In Malawi, Kalinde* was 15 years old when she was forced to marry due to her family’s poverty. She was told to respect her husband and never to deny him sex. Her husband’s work takes him away from their home for long periods of time, leaving her and their two children with nothing to live on. Kalinde’s husband also physically abuses her and has affairs with other women. As a result, Kalinde contracted HIV. In Kalinde’s words:
“Marriage is not good for girls. There is no happiness. I want change for girls and that is why I want my story to be heard by all girls out there thinking of marriage.”
Today we celebrate International Youth Day, established by the UN in 1999 to promote global awareness of existing youth-related issues. Children around the world face a myriad of human rights abuses—exploitation, discrimination, violence— and girl children, in particular, are at risk because of their status as children and as girls.
Child marriage impacts 15 million girls each year. To give you a better picture, 30% of girls in lower-income countries are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. In some circumstances, child brides are as young as eight or nine. These may just be numbers to some, but behind these figures are the faces of young girls and the true, detrimental consequences of child marriage.
Child marriage affects every aspect of a girls’ life. Once married, these girls have little or no access to education and economic opportunities, and they and their families are more likely to live in poverty. Child brides also face a higher risk of experiencing dangerous, life-threatening complications in pregnancy, contracting HIV, and suffering domestic and sexual violence.
Child marriage is a human rights violation. It is illegal under international law and is prohibited in many countries with high child marriage prevalence, but existing laws are often not enforced or provide exceptions for parental consent or traditional and customary law.
On International Youth Day, let us be sure everyone knows that child marriage threatens girls’ lives and health and limits their future prospects. It excludes girls from partaking in important change-making activities and reduces their ability to improve their lives and communities.
Take action and sign the petition to end child marriage!
*The name of the girl was changed.