Violence: - noun - Definition 3. An unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws: [vahy-uh-luh ns].
When we think of violence we imagine beatings and bruising, weapons and war. But, as defined above, violence can also manifest as an unwanted exertion of force. Forcing a child to marry against her will is a form of violence and a violation of her rights. Yet each year, 4 million children are married before their fifteenth birthday.
The devastating impact
Early marriage effectively derails a girl’s pathway in life. It removes her independence, denies her freedom and shatters any hope of controlling her own destiny. Child brides are often married off to much older men, and subjected to physical relationships before they are physically or emotionally ready.
Isolated, disempowered and robbed of their childhood, young brides are far less likely to pursue an education; often perpetuating a cycle of poverty and curtailing opportunity.
The physical risks
Childbearing at a young age, before a girl’s body is physically mature, is extremely dangerous. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19 globally. And babies born to adolescent mothers face a substantially higher risk of dying than those born to women over 20.
Where is it happening?
Child marriage is a global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Child brides can be found in every region in the world, although poverty, lack of education and living in an insecure environment are often contributing factors.
Nine out of the ten countries with the highest child marriage rates are considered fragile states. There is a perception in some communities that marriage will provide a girl with protection from harm, better economic prospects, greater access to education and a safe home. It’s a perception that is proven misguided time and time again.
What are we doing to help?
Save the Children works across the world to discourage and advocate against the practice of child marriage. Programs are culturally sensitive and vary from region to region, but the goal is the same – to give young girls and boys the freedom to decide when and with whom they will marry.
Our child protection programs incorporate community based awareness campaigns, peer support, parental education, and adolescent training to combat child marriage. We’re working with governments and local authorities to protect children from harmful traditional practices and to ensure young people are trained on life skills and have a safe space to discuss their issues.
For children who have experience early marriage, we run education programs on pregnancy, family planning and proper healthcare and diet for mothers and children.
Save the Children engages at regional, national and global levels in the fight to end child marriage. We start with the community, and work with local leaders using local concepts and language to raise awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage.
Header image: Halima* was forced to marry at 16 to an abusive man more than 20 years her senior. Photo: Colin Crowley/Save the Children
*Name changed to protect identity.