By Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu
Dhaki is from the southern region of Ethiopia. At age 13, instead of going to school, Dhaki was marrried and tended cattle for her family. Her husband, 11 years older than she, regularly forced himself on her. Her nightly cries were ignored by her neighbors, and she was shunned by her community for not respecting the wishes of her husband.
Sadly, millions of girls worldwide have little or no choice about when and whom they marry. One in three girls in the developing world is married before she is 18 - one in seven before she is 15. The reasons for child marriage vary: Custom, poverty and lack of education all play a part. Boys are married young, too, but a far greater number of girls are affected and it has a much more devastating impact on their lives.
Because they are young, child brides are relatively powerless in their families and often lack access to health information. This makes them more vulnerable to serious injury and death in childbirth - the leading cause of death in girls in the developing world ages 15 to 19. Child brides are also more likely to experience domestic violence and to live in poverty than women who marry later.
Child marriage is just one factor in the lives of many girls and women, but it affects not just their health, education and employment options but also the welfare of their communities. We know that empowering girls is one of the most effective ways to improve the health and prosperity of societies. Child marriage perpetuates poverty by keeping girls, their children and their communities poor.
To realize change, we first need to provide greater options for girls by investing in them and supporting their families. Changing national laws is not enough. Most countries with high rates of child marriage have outlawed it. Lasting change requires local leaders and communities to agree that child marriage is harmful and make a collective decision to end the practice.
Read the rest of this article at the Washington Post.