Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. Every seven seconds, a girl is married before the age of 15.
These startling statistics come from a new report by Save the Children entitled Every Last Girl. The report highlights the fact that in developing countries, one in three girls is married before her 18th birthday.
Although this may be a relatively unheard of topic in the United States, child marriages are a major issue plaguing many young girls around the world. “Girls who marry too early often can’t attend school, and are more likely to face domestic violence, abuse and rape,” Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Save the Children International CEO, told CNN. “They also bear children before their bodies are fully prepared, which can have devastating consequences on their and their baby’s health.”
Geography is a major determinant of whether or not a young girl will become a child bride. Other factors include poor economic status, living in remote locations and coming from minority ethinic or religious groups.
“In Tanzania and Nepal, for example, poor girls are four times more likely to marry early than the richest girls,” the report notes. “In Northern Nigeria, one girl in four is married by age 15, compared with one in 25 in the south of the country. “
One victim, Tamrea (not her real name), gave her testimony in the report. Tamrea was married, pregnant and abandoned ––all by the age of 12 years old.
“I wasn’t happy to get married at that age, but my father said there was nobody to look after me since my mum wasn’t around,” Tamrea said. “I wasn’t happy. I was crying. I wasn’t able to get used to what marriage was.”
She continued, “When I became pregnant my husband left me. When I had my baby I didn’t go to a health centre, I gave birth at home. I went to health centre when I was pregnant, but I wasn’t able to go back. Labour took me six days.”
Like many others, Tamrea believes that the opportunity for education can give young girls a chance at a better life. In March 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let Girls Learn to address the challenges preventing 62 million girls from getting an education. She is not alone in her efforts.
“We need to work together ––and work with girls–– to ensure that every last girl is free to live, free to learn and free from harm” wrote Rebeca Zakayo Gyumi, founder and executive director of Msichana Initiative in Tanzania, in the Foreward of the report. “This is only possible if we collectively pledge to advance girls’ rights to access education, to access information on sexual and reproductive health rights, and to make their voices heard.”