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Untying the knot: why early marriage should be seen as violence against women

Girls attending a school founded in 2009 and funded by World Vision in Bangladesh. | ©2011 Anthony Luk/World Vision

World Vision launched a new report on child marriage in the lead up to International Women’s Day, in both New York at the UN Commission on the Status of Women and in the UK Parliament. ‘Untying the Knot’ highlights the need for more to be done to tackle early marriage in the world’s most dangerous places. 

Hannah Stevenson, Child Rights Policy Officer at World Vision, tells us why it’s so important and what the report recommends.

Tying the knot: an expression that for most of us evokes happy memories of one of the best days of our lives. But the fun of planning the wedding and the heady excitement of the first weeks of marriage will not be the experience of 13.5 million girls this year. Instead, the marriage they experience is a form of violence.

One-in-three girls in the developing world will marry before the age of 18.

Our research tells the stories of Faiza and Hanatou and millions like them who were all forced into marriage as children. We found that one of the biggest reasons behind this is that marriage is considered by parents as the best option for protecting their daughters. Can you imagine a choice that awful?

We heard devastating stories of 16 year olds with three children; of 14 year olds who had been raped on their way to school and whose lives were considered ruined as a result; of parents so afraid this might happen to their daughters that they married them off to men much older than them, considering this their only option.

Girls also told us about the devastating impacts of drought and hunger. “When there is no food, some families give their daughters into marriage. Many 12 year olds marry for lack of food.”

The tragedy is that, for young girls, the impact of early marriage is a violent one. Engaging in sexual activity and becoming pregnant before their young bodies are fully grown can have devastating impacts, not just physically but also emotionally.

Girls who marry young are also more likely to experience other forms of violence and abuse throughout their lives. The very means by which their parents seek to protect them can become the greatest threat to their survival, let alone their happiness.

World Vision is calling on the UK Government to join the global campaign to end child marriage by 2030. We are proud of the UK Government’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls through their development aid. Early marriage is a critical form of violence that, unless stopped, will rise to affect 142 million girls before 2020. It must be stopped.

This blog was originally published on the World Vision UK Blog

Read World Vision’s report “Untying the Knot“.