Child Marriage in Malawi
According to Girls Not Brides, Malawi has the highest rate of child marriages worldwide, with roughly one in two girls getting married by the age of 18. In rural areas stricken with poverty, parents choose husbands for young girls to improve their financial status. Families sometimes give their daughters in marriage in an exchange called kupimbira in order to repay their debts.

Theresa Kachindamoto, chief of a Malawian district of 900,000 people, is taking a stand to eradicate child marriage in Malawi. She has prevented more than 850 marriages and enlisted 50 sub-chiefs to enforce the ban in her district. “Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,” Kachindamoto said. “I tell them: if you educate your girls you will have everything in the future.”

Tamara Mhango of Girls Not Brides spoke about Kachindamoto’s mission. “She goes around her community even through the different platforms to raise awareness on the importance of girl education and also directly supports and sponsors girls who are vulnerable to stay in school, thereby delaying marriages,” Mhango said.

Between 2010 and 2013, 27,612 girls in primary schools and 4,053 girls in secondary schools in Malawi dropped out because of forced marriage. In addition to this, 14,051 primary school students and 5,597 secondary school students dropped out after becoming pregnant.

According to a Human Rights Watch report titled, “‘I’ve Never Experienced Happiness’: Child Marriage in Malawi,” marriage interrupts girls’ education and dreams. Many of Malawi’s child brides reported that they weren’t able to return to school because they couldn’t afford school fees, child care services, school programs or adult classes. Household chores also contended for their time.

The report found that child marriage in Malawi often forced girls into relationships wrought with sexual and domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Some girls said their families used manipulative tactics to coerce them into forced marriage, threatening and verbally abusing them or throwing them out on the street if they refused to comply.

“The lack of dissemination and popularization of policies and laws that protect girls [in] the communities is one of the challenges faced in the efforts to eradicate the practice,” Mhango told The Borgen Project. “Inconsistencies in the new marriage law and the constitution [regarding] the legal age of marriage is one deterrent factor.”

According to health workers in Malawi, problems related to reproductive health and pregnancy, such as maternal death, obstetric fistula, premature delivery and anemia, occur most frequently among young girls. Malawi’s maternal mortality rate has reached 675 deaths per 100,000 live births. Malawian health workers suggested that early pregnancy complications could be avoided with better funding.

“If allowed to stay in school, properly supported through their education, and make sure that policies are in place, enforced and implemented to protect the girls at all levels, then we would prevent child marriages,” Mhango said.

Rachel Williams

Photo: Flickr

 Child Marriage and Trafficking
A new app, Girl Power, is helping to track girls in India and Bangladesh, where the rate of child marriage and trafficking have been especially high in the last few decades.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 200,000 to 250,000 women and children are trafficked annually to Southeast Asia alone, and more than 1 million children are affected globally every year. West Bengal is a state that accounts for a fifth of India’s 5,466 cases of human trafficking, reported in 2014.

India has the highest number of child brides in the world, according to Girls Not Brides, a nonprofit committed to ending child marriage. It is estimated that 47 percent of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday.

Accenture and the NGO Child in Need Institute (CINI) launched “GPower” in 2015. According to Reuters, it has been used to track over 6,000 families in 20 villages in West Bengal.

“The technology helps us identify the most vulnerable of the girls in minutes,” said Indrani Bhattacharya in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Community workers or teachers within the village are trained to use the tablets provided, which already have the app installed. The app requires the user to answer a set of questions on health, nutrition, protection and education, which help to determine the vulnerability of the respondent.

The questionnaire takes approximately 30 minutes to complete, and analysis of the answers takes place in a matter of minutes. Using the information collected, community workers can decide whether or not girls are appropriate candidates for counseling, vocational training or government welfare schemes. The community workers register all details for each girl between the ages of 10 and 19 in a given village.

So far, GPower has helped save 200 girls from trafficking or becoming a victim of child marriage across 20 villages in Bangladesh and India. It is likely that the app will continue to a have a positive impact, as India is the world’s second-biggest market for mobile phones, with more than 1 billion users. Apps, from weather reports to health services, are gaining a lot of popularity among rural communities.

“The problem in India is one of scale – there is only so much that an NGO can do in terms of reach,” said Sanjay Podder, managing director at Accenture Labs in Bengaluru. “To address social problems, technology is not just nice to have, it is necessary.”

Michelle Simon

Photo: Flickr

Girls not Brides reports that “over 700 million women alive today were married as children” and that “1 in 3 girls in the developing world are said to be married before 18.” Malawi is the worst offender for child marriage as one in two girls in Malawi are married before 18, many of them married even well before the age of 15.

Such young marriages are a cultural custom, but it is at the expense of the girls involved. When girls become pubescent, they are sent to cleansing ceremonies where girls as young as nine are taught how to sexually please a man, even being forced to engage in sex with an older man to become cleansed from their “childhood dust.” Many girls often leave the ceremonies infected with HIV/AIDs, or even pregnant.

Since pregnancy and marriage are forced on girls at such a young age, most girls drop out of school and remain uneducated. If a girl becomes pregnant at the ceremony, it is normal for that girl to be forced into a marriage immediately. Divorce is also quite high; it is not uncommon for a 16 year-old to have several children and a divorce or two as well.

Such is the story of Memory Banda’s sister and many other girls in her country of Malawi, but not for Memory herself. She was determined not go to a cleansing ceremony, but, rather, to finish her education. She not only finished her education, but also went on to become a champion for girls’ rights in Malawi.

She was part of a writing workshop for girls, where the girls shared their experiences of the cultural practices they faced. The Girls Empowerment Network Malawi (GENET) compiled and published these accounts as “I Will Marry When I Want To!” Memory recently gave a TedTalk in May 2015, describing the culture she grew up in and the challenges that young girls face in Malawi, as described above.

Memory has also specifically lobbied her government for new laws regarding child marriage and has spoken at a UN event. Her platform, in conjunction with GENET, focuses on bringing awareness to the dire women’s rights’ issue in Malawi and has helped legislation change in Malawi.

In early 2015, an official law was made that raised the legal marrying age to 18. In a country where child marriage is a cultural norm and abuse against women often goes unreported in an effort for families to save their reputations, this ruling is a monumental achievement. Girls, and their education and well-being, are being given the recognition and respect that they deserve in the legal system.

There is a stipulation in the new law that children aged 15-18 may still marry with parental consent, and there is worry that illegal marriages will still take place. Also, now the police force must enforce the law, a fact that could meet resistance in areas. But legislation is starting to move the issue in the right direction; girls are being given a fighting chance to have a life of their own.

Memory Banda and the girls brave enough to stand with her are taking back their rights to choose marriage when they are ready. Those girls who have suffered through a child marriage, like Memory’s sister, are ready to give their own children a different fate. Ripples of change are moving through Malawi culture thanks to Memory Banda and those who stand for women’s rights.

Megan Ivy

Sources: GENET, Girls not Brides, Genet Malawi, KBIA, TedTalk
Photo: Girls Learn International

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

Each year, approximately 15 million girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage. These child brides normally have their husbands selected for them by their fathers, and they are not given any power or choice when it comes to their marriage. Many of them are forced to marry men much older than they are.

Child marriage is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. India accounts for one-third of the total child brides worldwide, even though the legal marrying age in India is 21 for men and 18 for women, as established by the 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act did not cause a significant decrease in the amount of child marriages that take place in India, where 47% of girls marry before the age of 18. Child marriage in India is more common in rural areas, where 56% of girls marry before the age of 18, than they are in urban areas, where 29% of girls marry before 18.

Societal traditions and norms allow child marriage to persist despite its illegality. Many brides are forced to marry early because the later they are married, the larger their dowry will have to be. It is still common in India to give a dowry or a present from the bride’s family to the groom’s at the time of marriage, although the practice was banned in 1961.

As The Guardian states, another reason why some parents marry their daughter at a young age is because they fear that their daughter might have sexual relations when she is a teenager, therefore shaming her family and lowering her chances of getting married later on. Child marriage is also widespread because poor families realize that marrying their daughter means that they have one less child to feed, since brides tend to go live with their husband’s family.

Since child marriage is illegal, weddings normally take place in the evening or at night. Police officers are bribed to not report the marriage.

The consequences of child marriage are devastating. Girls who marry young are not able to complete their education and are therefore forced to rely on their husband and his family. Even on the rare occasion that they have the chance to end the marriage, they are often not able to because they have nowhere to go and no way to support themselves. Girls under the age of 15 are also five times more likely to die in childbirth than those over the age of 20. Young brides are also more likely to contract HIV because they are forced to marry older men.

The International Center for Research on Women reports that girls in India who marry under the age of 18 are twice as likely to experience domestic violence. Child brides also experience sexual abuse, and many suffer from PTSD and severe depression.

Some girls are forced to enter a marriage agreement at an extremely young age and then go to live with their husbands when they reach puberty. This was supposed to be the case for Santa Devi Maghwal, an Indian girl from Rajasthan who was married at 11 months old and told that she would have to live with her husband when she turned 16. Maghwal is currently working with child right’s campaigner Kriti Bharti to annul the marriage. Luckily, Maghwal is not the only one who has turned to the law in order to end her marriage. Bharti made history in 2012 when she obtained India’s first annulment of a child marriage for sixteen year old Laxmi Sagara. Since then, Bharti has won 27 more annulments. While divorce is hard to come by in India, since courts are overburdened and take a long time to rule, annulments can be achieved as long as there is some proof — such as a birth or school certificate — that the bride was married before the age of 18.

Bharti has made progress, but India still has a way to go before it can truly end child marriage. For child marriages to end, societal norms and patriarchal customs need to end as well.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: ICRW, CBN, National Geographic 1, National Geographic 2, UNICEF, Girls not Brides, The Guardian
Photo: Huffington Post

girls not brides
There are girls as young as 13-years-old married off throughout the world. In developing countries, one out of every seven girls is married before her 15th birthday.

Girls married younger than the age of 18 often report that have been beaten by their husbands and forced to have sex. These girls often think it is acceptable for their husbands to beat them and make them feel powerless.

The main reasons for girls being married off include culture and parents’ desire to counteract a fear of their daughter getting molested. Tradition and culture are a big reason for young girls being married off; families are scared to stray from tradition in fear of being excluded from their communities. Poverty is another cause of child marriage. Poor families often marry off their daughters so that they have less expenses. They have one less body to feed, educate and clothe.

Although parents in certain situations marry their daughters off at young ages trying protect them, the young girls are still losing their human rights. They completely lose their childhoods.

Girls Not Brides is an organization working to protect girls from being married at a young age. They give a voice to the voiceless. Members of this organization are based in Africa, America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East; they are united in helping girls reach their full potential and not being married off at a young age.

Girls Not Brides works with 350 other civil organizations from over 60 countries. They believe that partnering up will bring attention to the issue and show that there are others who want to stop young marriages too.

Girls Not Brides reaches out to young girls and helps them feel empowered. They supply young girls with skills that will be useful in the future and have different workshops to show girls how to use their newly learned skills. This program also sets up support groups for young girls and boys to share their experiences so that they can become advocates against child marriage themselves.

Girls Not Brides has put together a technical brief on ending child marriages. Please take a look and see what you can do to help.

Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: Girls Not Brides, Girls Not Brides, Girls Not Brides, Slate
Photo: WUNRN

On Sept 9th, The Huffington Post reported the death of an 8-year-old girl in the northwest city of Hardh, Yemen. According to Medical Daily, the little girl, Rawan, “bled severely after suffering vaginal tearing following her forced marriage to a 40-year-old man.” Rawan’s death generated outrage among neighboring Kuwaiti officials, but also in Yemen itself.

Indeed, following her death, social media have been exploding with incriminating comments against Raman’s family who allowed her to marry so young, but also against her ‘husband,’ the 40-year-old man who effectively raped her on her wedding night.

Sadly enough, Raman’s story is not an isolated one. In 2010, the death from internal rupture of a 13-year-old in similar circumstances shocked public opinion.

The plague of child marriage is particularly severe in Yemen, where statistics speak for themselves. According to Human Rights Watch, 14 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 and 82 percent before they turn 18. Al Bawaba’s numbers are even more appalling: they estimate that “a quarter of young girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15.”

The World Health Organization’s 2013 report estimates that, if consistent with current levels of child marriage, more than 140 million girls will marry between 2011 and 2020. As of today, more than 14.2 million marriages with underaged girls occur annually; that’s 39,000 child marriages per day. The extent of child marriage is frightening. Girls as young as three years old are sometimes drawn into arranged marriages by their families.

Despite the Yemeni authorities’ efforts to prohibit child marriage, one step forward is often synonymous with two steps backwards in Yemen. For instance, a law setting the minimum marriage age at 17 was enacted in 2009, only to be later repealed because deemed ‘un-Islamic.’

The shocking circumstances surrounding Raman’s death have hopefully sparked the fire needed for change. The international community ought to live up to its commitments to child freedom by preventing other cases like that of Raman from happening.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: New York Daily News, The Huffington Post, Medical Daily, WHO

Each year, an estimated 14 million girls under the age of 18 become child brides, often marrying much older men. In the developing world, one in three girls are married before their 15th birthday, and brides may be as young as eight years old.

Children are neither physically nor emotionally prepared for marriage and child brides as their brains have not fully developed the cognitive processes required for mature behavior and thought. In addition, child brides face a greater risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth due to their small stature. They also face an increased risk of suffering domestic violence and contracting HIV/AIDS from their more sexually experienced husbands. This archaic practice unfairly stacks obstacles in front of young girls that inhibit their chances of getting an education or reaching a stable economic position.

The non-profit Girls Not Brides recognizes the urgency of addressing this issue. They understand that child marriage strips girls of their childhood, their right to health and security, and their ability to choose for themselves whom and when to marry. The practice also severely restricts girls’ educational and economic opportunities thereby trapping them in poverty.

In spite of these negative implication, child marriage remains prevalent throughout the world. 75% of women aged 20-24 in Niger been child brides, along with 72% of women in Chad, 66% in Bangladesh, and 63% in Guinea.

Tradition, cultural gender roles or the value placed on each gender, and perceived security in physical or sexual assault high-risk areas perpetuate the practice of child marriage. Poverty can also be a motivating factor as parents are able to reduce family expenses by removing a child from their home, and the income provided by a dowry is often necessary for poor families.

The High-level Panel report on post-2015 development agenda agrees that the international community will not fulfill its commitment to reduce poverty unless it puts an end to child marriage. Child marriage threatens the success of the Millennium Development Goals by inhibiting girls from having access to quality education, increasing maternal mortality, decreasing infant survival, ensuring gender equality, combating HIV/AIDS, and reducing poverty. The Panel recommends that the post-2015 development agenda include a goal to empower girls and achieve gender equality, which depends on the end of child marriage.

Education is the key to fighting child marriage. If a girl in the developing world receives at least seven years of education, on average she will marry four years later than a girl who is not afforded the same privilege. Setting up support groups can also help reduce feelings of helplessness, and empower girls to choose when to marry. The cooperation and support of men and leaders will encourage a shift in attitudes about child marriage, and the participation of young people will keep child marriage from spreading to the next generation. Other ways to end the crisis include enforcing laws that set a legal marriage age, launching incentives such as loans or conditional cash transfers, and utilizing media campaigns to raise awareness and pressure governments to take action.

– Dana Johnson

Source: Girls Not Brides,Skoll Foundation,UNICEF
Photo: Child Trafficking and Child Abuse has to Come to an End