Over 20,000 Girls Illegally Married Every Day

Author: Save the Children (savethechildren.org)
Published: Thursday 12th October 2017 - Updated: Sunday 29th April 2018
Summary: Save the Children and World Bank research reveals more than 20,000 girls are married every day below the minimum age permitted by national law.

More than 20,000 girls are married every day below the minimum age permitted by national law, according to new research from Save the Children and the World Bank marking the International Day of the Girl.

In all, about 7.5 million girls are married illegally every year. In addition, close to 100 million girls are not protected against child marriage under the laws of their countries.

A growing number of countries are raising the legal age of marriage or eliminating exceptions under the law that allow early marriage with parental consent or court consent. However, implementing such laws is challenging.

More than two thirds of all child marriages are still taking place below the minimum age permitted by national law, showing the difficulty in ending the practice.

While some of these marriages are informal as opposed to formal unions, most would likely still be illegal under the law. Weak enforcement and a disconnect between national, customary, and religious laws are part of the issue. Deep-rooted traditions and beliefs mean that traditional leaders in communities still too often support the practice.

Carolyn Miles, president & CEO of Save the Children, said: "We will not see a world where girls and boys have the same opportunities to succeed in life until we eradicate child marriage. When a girl gets married too young, her role as a wife and a mother takes over. She is more likely to leave school, she may become pregnant and suffer abuse.

"Laws banning the practice are an important first step. But millions of vulnerable girls will continue to be at risk unless child marriage is tackled head on. We need to change attitudes in communities so that we can end this harmful practice once and for all.

"The longer a girl stays in education, the more likely it is that she grows up healthy, secures a livelihood and has healthy and educated children of her own."

The findings come ahead of an African-led conference on ending child marriage to take place in Senegal later this month. The West and Central Africa High Level Meeting on Ending Child Marriage (October 23-25) will see government leaders, traditional, religious and other influential leaders, child rights organizations, youth, and UN agencies, come together to discuss solutions to end this harmful practice.

"From this meeting, we hope to have an important understanding of child marriage, its consequences, drivers, and solutions. We'll look at policies and legal frameworks surrounding child marriage, and we intend to build a platform where we will be sharing our successes and challenges in the implementations of policies and programs in ending child marriage," said the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Sia Koroma.

West and Central Africa is home to many of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally. In this region alone, 1.7 million child marriages are taking place below the national minimum age every year--one of the highest proportions globally. Some countries in the region are also affected by high rates of teenage pregnancy outside of formal marriages, too often a result of gender-based violence or exploitative relationships--which generally go unpunished. Fatmata, 16, from Sierra Leone was married last year. "I was fifteen years old when I met my husband. Right now, I'm not very happy because I didn't have the chance to do what I wanted to do in life and now I'm pregnant."

The analysis by Save the Children and the World Bank is calling for urgent action to tackle child marriage at both the national and international levels. Legal reform to set the minimum age for marriage at a minimum of 18 and eliminating exceptions are needed. But in addition, national strategies with well-designed targeted interventions are also needed, especially to enable girls to remain in school as a viable alternative to marriage.

At the World Bank the study is part of a work program that benefits from support from the Children's Investment Fund Foundation and the Global partnership for Education, Data on the legal age of marriage are from the Women Business and the Law initiative.

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood -- every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Some of the Girls Stories

Niaye* is 12 and she is still in school.

Niaye is 12 and she is still in school (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Niaye is 12 and she is still in school (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
She wants to keep studying and doesn't want to get married. For now her parents have not asked her and she hopes that it will stay this way.

Ndiaye said: "I am going to school and I like it a lot. I have a lot of friends there and I want to keep studying till the end. My parents have not asked me to get married yet -- I hope they will not but I know other girls who have gotten married. It is not right to get married so young."

Hamdila* is now 23 but was married at 13.

Hamdila is now 23 but was married at 13 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Hamdila is now 23 but was married at 13 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
She has a girl who is four-and-a-half years old and she is pregnant with her second child.

She says that women in her village have a hard life. They wake at dawn to cook breakfast for the family and tidy the house. They then have to clean up from breakfast, pick vegetables, do the washing all before making lunch. After lunch they work in the field again and start getting ready for dinner before doing it all again. Like many women in the village, she often doesn't get to bed till past 11 o'clock at night and wakes after 5am. She says her husband doesn't help much around the house and doesn't offer extra support now that she is pregnant. Medical services are available but they are expensive and one must travel to city, which is long and tiring and difficult as you lose a day of work in the house.

"I don't get any additional help now that I am pregnant. There is a medical center but it is far and you need to pay. Your husband will not always give you the money to go, even if he has it. The days are very long and we don't have much time. We have to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner and we have to clean up after every meal. We also have to wash clothes and work the field. Many husbands are not around and don't come home till late at night. Some work the fields but some don't do anything at all."

Adama* is from a different village.

Adama (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Adama (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
She saw her husband playing football at a local match. She met his sister and became friends with her. She says she quickly "fell in love" with her husband and asked her parents for permission to drop out of school and get married. Adama says that her and her parents knew that marriage at this age was illegal but that she convinced them that it was not against their local customs so they soon allowed the marriage to go ahead.

However, she now deeply regrets leaving school and misses it very much. She wishes she could go back but says it is very hard when you are married. Her husband often leaves her to travel to the capital Dakar for work, which is more than 12 hours drive away. Sometimes he is away for months at a time and Adama** then really misses her family and wishes she could speak to them and see them.

Adama said: "I met my husband when I was 13. I saw him playing football at a village near my home. I made friends with his sister who introduced us. He was from another village but I fell in love and I wanted to get married. I asked my parents to let me get married. I know it is illegal to get married so young but I was in love. My parents did not want to let me but in the end they accepted it because it is allowed by our customs.

"When I got married I dropped out of school and I had to move to my husband's village. I now really miss school and want to go back but it is impossible when you are married. I realise how important school is and wish I had continued, but it is too late for me.

"My husband is away for long periods of time for work. It can be hard when he is not home."

Fatima*, aged 23

Fatima was married to a man she had barely met aged just 14 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Fatima was married to a man she had barely met aged just 14 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Fatima* was married to a man she had barely met aged just 14.

She objected and told her mother she did not want to get married but her father had died and the family was having serious financial difficulties so she felt she had no choice. She now has a three-year-old daughter and is pregnant with her second child. She says she misses school and thinks it is very sad when girls have to lose out on their education and their future because they have to get married.

"I was married at 14 and it was very hard. I did not want to leave my family or my village but after my father died, things were very difficult for my mother and I she felt she had no choice.

"When my mother told me I was to be married, I had to drop out of school. I was really sad and scared. I had to move to a new village where I did not know anyone. I think it is very bad when girls have to do this and I think we have to stop this from happening and help girls to stay in school.

"My husband is older than me and he wants many children. I have one child and I am pregnant with another."

Ndiaye* (left) aged 12 and Fatoumata* (right) aged 14

Ndiaye (left) aged 12 and Fatoumata (right) aged 14 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Ndiaye (left) aged 12 and Fatoumata (right) aged 14 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Niaye* is 12 and she is still in school. She wants to keep studying and doesn't want to get married. For now her parents have not asked her and she hopes that it will stay this way.

Fatoumata* is 14. Last year, her parents told her she was going to be married. They did not consult her beforehand or ask her opinion. She was very upset when she found out and says she cried a lot. In the end, however, her parents relented and agreed that she should stay in school. They said they came to understand that getting married young was bad for girls and their health. Fatoumata** is now still in school and hopes to be a teacher.

"When my mother told me I was going to be married, I felt very angry and upset. I was crying a lot but my parents did not care. They did not ask me what I wanted. I had no idea that they were planning for me to get married. When they told me, I kept telling them, I am too young, I am too young, and I want to stay in school but they felt it was the right time for me.

"It took a while, maybe a few weeks, for me to persuade them that I should not get married and that it was too soon. I told them that I wanted to finish school and be a teacher. I still want a family but not yet. I plan to get married when I am 18 or maybe older -- getting married young is bad for your health and your development. A lot of girls understand this and more older people are starting to understand too."

Hawa* now aged 25 was forced to marry her husband when she was 14.

Hawa now aged 25 was forced to marry her husband when she was 14 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Hawa now aged 25 was forced to marry her husband when she was 14 (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Her father had died and her mother had a large family to take care of so Hawa was forced to drop out of school and move to another village to marry a man she had never met. She had her first child when she was 18 and now has four children -- two boys and two girls. She doesn't want any more children but says that women feel pressured to have large families by their husbands.

She is a vocal local advocate against child marriage in her village in Senegal and she strongly believes girls need to stay in school and not get married young.

Hawa says women need an education to feel respected in their relationships and that the only way a girl will stay in school is if she is not married young. Hawa says that she will not let her daughter marry before she is at least 18 or 20 years old.

Hawa said: "The elders came into my father's place and said I had been given away for marriage. I said I didn't want to. My mother had just died and I was packing my bags to go to her funeral. On the way there my older brother caught me and forced me to return home, beating me and saying that they had given their word for my marriage and I had to respect that and the all my sisters had done the same."

"At the moment I have four children, two girls and two boys. I don't intend to have other children, because I already have four. I'm concerned about educating my children, encouraging them to develop and be educated. My opinion on this differs to my husband who gets the final say.

"His objective is to have many children, the wellbeing and education of the children rests on me alone, they come to me for everything. He does nothing. Sometimes he does not even see them all day. I don't have a solution, when I say I want to stop having children he makes crazy accusations."

From left to right - Diamila (38), Mariama (42), Hamdila (23), Daba (23), Fatima (23) (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
From left to right - Diamila (38), Mariama (42), Hamdila (23), Daba (23), Fatima (23) (Delphine Diallo - Save the Children)
Diamila*, Mariama*, Hamdila*, Daba*, Fatima* - were all married as children. Some were just 13 years old when they were married and all were forced out of school as a result. They all regret having to leave school and believe child marriage is wrong and should be stopped. Diamila** is now a member of the child protection committee that helps to stop child marriage in the village but all women think much more work needs to be done to keep girls safe.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Full report on child marriage available for download HERE:

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