She was married at 10, was a mother by the time she turned 13, and widowed soon after. Left bereft of any freedom, hope or support, she was then trafficked to a different country when she turned 15.
We wish this was not a true story. Many of us cannot fathom the unspoken pain and fears of this child bride. UNICEF states that 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children. We don’t even need to look to some distant African country, or some town in a middle-eastern country, we all know at least one such woman who was married off as a child.
Child marriage is a human rights violation
Child marriages are still a reality in several parts of the world. When a child bride is placed in a realm of poverty, patriarchal subjugation, traditional and cultural misgivings, the outcome is nothing but devastating. Girls all over the world, including countries like the USA along with most of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are accursed by this phenomenon. The top five countries facing the issue are- India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Brazil and Ethiopia.
UNICEF identifies child marriage as a human rights violation. Despite the legislation and various ongoing efforts, this practice remains prevalent. As per data available, 21% of young women were married before their 18th birthday, 12 million each year, and 110 millions more will be married off over the next decade if nothing is done about it.
How Girls Not Brides is making a difference?
Girls Not Brides is a global partnership, a diverse network which brings together organizations from around the world working to end child marriage. It was initiated in September 2011 by The Elders- a network of independent, futuristic global leaders working for global peace and human rights.
The network of Girls Not Brides functions with the vision of a world without child marriages, a world where girls’ lives are made better and bright in real sense, and where girls are able to achieve their potential, with equality and dignity. The mission is to bring hope, empowerment and emancipation for girls and women, especially those marred by the harmful practices that wreck-up their lives. Founded by Mabel van Oranje, the network became an independent charity in 2013. Overtime, more than 1500 organizations have come together to join this movement in over 100 countries. People like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mrs Graca Machel and Sonita Alizadeh are Girls Not Brides Champions.
Tools to develop awareness
While the organization makes use of various platforms such as advocacy networks, fundraising mechanisms and youth activism to find sustainable ways towards the fulfillment of the aim of Girls Not Brides, it has also developed tools to help with learning about the prevalence of child marriage. Two such tools are –
Child Marriage Atlas – an interactive atlas that shows the map to understand the scale of the problem across the world.
‘Theory of Change’ – indicates the range of approaches needed to address child marriage and what your role can be in the process.
Girls Not Brides is bringing together organizations from across various sectors including health, education, human rights and humanitarian contexts; the partners range from small concerns to major international organizations. As many as 40% of these organizations are youth-led, and their champions include the survivors of child-marriages.
One such survivor is Alemtsahye Gebrekidan, a former child bride from Ethiopia. She was married off to a boy in her village when she was 10. “People believe that the younger a girl marries, the more likely she will be a virgin, and the better the marriage will be,” she shares in her memoir.
At 13, she was widowed and a mother of a one-month old baby. With no means to survive, she was eventually trafficked as domestic servant to first Egypt and then to London. The family kept her locked up whenever they went abroad. Gebrekidan managed to escape and went to the immigration department of the UK, from where she was put in an asylum for rehabilitation. She chose to study English and other subjects and eventually joined Girls Not Brides as a member.
Not many women and girls are fortunate like her. They need our help.
While the cause requires active involvement of all stakeholders, it also needs acknowledgement and participation of responsible individuals too. Ending a global issue is possible only when the movement becomes global- activated from the root and strengthened through unity.