Child marriage is happening in every corner of the world today. When a girl is forced into marriage, her health is jeopardized during early pregnancy. Her education is interrupted, likely for the rest of her life. And her childhood is over.
Ending child marriage is going to take years of continued work for girls’ and children’s rights. Although we have a long way to go, there has been progress that should inspire us to remember that collective action for girls does make a difference.
Here are four recent wins in the fight against child marriage:
1. The Dominican Republic banned child marriage.
The Dominican Republic has one of Latin America’s highest rates of child and forced early marriage, driven by the “machismo” culture of seeing girls and women as inferior. Many child brides are forced to be with older men, and many in society accept these unions as normal.
But in early January of 2021, President Luis Abinader signed a bill that bans child marriage, prohibiting marriage for anyone under the age of 18. The new bill also created the Cabinet of Women, Adolescents and Girls under the Ministry of Women, which is designed to tackle violence and gender inequality. And, a UNICEF and World Bank report says that banning child marriage in the Dominican Republic would decrease poverty rates in the country by 10%!
2. Pennsylvania and Minnesota banned child marriage (now joining Delaware and New Jersey).
Child marriage is not just an issue in countries outside of the U.S. Did you know that most U.S. states allow children under 18 to be married?
Many state laws allow children ages 16 and 17 to marry if their parents provide consent. Children younger than 16 can get married if they have court approval. And in some states, while girls can legally get married, they cannot legally file for a divorce.
Action is being taken to reverse these dangerous laws. Pennsylvania and Minnesota became the third and fourth states (joining Delaware and New Jersey) in May 2020 to fully ban child marriage with no exceptions!
46 states to go.
3. Young people are providing solutions.
Youth activism is the solution to ending child marriage — according to a report from Plan International. The report says that young people’s work to challenge harmful social norms and advocate for legislative change is critical to ensuring that girls have the right to choose when, if and whom to marry.
And young people are taking serious action to end child marriage across the world! Shirin in Bangladesh is one of them. At just 13 years old, her parents tried to force her to marry an older man. Determined to get an education, she adamantly fought against it, so her parents finally agreed to let her stay in school.
And now? “I visit households and convince parents not to arrange marriages for their daughters by explaining my real-life example,” she says. “I have stopped 62 child marriages.”
Shirin also started her own business making and selling affordable menstrual pads and face masks during COVID-19, with support from a Plan entrepreneurship program. Plan works with many girls like her across the world to address their unique needs and help them live the lives they want for themselves.
4. Child marriage has declined over the last two decades.
Programs and advocacy have saved girls from losing their futures. The practice of child marriage has significantly declined since 2000, according to a UNICEF report. 25 million child marriages have been averted since 2011.
However, global progress has been stronger among the wealthier in societies, with girls living in poverty still much more likely to be forced into child marriage. And because of COVID-19, an estimated additional 13 million child marriages could take place between 2020 and 2030. That’s one child marriage every 25 seconds for the next 10 years.