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Help Prevent Child Marriage

OCTOBER 2012 UPDATE: McCollum/Schrock Reintroduce Child Marriage Bill

child marriage fact sheet

Learn more about child marriage from UNICEF's Fact Sheet.

In a rare display of bipartisan action, this summer the U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 414, the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, led by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

In the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) have championed legislation to fight child marriage. These leaders recently decided to introduce a new House bill on child marriage, H.R. 6087, that mirrors S. 414 as passed by the Senate. That's important because having the House and Senate pass the same bill avoids the delay of "reconciling" different versions into legislation that both the House and Senate will accept.

Our goal is to sign up as many cosponsors for H.R. 6087 as possible. YOUR VOICE is important to help us get to ZERO child marriages! Tell your Member of Congress to cosponsor H.R. 6087!

Child Marriage

Throughout the world, marriage is celebrated as a happy event of adult life. But for children—mostly girls who have a husband imposed upon them—the event marks a premature end to their childhood.

Child marriage is a harmful traditional practice and a violation of human rights. Even so, it is a fact of life for many children. In five countries of sub-Saharan Africa and in Bangladesh, more than 60% of women were married before the age of 18. Child marriage is more common in rural settings than in urban ones, and more common in poor families than in wealthier ones. Education is critical; women with primary education are significantly less likely to be married/in union as children than those who received no education.

Child Marriage Hurts Children

Child Marriage

© UNICEF Ethiopia/Getachew

A 12-year old child signs a marriage contract. See UNICEF’s photo essay.

Child marriage often leads to separation from family and friends, lack of freedom to interact with peers and participate in community activities, and decreased opportunities for education and economic participation.

Because early marriage is usually tied to early pregnancy, girls married at a young age also face serious health risks—a girl under age 16 is five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a woman between the ages of 20 to 24. In addition, childhood pregnancy may lead to stunting for both mother and baby.

UNICEF Changing "Hearts and Minds"

UNICEF addresses this harmful traditional practice by working with governments to change and enforce laws. More importantly, UNICEF works directly with communities, including girls, to help them change their own views. By focusing on positive messages and using local leaders, UNICEF is convincing entire communities to abandon the practice of child marriage.

For example, in Niger, which has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, girls are promised for marriage as young as age nine. In rural communities, traditional chiefs exert tremendous influence over people's daily lives, and they are key to changing social customs. One of UNICEF’s partners in southern Niger's Tibiri region is Grand Chief Abdou Bala Marafa, one of the country’s most influential traditional leaders. Once Chief Marafa learned about the dangers of child marriage to girls, he agreed that it must stop. He formed the "Good Conduct Brigades," a group of specially trained men and women who travel from village to village, sharing information with residents and spreading the message about abandoning child marriage. UNICEF provided the brigades with motorcycles to ease their movement across the difficult desert terrain. This community-led approach has resulted in hundreds of communities giving up the practice of child marriage!

Congressional Action to Address Child Marriage

Though the United States supports many programs that assist children and mothers, there is no specific U.S. Government strategy or funding to focus on the problem of child marriage, or helping girls already married. The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act would strengthen and make more effective U.S.efforts to prevent child marriage. Although the Senate already passed this legislation with bipartisan support, (with your voices of support!), the House still needs to act on the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2012 (H.R. 6087), introduced by Representatives Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Aaron Schock (R-IL).

Take Action Now

WE NEED YOUR HELP TO GET TO ZERO CHILD MARRIAGES! Tell your Member of Congress that you care about preventing child marriage, and to cosponsor H.R. 6087!

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