Child Marriage: Recognizing It and Stopping It

Two hundred million girls might be alive today if they weren’t, well, girls.1 That is how many female babies and girls the United Nations estimates have died because they were not born male and were rejected by their families. “Son preference,” as it is called, leads to the pervasive degradation and devaluing of women that can result in a child being given in marriage, a form of abuse that is alive and well in the 21st century.

The history of child marriage has its roots in the complex, cultural belief that female human life lacks value. Curses, dowries, employment, poverty and misplaced ideologies all contribute to the varied reasons a family would choose to give their little girl in marriage before the age of consent.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) defines marriage of children as “a formal or informal union where one or both parties are under the age of 18.”2 Though this can and does happen to boys, it is predominantly an issue for girls.

Child marriage statistics include the following:

  • 12 million girls are married each year before the age of 18.3
  • 650 million women living in the world today were given in marriage before 18.3
  • 19% of all married women worldwide from 2014-2020 were married before 18.3
  • In the same time period, Niger led the world with 76% of its women married before 18.3

Ending child marriage is a matter of restoring human rights to millions of girls and women and strengthening communities as a whole. The International Center for Research on Women and the World Bank estimate that marrying girls too young costs the world economy trillions of dollars.6 When a girl marries at, say, 14 years old, she often must forgo an education, which means she cannot pursue more skilled work or employment that requires literacy. This traps her and most likely her children in a cycle of poverty that becomes difficult to escape without an education.

Olimani thought she was helping her own daughter find a better life.7 With an abusive husband who took her wages to buy alcohol, she wanted more for her daughter, Mayuri. So, Mayuri was married at the tender age of 14 years old. Olimani had hoped it was a fresh start for her, a safer place away from the abuse and day labor jobs she did with her mother. And at first, it was.

Things seemed harmonious, which is what Mayuri wanted, even though she could not go to school; she had not been able to when she worked with her mother either. The harmony came to an end when she could only produce daughters. Her husband and in-laws became furious with her, and the cycle of abuse started all over again. Mayuri took her daughters and fled home to her mother, who had since been abandoned by Mayuri’s father.

This all happened because Olimani thought she only had one choice for her daughter: marriage as a child. Like many before and after her, she assumed it would mean security and protection. Instead, things spiraled downward for Mayuri.

God has been merciful to Mayuri, and today she believes in Jesus Christ and attends church with her daughters in a congregation that loves them as people made in the image of God, giving them the support they need without a traditional family structure.

But what if Olimani had had a different choice? What if there had been a GFA child sponsorship opportunity for Mayuri? Through child sponsorship, children and their families receive key essentials like nutritious food, clean water education opportunities and many other areas of support. This could have been what Mayuri experienced instead of being married at 14 years old. It likely would have changed the course of her life and Olimani’s.

Today, you can help stop another girl from being married too soon. You can help provide the key assistance for her and her family which makes it much more likely that her parents will choose to keep her in school. Child sponsorship is the choice Olimani would have taken. We are grateful for the GFA pastor who brought the Good News of Jesus to Mayuri and her family later in life. You can help be the bridge now to a better life for one of those other little girls.

Sponsor a child today through GFA World at just $35 a month so that girls like Mayuri have a better chance for a future filled with hope. The marrying of children should have ended decades ago, and 12 million girls given in marriage is an atrocity. Be part of the global solution today.

Learn more about child labor examples

1 “The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics.” United Nations. October 20, 2020. https://www.un.org/en/desa/world’ s-women-2020.
2 Allison M. Glinski, Magnolia Sexton and Lis Meyers. “The child, early, and forced marriage resource guide.” USAID. September 2015. https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1865/USAID_CEFM_Resource-Guide.PDF.
3 UNICEF Child Marriage Databank Query. August 2021. https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/.
4 Jennifer L. Solotaroff and Rohini Prabha Pande. “Violence against women and girls: Lessons from South Asia.” The World Bank. 2014. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/20153/9781464801716.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
5 Chaitanya Mallapur. “Crimes against women reported every two minutes.” September 3, 2015. https://www.indiaspend.com/crimes-against-women-reported-every-two-minutes-84240.
6 International Center for Research on Women. “Child Marriage: Overview.” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://www.icrw.org/issues/child-marriage/.
7 “A Baby Girl Is Nothing to Celebrate.” February 2014. https://www.gfa.org/news/articles/a-baby-girl-is-nothing-to-celebrate/.
* Cover Photo by UNAMID. https://www.flickr.com/photos/unamid-photo/8269950772/.