Global Girlhood Report 2022: Girls on the frontline

Girls who live in war zones are 20% more likely to get married young.

A new report from Save the Children, released on the 10th anniversary of International Day of the Girl, says that girls who live in areas of war are 20% more likely to get married than girls who live in peaceful areas.

Because of war or violence, girls in East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia are most likely to get married when they are young. West and Central Africa have the highest rates of child marriage in the world. This is because there are a lot of wars and climate disasters there, which cause poverty and food shortages.

The research also shows that nearly 90 million girls, or one in five worldwide, live in conflict zones. This has terrible effects on their health, happiness, and future opportunities.

Nigeria has laws against child marriage, but the number of child marriages there is one of the highest in the world. Miriam, who was 16 years old, and her family had to leave their village in Borno state because armed groups were there. They now live in a camp for people who have been moved within their own country, which is terrible for them. Miriam said:

“I was forced to get married. It wasn’t my decision. I’ve been out of school for four months now. Life has not been easy for me during this time. I tried to study, but… Since then, I’ve forgotten everything I ever knew.

When people try to stop child marriage, they often try to stop it from happening, but they don’t pay much attention to the needs and experiences of married girls. Save the Children’s annual Global Girlhood Report: Girls on the Frontline includes the voices of girls who are married, widowed, or divorced. It also includes the thoughts of girls who have been forced to leave their homes because of war in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and South Sudan:

  • Between 2020 and 2021, more than 600 interviews were conducted with 139 girls in both countries to learn about their lives, such as why they got married, what it was like to be pregnant, and what life was like after they got married. 
  • Some girls said they were kidnapped and forced to get married, while others gave in to family pressure or got married because they got pregnant without planning to. 
  • Girls in both countries said they got married to help support their families during times when money was very tight. Some girls in the KRI said that they got married because they felt alone and their futures didn’t look good. 
  • All of the girls said that violence and patriarchal rules, which give men and boys power over women and girls and lead to gender inequality, made it hard for them to make choices. 
  • The report also looked at how far efforts to end child marriage have come since the first International Day of the Girl in 2012.

Even though an estimated 25 million child marriages were stopped around the world between 2008 and 2018, the world was still a long way from meeting the 2030 deadline to end child marriage. It is expected that the COVID crisis and its ongoing effects on gender inequality will cause 10 million more girls to get married by 2030. This is the first rise in global rates in more than 20 years.

The pandemic, along with the worsening climate emergency, new and ongoing conflicts, and the worst global food crisis in decades, is making it harder to stop child marriage.

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said:

“Conflict is terrible for families because it forces them to leave their homes, schools, and jobs to live in temporary camps. These camps are often small, have few services, and make it hard to make money. They also don’t offer much protection from violence. Even though war is hard on children, we know that girls are always the target of cruel acts of violence because of their gender.

“Humanitarian crises, like natural disasters, pandemics, and the ongoing global food crisis, cause many of the same problems that lead to child marriage, like more poverty and the removal of safety systems that should keep girls safe from violence.”

Because so many girls are going through multiple crises at the same time, this anniversary should be a wake-up call for governments to put girls first and make sure they are safe from child marriage and all the terrible things it does to their lives. “Girls need to have a say in decisions that affect them as a first step.”

Save the Children wants governments to do the following things to stop child marriage:

  1. Increase money and work to stop violence against girls based on their gender, such as increasing money for child protection in humanitarian crises. 
  2. Invest in programs that use evidence to help stop child marriage and make them available to more girls in more places. 

  3. Help and pay for girl-led movements to help girls find solutions to the problems they face. 
  4. Develop and fully fund national action plans to stop child marriage and other forms of violence against children based on gender.
  5. Develop research to learn more about how to stop the “four C’s” (COVID, conflict, climate change, and the rising cost of living) from making it harder to end child marriage. 
  6. Make sure they keep the promises they made to girls in their own laws and in international agreements like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Generation Equality Global Acceleration Plan.

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