Forced Marriage, A Reality For So Many Girls Across The Globe

“I feel really blessed that I am having a baby. But I am a child raising a child,” Sahar* is 14, and lives in Lebanon. At 13, she was forced to marry a 20-year-old man and is now two months pregnant.

“The wedding day, I was imagining it would be a great day but it wasn’t. It was all misery. It was full of sadness. Many girls who get married at a young age get illnesses and suffer from bleeding. Thank God it didn’t happen to me.”

Sahar is just one of the many disadvantaged girls that Save the Children works with across the globe. To commemorate International Day of the Girl Child, a new report from Save the Children has been released to show how forced marriage is still a part of the developing world, and is even being deployed as a way of ‘safe-keeping’ girls fleeing the conflict in Syria.

According to Save The Children’s report, across the world, one girl under 15 is married every seven seconds, with one girl under 18 married every two seconds,

In some cases, the problem is driven by socioeconomic factors, where girls from poorer families are more likely to be married than richer counterparts. Take, for instance, Nigeria, where 40% of the poorest girls are married by the the time they reach 15, compared to 3% of the richest. In other instances, the practice of child marriage is so embedded in the culture, that it is not considered abusive: in India, 47% of girls under 18 are married: that totals 24.6 million girls.

And in Lebanon, many young Syrian girls who have escaped violence in their home country across the border are now being married off as a “safety or coping mechanism.” Girls are also at a higher and disproportionate risk of other types of exploitation when their country is in turmoil. Following the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, schools were shut down, and the lack of support structure for them resulted in an estimated 14,000 teen pregnancies.

Political change is in part so slow because, across the world, women are underrepresented in government. At the top of the index for female representation in government is Rwanda, where 1994’s genocide, which had a predominantly male death-toll, has had a knock on affect political life. Other countries topping this index include Bolivia and Cuba. Only 19% of the US Congress and 29% of British MPs are female.

Save the Children’s report ranks 144 countries on an index according to their rates of forced child marriage, schooling, teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and number of female MPs. At the bottom of the index are Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia, while at the top lie Sweden, Finland, Norway, The Netherlands and Belgium. The UK only comes in at 15 out of 144 countries ranked.

In early 2014, at the inaugural Girl Summit in London, representatives from countries globally promised to stop Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM). However, Save the Children warns that if current trends continue, the number of women married in childhood will grow from the present 700 million to 950 million by 2030 and 1.2 billion by 2050.

As well as running different projects in support of disadvantaged girls, Save the Children is calling on governments and donors “to invest in girls’ education and life chances, to help bring an end to child marriage and gender discrimination.”

*Sahar’s real name has been changed to protect her identity. 

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Photo Credit: Save the Children