Across the developing world, ten million girls are married off each year before the age of eighteen, usually against their will. One in seven of those girls is younger than fifteen. In some places this problem is well known; in India, the efforts of both international and domestic rights groups have started conversations and enabled laws that try to curb this longstanding disturbing practice. But elsewhere, the tradition of child marriage holds firm. The challenges faced by a female child bride are profound: the dwindling of opportunities for education, the loss of any hope for economic independence, the threat of infant mortality—the total narrowing of the girl’s life. And while child marriage is technically illegal in much of the world, laws in many jursidictions are rarely enforced. Years go by and more girls are added to the ranks of those who forfeit their futures to live the life of a child bride.
The Ford Foundation released an interactive world map on child marriage this week that collates and threads together the research of dozens of NGOs across the world. Their project aims to make it easier for both people at home to better grasp the global challenge that child marriage presents and for disparate advocacy groups to see themselves as part of a larger movement. Although the final and long-lasting efforts must be made by national governments themselves, the Ford Foundation feels there is also a place for international groups to provide ties and support. “We believe very strongly that if you’re looking at long term change, there is absolutely a role for outside partners who may bring in certain expertise…[and] help connect groups to resources,” says Margaret Hempel, the director of the organization’s Sexuality, and Reproductive Health and Rights program, “but in the end the lasting solutions will come from the people who are most directly effected.”