In Mid-September, Thea, a 12-year-old girl from Norway, began blogging about her upcoming marriage to a 37-year-old man named Geir.
“Why we’re getting married really I do not understand completely,” Thea wrote in one of her earliest blog posts. “But my mom was always really happy and talked about how nice the wedding will be while [Geir] was here.”
She excitedly blogged about horses and music, and seemed overjoyed at the prospect of no longer having to attend school once she is married. The bizarre and heart-breaking posts continued as the young girl began to register what her marriage might really mean.
On October 11th, a blog post titled, “The Wedding Was Stopped!” was posted, and it was revealed that the entire blog was a part of a campaign run by Plan Norway, an anti-child bride organization (and offshoot of the international group Plan International).
“Thea’s wedding blog has been part of the Plan Norwegian girl action against child marriage,” the blog read. “Although Thea’s story is not true, it is about something that affects 39,000 girls every day.
Every two seconds a girl becomes a child bride, according to PN. This is one of the most widespread and serious abuses against children. They are forced into violent and sexual relationships, unwanted pregnancy and unsafe pregnancies. They are robbed of their childhood, control over their own lives and the opportunity to get an education.”
The rationale for the campaign—which ended last week in an online vigil to #stopthewedding—was explained in greater detail on the Plan Norway site.
“We want to show how horrible the practice of child marriage is and put it in a context that is familiar and normally associated with love, happiness and hope for the future,” said Olaf Thommessen, national director of Plan Norway. “Many girls dream about their wedding day and this day is often referred to as one of the happiest days of their lives. But for 39,000 young girls who get married every day, their wedding day is the worst day of their life.”
PN’s campaign worked, generating unprecedented media attention to the issue of child brides from around the world.
“Girls forced into marriage are more likely to be poor and remain poor. All of their dreams are taken away as they become literal property of their husbands — sold to the highest bidder,” Brittany Greenquist wrote at RYOT. “When I first read the truth about Thea, I was almost offended. I thought, ‘Quit playing with my emotions, guys.’ But if Plan has proved anything, it’s this: It shouldn’t take a blonde-haired, rosy-cheeked 12-year-old to make us care about child brides.”
According to the International Center for Research on Women, one-third of all girls worldwide are married before the age of 18, and one in nine are married before they turn 15. As of 2010, there were 67 million women between the ages of 20 and 24 who had been married before their 18th birthday. Each year, more than 14 million child brides are forced to marry.
The challenges associated with child marriage are felt much more by girls brought up in poor households. Nearly half of all girls in Bangladesh, Mali, Mozambique, and Niger are forced into marriage before their 18th birthday. In these impoverished countries, more than three quarters of citizens are forced to live on less than two dollars per day.
Some of the most stunning statistics are also the most heartbreaking.
“Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s,” states the ICRW. “Pregnancy is consistently among the leading causes of death for girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide.” Additionally, girls forced to marry younger than 18 are significantly more likely to experience sexual and domestic violence than their unmarried counterparts.
While Thea’s engagement was fake, for millions of other girls, this is their reality. Violence, abuse, sexual assault, manipulation, poverty, illness, and even death resulting from child marriages is a global challenge.
While less prominent in the United States, this challenge hits closer to home than many would guess. A 2010 report by the National Center for Health Statistics found that 2.1 percent of U.S. girls between the ages of 15 and 17 were in a child marriage. When looking at girls between the ages of 15 and 19, 7.6 percent of girls found themselves in a marriage, many of which were legally recognized.
A scourge on society, it’s time to bring an end to child marriages, worldwide. They’re inherently abusive and resemble a modern day’s version of indentured servitude.
To take action, there are a host of organizations working to eradicate child marriages, from Girls Not Brides and Care.org to ICRW’s viral campaign raising awareness about child brides. You can also learn more about the issues child brides face in this moving photographic essay, “Too Young to Wed.” Then check out their “Take Action” page for more on how you can help protect young girls.
Featured images via.