When a young girl living in a rural community of a poor nation sees her family preparing a once-in-a-lifetime thriftless party, reality doesn't hit until she's taken to a clinic to receive a pre-marital HIV test. For this girl, maybe 15, 16, 17 years old, it's then that she realizes she's about to become a young bride against her will.
With 10 million girls married before they turn 18 each year -- an issue tied to poverty, education and long-standing cultural practices -- global leaders are now stepping in. Secretary Hillary Clinton announced Wednesday a public-private initiative that will prioritize ending child marriage, primarily by educating girls worldwide.
The announcement coincides with the inaugural "International Day of the Girl Child" on Thursday, a day the United Nations has reserved for spreading awareness about and tackling challenges girls face globally.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu met with Clinton Wednesday to share his commitment in improving the lives of girls all over the world. The human rights advocate said he was as adamant in his fight against the practice as he was in ending apartheid, NDTV reports.
"For one thing, you dismiss more than half of humanity," by ignoring the problem of child marriage, Tutu said.
Though it's undeniably a human rights issue, there are many layers for families who face the confounding decision. Marrying off young girls is on the rise in places where chronic hunger issues exist. In areas such as Niger, one in three girls marries before her 15th birthday, which is one of the highest rates in the world, according to UNICEF.
By marrying off a daughter, the family then brings in dowry money from the marriage -- and has one less mouth to feed, the Associated Press points out.
Part of Clinton's initiative includes tackling these core causes through education, underscoring a study that reveals that girls with a secondary level education are six times less likely to marry as children.
Some of the steps to empower girls through education include a $15 million initiative through nonprofit USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) tackling cost and safety issues that prevent girls reaching post-primary schooling.
Clinton's plan also includes tracking every country's legal minimum age of marriage, providing more training for consular staff to respond to child marriage cases and specifically tackling child marriage in Bangladesh. Here, a pilot program will promote sensitivity through the government, media and other outlets.
Within the private portion of Clinton's plan, the Ford Foundation also launched a five-year $25 million commitment to end child marriage by pushing local governments to fight child marriage, fund new research on interventions and work to expand girls' rights.
Beyond poverty and education, Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA and HuffPost blogger, points out that child marriage is a maternal health issue. She writes that girls who give birth at 15 and under are five times more likely to die during labor than women in their 20's.
Other global leaders have shown support in the fight against child marriage as well.
Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and UN Special Envoy for Global Education and HuffPost blogger, released a recent report on child marriage that highlights ways to ensure every girl goes to school.
He writes: "Commendable progress in narrowing the gender gap in education has been made, though far too many girls are still denied their right to schooling because of gender discrimination."
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