Every year, approximately 14 million girls are married before they turn 18, across countries, cultures and religions. It is estimated that 1 girl in 3 is married before the age of 18 in developing countries; in some countries the rate is as high as 50-75%. Some child brides are as young as 8 or 9 years old. It happens for a numbers of reasons:
- Poverty: the marriage of a daughter can mean one less mouth to feed. For families with sons, a new bride can often mean a welcome dowry or “bride price” in some cultures.
- Tradition: as with many cultural norms, straying from the tradition of child marriage can mean exclusion from the community.
- Gender roles: women simply aren’t valued as much as men and are seen as a burden in many cultures.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights that has deep negative impact on girls and cultures alike. Child brides are more likely to drop of out of school and to be and remain poor. Their health and the health of their children is affected: girls who give birth before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their 20′s, and their children are less likely to live beyond their 1st birthday. Child brides are at increased risk of sexual assault, as well as HIV/AIDS and other STDs, as they have less power and knowledge to abstain from sex or use safe sex practices.
PMC has used its entertainment-education method to affect positive change in attitudes towards child marriage in programs in Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Niger. The programs provide the
audience with a range of characters that they can engage with — some good, some not so good — and follow as they evolve and change. Characters may begin the series exhibiting the antithesis of the values being taught, but through interaction with other characters and twists and turns in the plot, come to see the value of the program’s underlying message.
In Ethiopia, surveyed listeners to PMC’s program gave an ideal age of marriage for women more than 2 years higher than those surveyed that did not listen to the show. In Niger, PMC program listeners were, on average, 13% more likely to favor girls waiting until age 20 to be married. A more detailed fact sheet outlining PMC’s work on the child marriage issue can be accessed here.
Child Trafficking and Exploitative Child Labor
Each year it is estimated that over 2 million children worldwide are taken from their homes by individuals seeking to exploit their labor. Children are commonly targeted for exploitative labor, because they are more easily forced to work for little or no pay and are less likely to demand higher wages or better working conditions. Extreme poverty, sometimes combined with the death of one or both parents, makes children highly vulnerable to false promises of education, vocational training, paid work or other opportunities. PMC’s programs address the issue of child trafficking by informing parents and community members about the practice and preventive measures they can take to ensure the health and safety of their children. Because PMC realizes the importance of addressing issues at the root cause, PMC programs address issues of child trafficking, exploitation, children’s rights and the link between these problems and poverty-inducing factors, such as unplanned parenthood and HIV/AIDS. Read more on PMC’s program in Niger – Kokari’s story.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that, in 2006, there were 218 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 that were working. 126 million of these children, or 1 in every 12 of the world’s 5-17 year olds, are estimated to work in the worst forms of child labor.
After children are recruited, trafficked children usually travel long distances to work long hours in homes, markets, brothels, fields or factories without adequate food or shelter. Many children undergo extreme physical, sexual and mental abuse. Whether working specifically as sex workers or in other forms of work, these children may be especially vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Even if they are lucky enough to escape, many have been victims of scarring physical and psychological violence and may then find themselves living on the streets and forced into begging or sex work to survive.
For girls in particular, the commercial sex trade is a very real and dangerous threat. The UN estimates that approximately 1 million girls are forced into the commercial sex industry each year. This is occuring in almost every country, including the United States. These girls are sold by their families for money, tricked into going with the promise of a job or marriage, or kidnapped and forcefully taken away. They are taken to brothels where they are raped and abused into submission and then are forced to have sex with as many as 30 men each day, usually without any type of protection. According to UNICEF statistics, the sex trafficking industry exploits children alone to the tune of $10 billion a year. Girls working in brothels are at an extreme risk of pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Beyond the physical consequences, these girls suffer immense psychological harm. Even if they are able to escape, girls are often not accepted back into their communities and are forced to live a life of poverty, disease, shame and isolation.
Children and Substance Abuse
PMC’s programs also target substance abuse by children and young adults. Parental death resulting from AIDS, poverty, unemployment, overcrowding in the home, abuse or neglect can force many children to the streets in the hope of a better life. Once there, they are faced with issues of day-to-day survival. To cope, many street children turn to drugs, sniffing glue and other inhalants, to deal with the constant hunger, pain and violence. While other drugs are common, glue is often preferred because it is cheap and its effects are long-lasting. Read more on PMC’s program in Jamaica.
One way to combat all of these problems is with education. Unfortunately, for many children, school is not an option. Education can be very expensive, and many parents feel that what their children will learn in school is irrelevant to the realities of their everyday lives and futures. In many cases, schools are far away and would take a child away for the entire day, robbing the family of his/her labor around the home. Girls, in particular, are often not put in school or are the first to be pulled out if needed, as their education is not considered to be of as much value as a male’s. In most developing countries, a woman makes far less than a man with the same education, so there is more economic benefit in paying to educate a boy. As a result, 62 million school-age girls are not enrolled worldwide. By working to educate the youth, we have the power to build awareness in the next generation and move toward a new future. PMC’s programs emphasize the importance of educating girls, which will improve their opportunities in the future and also has a direct effect in delaying the age of marriage and childbearing.