Action 2015 | Fighting for an end to child marriage

This winter, staff from across World Vision came together to support Action/2015, a movement committed to raising awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals. Opinion pieces and blogs have been published, child sponsors have met with MPs, and our external relations team talked to policy makers about the importance of keeping children at the heart of the new goals. This September, world leaders will meet to agree the goals at the United Nations. Ahead of the UN General Assembly, we’re blogging about the different issues that have touched us, and explaining why we’ve been working so hard towards this moment.

By Tracy Shields, Senior Child Rights Programme Adviser

I’m heading to a wedding in four weeks; it’s the wedding of my good friend Alex, who I’ve known since I was 18. We’re both in our 30s now and I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing him marry Aideen - someone he obviously loves very much. It'll be an amazing celebration, with people flying in from around the world, and it’s going to be a day to remember.

But before this wedding, I’ll be in Malawi, where most of my child protection work will be looking at the issue of child marriage. You see, Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Half of all girls there are married by the age of 18.

...to put it in perspective, think of two girls you know in your life. Two young girls, under 18, probably figuring out what they want to be when they grow up, learning about who they are, not quite ready to give up being a child but excited about being a teenager. In Malawi it’s more than likely that one of those girls is married. That’s 50%. It is a statistic that hurts my heart.

In my role, I work across many child protection issues and child marriage is one that I am faced with time and time again. It never gets easier speaking to a young woman who tells me of getting married at age 14, who wishes she'd been able to finish school, who sometimes experiences violence in her home, in her life.

Working with World Vision means that I am with an organisation that is on the frontline working to end child marriage and I am ridiculously proud of the work we do. While I’m in Malawi, part of what I’ll be doing is reviewing and understanding how our work with faith leaders has been helping to prevent and stop child marriage in communities there.

But sometimes I feel that’s not enough. I want the world to wake up and realise that if we don’t do something drastic now, each year another 15 million girls will be married as children. This September, world leaders will meet at the UN General Assembly to agree the new Sustainable Development Goals. Thanks to the continual lobbying, raising of voices, and sheer determination of child activists and organisations like World Vision, ending child marriage is going to be one of the new targets that world leaders are pledging to achieve. The draft language of the SDGs will commit to 'eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage' by 2030.

This commitment is amazing, but we still need to look at the next step; how can we measure our success? That will be the next challenge, but there is no doubt that we are on the right path. The next 15 years will build on the work and momentum that has been gathered to end this practice.

When I see the impact that the Millennium Development Goals had on issues such as access to primary education I get excited. We're witnessing a generation of communities and youth demanding change in child marriage, and a generation of governments who are willing to commit their resources to the cause.

When I am at Alex and Aideen’s wedding in four weeks time I know they are going to be surrounded by the love and happiness of family and friends. But I also know that I will be fresh from a trip where I've had to focus on a very different type of marriage.

It’s a difficult juxtaposition for me sometimes; these days when my friends announce a marriage, a new baby, or a new job, part of me will think of those I’ve met who haven’t had that same choice. I’m just so glad that the world is waking up to this reality and wants it to change. The inclusion of child marriage in the SDGs is a path for change that I am certainly looking forward to walking throughout the next 15 years.

Our sponsorship programmes around the world are committed to preventing unsafe practices so that every child can live a life free from fear. You can find more information about Action/2015 here.

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