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Guest blogger: Girls Not Brides

At Girls Not Brides we are greatly looking forward to the first ever – and long overdue – International Day of the Girl Child. How did it take the international community so long to recognise that improving the lot of adolescent girls will be key to building a more healthy, peaceful and equitable world?

We are particularly pleased that the United Nations has chosen child marriage as its theme for Day of the Girl. It is an opportunity to highlight the unique challenges faced by child brides, a highly vulnerable group that is often invisible. Nearly 10 million girls marry before 18 each year, yet their plight is rarely acknowledged.

Child marriage violates girls’ right to education, as young brides are almost always forced to leave school when, or before they get married. A lack of education can lead to intergenerational cycles of poverty. Conversely, if girls stay in school they are more likely to gain the knowledge and skills to help lift them and their families out of poverty: with every extra year of primary school, the wages a girl will earn are boosted by 10-20%.

Child marriage can also have lasting or fatal health consequences, as child brides often fall pregnant before their young bodies are ready to cope with child birth. According to the WHO, a girl under 15 is 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in her 20s.

With more than 25,000 girls married every day, we must ensure that action is not limited to the 11th, but that commitments are put in place that can bring about change in the long term.

Girls Not Brides connecting changemakers to ensure change that lasts

photograph © 2012 Stephanie Sinclair / VII

Girls Not Brides was formed in 2011 by The Elders, a group of independent leaders convened by Nelson Mandela to use their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems. Child marriage has been a key focus of their work.

At times, people have been reluctant to speak out against child marriage because it is seen as intertwined with the sensitive issues of tradition and religion. Yet, despite these challenges, a large number of activists have realised the importance of working to end child marriage. The Elders saw that by forming a global partnership of organisations committed to ending the practice, they could help to bring together activists from around the world to enable them to learn from each other’s efforts to end child marriage.

While the factors that drive child marriage may be different in each country where child marriage is prevalent, and activists may face different obstacles, many felt that there was to gain by organisations coming together to learn from each other and work in partnership.

Above all, The Elders helped that by forming Girls Not Brides, this could help to increase the momentum for change, and ensure that world leaders started to pay attention to the key issue of child marriage.

Girls Not Brides has now grown to more than 200 non-governmental member organisations committed to ending child marriage. With a diverse membership based in over 38 countries, Girls Not Brides brings together groups ranging from grassroots organisations working directly with girls vulnerable to child marriage and trying to convince communities to end the practice, to the larger international organisations seeking to bring global attention to this neglected issue.

The diversity of Girls Not Brides has helped the Partnership grow into a community of change makers, working together to support each other by sharing information and learning about different ways to approach this sensitive issue.

Perhaps the most important part of Girls Not Brides is the unity created by bringing together so many organisations working towards the same goal. Working on child marriage, activists have long felt isolated, be this because of the difficulties in discussing taboo issues like child marriage with communities, or in getting the international community to notice these ‘invisible’ brides.

With the help of Stephanie Sinclair and her incredible photos capturing the almost secret world of child brides, more and more people have learned about the dangers and prevalence of child marriage. Through these photos, people around the world can begin to understand the suffering of child brides whose fundamental rights have been denied.

With the help of committed supporters like The Elders and Stephanie Sinclair, Girls Not Brides and its members are accelerating progress to end child marriage. But everyone has a part to play in spreading the word and raising awareness of the extent of this practice and the urgent need to address it.

Visit the Too Young To Wed Exhibition and encourage your friends to do so. Share the stories you see and you too can join the global movement. Help us shed light on the invisible, and spread the word that it’s time to end child marriage.