April 10th, 2014
10:49 AM ET

Drive to end child marriage stalls, but fightback begins

By Gordon Brown, U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education

Editor's note: Gordon Brown is a United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education. He was formerly the UK's prime minister.

It is a descent into barbarism. This month’s plan by Iraqi parliamentarians to legalize girl marriage at nine follows the Pakistan Islamic Council’s demand last month that Pakistan abolish all legal restrictions on child marriage, the revelation that Syrian refugee girls are being sold into marriage against their will and the increased pressure in many African countries to ease the restrictions on selling child brides.

As one who has believed that worldwide disgust at child marriage would end it within our generation, I now find that progress has stalled. In the last few months Mauritania, at the center of allegations of girls’ genital mutilation to make possible the early marriage of eight and nine year olds, has resisted pressure to enforce a legal minimum age for marriage.

Attempts in Yemen to do so have also failed. Even Nigeria has been considering reducing the age of marriage.

In India, the rape of girls has brought millions on to the streets in protest and it has now been exposed as the country with 40% of the world's child brides.

The U.N. says one in nine girls is a bride by the age of 15 and that by 2020 142 million - or one in three girls in developing countries - will be married before they are 18. For example, in Afghanistan 60% are married before they turn 16 and in Niger 74% of girls are married by the age of 18.

Fortunately, the reluctance of governments to end abuses is being met with an even stronger movement from girls themselves.

Their anger is now kicking off a global civil rights struggle to rescue children from exploitation and guarantee them their right to education.

Alongside the Iraqi women’s network, who declared last month's International Women's Day an Iraqi day of mourning, are Nepal’s Common Forum for Kamlari Freedom, the Ugandan Child Protection clubs, the Ghanaian Upper Manya Krobo Rights of the Child Club and Indonesia's Grobogan Child Empowerment Group.

These civil rights movements may not yet be household names but they are borrowing the tactics of the U.S. civil rights movement in defying parents and authorities who try to marry 8, 9 and 10-year-old children off against their will.

Child-marriage-free zones, where girls club together to refuse to be married off, often defying their families' wishes, are springing up in the Indian subcontinent. The first has been formed in Pakistan. In Bangladesh there are now several zones and they are soon to be started in countries like Malawi.

Many of them are linked to the growing global movement, Girls not Brides.

One secure way to prevent child marriage, child labor, child trafficking and discrimination against girls is to ensure we deliver the right of every child to be at school.

On April 10 in Washington, a worldwide emergency coalition for education will be launched. It will show that the answer to ending child marriage is to uphold the right of all children to be free of exploitation and involved in education.

A girl with some education is not only unlikely to be married at 8, 9 or 10 but is also six times less likely to be married by 18.

The coalition will call for four zeroes:
1. zero child marriage
2. zero child labour
3. zero discrimination against girls
4. zero exclusion from education.

It represents the world’s last chance to meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal target which after huge initial progress –- getting 40 million children to school –- has stalled.

Now 57 million of the most marginalized children, the boy laborer, the trafficked youngster, the nine-year-old bride and the street kid, do not have anyone to make sure they get into a classroom and are learning.

But the violations of children’s rights can best be ended by ensuring universal education. It is education that unlocks not only the educational potential of a child but progress in health, employment, opportunity and higher standards of living.

Topics: Uncategorized

soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. guest2014

    cut off ALL aid to such countries!

    April 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • DickPerry

      And that will ensure that they evolve?? LOL..

      April 12, 2014 at 9:00 am | Reply
  2. billinanza

    Yeah, well, lotsa luck.

    April 10, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  3. Pharaoh

    This is allowed in Islam. Look at this correct hadith.

    The Prophet (ﷺ) wrote the (marriage contract) with `Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).

    Sahih al-Bukhari 5158

    They consider their prophet to be a role-model, this is why they marry little girls.

    April 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Reply
    • DickPerry

      Get over it Islamophob.Its an educational problem and not a religious. If it was a religious problem where in the bible does it say that priest should abuse children as they have?

      April 12, 2014 at 9:02 am | Reply
      • Ramos

        Even if it isn't a religious issue but a cultural issue, many of the countries with problems like this, have Islam as a very dominant religion if not THE religion as a strong presence of Islam usually outlaws other religions. And Pharaoh's quote and info is correct and the pedophile rolemodel, that prophet is, is not helping this issue either.

        Your'e partially right, that Islam does not cover all of these child marriages as countries with a variety of religions have these issues which mostly stems from old times as a guard against the average life expectancy being 29 yrs of age. The problem is that some of the countries that aren't Islamic, points towards Islamic countries to justify these child marriages themselves and some even convert to Islam, just to be protected by the religious unity to keep doing this. It IS a massive issue that such a huge authority and power such as Islam in general, approves of these super-early marriages. Under control they can be okay if not consumated till the girl comes of age at 16/18 but more often than not they are NOT controlled and is a front for child slave sales and subsequent rapes.

        The issue of cause being that modern medicine and eradicating of many mass killer diseases have solved most of this problem, meaning girls should no longer be treated as baby factories.

        April 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm |
      • M

        There is absolutely no doubt that not a single Islamic country will outlaw marriages with girls of nine years age. You need to understand the psyche of people of such countries to know why this is so. For them any questioning of Prophet Mohammed's conduct amounts to declaring war on the entire people. First and foremost the rest of the world needs to do some plainspeak on this and state that they have nothing against the people of such countries but will not respect or accept exploitative actions against children even if they are done by those held in utmost reverence. The reverence needs to be given up in favour of humanity. .

        April 24, 2014 at 6:54 am |
      • PhùngVanVu


        August 29, 2014 at 11:11 pm |
    • Karahsi

      Religion in general "allows" a lot of truly asinine things. It's time to put away the old books and start using our minds.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:14 am | Reply
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  5. John Geheran

    Any laws that would prevent or inhibit child marriages in Islam would be a non-starter. Such laws would be in direct conflict of Islamic sacred texts, ahadith, Shari'a law, et al, and run the risk of exposing a deeply flawed belief system.

    April 11, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Reply
    • guest2014

      "a deeply flawed belief system"...
      if we would have seen the german nazis in such a way, they would rule the world now with their barbarism.
      islam is no better and could not reach the same goal because it was stopped forcibly. the siege of vienna as a historic turning point then.

      this "flawed belief system" must be rooted out, period.

      April 11, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Reply
      • K Williams

        I do believe that this is something that they all need to work on. Children should not have to be forced into marriage at the age of 9. Children around this age should be going to school and getting an education instead of being sold into marriage.

        May 6, 2014 at 12:41 pm |
  6. Edson

    That's their culture, like it or not. The cultures change as time goes by. One day this won't happen anymore. Worse than this is the fact of many pedophiles who rape young girls by planning every little detail, many of them do that in their own families and are not punished by human law, these have no culture, they just do it because they're cruel.

    April 12, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  7. John Geheran

    As long as Muslims revere Mohammud as the "Perfect,Man" there is virtually no hope that the numerous draconian practices such as child marriage, slavery, stoning, et al, will ever be banned.

    April 12, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Reply
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    All We need to take some serious steps to stop this cruelty against child.Childs are strength of a nation and if a nation suffer through such inhumanity then development and growth of such nation could be in danger.

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