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