While early and child marriage affects both girls and boys, the impact on girls is much greater. Girls growing up in poverty or facing crisis, conflict or disaster are particularly at risk.
Child marriage violates girls’ human rights and robs them of their childhood. Girls who are married before they turn 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to stay in school. They are often forced to have children before their bodies are ready.
In communities where child marriage happens, we’re working with girls to make sure they know their rights. We’re educating families on the risks of child marriage, as well as supporting communities to make sure girls are valued and their voices are heard.
Nearly married at 12: meet the girl who stopped her own wedding
Yekaba was just 12 years old when she found out her father, Desta, was planning to marry her off to a 20-year-old man she had never met or even seen before. Yekaba knew she had the right to say ‘no’, so she confronted Desta, asking him why he wanted her married off to a man nearly twice her age.
“He replied that he couldn’t afford to send both of his daughters to school, so he’d decided I must get married,” says Yekaba, adding that she asked if he’d ever considered the health problems she’d face if she became pregnant.
“I told him I’d develop fistula if I fell pregnant because my body isn’t fully developed … I told my father about all the problems child marriage would cause me and also him. I told him everything I’d learned at school from the peer-to-peer discussion group.”
It takes a community
Yekaba’s decision was supported by the wider community who have been sensitized to the issue of child marriage, thanks in part to work done by Plan International.
When Yekaba told her friend, Woyzer, about the wedding, she wrote a note and put it in a box at school which enables children to report child marriages or any event that violates their rights. This note helped Yekaba’s school get involved in reasoning with her father to stop the marriage.
In addition, Muluwork, a local leader who is also a former child bride, stepped up and told Desta that if he continued with the wedding plans then he would be banned from working at the local church as a priest and be fined heavily.
Why does child marriage happen?
- Gender inequality: girls and women often occupy a lower status as a result of social and cultural traditions, attitudes and beliefs that deny them their rights.
- Poverty: in families on a low income, girls may be seen as an economic burden. The perception that a girl’s potential to earn an income is comparatively poor pushes girls out of their homes and into marriage.
- Customs: in many countries, the importance of preserving family ‘honour’ and girls’ virginity means parents push their daughters into marriage before they’re ready. People believe marriage safeguards against ‘immoral’ or ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.
- Failure to enforce laws: sometimes families aren’t aware they’re breaking the law. In some countries early marriage is so prevalent, prosecutions are seldom brought.
- Conflicts, disasters and emergencies: disasters and emergencies increase economic pressures on households and many families who wouldn’t previously have considered early marriage turn to it as a last resort.
- Lack of education: girls with no education are more likely to be married before the age of 18 than those with a secondary education.