Practical Ways You Can Help End Child Marriage

Friday, October 05, 2012

wedding business blogThe United Nations has named October 11th "Day of the Girl Child" and many organizations are working to bring awareness to the realities many young girls face around the world. One of these is the movement to end child marriage.

According to UNICEF, 10 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year, often forced into marriages with grown men. 1 in 9 of those children are between the ages of 10 and 14. It works out to 25,000 girls a day or 175,000 a week being forced into marriage (to put that in perspective, there are about 40,000 legal adult marriages a weekend in the U.S.). While laws are being passed making child marriage illegal, it is still happening. In Nepal, child marriage and the dowry system are now illegal, but the practice is still common: 1 in 3 brides in Nepal are children and some are as young as five years old. FIVE! That is not a typo. That means some of the babies born in 2007 were married off this year.

One of the root causes of child marriage is poverty. The younger the bride, the lower the dowry her parents have to pay. In some places girls are traded for marriage as a means of conflict resolution among families and communities. The impact of being forced into marriage is a human rights issue, not just a cultural occurrence. Teenage girls are five times more likely to die in childbirth than adult women are, and their children are 3-10 times more likely to die before they reach age two. These young girls are also more likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

The global wedding industry adds up to more than $298 billion annually. Typically we celebrate this number as a sign of health and growth, but in reality bigger is not better. A good portion of that figure comes from money spent on weddings between child brides and adult men. It's time to change that.

So what can you do?

The organization Girls Not Brides has some great ideas for getting involved as it relates directly to ending child marriage.

Help raise awareness by blogging and tweeting next Thursday, October 11th about the End Child Marriage campaign. The official hashtags are #dayofthegirl and #endchildmarriage

If you're going to be in New York next week for Bridal Market, it's worth creating some time in your schedule to visit the Too Young To Wed exhibit at the United Nations. The exhibit will run October 11th through November 29th.

Some indirect ways include getting involved to end the root cause of poverty. Here are some practical ways to get involved with that:

Lack of access to clean water keeps the poverty cycle going, and it is especially damning for girls. If a school doesn't have a bathroom, then pre-teen and teenage girls have to miss a week of school each month because of their periods, leaving it difficult for them to catch up to the boys in education and making it more difficult to pass the tests required to get into college or other higher levels of schooling, making it difficult to get better, higher paying jobs. With a higher paying job, girls can support their families with outside means; without it the families often use the girls as a means of support. Then the cycle continues. Charity: Water is an organization that works to provide clean water for communities around the world. Having access to clean water is an important step in ending poverty and ending child marriage.

Kiva allows you to make a small loan (in increments of $25) to other entrepreneurs around the world. When the loan is paid back, you have the option to withdraw it or re-loan it to another entrepreneur. These loans help real people run their businesses, allowing them to build a better life for their families and end the cycle of poverty. You can also give Kiva giftcards, which make great stocking stuffers or thank you gifts, and because of the payback/re-loan model, it becomes a gift that keeps on giving. If you're interested in loaning specifically to people in the global wedding industry, you can find those options here.

Acumen Fund is a venture capital organization that makes loans on a large scale to for-profit companies working to end poverty. Because of my background in the NGO world and seeing its "underbelly" so to speak, their model is actually my favorite and in my opinion one of the most effective. They invest what they call "patient capital", meaning they expect below market returns over the course of 15-20 years or more. They know that investing in poverty solutions will take a long time and they are willing to be patient to see those returns. While Acumen Fund makes large scale loans (companies that design safe and affordable mosquito nets, affordable and reliable ambulance companies that don't pay kickbacks to their governments, etc) you can donate any amount to them. Also worth reading, their CEO and founder, Jacqueline Novogratz's, book The Blue Sweater.

The problem of child marriage and its root causes won't be solved overnight, but it will only be solved if we start talking about it and doing what we each can, however small, in working toward real change. Girls are a gift, not gifts to be given. Each young girl, no matter what family or neighborhood she is born into, deserves to live a life of dignity and choice.

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