A few months ago was my last meeting with the Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau. For the last meeting we decided to host a “Speakers Symposium” where a few of the members had the opportunity to give a speech on an issue affecting girls that they are passionate about. I decided to do my speech on child marriage, which is an issue I am very passionate about and want to eradicate. Below is an excerpt from my speech:
Hello, my name is Lakshmi and I am a 14-year-old girl living in an impoverished community in Delhi, India. When I was 11, I was pulled out of school because my family didn’t have enough money for me to continue my education. At 12, I was married to a man who was twice my age, and currently I am raising two children.
Although Lakshmi is not a real person, there are more than 15 million girls like her that are married under the age of 18 around the world each year. That is the equivalent of one girl every two seconds. There are more than 700 million women alive today who were married as children. If there is no reduction in child marriage, an additional 1.2 billion girls will be married by 2050. Child marriage is a global problem and a serious violation of a child’s rights. It denies girls the right to continue their education, make choices about their body and health, and essentially destroys their chance to pull themselves and their communities out of poverty.
By now you’re probably wondering, “If child marriage is so bad, why is it continuing to happen around the world?” One of the main root causes for child marriage is gender inequality as families don’t value their girls as much as their boys. Instead, they see them as a burden and child marriage is a way of handing their daughter off to the groom’s family. Child marriage is a cultural norm and traditional practice and it continues to take place due to the fact that is been happening for generations and generations. In impoverished communities, sometimes child marriage is the only option as families think that marriage will help secure their daughter’s future. Also, when girls are in a relationship and they get pregnant they are often forced by their families to get married.
Early and forced marriage can lead to a variety of physical, sexual, and mental problems. First of all, child brides typically give birth earlier than they are physically and emotionally ready, and girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy. The children of child brides have a very high mortality rate and if they do survive they are more likely to be born premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk of getting HIV/AIDS. Not to mention that premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for the mother as well. Young married girls are also at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS because they are more physically susceptible to STDs and they often don’t have the power to demand the use of contraception. Due to marrying young, child brides are often taken out of school so their probability of being illiterate and not being able to get a job are a lot higher. Without an education, girls are essentially unable to lift themselves and their families out of poverty because there are no employment opportunities, so the poverty cycle continues. Child brides are more likely to experience domestic abuse and violence and develop mental health issues than their unmarried peers.
As a 14-year-old girl living in Canada, I am currently attending high school and plan on attending university to pursue a career in law. I never have to fear for my safety, clean water and health care is a given, and I don’t plan on getting married until my late twenties. However, if it wasn’t for the happenstance of birth I could have easily been born in India. At 14 years old I could have already been married with children. My great grandmother was born in a city in the North of India, and was married at the age of 16. Although this seems incredibly young to me, at that time it was normal for girls to get married between the ages of 15 to 18. She was overwhelmed with the responsibility of managing a home and supporting a family at that age. While her marriage was a long and happy one, there are many girls who are not so fortunate.
Yes, child marriage is a daunting issue and yes, it does seem too complex for one person to solve, but there are steps that we can take here in Canada to end child marriage. The biggest thing we can do here in Canada is to empower girls by supporting girls’ education. When a girl is educated she is equipped with the skills and knowledge to get a job, support her family, and make the right decisions. For every extra year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 10 to 20%. With a form of generating income, she is able to help lift herself, her family, and her community out of poverty. The more education a girl gets the less likely she is to get married at an early age and have early pregnancies. A girl in the developing world receiving 7 years of education marries 4 years later on average and has fewer, yet healthier children. Through supporting Plan International’s Because I am a Girl initiative you are helping to give girls a chance to marry later and make a better life for themselves. Sponsoring a girl, hosting a Pink LemonAid stand, and donating to the Because I am a Girl initiative are all ways of helping girls stay in school longer to prevent child marriage. Another thing we can do is to demand that governments enforce laws saying that the legal age of marriage stays at 18 years. Child marriage is a very difficult issue to tackle but if we work together I am confident that we can make child marriage a thing of the past.
Let’s do it for all the girls like Lakshmi out there!
Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!