According to UNICEF data in 2014, child marriage in Mozambique is not uncommon: 48 percent of women in Mozambique aged 20 to 24 married before they were 18 years old; 14 percent of them were married by age 15.

Although the percentage of child brides in Mozambique has declined from 56.6 percent in 1997, Girls Not Brides reports that “population growth has meant that the actual number of married girls has increased.”

To address this issue, Mozambique has launched a new, multi-organization plan to end child marriage, led by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Affairs. According to Girls Not Brides, one of the most important pillars in this new plan is reforming the legal framework surrounding child marriage. Although child marriage is officially illegal, it is not punishable by law, making its illegal status more of a symbol than a tool and failing to hinder the practice.

The plan also involves increasing girls’ access to education and creating a social mobilization campaign, as well as increasing sexual and reproductive health services to young women already in marriages. This education is vital, as UNICEF reports that women married young are likely to become pregnant shortly after, and that these young mothers have higher rates of maternal mortality; their children are also more likely to be underweight, underdeveloped and more likely to die young.

One of the biggest issues Mozambique still has to overcome is ending poverty. Often times, young girls are married off for economic reasons—their parents get money from the husband’s family, known as the “bride price,” and the poor families of these girls now have one less mouth to feed. According to Girls Not Brides, Mozambique requires continued outside support; though there are renewed efforts to end child marriage in Mozambique, it will be an uphill battle.

Emily Milakovic

Photo: U.N. Multimedia

Every minute, 28 girls around the world who are under the age of 18 are forced into marriage. Child marriage is one of the most serious human rights violations of today. An average of 15 million girls are annually forced to marry before they are of legal marriageable age, and the consequences can be severe. Child brides are more likely to face domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and complications during pregnancy. Some brides are able to escape their marriage, but are then forced to return to an abusive home because they are not able to survive on their own.

Although there are laws that prohibit child marriage, these marriages still persist for many reasons, including poverty and cultural traditions. Parents who are poor tend to try to marry their children off at an earlier age in order to have one less mouth to feed. Also, some countries still practice dowry-giving (in which the bride’s family has to give a present to a groom at the time of marriage). Since dowries are lower for younger brides, many families who feel the need to give a dowry try to marry their daughters off at a young age.

Luckily, there are programs in place that work to reduce the amount of child marriages taking place throughout the world. One of the main ways to help is to increase the amount of access to education that girls receive. Girls who are able to complete their education are more likely to be able to support themselves, and therefore less likely to be forced into marriage in order to survive. Educating communities also plays a large part in decreasing the number of child marriages which occur.

Canada has been an important player in the fight against early and forced marriages. As Girls Not Brides states, in 2013, Canada and Zambia co-led a U.N. Resolution to combat child, early and forced marriages. They are working to pass a second resolution by mid-November of 2015. Canada has also give $20 million to UNICEF in order to fight child marriage in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Yemen and Zambia.

The Canadian Broadcasting Channel reports that on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister announced that the government would give $10 million to end child, early and forced marriages worldwide. $2.3 million of that money is to go towards promoting education and skills training for girls in the Commonwealth countries, and the rest of the money is meant for local community groups, governments and NGOs which work to end child marriages.

This increase in funding is part of the Canadian Government’s Muskoka Initiative, a $3.5 billion pledge which focuses on maternal, child and newborn health. Eleven Canadian NGOs are going to share $180 million in the next five years in order to help with projects which address nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and health worker training.
Increasing aid is an important step towards making certain foreign affairs issues a priority. By giving money to fight child marriage, Canada reinforces just how important it is to end the human rights violation of forced marriages once and for all.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: Yahoo News, Girls Not Brides 1, Girls Not Brides 2, CBC, UNICEF
Photo: Punch

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of child marriages, with over 30 percent of girls getting married by age 18 and 7 percent of girls getting married by age 15. It is also one of the only countries in which the rate of childbirths to girls under the age of 15 rose from 1990 to 2011.

In Guatemala, it is legal for girls to marry at age 14 as long as they have parental consent. However, many girls younger than 14 are forced to marry, resulting in early childbirth. In the village of Almolonga, a 13 year old’s childbirth caused a national scandal because her wedding—which took place when she was only 12—had been officiated by the mayor of the village.

Marriage at such a young age results in many complications because the girls’ bodies are not ready for childbirth. As the Council on Foreign Relations states, one of the most common problems girls face is an obstetric fistula, which can lead to chronic incontinence. Maternal mortality is also extremely prevalent, and childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 to 19 in low to middle income countries. In addition, babies born to younger mothers are more likely to die at a young age because they tend to have higher risks of malnutrition and weaker immune systems.

Child marriage is also problematic because many girls are forced to rely on their spouses economically. Therefore, even if they are trapped in an abusive relationship, many girls are not able to leave their husbands. Also, many of those who enter into child marriages drop out of school once they are married, and therefore do not have the education to get a job, which would allow them to support themselves.

Child marriage has been prevalent for a long time, and in Guatemala it is rooted in indigenous cultures and a patriarchal idea that states that women are normally confined to housekeeping and childbirth. However, this idea is slowly changing. At Wings, a nonprofit that works for family planning and reporductive health in Guatemala, director Shilpa Kothari states that ‘at the local level, parents, teachers, and even young women are saying that 14 is a bit too young to become pregnant’.

There is also a societal movement for child marriages to be counted and no longer regarded as normal. Organizations like The Reproductive Health Observatory in Guatemala (OSAR) have helped to enforce that the government trains state employees to identify child mothers. In 2014, there were 5,119 documented cases of mothers under the age of 15.

This identification of child mothers has led to more criminal complaints being filed, since child mothers are rape victims in the eyes of the law. In 2013, 608 formal criminal complaints were filed, and in 2014, 921 were filed.

There is still a stigma surrounding rape, which has led to few of these criminal complaints resulting in convictions. Moreover, many girls are scared to testify because they rely on their husbands for economic dependence.

The Guatemalan congress is sitting on a bill that will change the legal marriage age to 16, but whether this bill will pass is debatable.

Guatemala is making strides regarding child marriage, but it still has a ways to go. Luckily, there is work being done through the UN that will help Guatemala reduce its rate of child marriage. In 2013, the HRC adopted its first resolution on child, early and forced marriage, recognizing them as human rights violations. This resolution was co-sponsored by over 100 countries, including Guatemala, and aims to help define the development agenda for after 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals expire.

There are steps being taken to help reduce child marriages—changing patriarchal ideas on the local level, helping to encourage the reporting of childbirths and enforcing that child, early and forced marriages are human rights violations—but there is still room for improvement. As Dr. Montenegro of OSAR states, even if the law changes regarding child marriages, this change in law has to be accompanied by public policies that will empower girls and help them have a plan for their lives.

There are many organizations one can donate to which work to empower girls and reduce child marriages. Some of the organizations that work directly with residents of Guatemala are the Population Council, which works to connect girls with mentors and support, and the Fundación Nueva Esperanza, which gives girls scholarships to attend school.

— Ashrita Rau

Sources: The New York Times, Council on Foreign Relations, Girls Not Brides, Girls Not Brides, MSN, UN Popluation Fund,
Photo: Girls Not Brides

Ethiopian child brides
Ethiopian child brides are using marriage as a path to foreign jobs, revealed a new study by London-based think tank Overseas Development Institute. There is a rising trend of girls marrying briefly, then divorcing and migrating to join the “maid trade” in the Middle East.

Among Muslims in Ethiopia, there is a sentiment that it is immoral for girls who have reached puberty to remain unmarried. But as soon as a girl has married and performed her sexual “duty,” parents believe they have fulfilled their religious obligations.

It has therefore become common for parents in Ethiopia to marry off their daughters briefly, and then insist on divorce. The daughter is then expected to find work — usually by migrating to the Middle East where there are more work opportunities for higher pay — and send money home to her parents. Unfortunately, girls that migrate often face sexual abuse. But if a girl has already been “deflowered” in a way deemed virtuous by the community, a rape will not bring as much disgrace as it would to a virgin.

The ODI released its findings for the benefit of the first Girl Summit, hosted on July 22 in an effort to end female genital mutilation and child marriage within a generation. The think tank warned that parents who view their daughters as commodities are contributing to a cycle of child labor and are forcing girls to enter into abusive or unwanted marriages. Every day, 39,000 child brides are married, most of whom have no choice in the matter.

However, the ODI found that some girls choose to migrate for employment purposes in order to support their families. It is illegal for Ethiopian children under 18 to migrate for work, but the issue is easily dodged by those who use fake IDs. These girls face a lengthy and dangerous journey, which usually involves a week-long trek to Djibouti, a boat ride to Yemen under the cover of night and two to three weeks of traveling by road to Saudi Arabia.

Girls who make the journey often settle in Saudi Arabia and find work as maids. The money they send home helps their families pay debts, buy food and secure access to electricity and water.

But earlier this year, Saudi authorities made a massive effort to rid the country of illegal immigrants. Within three months, they deported more than 250,000 foreign workers. One affected Ethiopian girl and former child bride said, “Seeing my family suffering here, I don’t want to remarry, I just want to support my family. I want to go back to the Middle East. There’s no other option because the wage is really low here.”

Yet girls are still pouring into Saudi Arabia, often following the trend of partaking in a child marriage, then getting divorced. Although most go for the sake of their families, some have been enticed by false promises of riches by illegal brokers. The reality is that many will face harsh working conditions, lower than promised pay, isolation or even abuse. Only if parents contribute to breaking the cycle can conditions improve for these girls.

– Mari LeGagnoux

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Amsterdam News
Photo: The Guardian

end child marriages
USAID recently renewed its commitment to end child marriages – as well as early and forced marriage – both by allocating U.S. $4.8 million dollars to be spent over the next year on prevention efforts and by announcing a new set of strategies for combating the practice that leaves so many children (mostly girls) devoid of resources, health, and dignity.

With the support of several key U.S. legislators, USAID will implement new prevention programs in seven nations: Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Tanzania, and Yemen. These prevention programs, which have been updated after analyzing the weaknesses of previous prevention programs, are customized to the needs and features of each of the countries USAID is targeting, making their eventual success very probable.

The advent of child marriage is highly correlated not only with increased rates of poverty, but also with increased maternal and infant mortality and increased incidence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. Ending the practices of forced child marriage, which is “perpetuated by cultural norms, poverty, and lack of access to education,” will re-empower over 10 million girls per year, as well as the families from which they were taken, to make their own choices about their health, education, and futures.

Though child marriage by definition includes all children wed before their 18th birthdays, as many as a third of child marriages occur before the 15th birthday, and some children are married at as young an age as eight years old.

Among USAID’s new strategies for preventing child marriage are improved legislation advocacy measures, increased public awareness of the effects of child marriages and cash incentives to families whose girls have not been married at the age of 18. USAID is setting an influential and inspiring example to other organizations, like The Borgen Project, to continue to promote a change.

USAID’s previous commitment to preventing child marriage was already impressive. Their renewed focus will only serve to keep more children from the bonds of early matrimony.

Elise L. Riley

Sources: USAID, AllAfrica, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

A report released by the Walk Free Foundation has revealed that approximately 29.6 million people are kept in various forms of slavery. Among these are sexual exploitation, debt bondage, and forced marriage.

China, India, and Pakistan are among the worst offenders, with an estimated 18 million slaves combined. Although there are fewer slaves, Mauritania and Haiti have the highest proportion of slaves, with approximately 3 and 2 percent of their respective populations being held in slavery.

“Today some people are still being born into hereditary slavery, a staggering but harsh reality, particularly in parts of West Africa and South Asia,” the report states.

“Other victims are captured or kidnapped before being sold or kept for exploitation, whether through ‘marriage,’ unpaid labor on fishing boats, or as domestic workers…Others are tricked and lured into situations they cannot escape, with false promises of a good job or an education.”


Facts on Modern Slavery


Many of the slaves in Haiti are children, which stems from the cultural practice called “restavek,” where poor families send their children to work for richer families in exchange for room and board. This arrangement often leads to abuse, as well as the children running away. These runaways can end up being trafficked into prostitution or forced begging.

Servile marriages make up a large portion of the problem in India. With an inefficient legal system, victims are discouraged from seeking help from law enforcement. Those without identification papers are especially vulnerable, with no means of proving their identity.

The report also shows that no country is free from slavery, with 59,000 people enslaved in the United States, 6,000 in Canada, and 4,500 in the United Kingdom. Iceland is at the bottom of the list in both absolute and per capita, with less than 100 slaves.

David Smith

Sources: Al Jazeera, Global Slavery Index
Photo: The CNN Freedom Project