Child marriage denies girls the freedom to make their own decisions, to be in charge of their bodies and in control of their futures, and you’ve been quick to mobilise and stand with us every time we’ve raised our voice to end this harmful practice.

Together, with others around the globe, we’ve been successful in influencing change. 21 year old Memory was one of the youth activists you helped make history in 2017, by seeing child marriage fully outlawed in Malawi. It was a huge moment in ending the practice but it was also just the beginning.

 “Child marriage is devastating for a young girl.” Says Memory, who knows all too well – her own sister was married after falling pregnant at just eleven years old. “This (child marriage) means the end of education, the girl will have no say in terms of body rights, or the choice to make children, and she will always be dependent on her husband.”

Child marriage isn’t about just one culture or religion or group of people. It cuts across countries, cultures, religions and backgrounds. The root causes which allow it to continue are gender inequality, poverty, cultural norms and a lack of education, all of which we have the power to change.

Child marriage was once fairly common all over the world, especially given our life expectancy was once a lot shorter than it is today. Now we live longer, our cultures have shifted dramatically, we’re better educated and have access to far more resources than ever before.

Yet even here in Australia, despite the legal age for marriage being 18, there have been reports of children as young as six being forced into child marriage. There are also certain circumstances where 16 year olds can be legally permitted to marry. So while this is culturally far less acceptable and relatively rare, the practice of child marriage still takes place in pockets of Australia just as it does in other parts of the world.

Changing the law is vital, but it’s just one aspect of ending child marriage. Tackling the root causes and raising awareness is essential and if we can do this, we will see the practice end. It’ll take time and a lot of work but it will happen.

With local partners, Plan International works with communities in a number of ways to combat child marriage.

Through advocacy we work with governments and policy makers to change the laws that allow child marriage to occur. Through birth registration programs we ensure that all children have birth certificates so they can prove their age, which decreases the chances of girls being married while underage. And we raise awareness through education to support communities to value girls and their rights and to understand the negative effects of child marriage.

We are already seeing the next generation of young people leading this change in their own communities through activism and education. In Ethiopia, girls like Yekaba are doing just that. Our grassroots work provides children with the knowledge and support they need to say no to child marriage. You’ll be hearing more about Yekaba and how you can help tackle the root causes of child marriage later this month.

History is proof that transformation is possible when our circumstances and access to resources change. Together we can make this happen.

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