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Ear to the Ground

60 Million Underage Girls Have Been Forced to Marry

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Posted on Oct 10, 2013
Bill Selak (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Girls all over the world are being deprived of their childhoods by being forced into early marriages. Who can forget the video released this summer of Nada al-Ahdal, the 11-year-old who escaped a forced union in Yemen. Nada told the world she’d “rather die” than live her life bound to the older man her parents had chosen for her.

In the U.K., the government and other organizations tried to raise awareness about the issue as school let out for summer break, the season when many parents take their children abroad to oblige them to wed. Girls who suspected as much were encouraged to place metal spoons in their underwear to attract the attention of airport security who could help lead them to safety.

Another step toward emphasizing the importance of protecting young girls from heinous acts such as these is the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated on Oct. 11. In honor of this day, global human rights group Breakthrough released a statement regarding forced marriage in India. Breakthrough CEO Mallika Dutt, announced:

“The fact that we set aside a day to commemorate the International Day of the Girl says a lot about changes for the better in the world for girls. It’s also a signal that we have so much more work to do. On this day, and every day that follows, we must commit to ending a practice that has robbed 60 million girls under the age of 18 of their rights and futures — early marriage.

“Early marriage is a profound violation of the human rights of girls. It reflects and preserves girls’ inferior societal status; it severely threatens their mental and physical health. At Breakthrough, we are working to end early marriage in India, the world’s leader in early marriage, where 25,000 girls are married off each day. Motivated by two years of formative research that clearly identified a need to focus on fathers and lift taboos around sexuality, our latest campaign seeks to challenge and change the deepest roots of the practice.

“Breakthrough’s research shows that fathers marry off their daughters thinking they’re keeping them safe—from premarital sex and pregnancy or even from platonic interaction with boys and men, which is considered taboo in many communities. This is why men and boys are an essential part of the solution. Fathers have all the say in families around early marriage. We are working to empower them to say no.

“Truly honoring girls means understanding that they are whole and complex beings with thoughts, opinions, desires, and rights of their own. As we work to change early marriage practices in India, we also seek a new global model, one in which girls are not seen as risks or burdens, but as people with equal and intrinsic worth and rights.”

To read more about Breakthrough’s report on early marriage in Bihar and Jharkhand, click here.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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