LET GIRLS BE GIRLS - END CHILD
- Executive Director
married at 11 and now 14, speaks to a relative holding her 4-month-old baby
Alok at her house in a village in
On 17 April, my attention was drawn to a very tragic story in the Times
of India, under the headline, “Early motherhood forcing young brides to
bury aspirations.” It is about an 18-year-old girl who killed her two-day-old
It also reminded me of another story, in
Afghan law forbids marriage below the age of 16, but many girls end up being
married even at 13. Getting reliable data on child marriages is difficult, but
estimates show that about 40 percent of Afghani women are married by the age of
Harmful practices such as child marriage are not a
challenge only in
Child marriage can also have fatal health consequences for young girls. When married, girls are often expected to prove their fertility by getting pregnant. Each year, 16 million girls aged 15-19 give birth, 90 percent of them within marriage. However, girls are often not fully developed physiologically and for many reasons face barriers in seeking timely, appropriate care, putting them at an increased risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy or delivery.
Such complications can result in death or in long-term illnesses and injuries including obstetric fistula—a childbirth injury that results in a tear between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum, causing the girl to leak urine and/or human waste. About 300 million girls and women are living today with maternal illnesses and injuries.
Moreover, the married girls are often taken out of school and have very limited life opportunities. Meanwhile, girls who are able to finish school and maybe even to get a secondary education have much better possibilities to earn a living, to decide themselves when and whom to marry, when to become mothers, to invest in their children’s future and ultimately to help themselves and their families out of poverty. This will ultimately contribute to the prosperity of their communities and countries.
Preventing child marriage will also help reduce the risk of girls being subjected to violence and social isolation, which is often a result of young girls marrying into families they don’t know. Hence, the prevention of child marriage has manifold benefits for girls’ well-being, health, education, childhood and their basic rights to determine their own future.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, together with its partners, works to end child marriage and other harmful practices, including gender-biased sex selection and female genital mutilation/cutting. In addition to being a goal in itself, this is also an important first step towards enabling girls to realize their full potential, educate themselves, contribute more to the labour market and, eventually, to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty for their own sake, as well as for their communities’ and countries’ development.
UNFPA supports national governments and civil society in improving and
enforcing national legislation against child marriage and supports
information-sharing with local communities on girls’ rights and the negative
consequences of child marriages. We invest in programmes that create safe
spaces for girls to avoid child marriage, build up their education, economic
and health assets. On a global scale, UNFPA works with many governments and other
partners to ensure that girls’ rights to determine their future and to obtain
sexual and reproductive health are anchored strongly in the post-2015
development agenda and become a policy priority both in developing and fragile
countries, such as
Our hope is that, through common efforts, we can ensure that not only Freshta, but also her younger sister and all other girls in the world, can escape harmful practices and enjoy the right to be girls.
When they enjoy this right, they can consequently enjoy other human and civil rights, such as education as well as economic, social and political participation and decision-making. When they exercise all of these rights, they can fulfil their own and humanity’s potential: to eliminate poverty, eradicate maternal death and propel economic development.