Child Marriage and the Race to Stop ‘I Do’
Tisha, seen in her school uniform, is fiercely opposed to child marriage. Her dream is to complete her education so that she can become a doctor.(Photo: Compassion International)

Up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of child marriage over the next decade because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To raise awareness, four teenage girls from different countries dressed in bridal finery in a staged wedding to boldly proclaim the dangers of child marriage. Learn why and how to prevent girls like them from saying, ‘I do’, too soon.

Tisha gazes blankly at the camera with kohl-lined eyes. She is veiled in silken red fabric and festooned with golden jewelry. Her lips are painted red, her young cheeks a delicate pink. Her skirt trails clumsily after her. It’s too long. It was made for an older woman.

Tisha is 14 years old, and this is a wedding shoot.

Staring down the barrel of the camera, she boldly proclaims a short phrase in Bengali.

“Stop the wedding.”

Child marriage—marriage before the age of 18, including informal unions—is a violation of children’s rights. Despite being illegal in many countries, it remains widespread. Alarmingly, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are predicted to turbo-charge the harmful practice, putting 10 million more girls at risk over the next decade.

“Child marriage creates a nightmarish legal trap for children,” says Fraidy Reiss, founder of advocacy organization Unchained at Last. “They can be entered into the marriage by parents and/or a judge, with little or no input from them.”

In Bangladesh, 15% of girls are already married by age 15, more than 50% by 18 years old. Despite appearances, Tisha is not one of them. Several of her friends are already wed, though.

“When I walk past their homes carrying books and a school bag, it hurts me to see girls my age instead washing dishes and providing service for their in-laws,” she says.

It’s why she agreed to participate in a staged wedding photoshoot for Compassion. Along with Yolane, 14, in Brazil, and 13-year-olds Lauri from the Dominican Republic and Mart in Ethiopia, she dressed in bridal finery to boldly proclaim the dangers of child marriage.

“No teenagers should get married,” says Tisha, passionately. “When someone has so much scope in life and so many things to do in the future, why sacrifice that? Marriage is not the solution to life’s problems.”

A generation of child brides

The pandemic is increasing the risk of child marriage in several ways. Education is proven to prevent early marriage, with each year of secondary school reducing a girl’s likelihood of marrying before age 18. Yet school closures triggered by Covid-19 may cause girls to drop out entirely or be less likely to re-enrol.

“Covid has created a situation where we know that millions of children will not go back to school,” says Sidney Muisyo, Chief Program Officer for Compassion International. “Every girl who gets educated delays marriage and delays bearing children. The health of the mother, the health of the children and the health of the family is impacted for years to come, simply because of an early marriage.”

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(c) The Christian Today, used with permission.

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