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The Campaign to End Child Marriage

19 October 2012 (NZ Herald) - Last Thursday was the first International Day of the Girl Child, started by the UN to "recognise girls' rights and the unique challenges that girls face around the world". This year's observance focused on a human rights violation practised in more than 50 developing countries: early marriage, or child brides as they're more commonly known.

Globally, about one in three young women aged 20-24 years were first married before the age of 18. One third of them entered into marriage before they reached 15. And countless children as young as five are literally being given away to men old enough to be their fathers and grandfathers.

The ramifications are devastating. As well as the loss of childhood, child marriages mean early, unwanted and life-threatening pregnancies, aborted education and opportunities, and an increased risk of severe psychological and physical abuse.

Child brides are generally expected to be sexually active and have children straight away, which results in ripped vaginal walls and internal ruptures that can, in turn, lead to permanent incontinence.

A doctor working in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, said girls often have no concept of reproduction: "The nurses start by asking, 'Do you know what's happening?' 'Do you understand that this is a baby that has been growing inside of you?'"

Many countries legislate against the practice and international treaties forbid it, but the numbers speak for themselves, with 51 million girls below age 18 currently married, often covertly. It's happening in every region of the world, and it's immune to religion, ethnicity, and culture.

In Afghanistan alone, it's thought roughly 57 per cent of girls marry before they're 16, especially in remote areas. As with all child marriages, the girls have no say in the matter, are often raped and kidnapped prior, and it's financial struggles driving their parents to give up their daughters.

It'd be easy to wax lyrical on the injustice and horror, to compare-and-contrast with your average 11-year-old here in New Zealand (not to detract from our own child issues). But it all goes without saying, really.

Instead, have a read of first-hand accounts at protest organisation Girls Not Brides. Then take a look at this startling photographic essay on child brides by photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, courtesy of National Geographic. Finally, to see what you can do, get educated on the campaign to end child marriages over at Too Young to Wed.

Read the article on the New Zealand Herald website.