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“Price tag” on girls driving millions into abusive early marriage

Press Release

Record numbers of girls are entering into abusive early marriages in poor countries, many are pushed by parents and are effectively treated as commodities, says a new report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) – the UK’s leading think-tank on development issues. 

Some 39,000 child brides marry every day – 14 million a year – often against their will with devastating consequences. Few use contraception and quickly become pregnant, enduring difficult deliveries and even dying as their bodies are not yet fully developed. Young brides often are also physically and sexually abused, with some even becoming HIV positive as they marry older, more sexually experienced, men. 

The report “Unhappily ever after: Slow and uneven progress in the fight against early marriage” is based on ODI field research from Ethiopia, Vietnam and Uganda and comes the day before foreign leaders meet in the first-ever Girl Summit in London to end early child marriage and female genital mutilation.

“Many parents, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, think it’s better for their daughters to marry young, or are put in a position where they are forced to do so. Poverty plays a role, but entrenched discriminatory social and cultural traditions are also behind this crisis,” said Caroline Harper, Head of ODI’s Social Development Programme.

In Ethiopia’s Amhara region, parents in Muslim communities prefer their daughters to marry as young adolescents in order to preserve family honour before migrating as domestic servants to the Middle East to send money home. Once there many girls face highly abusive situations: “They beat you, they starve you and they make you work 24 hours a day. Until your contract is completed you cannot go out and you are not free,” said one girl.

In Uganda, girls as young as 12 seek sugar daddy relationships with older men often due to the lack of any other opportunities and the possibility of much needed material gain for themselves and their families. They are then rejected by their communities once they become pregnant.

Among Vietnam’s Hmong community, poor families prevent their daughters from getting a secondary education, failing to see its benefits, and frowning upon them migrating and seeking factory jobs and preferring them to marry young instead.

The report calls on world leaders attending the London Girl summit on July 22nd to urgently tackle this crisis, crucially by changing the way society values its girls and holding governments to account in addressing discriminatory practices. Specifically, in addition to legislating against early marriage, they should: 

  • Legally empower adolescent girls to allow them to own assets and property as well as providing them with inheritance, family rights such as child custody, and equal divorce rights. 
  • Tackle income poverty at household level so families do not need to resort to sell their girls into marriage. 
  • Keep girls in secondary school, providing them with a quality education.

To arrange an interview, please contact Alfonso Daniels at ODI’s media team. Phone +44 (0)781 0311998, Email [email protected]