The Kandela Fund, initially established as an NGO focusing on environmental sustainability in the US, last year broadened its platform to include fighting for girls’ rights. The Fund has recently pledged $23 million to CARE USA and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to tackle the immense problem of child marriage in South Asia.
CARE USA is currently working in Nepal and has received $7.7 million to continue to mobilize the local community about the issue of girls’ rights. The AJWS received $15.3 million to continue focusing on India. In India, the AJWS already finances 18 advocacy organizations working towards addressing the economic and social causes of child marriages.
India, Nepal, and Bangladesh have three of the highest rates of child marriage, with 50 percent, 56.1 percent, and 68.7 percent of girls getting married before turning 18 years old, respectively. In these South Asian countries, child marriage is not only about poverty, but also about social norms and how girls are considered in society.
“Even with higher levels of income, there is the practice of child marriage. It is an issue of status; girls are valued in a lesser way…The issue is squarely tied to gender equality and social norms,” CARE International’s gender director, Theresa Hwang said. All three countries have laws against child marriage, but implementation and enforcement of these laws is weak. Civil child marriage regulations are not strictly imposed, and religious and social conventions trump the weak laws.
According to CARE and AJWS, the most efficient way to make sure the funding is put to good use to eventually stop child marriage is to work through local partners in the communities. By working with local partners in NGOs, CARE and the AJWS will also be able to create partnerships and show these local organizations that they are not alone in tackling this issue.
For instance, CARE supports a Nepalese program that works to spread the word against child marriage among schools and local businesses. CARE has also worked with local partners to put anti-child marriage slogans in their production materials, as well as convinced food catering companies to not cater for marriage ceremonies in which the bride is a child.
Additionally, the AJWS funds the Mohammad Bazar Backward Class Development Society, which works with marginalized women and children in West Bengal and operates a girls’ school and a women’s’ occupational training center in the rural area of Birbhum.
The issue of child marriage has recently taken a more global stance. For instance, the UN has taken steps to tackle the problem, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has mentioned that child marriage should be recognized as an indicator for the empowerment of women, and should be taken into consideration when building a post-2015 development agenda. Additionally, Girls Not Brides, a global organization focused on ending child marriage, was established in 2011.