Child marriage is a gross violation of children’s rights to health, protection, and bodily integrity, and an impediment to sustainable development. It often leads to negative health impacts, truncated education, lack of access to income generation opportunities, and increased risk of intimate partner violence.
Although child marriage affects both boys and girls, girls and women suffer disproportionately from its consequences. 15 million girls are married each year. In the developing world, one in three girls is married before reaching 18 years of age and one in nine girls before 15.
Many young people are unprepared when sex is initiated, whether in or outside of marriage. If they have received SRHR information, it rarely includes the gender and human rights-based approach that is linked to safer sex. Every year 16 million adolescent girls give birth, with 90% of these pregnancies occurring within marriage. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s; whilst complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the main cause of death for girls aged 15-19 in many developing countries. Because most adolescent pregnancies in high-burden countries occur within marriage, addressing child marriage is critical to reducing maternal (and child) mortality.
Tackling child marriage and providing youth-friendly health information/CSE and services for girls and boys living in areas with high prevalence of child marriage, including in and out of school and regardless of marital or pregnancy status, are viable ways to improve SRHR.
The long-term objective is that young people are able to decide if and when to marry and pursue their SRHR in a supportive environment.
We will work towards this goal by empowering adolescents, especially girls, and building an enabling environment.
Simavi, together with Save the Children, Oxfam Novib and the Population Council, is part of the ‘More than Brides’ Alliance. Through its 5-year programme ‘Marriage: No Child’s Play’, this alliance aims to reduce child marriage and its adverse effects on young women and girls in India, Pakistan, Malawi, Niger, and Mali.
The programme seeks to change harmful cultural practices that normalise child marriage whilst providing girls with SRH knowledge and access to the services they need to make informed health decisions. Together, we will provide girls and their communities with the tools and knowledge to stop early and forced marriages and give girls a better start in life.
Simavi implements the More Than Brides Programme in India and Malawi. Simavi’s activities include (but are not limited to):
– Empowering at risk, and already married, adolescents, with life skills education (LSE), CSE and SRHR information and peer support groups – with a focus on girls.
– Providing alternatives to child marriage and mitigating the impact on married girls. We will do this by enhancing access to education opportunities and helping girls stay in school by improving school safety, preventing drop-out and removing financial barriers (e.g. through linkage to incentives programmes).
– Enhancing access to economic and income generating opportunities for girls and their families, and providing financial literacy training for girls to increase their ability and power in financial decision-making.
– Enhancing access to improved child protection systems for girls at risk of child marriage and already married girls so that preventive and response measures can be taken.
– Increasing access to quality youth-friendly SRHR services (that are available, affordable, acceptable and appropriate) for unmarried and married young people.
– Contributing to changing social norms that perpetuate the practice of child marriage. This change will be guided by formative research and promoted through raising awareness, community dialogue, facilitating social mobilisation and supporting collective action.
– Influencing legal and policy frameworks: strengthening partners and networks to conduct policy dialogue and collectively advocate policymakers for the development, adaptation and implementation of laws, policies and cross-sector action plans to reduce child marriage.
The ‘Marriage: No Child’s Play’ programme was still in inception phase in 2016. The first year was mainly about starting up a new alliance. The in-country and Northern partners had to familiarise themselves with the working methods and complexity of a programme with seven outcomes.
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