International Development Secretary Justine Greening has called for global action to stop girls being forced into marriage in a message ahead of International Women’s Day.
In a keynote speech hosted by Plan UK, Girls Not Brides and the Gender and Development Network, Ms Greening said it was time to break the silence on Early and Forced Marriage (EFM) and replicate recent work to put Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on the global agenda.
Figures on forced marriage are really scaring. One in three girls in the developing world will be married by their 18th birthday and one in nine is married by age 15, some will be as young as eight years old.
Girls who are victims of forced marriage often face immediate pressure to have children, are subjected to violence, drop out of education and are at greater risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
An estimated 220 million more girls will have been married as children by 2030.
“The first step to tackling EFM and FGM is to make sure the international community is speaking with one voice. Every year 14 million girls and women are forced to marry early or against their will. When a girl cannot decide for herself when to marry and have children, it’s not just a tragedy for her, it’s a disaster for development,” Ms Greening said. “It’s time to break the silence of early and forced marriage and recognise that it is exploitation as serious as any other form of child abuse.”
According to Tanya Barron CEO of Plan UK, early and forced marriage drives girls “into a cycle of poverty, ill health, illiteracy and powerlessness.”
The practice is most prevalent in countries where poverty is widespread and where education and health systems are poor.
“But as well as economic empowerment, early and forced marriage is first and foremost an issue of rights and gender inequality,” Ms Barron said. “It is through empowering girls, boys and community leaders to protect and advocate for girls’ rights that we will see an end to this practice.”
Lakshmi Sundaram Global Coordinator of Girls Not Brides said: “Child brides are among the world’s most voiceless and isolated people. We’re pleased to see that DFID is helping to bring attention to child marriage, a problem once overlooked on the international stage.”
Ms Sundaram said it was important to support the community-based organisations fighting early marriages by “working with parents and communities to create a better future for their daughters.”
“It is only by working in partnership over the long term that we will be able to reach all those girls who are being held back by child marriage,” Ms Sundaram added.
The Department for International Development (DFID) works directly with communities where early and forced marriage is prevalent. This includes a £10 million programme in Ethiopia which aims to delay marriage for up to 200,000 girls.