Ideas for Action on Ending Child Marriage

Article no. 3: Ideas for Action on Ending Child Marriage

Interview with Girls not Brides

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Child marriage is not a religious practice – it is a tradition. There are many good traditions that bind communities together. But traditions are also not static – they evolve. Traditions that are harmful, that have outlived their purpose, must be challenged.1 – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Tutu is also a member of The Elders, a group that has done much to raise awareness about child marriage. The Elders founded Girls Not Brides.

As part of its mission to stop violence against children, the Secretariat of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children aims to help end child marriage, which is often associated with violence against girls. World Day recently became a member of Girls Not Brides, the global partnership of more than 300 non-governmental organizations in 53 countries that is committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfill their potential. The Elders—the independent group of global leaders who were brought together by Nelson Mandela to work for peace and human rights—identified the issue of child marriage as one that has profound negative effects not only on the girls themselves but also on their families, communities and countries. The Elders founded Girls Not Brides in 2011to work exclusively towards the goal of ending child marriage around the world. Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator of Girls Not Brides recently spoke with World Day about the partnership’s work.

Child Marriage. For background on child marriage, including scope and consequences, please read ABCs for Action and Advocacy: A Note on Child Marriage by World Day of Prayer and Action for Children.2

Girls Not Brides: goals, principles and aims

Girls Not Brides works with its partners to:

  • accelerate efforts to prevent child marriage;
  • support girls who are or have been married;
  • support girls at risk of child marriage; and
  • defend the rights of girls to health, education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Girls Not Brides believes that:

  • 18 should be the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls;
  • social change cannot succeed without community engagement; and
  • it is more effective to work in partnership than to work alone.

Girls Not Brides aims to:

  • work together at community, local, national and global levels;
  • raise awareness of the harmful impact of child marriage by encouraging open, inclusive and informed discussion at the community, local, national and international level;
  • facilitate learning and coordination between organisations working to end child marriage; and
  • mobilise all necessary policy, financial and other support to end child marriage.

The challenge could not be more urgent. If we do nothing, it is estimated that more than 140 million girls will marry as children by 2020.

Statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu on World Day of Prayer and Action, 2012.

Number of child marriages. According to the United Nations:

  • approximately 14 million girls are married every year before they reach 18 years;3
  • 1 in 3 girls in the developing world are married by age 18;
  • 1 in 9 girls are married by age 15, some as young as eight or nine;4
  • child marriage occurs around the world, and cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities;
  • 46 per cent of girls under 18 are married in South Asia;
  • 38 per cent of girls under 18 are married in sub-Saharan Africa;
  • 29 per cent of girls under 18 are married in Latin America and the Caribbean;
  • 18 per cent of girls under 18 are married in the Middle East and North Africa; and
  • underage marriage occurs in some communities in Europe and North America.5

A joint news release issued in March 2013 by the World Health Organization, Girls Not Brides and others quotes UNFPA statistics indicating that of the 140 million girls who will marry by 2020 before they are 18 years old, 50 million will be under the age of 15.6

The 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are:

  • Niger, 75 per cent;
  • Central African Republic and Chad, 68 per cent;
  • Bangladesh, 66 per cent;
  • Guinea, 63 per cent;
  • Mozambique, 56 per cent;
  • Mali, 55 per cent;
  • Burkina Faso and South Sudan, 52 per cent; and
  • Malawi, 50 per cent.7

In terms of absolute numbers, because of the size of its population, India is home to the highest number of child brides and in 47 per cent of all marriages the bride is a child.8

Number of adolescents giving birth. According to UNICEF:

  • globally, each year around 16 million girls aged 15–19 give birth, accounting for around 11 per cent of all births;
  • in developing countries, 90 per cent of births to adolescents are within marriage;
  • countries in Latin America, Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest proportion of adolescent births, around 20 per cent of babies born are to an adolescent mother;
  • more than one in four women in sub-Saharan African has given birth before age 18;
  • approximately 95 per cent of adolescent births occur in low- and middle-income countries;
  • Bangladesh, India and Nigeria alone account for one in every three of the world’s adolescent births;
  • the only industrialized country among the top 10 countries with the highest number of adolescent births is the United States; and
  • in the three countries with the highest prevalence of early childbearing— Guinea, Mali and Niger —around 10 per cent of women gave birth before age 15.9

Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15–19. Young girls who marry later and delay pregnancy beyond their adolescence have more chances to stay healthier, to better their education and build a better life for themselves and their families. We have the means at our disposal to work together to stop child marriage.10

Flavia Bustreo, M.D., Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health, World Health Organization

Number of adolescent deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth:

  • girls 15−19 years old account for around 14 per cent of all maternal deaths, with some 50,000 girls dying from maternal causes annually;11
  • girls in the 15-19 year old age group are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their 20s;12
  • stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50 per cent higher among mothers under 20 than in women who get pregnant in their 20s;13
  • children born to child brides are 60 per cent more likely to die before their first birthday than the children of mothers older than 19;14
  • many young married girls become pregnant before their bodies can safely carry or deliver children;15 and
  • those under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their 20s, and are at greater risk of serious injuries during pregnancy.16
A 13-year-old fistula patient at a VVF (Vesicovaginal fistula) centre in Nigeria. ©right; UNFPA/Akintunde AkinleyeHealth of adolescents and child brides is neglected. According to Girls Not Brides and others, adolescents, child brides and child mothers are isolated and their health needs overlooked by health care programs. UNICEF reports that:
  • nearly 50 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15–19 in India are underweight and more than one quarter are underweight in 10 other countries. This makes them vulnerable to disease and early death and has lifelong health consequences;
  • in adolescent mothers, undernutrition is related to slow fetal growth and low birthweight;
  • anaemia, most commonly iron-deficiency anaemia, increases the maternal risk of haemorrhage and sepsis during childbirth. It causes cognitive and physical deficits in young children and reduces productivity in adults. In 21 out of 41 countries with data, more than one third of girls aged 15–19 are anaemic. Anaemia is a severe public health problem in 16 countries, the largest number of cases being found in India, where more than half of girls aged 15–19 are anaemic;17 and
  • children’s bodies are not mature enough to bear children, thus early pregnancy endangers them and their children.

Example of a serious complication when a child gives birth. A partner of Girls Not Brides, Faith Fookes of Bridgewise reports on obstetric fistula, a condition that is caused by obstructed labor.18 The baby usually dies and the damage caused by a long labor and the inability to give birth damages the mother so badly that she will constantly leak urine and/or feces afterwards. Child brides are the most vulnerable to fistulas—the combination of a young girl having sex, getting pregnant and going through childbirth when her body is not developed enough accounts for at least 25 per cent of known fistula cases. Fistula in young girls is preventable by ending child marriage.

Legal age of marriage. All of the above statistics are horrifying. Young girls are robbed of their childhood and, without a choice, are married off by their parents before 18—often to much older men. UNFPA states that in 2010, 158 countries reported that 18 years was the minimum legal age for marriage for women without parental consent.19 Unfortunately these laws are rarely implemented or monitored. In 146 countries, girls younger than 18 can marry with the consent of parents and in 52 countries, girls under age 15 can marry with parental consent. Traditions to marry young girls are very strong in some parts of the world and many communities continue the practice.

International conventions against child marriage. In addition to national laws setting minimum age for marriage, many countries have signed international conventions that prohibit child marriage and set a minimum age of 18 for marriage.20 Yet marriages of young girls are still being performed. It is clear that, despite laws and international conventions prohibiting child marriage, it will continue unless communities understand why it must be stopped and take action to prevent it.

Reasons why child marriages continue:

  • economic: extreme poverty is a factor, as is bride price or dowry;
  • social: status might be improved;
  • traditional: it is expected, hard to go against the norm;
  • unfamiliarity with its harmful impact on girls;
  • stigma of unwed daughters getting pregnant;
  • unable to protect unwed girls from unwanted sexual advances; and
  • belief that marriage is safer. However, findings show that many young girls are actually less safe in marriage. See point 1 below.

Many Girls Not Brides members work towards ending child marriage and their activities include:

1. Educating parents and community leaders about the

  1. health dangers to child brides as a result of premature sexual activity—often forced—by older husbands;
  2. health dangers for child brides of bearing children before their bodies are physically able to do so, which may result in the death of the girl, or severe and permanent bodily injury;
  3. health dangers to their children: children born to adolescent mothers are more likely to have a low birth weight and children born to mothers aged 15 or younger are more likely to die in their first year of life than those born to older women;
  4. violence a child bride may face at the hands of her husband;
  5. negative impact to a family and community when girls do not stay in school;
  6. resulting negative effect on children’s health and well-being when a mother is a child herself and does not have much education;
  7. benefits for the immediate family and for the community that come from educating daughters; and
  8. health benefits from delaying marriage and child-bearing;

2. Reaching out to influential community figures such as religious leaders, traditional leaders, village leaders, health care providers, and othersto help persuade parents and community members not to marry off their daughters as children;

3. Providing economic incentives to families to keep their daughters unmarried until they are at least 18 and keep them in school;

4. Making the case to national governments and in international fora of the need for action on child marriage, including establishing and enforcing minimum age of marriage laws, improving birth and marriage registration, and encouraging governments to partner with civil society and other key stakeholders to address child marriage;

5. Sharing information with fellow Girls Not Brides member organizations about successes and lessons learned from their work to address child marriage; and

6. Encouraging community dialogue. Finding role models who are fathers, mothers, and even girls who, by their example, can help encourage other parents and girls to follow them.

Partnerships to change mindsets and traditions. To effect social change, Girls Not Brides members work directly with communities where child marriage is common. Despite being illegal, child marriage persists in many places, often because it is seen as a traditional practice against which authorities can be reluctant to act. Comments from outsiders on the need to prevent child marriage can be met by responses such as “These are our traditions. This is how we have always done things.” However, many Girls Not Brides members are actually from the communities in which they work to prevent early marriage. These local community groups want to collaborate with local leaders and tribal chiefs to inform them about the physical dangers to young girls and their children, as well as the benefits to the entire community if early marriage were prevented. They also hope to change the mindset of these leaders and their communities.

I want to find more faith leaders like them, men who will say that child marriage is wrong and should end. I want to find political leaders—also mostly men—and persuade them to empower girls, invest in them, and see the positive transformation that will occur throughout their societies as a result.21

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Elders

Archbishop Tutu urges men and religious leaders to end early marriage. A member of The Elders who launched Girls Not Brides, Archbishop Tutu writes a blog on the website of The Elders.22 In it he describes a visit to Ethiopia where he met women who had been married as young as 10 and 12 years of age. The Archbishop says he was stunned to learn that such little girls could be married, and he realized that girls like them are among the most vulnerable in the world and that they are voiceless and invisible. He urges men everywhere to take a stand against child marriage because—as he states—men allow it to happen. During that same trip to Ethiopia, Archbishop Tutu met religious leaders, both Muslim and Orthodox, who speak out publicly against child marriage and teach that neither Christianity nor Islam endorses child marriage. He urges more religious leaders to speak out in defense of vulnerable little girls and help end child marriage.

Power of religious leaders. Religious leaders have great influence and are in a unique position to help put an end to the marriage of children. They have insight into the local traditions and they can use their influence to stop this dangerous tradition and can sway the mindset of other local leaders. People respect religious leaders, hold them in high esteem, listen to them and follow their advice and guidance. With more than 80 per cent of the world’s population professing a religious belief and the majority of those people belonging to an organized religion, religious leaders could potentially hasten the end of child marriage by refusing to perform ceremonies for children and by providing education about the dangers of child marriage and the harm it causes to girls, families and communities. Guidance and support by religious leaders may convince some parents to delay marriages, especially those who do not want to force their young daughters into marriage but feel they have no choice. Support by religious leaders may be critical in some locations because parents may be ostracized for not making their daughters marry early.

Role models. In addition to the powerful position of religious leaders, role models —village leaders, tribal chiefs, even fathers, mothers, girls, boys—within communities can be extremely important in helping others to take a stand against child marriage. Few parents want their young daughters to suffer and many would like to go against tradition and prevent child marriage. Support from others in the community can be vital to helping parents agree to delay the age of marriage of girls and let them stay in school until they have a decent education. When the role model is a girl, it is important for other adults in the community to support her and her attendance at school, and later on, to support her work.

I had one question, that was: how I could help my community. I had to mobilize my community: mothers, girls, elders and morans,(*) ‘cause change must come from within the communities, from inside out.23

Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, 21 year-old Masai girl leader (* a moran is a Masai warrior)

Role model: Masai girl leader. When Nice Nailantei Leng’ete was growing up near Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya, she says that some young girls bled excessively and died after female genital cutting or mutilation (FGM) and some women had great difficulty in delivering babies as a direct result of FGM, while other girls who did not want to do it were called cowards. When she grew older and was faced with the prospect of being forced to have FGM, she ran away from the home of relatives where she lived (her parents had both died) to avoid it. She returned home and negotiated successfully with her grandfather not to undergo FGM, or to be married early.

She participated in AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation) training in the Nomadic Youth and Reproductive Health Project and is now working in her community to educate others about the harm of FGM and early marriage. She also promotes reproductive health issues and educates others about the importance of immunization, malaria prevention and the education of girls.

The elders and morans of the Masai do not usually listen to women, but Nice has been able to speak with them and gain their support. This group of men is allowed to practice polygamy and she has educated them about the use of condoms and about HIV testing. She and others started a community-based organization to empower girls and over three years they have helped 150 girls avoid FGM and early marriage. Her community has given her an esiere, the black Masai walking stick that symbolizes leadership. She is pursuing a degree in Health Systems Management

Chief Nzamane. Credit: Mbufene Development Association I saw the negative impact that child marriage has not only on girls, but also on their own children, their families, and on all of us in the community.24 Chief Nzamane. Credit: Mbufene Development Association

Role Model: Zambian tribal chief takes stand against child marriage. Because of what he has witnessed in his Zambian community, Chief Nzamane is taking a stand against child marriage and has posted his views in a blog.25 He and the association he started, Mbufene Development Association, hold classes to explain to parents about the dangers their young daughters face if they marry too young, and to explain that young girls’ bodies are not ready to carry a baby or to give birth to a child. Because of this, he tells parents not to marry off their daughters while they are still very young but should keep them in school instead. He wants parents to see education as a better investment that will make the family better off in the long run and not to look at marriage as a source of income through a dowry or bride price.

The misconception that girls are safer in a marriage. It is often the case that parents think that married girls are safer than those who are not married. Because parents love their daughters they want what is best for them and want them to live in safety, particularly in areas where adolescent girls are at high risk of assault. However to say that girls are safer in a marriage is a misconception because sex for a child bride is often forced and rape is common. A child’s body has not yet fully developed, which puts girls at elevated risk of death or injury in childbirth. (See pages 4 and 5 for more detail and statistics.)

A child bride is usually insufficiently educated. A child bride will probably not know anything about the sexual nature of marriage. A child mother may not know how to care for her children, how to prevent and treat illnesses, may not know that babies should be immunized, or that their births should be registered. She is usually solely dependent on her husband and his family. She enters an unequal marriage and has no say in anything that goes on in her home or about her children. She may not be able to ensure that her children are educated and that her daughters are not married at an early age. As a result, the vicious cycle of inadequate education, poverty and early marriage will continue.

Some parents and communities marry off their daughters at a young age to avoid the shame of possible pregnancy outside marriage. But when parents are made aware of the dangers to their daughters and future grandchildren, they want to stop child marriage and delay marriage until their daughters are more mature and more educated.

Promising programs to help girls and parents delay marriage age. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted a systematic review of programs that measured a change in knowledge, attitudes and/or behaviors related to child marriage and published it as Solutions to End Child Marriage: What the Evidence Shows.26 Twenty-three programs with a child marriage component were evaluated, offering important insights. In the Summary of the Evidence, ICRW identified five programmatic strategies used to delay or prevent child marriage:

ecm 4200 girls pledge to stay in school until they reach 18. (Credit: Institute of Health Management, Pachod)

(i) empower girls with information, skills and support networks;

(ii) provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families;

(iii) educate and rally parents and community members;

(iv) enhance girls’ access to a high-quality education; and

(v) encourage supportive laws and policies.

The report’s summary recommends that in order for the next generation of development programs to make ending child marriage a priority, policymakers must pay attention to these strategies while continuing to test innovative approaches and evaluation techniques.

ICRW reviewed the Maharashtra Life Skills Program in India.27 ICRW reports that an extensive, community-based study from 1998-1999 found that the median age of marriage for girls in the Marathwada region was an alarmingly low 14.5 years. Studies by the Institute of Health Management Pachod (IHMP) have shown that young girls who lack educational opportunities are more likely to marry early. The Maharashtra Life Skills Program was initiated by the IHMP in 1998 with the goal to delay the age of marriage by one year for the participants. The target group consisted of unmarried girls aged between 12-18, with a focus on out-of-school and working girls. A total of 225 one-hour sessions over one year covered:

  • social issues and institutions;
  • local bodies;
  • life skills;
  • child health and nutrition; and
  • health.

The girls also conducted community service. IHMP held monthly meetings for parents. Results show that girls who fully attended the life skills course were four times less likely to marry young (before 18) than those in the control villages. Within the study area only 9 per cent of the girls who completed the course were married before 18, compared to a rate of almost one-third for girls who never attended.

ecm 5Engaging with boys is a key component of IMHP’s work. (Credit: Institute of Health Management, Pachod)

Dr. Ashok Dyalchand of IHMP reported that in addition to working with single girls and meeting with parents, IHMP has also worked with married girls and their spouses.28 Results show a delay in age at first birth, reduction in maternal morbidity and a significant reduction in the numbers of low birth weight babies. The program also has a component that reaches boys and addresses their negative and often harmful gender-related attitudes and behaviors. IHMP is trying to expand this program to the entire state and hopes to have similar success with it.

Research and studies to help end child marriage. A study entitled Delaying Marriage for Girls in India: A Formative Research to Design Interventions for Changing Normswas undertaken by the ICRW with the technical supervision of UNICEF India and the financial support of the European Commission.29 This study examined the social norms surrounding child marriage, positive role models, community engagement and government-led efforts to prevent the practice in the states of Rajasthan and Bihar, which have some of the highest levels of child marriage in the country. Almost 69 per cent of girls in Bihar and 65.2 per cent in Rajasthan are married before reaching 18, the legal age for marriage.

During the research phase, one father shared that if a girl elopes or becomes pregnant outside of wedlock, her father is considered a powerless person who has been unable to manage his daughter and he is no longer allowed to speak in the panchayat, the village government. Thus great emphasis is placed on protecting the chastity of a girl, stopping her education and hastening her marriage.

Research identified promising interventions. Findings revealed that such deeply entrenched gender norms are slowly changing through promising interventions to delay marriage and encourage girls’ education. Key among these interventions were:

  • improving access to quality education for girls and providing safe passage to schools (because many schools and teachers are inadequate and schools are often far from home, parents do not believe it is worthwhile to continue educating girls and because parents also believe that it is not safe for girls to travel far to school, they usually keep them at home after puberty);
  • changing social views (lack of awareness about marriage laws; marrying young girls to prevent pregnancy outside marriage);
  • supporting positive role models;
  • engaging communities;
  • expanding government schemes (cash incentives have yielded good results but are limited in outreach);
  • partnering with media;
  • strengthening law enforcement;
  • local NGOs and community groups actively working to delay child marriage and address social norms; and
  • expanding successful pilot programs.

Financial incentives to families to delay marriage of girls. A blogger describes the Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (‘Our Daughter, Our Wealth’) program, one of India’s first conditional cash transfer programs to delay marriages across the nation.30 In 1994 the Indian government started this program in the state of Haryana, giving financial incentives to families not to marry off their daughters before age 18. Families would receive a long-term savings bond with an initial amount of 2,500 rupees (US$55) that would become 25,000 rupees (US$550) over 18 years. It would become payable when the girl is 18, but only if she is not married. The first participants in the program would have reached 18 years in 2012 and ICRW will review the program during 2010-2015.31

Post-2015 Development Agenda. Lakshmi Sundaram says that while adolescent girls were largely overlooked in the Millennium Development Goals, she adds that there is increasing recognition that their needs and rights must be at the heart of any new development framework.32 Sundaram says that according to Girls Not Brides, the continued existence of child marriage has directly hindered the achievement of 6 of the 8 Millennium Development Goals.33 The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a High-Level Panel working on the Post-2015 Development Agenda have both stressed the importance of empowering girls and women to achieve gender equality and that ending child marriage should be a part of this effort.

ecm 6The Girl Declaration

The Girl Declaration. The Nike Foundation brought together 508 adolescent girls living in poverty in 14 countries on four continents and asked them what they would need to reach their potential. Some of the girls were still attending school, some out of school, some were married, and some were single. With assistance from over twenty-five international organizations working with girls, the group developed The Girl Declaration and launched it in October 2013.34 Its goals and targets include but are not limited to:

  • reducing by 2030 the number of girls who become pregnant before age 18;
  • ensuring that all girls are protected from all forms of violence;
  • ending female genital cutting or mutilation (FGM);
  • ending child marriage;
  • ensuring birth registration; and
  • ensuring that all girls receive secondary education in safe environments.

To commemorate the second annual International Day of the Girl, girls from Egypt, Burkina Faso and Nepal presented The Girl Declaration to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon.

High economic return of educating girls. The Girl Declaration also highlights the high economic return on investing in adolescent girls and provides examples of the high costs of excluding them:35

  • just one additional year of secondary schooling boosts girls’ future earning potential by 15-25 per cent;
  • in Kenya, that means national income could jump $3.4 billion— almost ten per cent —if all 1.6 million Kenyan girls completed secondary school and if 220,000 adolescent mothers avoided pregnancy; and
  • with nearly 4 million new adolescent mothers annually, India loses $383 billion in potential lifetime income.

What some girls said

  • When the girls met to discuss and write The Girl Declaration they had the opportunity to express themselves about issues in their lives.
  • They shouldn’t make the girls stay inside. They should just teach the boys how to behave. Girl from India, age group 13-15 years.
  • Every boy should think of a girl like his own sister, then they won’t commit crimes against her. Girl from India, age group 13-15 years.
  • I got married and had children at an early age, so I had to leave school, but I have now re-started my education because I want to be educated. I need to be. Girl from Pakistan, age group 16-19 years.
  • I wish I could have a decent education and wish that no one could control my personality. I wish to go to a decent school and I wish teachers would not humiliate us and give us a proper education. Girl from Egypt, age group 13-15.
  • Girls’ bodies are not ready for childbirth but we do not all know this, and our communities do not understand. Girl from India, age group 13-15.
ecm 7Chief Nzamane with members of Mbufene Chiefdom. Photo: Mbufene Development Association

Roles for leaders in ending early marriage and leading to prosperity

Religious leaders are in a prime position to protect young girls and take a stand against child marriage. With courage and firm action on their part, child marriage could quickly—and finally—be ended all over the world.

Village leaders, tribal leaders, local and national government leaders—all are also in prime positions to lead their communities, villages, towns and countries into greater prosperity by educating girls (as well as boys) and not allowing marriage before the age of 18.

Action Steps for the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children

The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children—celebrated on Universal Children’s Day (20 November) of each year—is a social movement dedicated to ending violence against children. All people of goodwill who care about children are invited to plan and participate in the World Day activities. If you are interested in working with communities and parents to help end child marriage, here are some ideas you could consider for this year and for the future:

What religious leaders can do:

  • issue statements about the dangers of child marriage; consider working with other religious leaders and issue joint statements;
  • use religious and/or secular media to promote statements and messages;
  • address the issue of child marriage during sermons and other talks with the followers of houses of worship, and also in personal talks with individuals;
  • refuse to perform a wedding ceremony when the bride and/or groom is/are too young; explain that it is dangerous for young girls to be married too young; explain that it is also against the law;
  • ask to see birth certificates; if these are not routinely issued, try to help promote birth registration in the community;36
  • collaborate with tribal leaders, village leaders and others of local influence;
  • hold meetings and invite health professionals to help educate members of their congregations and their followers about the health risks and the dangers of child marriage for girls:
  1. hold separate education sessions for men/boys and for women/girls;
  2. make sure that parents know of the health risks for their daughters if they marry at too young an age and begin to bear children;
  3. make sure that parents know that their daughters may die or may be permanently injured from childbirth;
  4. make sure that parents know their grandchildren may not survive if their mothers are too young, their bodies too immature to have a healthy baby;
  5. address the issue of girls’ safety with men/boys;
  • encourage parents to allow girls to attend school and help parents realize that keeping a girl in school for longer will be better for the girl, for her family and community;
  • promote secondary education for girls that is safe, accessible and of high quality;
  • promote safe passage to/from schools for girls;
  • provide support to parents and girls when they delay marriage and pursue education; and
  • make sure everyone knows that there will be health and economic benefits for the community when girls wait until at least 18 to marry.

What secular groups can do:

  • contact religious leaders and other secular groups in your area to see if you could work together on programs to prevent child marriage;
  • educate communities about the dangers for young married girls and the benefits that come from delaying marriage and keeping girls in school;
  • contact health care workers, teachers and social workers to support your efforts;
  • use media to promote educational messages about the dangers of early marriage and early childbirth for young married girls; and
  • use media to promote the benefits—health and economic— that come from keeping girls in school and delaying their marriages.

For additional suggestions for action to end child marriage, please read pages 8-10 of ABCs for Action and Advocacy: A Note on Child Marriage.37

Be sure to post information about your event on the World Day website at Go to ‘Events’ and then ‘Participant Center’ and follow the prompts. If there is any further information that you seek, or any other way we may be of assistance, please contact the World Day Secretariat.


1) Archbishop Tutu. The Elders. (blog) 2011. Retrieved October 28, 2013.

2) World Day of Prayer and Action for Children. ABCs for Action Advocacy, A Note on Child Marriage, 2012.

3) UNFPA. Marrying too Young: End Child Marriage, 2012. Pg. 10. Retrieved 18 November 2013.

4) UNICEF, Progress for Children: A report card on adolescents, 2012. Pg. 8. Retrieved October 25, 2013.

5) UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities. Statistics: Table 9, Child Protection. Pg. 135.

6) Joint news release by the WHO, Girls Not Brides and others. 2013. Retrieved October 24, 2013.

7) Ibid.

8) Ibid.

9) UNICEF, Progress for Children: A report card on adolescents, 2012. Pg. 24. Retrieved October 25, 2013.

10) Joint news release by the WHO, Girls Not Brides and others. 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013.

11) UNICEF, Progress for Children: A report card on adolescents, 2012. Pg. 24. Retrieved October 25, 2013.

12) BBC News, Nel Hedayat, What is it like to be a child bride? 2011. Retrieved October 23, 2013.

13) Joint news release by the WHO, Girls Not Brides and others. 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013.

14) Girls Not Brides. Ending Child Marriage and Monitoring Progress for Adolescent Girls. Retrieved October 25, 2013. For a copy, contact:

15) Ibid.

16) Ibid.

17) UNICEF, Progress for Children: A report card on adolescents, 2012. Pg. 20. Retrieved October 25, 2013.

18) Girls Not Brides. Bridgewise. Faith Fookes. Fistula, a silent tragedy for child brides. 2013. Retrieved November 8, 2013.

19) UNFPA. Marrying too Young: End Child Marriage, 2012. Pg. 12. Retrieved 25 Oct. 2013.

20) World Day of Prayer and Action for Children. ABCs for Action and Advocacy: A Note on Child Marriage, 2012. Pgs. 4, 5. Retrieved October 24, 2013

21) Archbishop Tutu, The Elders. (blog) 2011. Retrieved October 28. 2013.

22) Ibid.

23) Nice Nailantei Leng’ete. Ted X Amsterdam, Video Speech, 2012. Retrieved October 23, 2013.

24) Chief Nzamane. (blog) 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013.

25) Ibid.

26) ICRW, Anju Malhotra, Ann Warner, Allison McGonagle, Susan Lee-Rife, Solutions to End Child Marriage: What the Evidence Shows, 2011. Retrieved October 24, 2013.

27) ICRW. Delaying Age at Marriage in Rural Mahashtra. Retrieved October 24, 2013.

28) Girls Not Brides. IHMP. (blog) 2012. Retrieved November 5, 2013.

29) ICRW, UNICEF, European Commission. Priya Nanda, Sonvi Kapoor, Sushmita Mukherjee, Marcy Hersh, Sharmishtha Basu and Rashi Bhargava, Delaying Marriage for Girls in India: A Formative Research to Design Interventions for Changing Norms. 2011, UNICEF New Delhi. Retrieved October 24, 2013.

30) JasbirHoh. (blog) 2013. Retrieved 5 November, 2013.

31) ICRW. Evaluating the Power of Conditional Cash Transfers to Delay Marriage in India. 2010-2015. Retrieved 7 November, 2013.

32) Millennium Development Goals.

33)Girls Not Brides. Ending Child Marriage and Monitoring Progress for Adolescent Girls.Retrieved October 25, 2013. For a copy, contact:

34) The Girl Declaration. 2013. Retrieved October 30, 2013.

35) Ibid.

36) World Day of Prayer and Action for Children. ABCs for Action Advocacy, A Note on Universal Birth Registration. 2012.

37) World Day of Prayer and Action for Children. ABCs for Action Advocacy, A Note on Child Marriage. 2012.


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