Preventing Child Marriage
“Educating girls, ultimately educates everyone. It is the power within that can move mountains without”
- Libbi Gorr
A well-educated girl possesses great power—the power of thought, choice and action. Through secondary, tertiary, and higher education a girl is empowered to be an independent decision-maker, with the choice of being whoever she desires to be. Educating a girl gives her control over her life and body. She can choose her goals, profession, where she will live, who and when she will marry, and how many children she will have. When a girl is educated, she is able to think independently and weigh her options—allowing her to make more informed decisions about her future, health, life-style, finances, family, and community. When a girl is educated she is given the opportunity to develop to reach her full potential; and as a result she can encourage and inspire other girls to do the same. Furthermore, when an educated girl becomes a mother, she can ensure all her children—girls and boys—are educated. Without doubt, a well-educated girl is capable of greatness—a greatness that has the capacity to change and improve the world.
Many girls today are being denied an education and with this the power to choose the direction in which they wish to lead their lives. A growing barrier to girls’ education is early and forced marriages. In 2010, one in three young women aged 20-24 globally were married as girls. About 12 percent of them were married by age 15 (UNFPA 2012). A leading cause of child, early and forced marriage is poverty. Many families struggling with poverty often see their daughters as financial burdens and turn to child marriage as a means of poverty alleviation. The girls having no choice in the matter must often drop out of school to become wives and mothers before they are physically, emotionally mature, and financially ready. Other key causes of child, early and forced marriage include lack of education, gender discrimination, cultural and religious traditions, the desire to protect a girl’s virginity, and social, political, and natural disturbances.
The consequences and effects of child, early, and forced marriage are damaging to girls and to their children. When a girl is forced to marry early her health and physical well-being are at risk. She is more susceptible to contract HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Furthermore, because her body has not fully developed pregnancy/childbearing is extremely dangerous, and can result in both maternal and infant mortality. Child, early, and forced marriage also renders a girl vulnerable to domestic violence—physical, sexual and emotional abuse from her husband—who is likely to be much older than her. Forcing a girl child to get married leads her to give up her education. It is likely that she will be poor, illiterate and unable to access secondary and higher education –thus limiting her opportunities, career and life choices. Her children are also more likely to be uneducated—perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
The key to reducing poverty will always be education. Girls therefore must be given the chance to complete a quality education that will enable them to develop and reach their full potential. Child, early, and forced marriage must be prevented. Community leaders must be educated to change community behaviors. Legislators need to focus on the issue and pass laws to prevent child marriage. Law enforcement agents need to enforce the laws on minimal age of marriage. Girls should no longer be forced to be brides but should rather be inspired and encouraged to be students, learners, critical thinkers, and decision-makers. When a girl receives an education a world of possibilities and opportunities opens up for her and her children—and ultimately her country.