Paving the way to end early girl marriage

Saynab* is 16 and lives in Somaliland. She got married two years ago, became pregnant but lost her baby a few days before she was due to give birth. Thinking back to what happened to her, Saynab is adamant on telling other young girls in her community not to get married early: “I faced many challenges in my marriage life and I regret a lot about it. I think I would have delivered normally if I got married at an older age.  You have also a lot of responsibilities and might not even be able to do your homework if you are still in school.”

This year, 12 million girls around the world will get married before their 18th birthday. These girls are less likely to complete elementary and high school, are at greater risks of poor health, but will also be deprived of their liberty and likely suffer from physical, sexual or mental harm.

While child marriage happens in every region of the globe, six of the top ten countries with the greatest number of child brides are in Africa. This crisis for girls is also increasing in places impacted by humanitarian crises where we are seeing a spike in early and forced marriage rates.

Ending child marriage by 2030 is one of the commitments made by all United Nations Members as part of the Agenda for Sustainable Development.  While significant progress has been made at the global level, we are nowhere near close to achieving this deadline – at the current rate it will likely take fifty years rather than ten.

The good news is there are firm commitments from countries around the world that are translating into real action. Canada spurred much of the international community’s joint action on child marriage through forums like the United Nations. Canada has committed up to $1.4 billion annually to ensure access to health and nutrition for women and girls, including specific efforts to end child marriage, and invested an additional $400m to improve girls’ access to education – including tackling barriers to school like child marriage.

Save the Children has encouraged progress on this issue through political mobilisation and cooperation with the Canadian Government. We aim to maintain and grow the existing Canadian efforts to end child marriage, including the funding to those most in need, such as girls facing conflict, displacement, and disaster.

Save the Children also continues to encourage national efforts to end child marriage in the countries where it is most prevalent. In Sierra Leone for example, where 39% of girls become child brides, the government launched in 2018 a comprehensive national strategy to tackle both child marriage and adolescent pregnancy. This type of national strategy offers national accountability and should be seen as a promising practice in the pursuit of child marriage reduction objectives.

Save the Children aims to support every girl at risk of or impacted by child marriage – and those who advocate to end the practice. We are inspired by girls whose voices and activism spark real change. Working with local women’s rights and youth-led organizations, we are able to provide training and support to enable young girls to create change in their communities. We are proud to support Girl Champions like Shalini, a 24-year old change maker from India, who is leading a significant shift in the practice of child marriage in her community.

Child marriage is a solvable issue – with the right level of national commitment, action and accountability. On the International Day of the Girl, we renew our commitment to hold firm in the fight to end child marriage. A commitment to a world in which girls are able to survive, learn, be protected and decide on their own future. Because when girls are empowered, everyone benefits. Ending child marriage will help us realize that vision.

By Rukayah Sarumi – Global Advocacy Manager – Save the Children