There’s a problem plaguing teenage girls around the world. 

Though it’s rarely discussed, twelve million suffer from it each year. In fact, in the first three seconds you’ve spent reading this article, another child has become a bride. 

Somaya’s Story 

Ten days before her final seventh grade exams, then-13-year old Somaya was married off to a distant relative. In an interview, she says: “I lost my childhood. I loved school and going to school. But [my in-laws] wouldn’t let me.”

Things worsened, as her husband began beating her and her in-laws encouraged and joined in on the abuse. For two years she suffered. But at age fifteen, she fortunately obtained a divorce. 

Where Is This Happening?

In short, it happens nearly everywhere—across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. 

But the countries with the highest concentration of child brides are India, Bangledesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Brazil. While Niger has the highest percentage of girls married before age nineteen (at 76%) India produces the most child brides (1.6 million a year). 

Here’s an interactive map with stats on both prevalence and burden of child brides in twenty around the world. 

Why is it Dangerous For Girls to Become Brides?

For a number of reasons. UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) cites the following acute threats to child brides’ health and well-being:

  • Higher likelihood of domestic violence 
  • Greater likelihood of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS
  • More likely to experience teen pregnancy
  • Higher risk of dying due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth
  • Significantly less likely to finish school
  • Less likely to earn money and contribute to the community

But Isn’t it a Cultural Thing?

It is in many cases. Yet, just because the practice is common, doesn’t make it legal or any less dangerous. 

Are Things Looking Up? 

For the most part, yes. 

UNICEF’s research shows us that child marriages in India have declined from 47% of the female population in 2005 to 27% in 2015. So the greater trajectory is in decline—which is a major win for Indian girls and women. 

However,  COVID has created a spike in child marriages in India. An article from NPR cites: 

“The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says coronavirus restrictions may delay 

interventions against child marriage and cause a long-lasting economic downturn that will push 

more families into poverty, which is a key driver of child marriage.”

Where’s the Hope?

The issue is slowly gaining exposure and people want to help.

Girls Not Brides is a non-profit that partners with over 1,500 civil society organizations around the globe to end child marriages in our generation. The organization and its partners:

  • Host traveling workshops that raise awareness in poorer cities and rural villages
  • Work with locals to report and stop child marriages from occurring
  • Support children who are or have been married

Through their work, they’ve seen real results. Will you partner with them in protecting millions of girls’ childhood, health, and innocence? 

*To learn more about the issue, visit Girls Not Brides website or read this spotlight from VOA News.