December 12, 2017

Campaigners around the world fight to end child marriage and keep girls in school

An amended law in Iraq would set back women’s rights by half a century

Photo credit: UNICEF

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

A link from climate change to early marriage in Malawi and an outcry over a proposed law change in Iraq are just two of the current talking points.

Efforts are ongoing around the world to end the blight of child marriage and ensure girls get the education they need to fulfil their potential.

The practice of girls being wed before they are 18 puts them at risk of abuse, domestic violence and health problems - especially from early pregnancy.

It also prevents many girls from getting an education, often because they are not permitted to return to school or because they are pregnant.

But campaigners in many different countries are working on a daily basis to break down deeply-held beliefs or change laws that allow young girls to wed.

Here's a look at some of the activities and research from the past month alone.

Fatima from Mozambique tells how her education was sacrificed

An investigation called Brides of the Sun examined how climate change is having a direct effect on child marriage in Malawi and Mozambique, where almost half of girls are married by 18.

It explained: “Rising temperatures and irregular rainfall have brought more drought and flooding. Families once able to feed themselves have seen harvests fail. 

"Their solution has been to marry off their daughters. And nine months later, there the girl sits, sheltering her newborn baby from the blazing sun, wondering how it ended up this way.”

Fatima Mussa, a 16-year-old from Nataka in Mozambique, said: “I was studying but I preferred to marry Priorino because my father didn’t have enough money to support my education.”

In Iraq - where 5% of girls are married under 15 - there has been an outcry over a proposed law that would put many more young girls at risk of forced and early marriage. 

Public demonstrations were held against the plan to change the current law, which forbids marriage before 18, and allow clerics of Muslim sects to govern marriage contracts. 

It could potentially see some girls allowed to marry as young as nine.

“It is a matter of concern that these draft amendments are silent on the minimum age of consent to marriage and do not apply to all components of Iraqi society,” said representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, and for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.

In Kenya, the government is working with the UN children's agency UNICEF to fight against child marriage. It is targeting seven counties where millions of girls are considered to be at great risk.

In Pakistan, where girls can marry at 16, the parliament will soon have a vote on ending child marriage. It's estimated that about one in five Pakistani girls are married before 18.

At a big bridal fashion event in Lahore, a young girl walked on the ramp alongside the models - wearing a school uniform with bridal motifs. 

UN Women, which worked with dress designer Ali Xeeshan, said: "The horrible trade-off that takes place when a child is deprived of her right to an education, and instead is being dressed to be someone’s wife, is what this campaign targets.”

In Uganda, a World Bank report revealed that more than a third of girls get married before 18 and almost three in 10 have a child by then.

It said: "As a result, the proportion of girls enrolling in secondary education is still lower than for boys, with an even smaller proportion completing lower secondary level education and with the trend becoming even more pronounced at higher levels of education."

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