One of the greatest obstacles to global development is child marriage, a harmful traditional practice that primarily affects young girls. According to a recent report by the Population Reference Bureau, a private, nonprofit organization, "child marriage undermines nearly every Millennium Development Goal. It is an obstacle to eradicating poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, improving maternal and child health, and reducing HIV/AIDS."
Every year, 10 million girls under the age of 18 are married off, often without their consent and sometimes to much older men. Sometimes the girls are sold so the rest of the family can eat, but in most cases, the parents believe they're doing what's best for their daughter, or they simply follow local custom.
Early marriage is devastating to a girl's hope for a normal life and exposes her to greater risk. Child brides rarely have a chance to continue their education, and cannot earn money outside of the home and make economic contributions to their households. Their bodies are still developing, so they are five times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than women over the age of 20. Their health suffers, as does the health and well-being of their children.
Poverty, lack of education, illiteracy, ignorance, and interpretation of religious and cultural norms that perpetuate the low value of girls are among the root causes that enable child marriage.
Because of its far-reaching consequences, child marriage is a practice that can only be eradicated if every level of society and government is involved. But it cannot be allowed to continue, not just because child marriage frequently condemns girls to a lifetime of poor health and misery, but because no country can hope to prosper unless it takes measures to abandon this practice.
"It is very hard for a country to develop to its full potential if women are not educated and if women do not have an opportunity to participate," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "I am particularly concerned about the issue of child marriage because it does represent a very clear failure to educate and advance the rights of girls so that they become women who are able to educate their own children and provide a better future for their families."