Our role is to be there to encourage their dreams and show them a new path,” explains tutor Claudeane in Brazil. Centre director in Ethiopia, Letera says, “We need to emphasise that girls are not the property of the husbands, or their parents, but are change-makers,” she says. “Girls can be wives and mothers alongside being productive members of society, who can contribute to the development of their country.”
The prevalence of informal unions across the world makes local initiatives essential to bringing genuine change. This is evident in the Dominican Republic where child marriage was outlawed in 2021, but pregnancy rates amongst girls aged 15-19 is almost 50% higher than the regional average for Latin America and the Caribbean (World Bank, 2020).
While the situation facing 10 million young girls is desperate, it is not definite. Girls like Tisha, Yolane, Lauri and Mart, encouraged by their supportive parents and Compassion project staff, are sharing their powerful message.
“There’s a time for everything,” says Lauri. “Our teenage years are the time to mature, play, grow, learn and develop our skills and minds to build a future where we can handle responsibilities like marriage.”
You can protect girls from child marriage and help their families to understand the dangers by giving to Compassion's Highly Vulnerable Children fund today.
UNICEF Report: Key Statistics
- Worldwide, 650 million girls and women were married in childhood.
- Five countries account for about half of this total number: India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Brazil.
- Global progress in ending child marriage to date has been stronger among wealthier segments of society, while the poorest girls have been largely left behind.
- As a result of this progress, 25 million child marriages have been averted over the last decade
- According to pre-COVID projections, 100 million girls will still become child brides over the next decade – a far cry from the global goal of ending child marriage by 2030
Quantifying the impact of COVID-19
- School closures increase marriage risk by 25% per year
- Closures result in a loss of 0.6 learning adjusted years of schooling per child
- Some girls (2%) will never return to school, and will continue to face a higher marriage risk throughout childhood
- In countries where bride price is common, loss of household income increases the probability of marriage by 3%
- In countries where dowry is common, the impact ranges from a decreased risk of 4% to an increased risk of 1%
Disruptions to programs and services
- Delayed programmes to prevent child marriage are estimated to result in a one year loss of gains from such programs
- Mobilization of effective programming, widely applied, could reduce risk by 33% in the mitigation scenario
- The increased risk of marriage due to pregnancy is accounted for through the impact of school closure and dropout
For images, case studies, interviews and further information please contact: Andrew Marsh, Jersey Road PR, e: email@example.com
Compassion is an international Christian child development charity with 70 years’ experience working with children living in poverty. More than 126,000 children are connected with Australian sponsors through Compassion Australia, and at present more than 2 million children attend Compassion’s church-based projects in 25 countries around the world.