Ending child marriage will help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Here’s how

Credit: Graham Crouch | Girls Not Brides

At the end of last year, 193 governments committed to ending child marriage by 2030. It was a fantastic achievement and something that Girls Not Brides members had been working towards for several years.

Child marriage is a core development and human rights issue and its inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals will help to build a healthier, safer, more prosperous world where no girl is left behind.

The target to end child marriage compels governments to act and gives civil society a tool to hold them to account. The inclusion of child marriage will also help us to achieve many of the other Sustainable Development Goals. Here is how.

Goal 1: No poverty

Parents who marry their daughters often see child marriage as a way of securing her economic security or easing the family’s financial burden. In fact, quite the opposite happens.

Child marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty by cutting short girls’ education, pushing them into early and repeated pregnancies, and limiting their opportunities for employment.

Ending child marriage will help us build a more prosperous future for all.

Read more: how programmes for economic growth and workforce development can also tackle child marriage.

Goal 2: Zero hunger

Food insecurity and malnutrition are both causes and consequences of child marriage. Faced with limited food resources, parents may marry off their daughters to lessen the burden on the family by having one less mouth to feed.

Child marriage also perpetuates the cycle of food insecurity and malnutrition. Child brides experience higher rates of anaemia and malnutrition than those who marry later in life, and their children are more likely to die during the first weeks of life and to have a low birth weight.

Tackling child marriage will help us make progress on nutrition for adolescent girls and food security.

Read more: how to tackle child marriage, malnutrition and food insecurity.

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

Mounting evidence shows that child marriage is detrimental to girls’ health. The majority (90%) of adolescent pregnancies take place within marriage. Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous for girls: they are the leading cause of death for girls age 15-19. When girls survive childbirth, they can be left with devastating injuries such as obstetric fistula.

Marriage and early child bearing can also be emotionally challenging for girls who are still children themselves.

Delaying marriage and pregnancy will help to improve adolescent girls’ health and that of their children.

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Goal 4: Quality education

Child marriage usually means the end of a girl’s formal education. Once married, girls are burdened with their new responsibilities as wives and mothers and often stay at home as a result. Their husband or in-laws may not be supportive of their education and in some countries laws don’t allow married girls to return to school.

However, girls who have a secondary education are six times less likely to marry as children. Educated mothers are more likely to be able to provide for their children and less likely to marry them at a young age.

As long as girls are married as children, their education will suffer. Addressing child marriage will help to keep more girls in school.

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Goal 5: Gender equality

Child marriage overwhelmingly happens to girls because they are girls. Discriminatory norms around girls’ value, sexuality and role in society are strong drivers of the practice. In many communities where child marriage is practised, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden.

Girls also have little say in whom and when they marry. In fact they are rarely asked if they want to marry at all! When girls marry before the age of 18, they are more likely to experience violence within marriage.

Marriage ends girls’ opportunities for education, better paid work outside the home and leadership roles in their communities. We won’t achieve gender equality as long as child marriage persists.

Read more: how gender-based violence prevention programmes can tackle child marriage.

Goal 8: Economic growth

When girls are able to go to school, learn the skills they need to secure a job, and have access to the same economic opportunities as boys, they will be able to support themselves and their families and help to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

Addressing child marriage will open new economic opportunities for girls, their families and their countries.

Read more: how programmes for economic growth and workforce development can also tackle child marriage.

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

Child marriage is symptomatic of gender inequality globally. UNICEF estimates that 700 million women alive today were married before 18. That’s nearly 10% of the world population.

Child marriage holds girls back throughout their lives. Once a girl is married at an early age, her health and education suffer, and her economic opportunities narrow. Child brides are also more likely to endure violence at the hands of their husbands or in-laws.

We won’t achieve gender inequality as long as child marriage continues.

Read more: How democracy, human rights and governance programmes can address child marriage.

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Strong laws and policies are essential to protect girls from child marriage and enable them to fulfil their potential.

However, laws only work if people know they exist and there are strong systems in place to enforce them.

Tackling child marriage by strengthening birth and marriage registration systems, as well as working with communities and institutions at all levels to understand and effectively apply the law, will help us build a fairer world for all.

Read more: How democracy, human rights and governance programmes can address child marriage.

Ending child marriage is a smart investment

Ending child marriage is not only the right thing to do, but is also an economically practical decision.

Early findings from research conducted by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank indicate that the economic impacts of child marriage on the girl and her community are substantial.

The ground-breaking research suggest that governments and development agencies should prioritise investments to end child marriage as smart investments in the health, education, labour force and overall economic growth of their countries.