Six of the eight Millenium Development Goals are directly affected by the prevalence of child marriage. In the developing world, one in three girls is married before she is 18 and one in seven before she is 15. This not only harms the young brides, but also impedes the development of their communities and societies as a whole.

The Millennium Development Goals

Six of the eight MDGs are directly and negatively affected by the huge prevalence of child marriage:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Child marriage puts girls at risk and perpetuates poverty

Girls face huge risks when they marry young. They are much more prone to death or injury due to early sexual activity and early childbearing. A girl under the age of 15 is five times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in her twenties. The children of young mothers are also at much greater risk. When a mother is under 18, her baby is 60 per cent more likely to die before its first birthday than that of a baby born to a mother older than 19.

Because young brides often have older husbands, they may not have the power to negotiate safe sexual behaviour. This means they are more vulnerable to HIV infection and more likely to suffer domestic violence. Girls who marry young also find it very difficult to complete their education. This increases the education gap between boys and girls and increases the likelihood that the girl and her family will live in poverty.

Child marriage denies girls their fundamental rights

Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates, “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” Several UN bodies and conventions consider 18 to be the minimum age when a young person is able to make a significant life decision such as marriage. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Human Rights Committee (HRC).

Child marriage is a clear violation of human rights, including the rights to life, liberty, self-determination and health. Ending the practice of child marriage requires a concerted, international effort. This is essential to protect the rights of women and girls, and to improve maternal and child health, education and empowerment in developing societies worldwide.

What are the Elders doing?

The Elders – a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007 – are committed to working for equality between men and women, girls and boys, in all aspects of life. The Elders are forging a global alliance to end child marriage. They are reaching out to community and religious leaders and activists working for change, and seeking the support of national authorities, donors and global institutions.

Organisations working with The Elders in the alliance to end child marriage: CARE , Equality Now, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), International Women’s Health Coalition , NoVo Foundation, Population Council , Tostan , UNICEF , UNFPA , UN Foundation , Vital Voices, and The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood.

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