Every year, 15 million girls around the world get married before they turn 18, often without their consent—girls like Sonali and Sunita. Child marriage deprives girls of the freedom to make informed and independent choices about their lives and bodies. As a result, these girls are more likely to drop out of school, experience violence and live in poverty. Most are teenagers when they marry, sometimes against their will; to better capture this reality, people also use terms like “early marriage” and “forced marriage.”
The causes of child marriage are complex, but typically rooted in gender inequality. Because many conservative communities view women and girls solely as homemakers and caretakers, parents often believe early marriage is necessary to secure their daughters’ futures and ensure they have husbands to support them financially. In such settings, people often view girls as symbols of purity and family honor. In turn, many parents—who fear their daughters might face sexual violence or choose to have consensual sex—try to protect their honor by isolating girls at home and arranging marriages shortly after girls reach puberty.
AJWS has developed a unique, comprehensive strategy for confronting the root causes of child marriage. Toward that end, we support local and national organizations in India, a country home to one-third of the world’s child brides. This effort emerged from more than 15 years of experience funding Indian organizations working to achieve gender equality.
“If a boy is born, then it’s a celebration. And if a girl is born, it’s a burden. So how do you address that?”
Many of these groups work directly with girls and young women, creating safe spaces where girls can learn about their rights, seek support from their peers and participate in activities designed to build their confidence, from self-defense to photography. Our grantees then support girls to speak up for their rights and take a stand together, so they can confront gender discrimination in their communities. Some projects also offer education or vocational training to prepare girls for jobs—expanding girls’ opportunities and opening up new alternatives to early marriage.
We believe everyone has the right to:
- Make decisions about his or her body and future
- Get accurate information about sexual and reproductive health
- Pursue equal opportunities in society, regardless of gender