Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That’s nearly one girl every three seconds, forced to grow up too soon.
But we’ve seen some encouraging progress over the last ten years. Although we still have a long way to go to end the practice for good, UNICEF reported in 2018 that global rates of child marriage are declining, with 25 million child marriages averted over the last decade.
And the good news doesn’t end there.
Here are ten ways the world got closer to ending child marriage over the last ten years:
1. Over 1,000 organisations have united to end child marriage
Since 2011, the Girls Not Brides partnership has grown from zero members to a global movement of over 1,300 organisations across the globe.
Our global partnership reached a milestone 1000 members. Members celebrate at the Girls Not Brides Global Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Credit: Graham Crouch / Girls Not Brides.
That’s thousands of organisations and activists who are working around the clock for a world free of child marriage, where girls can exercise their rights and achieve their full potential.
Together we’re stronger. And together we’ll reduce the number of child brides.
2. Child marriage went from a taboo topic to a prominent world issue
At the beginning of the last decade, child marriage was a taboo subject that governments, world leaders and communities across the world didn’t talk about. Fast forward ten years and it’s a prominent issue on the global agenda and in the communities where child marriage is most prevalent.
In 2016, child marriage was embedded within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They’re a set of ambitious and urgent goals and targets aimed at changing our world for the better.
Under Goal 5 – to achieve gender equality, Target 5.3 aims to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations” by 2030. As a result, 193 countries have committed to end child marriage by 2030, changing the lives of vulnerable girls and women for the better.
3. Governments moved to raise the age of marriage
The past decade saw a number of governments raise the minimum age of marriage.
Norway approved a law banning child marriage, and set a global example. Tanzania’s Supreme Court declared child marriage unconstitutional, Malawi officially banned child marriage and Indonesia raised the minimum age that girls can marry from 16 to 19.
In Latin America, a number of governments raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions: the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. In Mexico, 24 out of 33 states have now updated their legislation in line with federal laws.
And in the UK, a new bill has been proposed which will raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions.
4. The first US states outlawed child marriage
Fraidy Reiss, activist and founder of Unchained At Last, the only organisation dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the US, even got a tattoo to celebrate the victory.
Photo: Susan Landman
5. Millions of dollars were made available for grassroots efforts to stop child marriage
In 2018, leading donors and philanthropists came together to launch the Girls First Fund.
The Fund champions local efforts to ensure all girls can live free from child marriage and reach their full potential. They support local organisations, particularly girl-, women- and youth-led groups that work with the most vulnerable girls, working tirelessly to prevent child marriage and advance girls’ rights.
These organisations focus on girls, families and communities because they are in the best position to create lasting, local change and address the causes of child marriage at their roots.
6. Women and girls fought the law, and won
In 2016, 31-year-old Rebeca Gyumi took on her country’s legal system, winning a landmark ruling to raise the age of child marriage for girls in Tanzania from 14 to 18.
She was awarded the 2018 Human Rights Prize by the United Nations in recognition of her contribution to girls’ rights. The announcement came shortly after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a third resolution on child, early, and forced marriage, which sets out the responsibilities of UN member states in ending child marriage.
Rebecca is just one of thousands of incredible girls rights activists who have made a difference for their peers, communities and countries.
7. Senior Islamic clerics issued a fatwa against child marriage
A fatwa against child marriage and Female Genital Mutiliation was announced in Dakar in 2019. The Deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar issued the fatwa. It specifically sets out that marriage under 18 for boys or girls is haram (forbidden).
Other religious leaders have also led the way in their communities. For example, in Ethiopia, leaders of the Orthodox Church declared that they will not preside over marriages where either spouse is under 18. And in Malawi and Zambia, chiefs, such as Chief Chamuka, have developed chiefdom by-laws outlawing child marriage.
8. 49 villages in India went ‘child marriage free’
In Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, many families are forced to marry their daughters off early. Poverty, social pressure and the lack of quality education all make it hard for girls to stay in school or seek a life beyond early marriage.
But norms are changing. Urmul Trust takes travelling music and puppet shows to villages across the Bikaner district, educating parents and children about child marriage. The puppet show highlights harmful effects of child marriage in a way that people of all ages can understand.
Villagers sign an oath against child marriage. Photo: Allison Sarah Joyce/Girls Not Brides
After the show, everyone takes an oath that they will keep their village child marriage free, before signing a banner which is then put up in the village to hold everyone accountable.
The campaign to make villages child marriage free has reached almost 200 villages in the Thar desert. Over 49 villages are currently free of child marriage.
9. 1,000 couples pledged their weddings to support girls
Couples in the USA said ‘I DO’ to help girls to say ‘I DON’T’.
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“We couldn't imagine not being given the choice to choose each other, and more specifically not being given the choice as to WHEN we'd choose each other.” Hana + Dylan Moore said “I DO” to each other… and to aligning their @theknot wedding registry with #vowforgirls. Their love + special day helped girls say “I DON’T” to #childmarriage. Couples can support VOW through The Knot Gifts Back. Link in bio to get started! 📷: Kay + Bee Photography, @kayxbeephoto
These couples registered their wedding registries with VOW, an initiative which gives couples and companies the power to help end child marriage — by donating a portion of profits from wedding registries and products to girls’ rights organisations.
10. Goats, chickens and bicycles stopped girls from becoming child brides
In Ethiopia and Tanzania, Population Council rewarded families who kept their daughters in school and out of marriage with goats or chickens.
Families who couldn’t afford their daughters’ education were pulling them out of school and often into marriage instead. As part of their Berhane Hewan programme, the organisation also gave girls school supplies and matched them with older female mentors.
And it worked! Girls in one village in Ethiopia were 90% less likely to be married than their peers whose families received goats and chickens.
40% of girls in Nepal become child brides and thousands don’t finish their high school education. But in the last few years, hundreds of girls have been given bicycles so they can travel quickly and safely to school.
Janaki Women’s Awareness Society runs the project to make girls’ journeys to school quicker and safer so they’re less likely to drop out of education and be left vulnerable to marriage. When the girls receive their bikes, their parents pledge to keep their daughters in school and to not marry them as children.
Shristi and Santamay ride their new bikes home. Photo: Girls Not Brides/Thom Pierce