My grandmother married at 8 years old; my mother married at age 15.
I often wonder what their lives — their potential — would have been, if they were not child brides.
Today, the same pattern is repeated in villages and cities around the world. Every year, nearly ten million girls are forced into marriage before they reach the age of 18 — with little or no say in the matter.
That’s more than 25,000 girls a day; 19 girls each minute.
These girls are denied the opportunity to fulfill their potential for healthy and productive lives. When they enter marriage, most drop out of school and enter a world where they work from dusk to dawn to provide labor to the households. From their mothers’ care they are transferred to the supervision of their husbands and mothers-in-law, who view them as an additional labor source. Pressured to demonstrate their fertility, they get pregnant when they are still children and face the risk of illness or death when they deliver.
And some child brides are as young as eight or nine.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel, members of The Elders, recently explained in the Washington Post: “Choices define us and allow us to realize our potential. Child marriage robs girls of this chance.”
This day is marked to recognize the potential power of girls to build a healthier, more equal, and more prosperous world, and to call for an end to child marriage.
MSH believes that International Day of the Girl should become International Year of the Girl.
The adverse effects of child marriage must be recognized and addressed globally every day.
As an organization that promotes health for all, MSH’s perspective on child marriage focuses not only on the present state of child marriage and the health impact on the girl, but also on the future prospects of ensuring that the next generation of women leaders are provided with opportunities to continue their education unencumbered by the threat of early marriage. These girls can be leaders, managers and governors who make decisions not only about their own lives, but also impact the lives of others. Educated, healthy, and secure girls can contribute significantly to their families, communities, and nations.
MSH stands with all those who are working to end child marriage to change the future of the world, such as Girls Not Brides, who work tirelessly year round to end the practice.
On this first ever International Day of the Girl — and every day this year — let us work together to call for increased political and financial investments to end child marriage in this lifetime, and make sure every girl can have a chance to realize and fulfill her potential.
Sarah Lindsay and Chanell Hasty, MA, contributed to this post.
Belkis Giorgis, PhD, is senior technical advisor for USAID’s Leadership, Management and Governance Project (LMG) at MSH. She served as capacity building and gender advisor for the HIV/AIDS Care and Support Program (HCSP) in Ethiopia, the largest national expansion of HIV & AIDS services at the community and health center levels in Africa.
How will you celebrate International Day of the Girl? How will you help a girl realize her full potential?