Why fighting child marriage matters — to all of us.

June 12, 2013

Child marriage is not just a human rights violation, but “a threat to the prosperity and stability of the countries in which it is prevalent and undermines U.S. development and foreign policy priorities.” That is the argument put forward in a recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations titled “Ending Child Marriage.” and one with which I could not agree more.
This is a question not just of little girls whose dreams are imploded, but of talent lost to a world which desperately needs to deploy all the potential it can find. What if the next Steve Jobs is married off at age 11? How much would be lost to the world?
“Given the worldwide prevalence of child marriage and its relationship to U.S. foreign policy priorities, it merits a higher place on the international agenda,” notes the CFR report. While high-profile efforts such as The Elders’ “campaign has garnered much-needed attention for this issue, many governments remain reluctant to name child marriage as a policy priority.
The numbers remain daunting:
The UN estimates that “one in three women aged twenty to twenty-four—almost seventy million—had married under the age of eighteen. Many of these women were far younger than eighteen at the time of their marriage; in fact, more than twenty-three million were married or in a union before the age of fifteen, which amounts to about thirteen thousand girls under fifteen being married every day. Given current trends, experts predict that by 2020, some fifty million girls will be married before they reach their fifteenth birthdays.”
Efforts to curb the practice continue, with some innovative programs trying to tackle the practice’s foundations.
I wrote a Newsweek Daily Beast piece about a program in India’s Haryana province that gave parents of girls a savings bond worth $500 if their daughter reached age 18 alive and unmarried. Meeting these young women, many of whom are now in school, made clear that they see the chance to get an education as a path toward a better future for not just themselves, but their families. Their fight is a fight shared by everyone who wants to see a more secure, more stable future in which everyone has a stake.
“Educated people are respected in society,” says 17-year-old Bimla, a young woman taking part in the program who says she wants to study accounting and work in a bank. “It is good to go outside the home and earn something.”