Many little girls dream of being a beautiful bride with a fancy white dress, colorful flowers, and dancing the night away with the love of her life. These little girls might even have a pretend wedding, complete with a dandelion bouquet and mommy’s high heels and talks of happily ever after. What these girls do not dream of is actually being married at such a young age. Unfortunately, that is the reality that some young girls live.

A recent article titled “What Life is Like When a Girl Marries at 11” discusses the issue of child marriage, specifically in Malawi. In Malawi, Memory Banda has worked to raise the legal age for marriage. Memory is a child herself – only 19 years old, but works diligently to end the practice of child marriage in her country. Memory felt she needed to do something when her younger sister was sent to a camp meant to prepare her for marriage. At this camp, young girls are forced to have sex as part of their training for married life. As a result, Memory’s sister became pregnant. Due to her pregnancy, Memory’s young sister was forced to marry him, and had two more children before she was 18.

For many of us, this scenario is difficult to imagine. Eleven-year-old girls should go to camp to learn about sports, arts, or other things they’re passionate about. They should not be sent to marriage preparation camps to be raped and subjected to the possibility of unwanted pregnancy and a forced marriage. Young girls in this situation, such as Memory’s sister, end their childhood early. For many, this means an end to education, which further harms them. A child bride with children of her own and little to no education often has no way to escape an unwanted marriage because she feels that she lacks the skills needed to provide for herself. Memory’s sister did divorce, and with Memory’s help has gone back to school. Progress is slowly being made. In Malawi, the legal age for marriage has raised from 15 to 18 and there are penalties for marrying a girl under the age of 21.

According to UNICEF, more than 700 million women who are alive today married as children. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and drop out of school. Those who become pregnant are more likely to die of complications. Globally, the average age for marriage is rising, but in some communities child marriage is still all too common. The First International Day of the Girl Child, organized in 2012, had the theme of child marriage. UNICEF was involved in this event to raise awareness of the issue and advocate for changes. UNICEF continues to collect data on this topic.

Memory’s sister, and millions of little girls like her, were robbed of their childhoods. Instead of spending their days in school and playing with friends, child brides are thrown into adulthood at a vulnerable age. As a high school teacher, I cannot imagine the heartbreak I would feel if a teenage girl was torn from my history classroom, never to return for her diploma, because of child marriage. Girls deserve education, a chance to be a child, and the right to choose to marry when they are ready.

-Hillary Rose
Museum Education Advisor
Girl Museum Inc.

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