Help this father do the best for his daughter.


"When my parents mentioned marriage I had no idea what marriage even meant,” says Kamla, a young woman in Hazaribag, in the Indian state of Jharkhand. They married her off, she says, when she was 12 or 13.

More than half the girls in Jharkhand are married before they turn 18, making it the state with the third-highest rate of early marriage in India, which -- though the practice has been illegal there for a century -- is home to the largest number of early marriages in the world.  “Gaon mein aisa hi hota hai” – “This is how it happens in villages” – they say.

We believe we can change that. And we must.

Between 2011 and 2020, if current rates hold, more than 140 million girls will marry before age 18. That translates to 14.2 million girls annually -- or 39,000 every day. Of these, 50 million will be under the age of 15. That adds up to a serious global crisis. Early marriage is a profound violation of the human rights of girls. It also means an early, and devastating, start to a cascade of related human rights violations – threats to sexual, reproductive, and maternal health; domestic violence; denial of education, mobility, self-determination, and more -- that last a lifetime and cost girls, families, communities, and nations inestimable human capital.

Fortunately, we have attention and momentum on our side. Shocking reports of violence from Delhi to Steubenville, from South Africa to the U.S. military have brought unprecedented public attention to the global pandemic of violence against women -- along with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the shared connections, causes, and consequences of all forms of such violence, including early marriage. If we can stop early marriage, we can stop those cycles early, too.

What is the scope of the problem?

Globally, some girls are married before the age of 8 or 9. In the least developed countries, nearly half of all girls will marry before age 15. And in India, 47 percent of women are married by age 18.

What is the impact of early marriage?

In many cases, early marriage is not only entrenched as a social norm, but also considered a means of economic survival or of keeping a daughter “safe.”  But that “safety” actually means:

  • loss of education
  • premature and continuous childbearing
  • maternal mortality
  • domestic violence
  • increased HIV and STI rates

While both boys and girls may experience early marriage, girls are disproportionately affected, and the practice is aggravated to due gender discrimination.

Communities and societies feel the impact, too. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed, “Where child marriage is in vogue, six of the eight millennium development goals, you can forget about.”

What does Breakthrough do to challenge early marriage?

Through our pilot campaign in three districts in India, in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, where early marriage rates are particularly high, Breakthrough will build youth, individual, family, and community support for ending early marriage -- and for the rights, lives, and futures of girls and women.

How? Through national mass media, street theater,  community engagement, youth leadership training, and more, we can raise awareness of the consequences of early marriage and build cultural support for ending the practice.  The campaign will train young people — especially men and boys — to stand as human rights leaders and agents of change, helping create the cultural norms and conditions that can support alternatives to early marriage. Our key strategies:

  • Target men and boys as leaders of change. Fathers and male elders make the decisions around early marriage. And the damage done by early marriage, while felt most directly and acutely by girls and women, ripples through families, communities, and beyond. We must train men, especially young men, to be leaders in challenging early marriage and for change that supports human rights and well-being for all.
  • Focus on gender and sexuality. Interventions must include but go beyond increasing girls’ access to schools and skills. They must position girls and young women as full human beings with intrinsic value and inalienable human rights. An approach that includes and addresses gender and sexuality stands to challenge norms, break taboos, and pinpoint the deepest roots of this practice, creating an environment for deep, sustainable change.
  • Call the problem "early marriage" (not "child marriage")  in order to address and emphasize the full range and personhood of the young people affected by it.

We believe that change starts in the homes and hearts of individuals called to action in Bihar and Jharkhand. While effective laws are essential, early marriage is illegal in India. Only culture change -- driven by real people taking action -- can end it once and for all, and build a world where all girls, families, and communities live up to their full potential.

What can you do about early marriage

·   Support funding for girls' and women's rights and development: make a donation.
·   Join the conversation — speak up in rejecting the practice of early marriage, whether in person or through your social networks.
·   Volunteer with an organization — Breakthrough or one like it — and help build a world in which all girls, boys, and families live fully, freely, and without fear.

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