Laura Dickinson is communications officer for Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. You can follow Girls Not Brides on Twitter @GirlsNotBrides or join them on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/GirlsNotBrides

Photo Credit: Cibele Vieira, Clinton Global Initiative

“Nobody seems to talk about child brides,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Chair of The Elders. “But I cannot stay silent.”

 The plight of child brides has long been ignored by the international community, despite the sheer scale of the problem: in the next year alone, 10 million girls around the world will marry before they are 18. That’s 100 million girls within the next decade who will marry as children.

Child brides are among the world’s most voiceless and vulnerable people. Rarely do they have any choice in when or whom they marry, nor do they have a voice in their relationship with their often much older husbands. They usually drop out of school, too, which only serves to reinforce their isolation.

Hard to reach and invisible, child brides rarely benefit from aid and development programs designed to curb maternal deaths, infant mortality or the spread of HIV and AIDS – despite the fact that they are among those who could most benefit from such support. Pressured to prove their fertility, young brides often become pregnant before their bodies are physically ready for childbearing. The results can be devastating: girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.

Photo Credit: Ashenafi Tibebe,The Elders

Child brides rarely receive support and guidance on issues such as family planning and safe sexual health. They are less likely to space out their children and, unable to negotiate safe sexual practices with their husbands, they are more likely than their unmarried peers to contract HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The repercussions of early marriage are serious, even dangerous – so why has it received so little attention from leaders and policy makers?

Desmond Tutu is right: very few people talk about child brides. Not only are they invisible, talking about their plight is deemed taboo – a topic too closely related to sensitive issues of tradition and culture for leaders to address.

That’s why he and his fellow Elders, an independent group of global leaders working for peace and human rights, brought together Girls Not Brides, a partnership of  nongovernmental organizations from around the world that work to tackle child marriage at the grassroots, national and global levels.

The aim of the Partnership is to give girls a voice, to connect those who work closely with girls vulnerable to early marriage to the leaders and policy makers who have a real opportunity to implement policies that protect and empower young girls and help them avoid early marriage.

Addressing sensitive issues such as child marriage can be lonely work, and organizations have long had to act in isolation. By coming together in partnership, Girls Not Brides members find strength in unity, sharing experiences and learning from each other about the successful programs that have helped to reduce child marriage. It also enables them to raise their collective voice, increasing awareness of the solutions that help to end child marriage and calling on leaders to take action.

Girls Not Brides and its members are determined to show that there’s a growing, global movement to end child marriage and enable millions of girls to fulfill their potential. We won’t be staying silent.

Find out more about Girls Not Brides at www.GirlsNotBrides.org, follow us on Twitter @GirlsNotBrides or join us on Facebook. Watch our video, featuring Graça Machel, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu of The Elders: Traditions can change: ending child marriage