It’s easy to think of child marriage as a thing of the past – an age-old relic of female ownership that doesn’t happen very often anymore.
However, the most recent statistics about the practise make for alarming reading. An estimated 15 million girls are married off before their 18th birthday every year, which works out as approximately one girl every two seconds. So, by the time you’ve read this sentence, two girls have probably gotten married, hindering their chances of finishing their education and sentencing them to a life of being a wife and a mother.
A violation of human rights, child marriages disproportionately affect girls, which both reinforces gender equality while undermining attempts to reduce poverty, especially in developing countries.
And while governments around the world have committed to ending the practice of child marriage by 2030, one young woman in Zimbabwe is talking matters into her own hands, making it her mission to end child marriage through the empowerment of girls.
Angeline Makore was just 14 years old when she became aware that her sister’s husband intended to make her his second wife. He had been showering her with gifts and encouraging her to visit the church that he was part of, and had plans to have between four and seven wives of his own.
Adamant that she would not become one of these many wives, Angeline decided to stop visiting her sister and her husband – and in doing so, saved herself from becoming a child bride. She describes her narrow escape as a “wake up call” and, after volunteering with a number of girls’ empowerment organisations in Zimbabwe, she decided to launch her own initiative, called Spark READ.
Spark READ stands for Angeline’s ambitions to spark resilience, empowerment, activism and the development of girls and young women in Zimbabwe.
The initiative has a Community Girls Club that offers a two stage process to empower girls to end child marriage. When the girls first join, Angeline will explain what child marriage is, and how getting married early will limit their options in life. Then, she introduces an ‘eductainment’ programme that she designed to teach them the advocacy skills they need to speak out against child marriage, both for themselves and in their communities. By using interactive poems, plays and dance, the girls can learn to connect and engage with members of their community and campaign for change.
Angeline also runs a mentorship programme, offering girls the opportunity to build their confidence and leadership skills, before they themselves go on to mentor other girls and young women.
Crucially, though, Angeline also works with parents and families in her community to educate them about the dangers of child marriage. After all, many young girls are knowingly taken out of school to be wed, and people feel that they can’t “interfere”. So, to encourage her community to take more responsibility for ending the practise, she teaches anyone she can – including boys and men – about the dangers of child marriage and the other options that are available.
And the approach seems to be working – talking about her work in a statement shared with stylist.co.uk, Angeline said, “The girls that come to Spark READ are now more actively involved in engaging other young people and the leaders in their communities.
“Through their efforts they are addressing child marriage in many ways and making a real difference on the ground.”
Angeline’s work is undeniably important, and the global partnership Girls Not Brides, which campaigns to end child marriage worldwide, is keen to make more people aware of the very real dangers that can await girls who become child brides – especially today, International Day of the Girl Child.
“When a young girl becomes a bride her childhood ends,” Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director of Girls Not Brides, told stylist.co.uk.
“She’s often under immense pressure to prove her fertility, and has children early and often. The start of her life as a wife and mother is usually marked by significant violence, the end of her education and closing down of opportunities.”
Sundaram also pointed out that child marriage happens “everywhere” – even here in the UK. Karma Nirvana is a UK-based charity that supports victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage, and runs a helpline for people directly affected by early and forced marriages. The charity described the case of a 17-year-old Sudanese victim called Asma* who lives in the UK with her 39-year-old husband.
Asma had the third stage of the FGM procedure performed on her when she was just four years old and, after wedding her husband, he raped her every day for six months before cutting open her stitches himself. When Asma became pregnant, he arranged for two women to come to their house and perform the FGM procedure on her again, without painkillers and using unsterilised equipment.
Asma told the helpline that she wanted to leave her husband but was too weak to do so, and that her mother had told her it was her duty as his wife to stay with him. Tragically, the helpline did not hear from Asma again after her call.
Cases such as this shine a light on the potentially horrifying consequences if child marriage, and emphasise how urgently we need to work to end the practise.
As Sundaram told stylist.co.uk, ”It’s important that we keep talking about child marriage – with friends and family, and with our government leaders.
“And if we want to see real change in the lives of girls around the world, we need to support the amazing civil society organisations who are working tirelessly to end child marriage.”
If you want to help, head to the Girls Not Brides website here for a full list of how you can donate
*Name has been changed