On Wednesday, December 1, the United States Senate unanimously passed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. The bill requires the U.S. government to develop an integrated, strategic approach to combating child marriage with the goal of eliminating this practice worldwide. The bill identifies early marriage as a human rights violation, and calls on the White House to create an action plan to combat early marriage, report on the practice as a human rights violation in the State Department Human Rights Report, and integrate prevention programs into existing U.S. development efforts.

It is estimated that more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married daily. At this rate, approximately 10 million girls each year, a striking 100 million within the next decade, will become child brides. To date, more than 60 million girls under the age of seventeen have been married worldwide. Globally, one in three girls is married before she is 18 and one in seven girls is married before she is 15. In some countries, as many as half of the girls are married before they turn 18.

When girls marry at a young age, they often leave their homes, stop attending school, and lose contact with family and friends. For most, marriage marks the beginning of their sexual life. Child brides face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience. Girls ages 15–19 are two to six times more likely to contract HIV than boys of the same age in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many girls give birth during their first year of marriage, when their bodies are not fully matured. As a result, pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19; girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Adolescents enduring a difficult labor also are at risk of obstetric fistula, a condition in which a hole develops between either the rectum or bladder and the vagina. The consequences of obstetric fistula are devastating: the baby usually dies, and women suffer from constant leakage of urine or feces or both, which results in great stigma, isolation, and abuse.

Take a look at this slide essay about child brides.

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For more information on early marriage, please visit our program area page. Also, the IYWG will soon publish a four-page brief that discusses five promising approaches for delaying marriage. Keep an eye on our Web site!