Paige Munger is Assistant for Public Policy and Advocacy at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
UNICEF marked October 11, 2012, as the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child, established last year by the United Nations General Assembly to draw international attention to girlsâ€™ rights. This first commemoration focused on the prevention of a fundamental human rights violation that affects every aspect of a girlâ€™s life: child marriage.
In India, Child Protection Committees provide a safe environment in which people can talk about issues without the fear of backlash or being stigmatizedâ€”and can act as agents of change.
Child marriage has lasting negative impacts on girls.Â The practice denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk of violence and abuse, and jeopardizes her health. Child marriage often leads to child pregnancy, which threatens not only the health, development and potential of the young mother, but also that of her child, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
While there has been progress in decreasing child marriage over the past few decades, UNICEF says that one in three women aged 20-24 worldwide were married before they reached age 18â€”and a third of those women were married before age 15.
UNICEF has long been committed to the elimination of child marriage.Â As one of the lead agencies for the International Day of the Girl Child, UNICEF works around the world to build a movement so that ZERO children face the prospect of child marriage.Â That means passing laws against child marriage; it means helping parents understand the negative impacts that child marriage has on their children; it means keeping girls in school; and it means helping girls already married.
The U.S. Government supports programs that help decrease child marriage.Â However, the United States can do better. In the U.S. Congress, legislation called the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act would require the U.S. Government to recognize child marriage as a human rights abuse, and to specify a strategy to prevent child marriage through existing US development programs.
You can help the United States strengthen its leadership in ending this harmful traditional practice that harms girls and perpetuates poverty. Please take the time to let your Member of Congress know where you stand on child marriage!