Ending Child Marriage is the official theme of today’s first-ever International Day of the Girl Child, a day designated by United Nations Resolution 66/170 to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.  So, today we celebrate courageous girls and advocates everywhere who are challenging harmful marriage practices and promoting social change, often at significant personal risk.

In honor of this auspicious occasion, we’re inspired to share the story of a brave group of girls who are tackling child marriage in a country where, according to UNICEF data, 74% of girls are married before the legal age of 18.  The Guardian reports that a group of Bangladeshi youth activists dubbed the “wedding busters” is campaigning against child marriage and intervening on behalf of would-be child brides:

The children are well versed in handling such scenarios; they don’t argue, but methodically list the evils of child marriage. “We can’t force them to listen to us,” said Antara Tabassum, 16, one of the leaders of the child protection group in Nilphamari’s Jaldhaka Upazila sub-district. “All we can do is show them that child marriage is a curse.” The intervention of such groups is a key reason why all 11 of Jaldhaka’s unions or local councils have been able to declare their respective localities “child marriage-free zones” – no mean feat in a country where almost one in three children is married off before turning 15.

The UN has emphatically condemned child marriage as a fundamental human rights violation that negatively impacts all aspects of a girl’s life:

Child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk to be a victim of violence and abuse, jeopardizes her health and therefore constitutes an obstacle to the achievement of nearly every Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and the development of healthy communities. Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for girls. In developing countries, 90 per cent of births to adolescents aged 15-19 are to married girls, and pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls in this age group. Preventing child marriage will protect girls’ rights and help reduce their risks of violence, early pregnancy, HIV infection, and maternal death and disability, including obstetric fistula. When girls are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, they can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families and participate in the progress of their nations.

That’s why the UN is calling upon all governments in partnership with civil society actors and the international community to take urgent action to end the harmful practice of child marriage by:

  • Enacting and enforcing appropriate legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 and raising public awareness about child marriage as a violation of girls’ human rights;
  • Improving access to good quality primary and secondary education, ensuring that gender gaps in schooling are eliminated;
  • Mobilizing girls, boys, parents, leaders, and champions to change harmful social norms, promote girls’ rights and create opportunities for them;
  • Supporting girls who are already married by providing them with options for schooling, sexual and reproductive health services, livelihoods skills, opportunity, and recourse from violence in the home; and
  • Addressing the root causes underlying child marriage, including gender discrimination, low value of girls, poverty, or religious and cultural justifications.

Check out these activities and events organized by UNFPA, UNICEF, and UN Women to mark the first International Day of the Girl.

To learn more about child marriage in the USA, check out this just-published piece by the Director of GJI’s Forced Marriage Initiative, titled Shattering the Silence Surrounding Forced and Early Marriage in the United States.