Ending child marriage: US wedding industry profits to help, UN condemns Malaysia marriage

Child Marriage Around The World 3
12 million girls across the world are married under the age of 18 every year (UNICEF / Schermbrucke)

Child marriage, Girls' education, Right to education

Action is being taken in several countries to try to halt the practice that robs young girls of their health, an education and their future.

Millions of underage girls – some as young as eight or nine – are married every year around the world.

They are robbed of their health, deprived of an education, trapped in poverty and denied the chance to fulfil their potential.

New evidence shows that while an estimated 25 million child marriages have been prevented over the past decade, no developing country is on track to meet the United Nations goal of wiping out child marriage by 2030.

50 million child marriages could be prevented by 2030 if all girls around the world finished secondary school, revealed analysis by Save the Children.

“A toxic combination of poverty and gender discrimination means many families come to the conclusion their daughters are better off becoming wives and mothers than with getting an education,” said Save the Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Child Marriage Around The World 2

Every girl has the right to a safe and healthy future including the right to choose if and when to marry (UNICEF / Hubbard)

On current trends, 134 million girls will marry between 2018 and 2030. Almost 10 million girls will marry in 2030 alone and more than two million of those marriages will involve girls under 15 years of age, said the charity.

Despite the gloom, campaigners in many countries are working to end the practice. Two examples in the past month of people trying to effect change come from the United States and Malaysia.  

A campaign has been launched in the US to funnel some profits from the $100 billion wedding industry into tackling child marriage.

The campaign is called VOW To End Child Marriage and was founded by Princess Mabel van Oranje of the Netherlands. It will raise funds in the US to be distributed to community-based efforts around the world.

“A young girl is married somewhere in the world every three seconds – thrust into a relationship that she usually did not choose and often can’t escape,” said Princess Mabel. 

“I am absolutely delighted that partners in the US wedding industry are stepping up to the challenge to make sure that girls can stay out of marriage and in school.”

Campaigners say children married young tend to leave school and are vulnerable to health problems and abuse.

Money will be raised through wedding registries, product sales, social media and direct donations. It will then be distributed through the Girls First Fund, a charity that the Ford Foundation helped to found.

In Malaysia, a controversy has been raging since July, when it was reported that an 11-year-old Thai girl living in the country had been married to a 41-year-old man.

Then the wedding of a 15-year-old girl to a man aged 44 was condemned by the United Nations.

“It’s unacceptable that yet another child has got married to an elder man,” said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, Malaysia representative of UN children’s agency UNICEF. 

She said child marriage often denied girls the opportunity of education and it was crucial the government act urgently to “bring legislative change to ban the practice”.

The legal age for marriage in Malaysia is 18 but Islamic sharia courts can approve marriages for those under the age of 16. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who took power in May, has promised to set the legal age of marriage at 18 under any circumstances. 

In Morocco, activists says a new law criminalising violence against girls and women does not fully protect them against forced marriage or domestic violence.

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VOW gives couples, companies and the public the power to help end child marriage (UNICEF)

Campaigners broadly welcomed the new law, which criminalises “harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill treatment of women” in Morocco.

But they criticised loopholes that would allow girls under 18 to marry and said a failure to define forced marriage would make it difficult to enforce a ban.

“How are women supposed to be protected when there is no definition of what is forced marriage?” said Stephanie Willman Bordat, co-founder of rights group Mobilising for Rights Associates.

According to the advocacy group Girls Not Brides, 16% of girls are married before the age of 18 in Morocco, where they are allowed to wed with judicial consent.

“More must be done to ensure girls are protected from the harmful consequences of child marriage,” said Matilda Branson, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at Girls Not Brides.

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