Denisa, 15, is engaged to a 28-year-old man. It’s not her choice, it is her family’s pressure from her family.
“At first it was like a bomb”, says Denisa from Albania. “My family was trying to convince me. It was like my body was there but my head and heart wasn’t… I can’t believe that at this age I have to take such a decision for my life.”
Denisa’s friend, 16-year-old Ermenda, is too familiar with stories like this. “Probably, this upcoming school year Denisa and other ‘Denisas’ won’t be attending school. They won’t be doing homework after one o’clock in the afternoon, but will instead, be serving the lunch to their fiancées or husbands.”
Every year, 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married. This week, children, faith leaders and World Vision staff from Mozambique, Bangladesh and Nepal will be in Malaysia, talking about the successful work being done to end child marriage and how it can be scaled.
School holds the key. When there are education and employment opportunities for girls, child marriage declines. Every year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of a girl marrying while she is still a child. However, school alone cannot protect a girl from early marriage, it takes tackling the root causes to end child marriage. As well as providing quality education for girls, governments need to set 18 as the legal age of marriage for girls and boys, and fund social protection for children and families so they are not turning to early marriage as a means of income.
But it takes more than just the government to end child marriage.
It takes children themselves, who when empowered and listened to are agents of real and lasting change. Children like Samia, 14, who lobbied her local government and police to take action and call off her friend’s wedding in Bangladesh. And Tuli and her six girlfriends, who call themselves The Seven Bravehearts from Bangladesh, who got national attention for stopping the marriage of several girls in their community.
It takes communities standing alongside children like Samia and Tuli. In countries such as Nepal and Malawi, World Vision helps to strengthen child protection groups, so they can respond to child marriage and together learn about safer practices for girls and boys.
In countries like Afghanistan, Lesotho, and Mali, World Vision is joining with religious leaders, celebrities, and political figures to change the social norms that justify the marriage of young girls. Meanwhile, in Senegal, we see grandmothers saying enough is enough, and promoting conversations, including with and between elders and religious leaders, which encourage positive attitudes and education for girls.
It takes everyone playing their role to end child marriage.
It is possible, and doing so makes dollars and sense. Globally, we could gain more than $500 billion annually by ending child marriage. For every additional year of schooling, a girl like Denisa can increase her earning potential by 10 to 20 per cent.
During the time you’ve been reading this, 140 girls have been married. Girls who should be worried about passing exams, not pregnancy. Girls who should be excited about what their future holds, not terrified.
You can help end this plague: join the global movement to end violence against children, to ensure girls are talking about raising their hand at school and not giving their hand in marriage.