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The UN Commission on the Status of Women is meeting this week and next in New York City, and though you might not be able to attend any of the events in person, you can still be part of the action.

The World YWCA plans to submit a petition Thursday urging the commission to adopt a special resolution to end child marriage by 2030, and your name can be on it—we hope alongside thousands of others. The timing couldn’t be better, coming only a day before International Women’s Day.

The petition essentially urges the commission to invest in educational, economic and legislative efforts that empower girls and ultimately help wipe out the practice of child marriage within one generation.

Portrait of Said, 55, and Roshan, 8, on the day of their engagement in Afghanistan. Photo © Stephanie Sinclair / VII

Sign today — the petition closes at midnight on March 6, 2013! 

It’s a lofty goal, for sure. But with 14.2 million girls a year at risk of being married off as children, it’s one worth fighting for. Globally, it’s estimated that one in three women between the ages of 20 and 24 was married before her 18th birthday—and 12 percent were wed before turning 15.

The long-term, negative consequences go far, far beyond simply cutting short the childhoods of these girls. Girls who marry young are far less likely to continue their education, hampering their futures and severely limiting their ability to contribute financially to their families and communities. That, in turn, perpetuates the cycle of poverty in many regions of the world.

Girls who marry young are likely to be subjected to physical and sexual violence from husbands many years their senior. Girls who marry young often become pregnant young, before their bodies are ready to withstand the rigors of pregnancy and delivery. That greatly increases their risk of death or injury during childbirth, as well as the risk to their own children. In fact, complications from pregnancy or childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls ages 15 to 19 in developing countries.

Focusing on the child marriage issue helps us address a number of the world’s ills all at once: poverty, disease, violence, infant and maternal mortality, and gender discrimination just to name a few. Likewise, because child marriage is at the heart of so many of society’s problems, it’ll take a concerted effort by a broad cross-section of society to deal with it.

The Commission on the Status of Women is certainly a good place to start. It’s the UN’s primary policy-making body dedicated exclusively to advancing the cause of women and gender equality. Every year, representatives from its member states meet to examine progress, identify challenges and adopt strategies associated with its stated goals. This year, the series of meetings taking place this week and next are focused largely on acts of violence against women and girls—of which child marriage is clearly one.

Fauza sits naked while waiting for new dressings to be put on her burns. Photo © Stephanie Sinclair / VII

Fauza sits naked while waiting for new dressings to be put on her burns. Self immolation is commonly thought of as a “solution” for child brides to escape their unhappy lives. Photo © Stephanie Sinclair / VII

Outside the formal workshops, a large number of nonprofits and NGOs are organizing panel discussions covering everything from the role of sports and social media in curbing violence against women to the responsibilities borne by everyone from lawmakers and judges to faith leaders and grassroots groups. Agencies like UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women are working alongside governmental networks like the Inter-Parliamentary Union and amazing organizations like The Partnership for Maternal Newborn & Child Health, Girls Not Brides and The Elders, WHO, World Vision and YWCA to tackle the problem of child marriage.

Those partnerships are key to developing strategies that end this harmful practice once and for all. Want to join in the effort? You can start by signing YWCA’s petition and adding your voice to thousands of others.

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