Ending Child Marriage

One might think that addressing child marriage would be high on both national and global agendas, given the powerful evidence of the damage that it causes to individuals and societies. But the discrepancy between the scale and seriousness of the problem and the attention it has received is striking.

LONDON – Ahead of the United Nations’ summit to review progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, much of the focus has rightly been on those areas where gains have been most disappointing. High on this list is the failure to improve maternal health in the poorest countries.

There has been much discussion about rich countries’ commitments to increase funds, and whether governments in the developing world have used resources effectively. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to child marriage and its damaging impact on the health of millions of girls and women.

There is, in fact, compelling evidence that child marriage has been a major brake on progress towards no less than six of the eight MDGs. Global hopes to reduce child and maternal mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, and achieve universal primary education are damaged by the fact that one in seven girls in the developing world – and it is overwhelmingly girls who suffer this fate – are married before they reach age 15. Child marriage also thwarts ambitions to eliminate extreme poverty and promote gender equality.