5 reasons why involving youth is critical to ending child marriage

Adolescent girls in Rajasthan, India, mark International Day of the Girl 2014 | Photo credit: Urmul Trust

With 1.8 billion young people worldwide, we have the largest youth generation in history. Young people are affected by today’s greatest challenges but they are also the key to solving them. Ahead of International Youth Day (12 August), we give five reasons why involving youth is critical to ending child marriage.

Reason 1: Young people are directly affected by child marriage

It goes without saying that young people are directly affected by child marriage. Every year, 15 million girls are married before their 18th birthday. Pushing girls into adulthood far too quickly, child marriage harms their health, education, safety and financial independence.

If we are to support child brides and help other girls to avoid child marriage, we need to listen to what they have to say and challenge our assumptions about what we think they need.

Reason 2: Young people can break the generational cycle of child marriage

When girls are able to stay out of marriage, they make sure that their own children do not marry early. Girls who have avoided or escaped child marriage can also be powerful role models for girls in their communities, inspiring them to stand up for their rights and helping them imagine a different future for themselves.

It is, for instance, what Melka did. Forced into marriage at 14, she eventually regained her freedom and made her way back to school. She now teaches adolescent girls about their rights, showing them that girls can be anything they aspire to be.

Reason 3: Young people can help us achieve results on a large scale

In many countries where child marriage is common, such as Uganda or Tanzania, young people make up approximately one half of the population. By not engaging youth to end child marriage we not only ignore the concerns of half of the population, we keep ourselves from achieving results on a large scale.

Given the rate of population growth, unless we double our efforts, the problem will only worsen with time. Recent figures from UNICEF estimate that there will be 1.2 billion women married during their childhood by 2050. Involving young people now must be part of the solution.

Reason 4: Involving youth is an effective strategy for ending child marriage 

A growing body of research shows that providing young people, especially girls, with the opportunities to learn new skills, develop their social networks and gain access to safe spaces encourages them to become agents of change in their own communities and countries.

Experience from Girls Not Brides members demonstrates that young people are able to catalyse action among wide sections of the community, and effectively mobilise particularly marginalised groups of young people.

Reason 5: Young people bring creativity and credibility to the table

Bringing young people on board helps organisations to push the envelope. Many Girls Not Brides members have told us that young advocates make more daring policy demands, think outside the box, and open up previously closed policy spaces.

For example, young people have been at the forefront of Benin’s latest campaign to end child marriage – mobilising online and offline to change policies as well as attitudes in their communities. Eight young artists came together to record a song denouncing violence against children.

The adoption of a law increasing the age of marriage to 18 in Malawi is a great example of the added value of young people. Adolescent girls around the country convinced their community leaders to adopt by-laws on child marriage, eventually taking their struggle all the way to Parliament.

Mobilise youth for a stronger global movement to end child marriage!

We need to go beyond seeing youth as victims of child marriage, or beneficiaries of programmes, and acknowledge that they have a lot to contribute to the field. When we value, invest and meaningfully engage young people, they can become the champions that we need to end child marriage.

We asked our Facebook followers if they could think of other reasons why youth matters. Here’s what they had to say:

FB comments on youth

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This blog was originally published for International Youth Day in 2015. We have updated it to celebrate the day, once again, in 2017.