Ending Child MarriagesEven in 2019, child marriage remains a global problem. Every year, 12 million girls from all around the world will get married before the age of 18. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and poverty because in many communities’ girls are still seen as a burden on the family. Marriage is often considered the best way to assure their future. However, there are many organizations and individuals tackling the problem of gender inequality and child marriage. Below are

Five activists whose work is ending child marriages

  1. Nada Al-Ahdal defends children’s rights.
    Nada Al-Ahdal is a Yemeni activist with a personal connection to escaping child marriage. In 2013, at the age of 11, Nada Al-Ahdal ran away from her family’s home in order to prevent a forced marriage to a 26-year-old man. During her escape, Nada Al-Ahdal made a video explaining how, if the marriage had gone through, she would have lost her chance at an education and ruined her life. Furthermore, she would have lost her childhood.
    In the first month of the video being posted, it received more than 8 million views. Nada Al-Ahdal has appeared on Lebanese and Yemeni television, spreading her message for ending child marriages. In 2018, at just 15 years old, Nada founded the Nada Foundation to protect and defend children’s rights. The foundation offers to safe havens. Additionally, it has a number of awareness programs focused on protecting children.
  2. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete speaks out against child marriage.
    At eight years old, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete ran away from her home village in Kenya. She did this in order to avoid undergoing female genital mutilation. As an adult, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete has become an activist that negotiates with village elders in Kenya to convince them to adopt alternative rites of passage for girls. She is an officer with Amref Health Africa. Additionally, it is estimated that her work has saved more than 15,000 girls in Kenya for genital mutilation and child marriage. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete now speaks out on a global stage against mutilation and child marriage in Africa. In 2018, she even was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
  3. Fatoumata Sabaly enacts change as an activist.
    Fatoumata Sabaly is from Senegal, where child marriage and female genital mutilation is still fairly common. She is a respected member of her community as a grandmother and mother. She leverages this position as an activist through the Grandmother Project. The Grandmother Project is an NGO that uses the status of elders in communities to enact change and improve the well-being of women and children.
    Fatoumata Sabaly has explained the important work she does in the project: “Sometimes, girls come to tell me their parents are marrying them off, even though they want to stay in school. When this happens, I go to their parents. Out of respect for me, the parents listen to my advice and let their daughters stay in school.” Her activism and authority are helping girls stay in school and out of unwanted marriages.
  4. Arvind Ojha leads an organization fighting child marriage and violence against females.
    Arvind Ojha is the head of URMUL Trust, an organization active in the Indian state of Rajasthan for more than 25 years. Rajasthan has one of the worst child marriage rates in all of India. URMUL Trust works hard in ending child marriage, female genital mutilation and female foeticide. Arvind Ojha has said that “[URMUL Trust doesn’t] just focus on engaging women and children in programs but also older people and even religious leaders. Change is happening. The average age of marriage for girls is increasing.”
    In 2005, URMUL Trust launched a program in the districts of Sri Ganganagar, Hanumangarh and Jaisalmer called “Dignity of the Girl Child”. The program was aimed at ending child marriages, domestic violence and female infanticide. In 2011, URMUL Trust became partners with Girls Not Brides in order to strengthen their work to ending child marriage.
  5. Isatou Jeng defends women through advocacy.
    At 15 years old, Isatou Jeng found herself pregnant and with enormous pressure to get married. What she did next broke many societal norms in her home country of Gambia. She demonstrated her passion in ending child marriages by saying, “I stood my ground, refused to marry, and saw education as the best chance for a better life for me and my child.”
    Presently, she leads The Girls Agenda, a nonprofit she founded. The purpose of the organization is to fight for other girls facing gender-based violence and child marriage. Throughout her career as an activist, she has also worked as the advocacy and campaign officer for the Network against Gender-Based Violence. This is a group of organizations that works to defend women and girls in Gambia.
    In 2018, at a conference for women who transform the world, Isatou Jeng said about her involvement with The Girls Agenda, “I did not become a feminist, I was born a feminist.”

Every minute, 23 girls under the age of 18 are married around the world. Consequently, this is the reason that the work these activists and their organizations do is so important and urgent. Even in an era where child brides seem to be a relic of the past, ending child marriages is still a critical issue.

– Isabel Fernandez
Photo: Flickr


  • Fact: Every day, in Cambodia, parents sell their children for sex.
  • Fact: Many Cambodian parents decide to sell their children, some of whom are as young as one month old, because they feel that selling their own flesh and blood is the only way to survive.
  • Fact: There has emerged in Cambodia an ugly market of virginity, in which rich and powerful men coerce mothers into selling their daughters’ innocence.
  • Fact: Cambodia does not have an anti-trafficking law on the books.

Svy Pak is a shanty town on the outskirts of the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. It is one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of one of Asia’s poorest cities. The population lives on less than $2 per day. As such, a child’s virginity is considered to be an extremely valuable asset because of the prices willing to be paid for it. Doctors in Cambodia perform what’s known as a “virginity check” on a child and then issue a “certificate of virginity.” This is meant to ensure buyers who want virgins that they are getting them. In some cases, a child’s virginity is sold before he or she is even born, and deposits for virginities can be easily made on toddlers. Selling one’s child for sex provides a steady source of income for families willing to make the sacrifice.

The child sex trade has blown up in Svy Pak. The town is known to pedophiles around the world as the go-to place for buying little girls. In 2008, Apage International Missions (AIM) found that 100 percent of the kids in the town between the ages of eight to 12 years of age were being trafficked for sex. The organization has rescued children as young as four years old from traffickers. UNICEF estimates that one third of the population in the sex industry is children in Cambodia, and amounts to 40,000 to 100,000 kids total.

Cambodia is a country where children have a long history of being a major export product. A young girl by the name of Kieu was sold by her mother at the age of 12. Over the course of six months, her mother sold her virginity and then forced her to work at five brothels in both Cambodia and Vietnam. Only when her mother began to make arrangements at the sixth brothel to rent her daughter out for sex did Kieu run away to find safety. CNN spoke to her mother, who said, “It was because of the debt, that’s why I had to sell her.”

The men who abuse these children fit many different profiles and backgrounds. Some are pedophile sex tourists who actively seek out sex with prepubescent children. Others are more opportunistic, situational offenders who simply take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to engage in sex with children. Then there are those for whom health-related beliefs about the protective or restorative qualities of virgins catalyze their interest in child sex.

Sex tourists tend to come from affluent countries all over the world, such as European countries, South Korea, Japan and China. But research suggests that Cambodian men remain the main exploiters of child sex trafficking in their country. Although the selling and buying of sex is illegal, not one Khmer man has ever been convicted for purchasing virgins. The police argue that they are limited in prosecuting these violations because of a lack of expertise, technical equipment and evidence collection tools. Corruption is also a barrier for law enforcement, as Cambodia is number 160 of the 175 countries on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

The actions of the parents in Cambodia who sell their children for sex is deplorable and inexcusable. Since the beginning of time, people have been poor, but they have not always been selling their children. Something must be done.

– Erika Wright

Sources: ABC, CNN 1, CNN 2, The Guardian, Spiegel Online
Photo: Brandon Patoc Photography