One of the many surprising facts about child marriage is how widespread it is. It happens on every continent. We often think of it as being an Asian or African thing – globally 1 in 5 girls is married before 18, but even if we look only at developed countries the number is 1 in 8 girls. This is not only a developing world problem, it is everywhere.
For example in 19 states in the US there is no minimum age of marriage. Very young girls are married and then unable to access any services such as abuse centres or divorce until they reach legal majority at 18 – so girls are trapped in a legal limbo in the US.
In many places it is seen (mistakenly) as a way out of poverty for girls whose family cannot afford to feed them. It is often forced on the girl after she has become pregnant regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or consensual sex. Child brides are more likely than the average to report that their first sexual experience was a rape.
In Latin America where child marriage rates are also very high, it is often not the parents forcing it on the girl, but the girl choosing it themselves as the only viable choice in a macho culture that says girls are only women when they are with a man.
But while the drivers of child marriage may vary around the world, the devastating impact of it does not. Girls Not Brides research shows that everywhere, girls who are married drop out of school. Everywhere married girls face higher rates of death in childbirth, miscarriage, violence and HIV. In fact 7700 girls get HIV every week. Girls are twice as likely as young buys to contract the virus, and its the second most common cause of death in young women in sub saharan Africa.
All of these factors combined trap the girl and her children in an endless cycle of poverty. The latest research from IRCW.org shows that the loss to the economies of the world by these girls not being full, active members of society will be over $4trn annually by 2030 – that is $4,000,000,000,000 !!. And perhaps it is these economic arguments that are finally starting to get governments and community and local leaders around the world to take action to stop child marriage. It is sad that it’s the money and not the human suffering that is getting people to finally end this horrible practice. But whatever it takes to give girls true equality with boys is what we should focus on. So today – please support any organisation you can that is supporting women and girls. There are $4 trillion reasons to do so!