The Ford Foundation announced today a five-year $25 million commitment to help end child marriage, a harmful practice that afflicts the lives of 10 million girls in dozens of countries around the world each year. These girls are routinely married off, often against their will, with one in seven married before age 15.
The announcement came at a State Department event to observe the first International Day of the Girl Child. Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas attended a high-level policy briefing today with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of The Elders—a group of independent leaders who founded Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage— UNFPA executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, and other leaders.
Over the past two years, Ford has worked closely with Girls Not Brides to raise awareness of the harmful and far-reaching consequences of child marriage. Today there is global acknowledgement that child marriage is unacceptable but prevalent, and that it is a root cause of many problems now drawing billions of dollars in mitigation efforts from the public and private sectors: extreme poverty, hunger, illiteracy, violence, social exclusion and lack of opportunity for young girls.
This new $25 million investment will draw on Ford’s decades of on-the-ground experience in regions throughout the world, helping key countries such as India, Nigeria, Egypt and others in Central America and Southern and West Africa move from awareness to action with concrete changes in policies and practices. It will also help to connect these and many other local efforts around the world, accelerating a global movement for change as part of the human rights and development agendas.
“Our ability to tackle the central issues affecting women and families in developing countries—from reproductive health and education to ending poverty and increasing opportunity—begins with the end of child marriage,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation. “How many of the 2 billion people living in deep poverty in the world are these girls, the women they become and their children?”
“For the first time in memory, there is the beginning of momentum, the beginning of hope, not just to make progress on this issue, but to end child marriage in a generation,” Ubiñas added. “With other foundations, the United Nations, corporations, advocacy groups and governments, we’ve moved beyond talk to the beginnings of building a movement to address child marriage head-on.”
For the inaugural Day of the Girl on October 11, UN agencies have come together to focus on child marriage, which the UN sees as a fundamental human rights violation that affects all aspects of a girl’s life.
To mark the day, UNFPA will launch a new report on child marriage. The report, “Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage” is a clarion call to decision makers to sharpen their focus on the urgent protection of girls’ human rights and end child marriage now.
A consensus among global leaders affirms that child marriage denies a girl her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk of violence and abuse and jeopardizes her health.
“I believe firmly that if we work together, as we did against apartheid, slavery and foot-binding, we can end child marriage in one generation,” Tutu often reminds influential leaders around the world.
The facts of lives shaped by the practice of child marriage are startling:
- One in three girls in the developing world is likely to be married before age 18. At the current rate, 100 million of these girls will be brides in the next decade.
- Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and girls age 15-18 are twice as likely to die.
- The children of girl brides are 60 percent more likely to die by their first birthday than children with mothers over age 19.
- Child brides usually drop out of school, and so are deprived of the education and economic opportunities that could help lift them and their families out of poverty.
“In many countries around the world, when girls get an education, access to information and reproductive health care and the tools to lead, they emerge as leaders in their communities,” said Margaret Hempel, the Ford Foundation’s director for Sexuality and Reproductive Health and Rights. “But, when girls are married off against their will, child marriage becomes a question of basic human rights. Addressing child marriage requires us to see girls as more than wives and mothers and to support their potential to lead in their families, their communities and their broader societies.”
In 2011, at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Ford helped launch the Girls Not Brides partnership under the leadership of The Elders, a group of independent leaders using their collective experience and influence for peace, justice and human rights worldwide. The group includes Tutu and former heads of state, such as Ireland’s Mary Robinson. At the time, the foundation provided an initial $3 million in funding for global efforts grounded in interventions and research in India, Nigeria, Egypt, Central America and Southern and West Africa. These efforts also include the NoVo, Nike and Summit foundations, among others.
Working with NGOs, governments, other funders and local communities, Ford’s new grants will:
Generate community-based, multi-stakeholder model practices that reduce the risk of child marriage through innovative public-private partnerships;
Support research, evaluation and testing of interventions, and new ways to engage local governments, technical experts, community advocates, religious leaders and the media;
Coordinate policy dialogues, advocacy events and other networking opportunities that will bring to scale successful community projects to county and regional levels;
Expand young adolescents’ opportunities and skillsets to access resources and rights, including the right not to marry early; and
Build political commitment to ending child marriage, in order to achieve larger-scale and sustainable programming and promote the development of official policies.
Girls and families in rural communities will be a priority focus, as this is where the practice of child marriage is more common than in cities.
This work is integral to Ford’s global mission to ensure that all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to society, and have voice in the decisions that affect them.