Globally, more than 700 million women alive today married before the age of 18. Each year, 15 million additional girls are married as children, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Child marriage is widely considered a violation of human rights, and it is also a major impediment to gender equality. It profoundly affects the opportunities not only of child brides, but also of their children. And, as a study we issued this week concludes, it has significant economic implications as well.
Ed’s note: This guest blog is by Dirk Wouters, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to the United States of America in Washington DC
A Kenyan mother seated in the hallway of a hospital, holding a newborn. She looks troubled, the baby has one thin arm up in the air. An Indian mother is resting after giving birth to twin girls. She already has two daughters at home. A Cambodian family looks to the future with hope as they take their newborn child back to their village. Nine babies, wrapped in colorful blankets, have been placed on a hospital bed in Kenya’s Pumwani hospital just after their birth. In this hospital, a 100 children are born every day.
Natalie Roschnik was a newly minted graduate student when she accepted her first job with Save the Children in Mali. Nearly 20 years later, Roschnik knows Mali well: it’s one of the countries she travels to often as a Senior Research and Impact Advisor for Save the Children.
In March 2014, Liberia announced that there were two suspected cases of Ebola in Lofa and Nimba counties. Six months later, Ebola had spread to 14 of the 15 counties of the country and a state of emergency had been declared. By the time the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Liberia was officially ‘Ebola free’ in May 2015, more than 10,000 Liberians had contracted the virus and the economic fortunes of the post conflict nation had faced a significant downturn.
The world is still recovering from the financial and food crises of 2008. A key response, especially in developing countries, was to scale up school feeding programs.
A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. By some estimates, this equals as much as twenty percent of a given school year.
Many girls drop out of school altogether once they begin menstruating. Should young women miss twenty percent of school days in a given year due to a lack of facilities or a lack of information or a lack of sanitary products?
The West Africa Ebola crisis of 2014-15 killed more than 11,000 people, caused economic and social disruption in a massive scale, and left tens of thousands of children orphaned. In Sierra Leone, schools were closed for eight months, resulting in a lost year of learning. With the closure of schools and banning of public gatherings, Sierra Leoneans, having lived through years of civil war, knew the setbacks that lost educational opportunities would inflict on a young generation. The government, working with donor partners, initiated a number of interventions to mitigate these losses.
April 7th is World Health Day, a day to highlight emerging global health concerns. The focus this year is raising awareness on the diabetes epidemic, and its dramatic increase in low- and middle-income countries.
“I want my children to be able to go to school. I don't want them to suffer like me.” Little by little this dream disappears as a piece of sugar, as water that runs through your hands. The long lists of material, a simple button that is missing on a shirt, this can be the end of a dream for learning to read and write.
Today the U.K. government and UNICEF jointly hosted the first Girl Summit to mobilize efforts to end child, early, and forced marriage as well as female genital mutilation. According to a 2013 report by UNICEF, 30 million girls are at risk of suffering genital mutilation over the next decade. Recent reports by UNFPA and UNICEF suggest that more than one-third of girls are married before age 18.
The incidence of child marriage is dropping, but only slowly. In many countries, laws have been adopted to prevent marriage below 18 years of age, but they are often not well-enforced and more needs to be done. There is widespread consensus that child marriage violates the rights of girls, limits their school attainment, learning, and future earnings, and has negative impacts on their’ health and that of their children. Child marriage clearly contributes to poverty and limits economic growth. And yet the practice continues to be perceived mostly as a social issue, not an economic one.