Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A "Breakthrough" Approach to Early Marriage in India

March 15, 2013

Breakthrough is a unique global human rights organization that creates cutting-edge pop culture and innovative education to inspire new generations of leaders to act for change. We work out of centers in India and the U.S. — the world’s largest democracies — to end violence against women and promote human rights. 

“Early marriage” is the legal or customary marriage of a child under 18. It is a profound human rights violation. And with 10 million girls a year — that’s 25,000 a day -- married with little or no say in the matter, often to much older men, it is a profound human rights crisis. For these 10 million girls, early marriage means that when it comes to human rights violations, they are getting a devastatingly early start.

Indeed, according to formative research conducted for global human rights organization Breakthrough by PRAXIS, early marriage is “the beginning of a series of human rights violations and deprivations that continue to affect the child throughout her life.” That’s why we cannot act too soon. And that’s why Breakthrough will soon launch a pilot campaign designed to reduce early marriage.

How? By using media campaigns, community mobilization and leadership development to target the norms that support early marriage, and the stakeholders with the power to challenge these norms.  

What is the scope of the problem?

Globally, some girls are married before the age of 8 or 9. In the least developed countries, nearly half of all girls will marry before age 15. And in India, 47 percent of women are married by age 18.

What is the impact of early marriage, given these startling statistics?

In many cases, early marriage is not only entrenched as a social norm, but also considered a means of economic survival or of keeping a daughter “safe.”  But that “safety” means:

  • loss of education
  • premature and continuous childbearing
  • maternal mortality
  • violation of the basic human right to marry only with consent
  • domestic violence
  • increased HIV and STI rates

While both boys and girls may experience early marriage, girls are disproportionately affected, and the practice is justified by gender discrimination.

Communities and societies feel the impact, too. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed, “Where child marriage is in vogue, six of the eight millennium development goals, you can forget about.”

How does Breakthrough help?

Through a pilot campaign in three districts in India, in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, where early marriage rates are particularly high, Breakthrough aims to address early marriage in the context of our programs targeting violence and discrimination against women in all forms.

This campaign also seeks to challenge early marriage and promote the sexual and reproductive health and rights that it threatens. How?  

Through the use of media and direct communications we can highlight the impact of early marriage on the lives of girls and their families. The campaign will train young people — especially men and boys — to stand as human rights leaders and agents of change, helping create the cultural norms and conditions that can support alternatives to early marriage.

We believe that change starts there: in the homes and hearts of individuals called to action in Bihar and Jharkhand. While effective laws are essential, early marriage is widely illegal; only culture change -- driven by real people taking action -- can end it once and for all, and build a world where all girls, families, and communities live up to their full potential.

What you can do about early marriage

  • Support funding for girls' and women's rights and development: make a donation
  • Join the conversation — speak up in rejecting the practice of early marriage, whether in person or through your social networks
  • Volunteer with an organization — Breakthrough or one like it — and help build a world in which girls and their families live fully, freely, and without fear.
 
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