Namiratou has been promised in marriage, beaten, driven from her family home by her father and sexually victimized. And she’s not yet 18. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.
While Canadians’ social calendars are filling up with weddings after two years of COVID-19 postponements, the pandemic is also sparking a more disturbing wedding boom as child marriages increase internationally. Girls’ rights backslid during the pandemic, as well as their access to schooling. Prior to the pandemic, 100 million girls were expected to marry before their eighteenth birthday in the next decade. Now up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides as a result of COVID-19. Children Believe – a charity that has helped more than 1 million children globally to overcome barriers to education since 1960 – has been working to turn the tide of this tragic issue in communities across Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana and India. This wedding season, Children Believe calls on Canadians to ‘RSVP to End Child Marriage’ at childrenbelieve.ca/end-child-marriage, and learn more about how they can support girls and young women to overcome poverty, inequality and injustice.
Here Comes the Bride...She’s 12 Years Old
Child marriage has been an accepted practice dating back centuries, robbing girls as young as age 12 of their innocence. Today, child marriage is illegal in most countries and is considered a fundamental violation of human rights, but poverty, conflict, gender inequality and lack of education allows this harmful traditional practice to continue. In Ethiopia, for example, drought-affected areas are seeing alarming increases in child marriage as desperate families seek extra resources through dowries, while hoping their young daughters will be fed and protected by wealthier families.
“When she reached puberty at the age of 12, we had her marry as we couldn’t afford to keep her in school. As per our tradition, we would want to have our younger daughter marry as well.”
- Mother in India
“In rural communities around the world, girls’ rights regressed during the pandemic, as poverty intensified and families prioritized child marriage as a more sustainable choice than education,” says Dr. Belinda Bennet, chief international programs officer, Children Believe. “Keeping girls in school is one of the most effective ways to prevent child marriage. Girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before age 18 than girls who attended secondary school or higher. Nearly 400,000 girls and boys have gained greater access to education this year through Children Believe programs. We are inviting Canadians to join us and RSVP to end child marriage.”
Saying ‘I Do’ to Education
Girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before age 18 than girls who attended secondary school or higher. This is why Children Believe works with local partners in communities worldwide to help girls stay in school. For girls who do marry underage, Children Believe supports them to continue their education and develop vocational skills, so they can earn an income for themselves and their families. This empowers them to lead positive change in their communities.
Here are just a few success stories:
- In India, with Children Believe’s support, more than 50 villages and communities to-date have abolished the practice of child marriage altogether.
- In Ghana, Children Believe and local partners are working to help 16 girls who became pregnant during pandemic school closures to continue their education. As a result of awareness-building interventions, none of these girls has been forced into marriage by their families, which is a common consequence of pregnancy. One girl has already returned to school and the aim is to have all the girls go back to class after giving birth.
- In Burkina Faso, Children Believe co-funded a learning centre for nearly 100 girls where they can escape gender violence and child marriage, get an education, and learn homemaking and other vocational skills so they can earn an income.
“My uncle insisted I marry one of his friends who already had six wives and many children. I would prefer to die than to live that way.”
- Young teen in Burkina Faso
“Ending child marriage begins at the community level with awareness-building interventions, dialogue and fostering safe places for girls to be girls, and to dream about a successful future,” says Dr. Bennet. “Children Believe equips girls, their parents and their communities with the knowledge and tools they need to protect and advocate for young people’s rights. Canadians truly can help end child marriage by providing the life-saving resources needed to make these things happen.”
RSVP to End Child Marriage
As Canadians get dressed up to attend the weddings of friends and loved ones this season, Children Believe cordially invites you to walk down the aisle with us on the journey to end child marriage.
Those who object to these unions are invited to visit childrenbelieve.ca/end-child-marriage to learn more about this ongoing issue affecting an estimated 12 million girls and young women each year and RSVP to end child marriage. Canadians can also support Children Believe to end child marriage by donating to its programs that help girls find their ‘happily ever after.’
About Children Believe
Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in – and be heard. For 60+ years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education – inside and outside of classrooms – is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.
 “How we’re helping survivors of violence and displacement reclaim hope,” Children Believe, April 2022, https://childrenbelieve.ca/helping-survivors-of-violence-and-displacement/
 “COVID-19: A threat to progress against child marriage,” Unicef, March 2021, https://data.unicef.org/resources/covid-19-a-threat-to-progress-against-child-marriage/.
 “Child, Early and Forced Marriage in India: What we know and what we need to know,” Children Believe, March 2021, https://childrenbelieve.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/FINAL-CB_India_ChildMarriageReport_Mar-4-2021.pdf
 “Impacts on the SDGs,” Girls Not Brides, 2022, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/learning-resources/child-marriage-and-sdgs/impacts-sdgs/.
 “Ending child marriage through collective action,” Children Believe, January 2021, https://childrenbelieve.ca/ending-child-marriage-through-collective-action/.
 “Children Believe Ghana Annual Report FY21,” Children Believe, 2021, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ND-XquL57OZYv2d5KY5Yh4uDMXmW3HUMs3SrdSE8YlQ/edit.
 “Special school is a safe space for girls escaping gender violence,” Children Believe, August 2021, https://childrenbelieve.ca/safe-space-for-girls/.
 “Child marriage,” Unicef, May 2022, https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/.
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