Child Marriage and the Millennium Development Goals As the 2015 deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, governments and development partners are recognizing that tackling the issue of child marriage will help many countries to close the gap in progress towards the Goals.
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger Supporting girls to avoid child marriage, to stay in school, and to delay having children translates into greater opportunities for them to develop new skills and generate income, building an economic base that will help lift future generations out of poverty.
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education A girl’s life options can be abruptly diminished if she drops out of school and marries young. Their limited education reduces their chances of acquiring skills and economic opportunities. Mothers with little education are less likely to keep their own children in school, perpetuating a downward cycle of deprivation.
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women Child brides have little say in when or whom they will marry, have little influence with their husbands and in-laws, have little opportunity to develop awareness of their rights, and are in no position to claim or demand them. Their husbands tend to be older, sometimes much older. These large age gaps reinforce power differentials between girls and their husbands. Girls who marry before age 18 are more likely to experience violence within marriage than girls who marry later.19 Marriage often ends a girl’s opportunity for education, and with it the possibility of access to better-paid work and decision-making positions outside the home.
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality Stillbirths and deaths during the first week of life are 50 per cent higher among babies born to adolescent mothers than among babies born to mothers in their twenties. 20 Children of adolescent mothers are more likely to be premature and have low birth weight.
Goal 5: Improve maternal health Every year, nearly 16 million adolescent girls aged 15-19 years old give birth; about 95 per cent of these births occur in low- and middle-income countries. 21 Ninety per cent of these adolescent mothers in developing countries are married. These young, first-time mothers face much higher risks during pregnancy and childbirth than older women. Early childbearing is associated with more pregnancies at shorter intervals during a mother’s lifetime. These factors—a young age, multiple children and a short interval between births—are all linked to a higher risk of death and disability related to pregnancy or childbirth. 22 Use of contraception is lowest among the poorest women and those with no education – including the girls most vulnerable to child marriage. 23
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases Young girls are especially vulnerable to HIV because of their biology, and the heightened risk can increase with marriage, especially for child brides who marry older, more sexually-experienced husbands. 24 At the same time, girls may lack the power to negotiate safer sex and have little access to information or services to prevent either pregnancy or infection. The MDGs remain unfinished business, and preparations for a post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda are underway. Political and financial investments are urgently needed as part of national strategies for poverty reduction and social justice to end the practice of child marriage, and to make programmes for the most vulnerable girls a higher priority in the post- 2015 development agenda. Promising strategies and evidence-based approaches for girls most at risk have been developed and tested, but require more targeted investments. With the full commitment of governments, development practitioners, civil societies, communities, families and girls themselves, a world without child marriage can become a reality.