How to Help Child Brides in the Developing World

Targeted efforts can help us break the vicious cycle of child marriage.

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Some of the numbers on child brides are eye popping. In Niger, 75 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthdays, and 36 percent of them are married before their 15th birthdays. In Chad, Bangladesh, and Guinea, more than 60 percent of girls are married before age 18. According to UNICEF, some 14 million girls are child brides every year.

The human implications of these almost medieval marriage practices around the globe are appalling. Such early marriage casts young girls into enormous peril, leaving them far more at risk of violence and abuse and often ending their hopes for education or better lives. For many young girls, child marriage is tantamount to life-threatening health risks, including exposure to HIV/AIDS. Do you think a poor, 16-year-old girl will have much luck demanding that her older husband wear a condom? In places such as Niger, forced child marriage increasingly resembles sex trafficking, with desperately poor families often essentially selling their young daughters to men from nearby countries. Indeed, the drought and food crisis that has gripped much of the Sahel in recent years has sparked concerns that child marriage will accelerate in the region as families are forced into ever more dire straits.

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