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It was Esther’s aunt who promised the 11-year-old to the man who would become her husband.

Until then she was a child who didn't know what marriage involved.

“I was 11 when the man proposed. I do not know the exact years of this man but I know he was older than my father,” said Esther. 

With that proposal she entered a very adult world, and suffered psychological and physical injuries as a result. 

Esther tried running away from her husband but her family forced her to return. She was threatened and had no choice but to accept. Esther was abused. 

 Cultural expectations meant she was now a wife and belonged with her husband.  

Jenneh, 11, was betrothed before she was born to the man who would – just over a decade later – come to claim her – for a dowry that was the equivalent of the price of a large meal.

Child marriage statistics

1 of 6

adolescent girls (aged 15-19)

One in six adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) is currently married or living with a man in a domestic relationship.

1 in 9

girls

One in nine girls marries before they turn 15 (UNFPA).

25%

of all women

were married before turning 18 - the legal age of marriage in many countries and the age before which marriage is considered a violation of human rights.

TOP: Esther stands alone in a village. BOTTOM LEFT: Esther looks towards a neighbourhood that for her, holds many unpleasant memories. BOTTOM RIGHT: Esther stands at the doorway of a house.

Esther’s marriage marked the start of a cycle of rape and abuse by her husband and his family, and her own, which repeatedly returned her when she ran away.

“I didn’t want to go back there,” Esther said. “But my aunty pressured me and I was forced to go back."

In Esther’s case her relations took money in the form of a dowry, and there are strong links between poverty and child marriage. The poorest girls and women in India and Dominican Republic marry on average four years earlier than the wealthiest, and in the least developed countries in the world almost half of all girls are married before reaching adulthood.

Jenneh is happy that World Vision came into her life when we did

Jenneh didn’t suffer the same fate as Esther.

Jenneh’s father had always seen his daughter as a future source of income via her dowry, but managed to listen to World Vision staff when they started talking to the community about the dangers or early marriage.

World Vision staff used education and awareness-raising programs to convince Jenneh's parents and others in the community that their daughters would benefit from delayed marriages.  

“When World Vision came back to educating us […] I was somehow convinced, though I was not totally happy. But I knew that once World Vision came on the scene that something better would happen, because if they thought it (marriage) was a good thing they wouldn’t have stopped it.”

Educating to stop child marriages and about the damage they cause is one of the ways World Vision works to stop girls becoming statistics.

send a girl to school Education is vital for a better future. Help provide education for a girl so she can finish school and then earn a living.

Education is vital in preventing early marriage

Educate a girl and change her world.

Child marriages leave girls at risk of abuse and exploitation – as Esther experienced – denies them the chance to complete their education, and results in early pregnancies and consequent difficulties.

Progress against child marriage is being made, but if the rate of progress continues at the same rate as today, the number of child brides is still expected to be 710 million in 2050. The rate of decline isn’t fast enough to counter population growth.

World Vision uses Child Forums and Community-led Child-care initiatives to protect vulnerable children in a range of situations, including those at risk of marriage. The groups are trained to keep an eye out for signs of impending early marriage – such as girls disappearing from school and taught the best ways to intervene. By engaging the families in the protection of their own children World Vision makes sure they are working with communities and changing dangerous practices through education, rather than alienating people by demanding change.

World Vision also helps local authorities improve laws and policies relating to early marriage; and educates families about the importance of treating children equally and making sure girls get to go to school as well as boys.