Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Whether it is achieving goals, studying hard or dreaming big, every child needs a childhood.

At ChildFund we believe all children should grow up feeling cared for, encouraged and valued, no matter where they live.

Every child should explore, learn and thrive, and be able to return each night to a safe and nurturing home.

Unfortunately, many children around the world grow up in an environment of fear, unable to have the childhood they need.

Many girls grow up fearing their childhood will be cut short because they are forced to marry before they are ready.

Despite laws to prevent child marriage and an overall decline in the number of children getting married, the practice is still common.

Globally, around 21% of young women were married before their 18th birthday and another 150 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030 unless progress is made.

How early marriage affects children

When a girl gets married, her childhood ends.

She is expected to become a woman and a wife, and will usually have to abandon her education.

Arube Nalwimba, who is a headmistress in rural Zambia, a country that has some of the world’s highest rates of child marriage, says girls who marry early often have to look after their husband’s entire family.

“In the rural area, when a child gets married, this child is young, and this girl is regarded as a wife in terms of all the work she has to do,” she says.

“Even though she is only 14 or 15 she has to do all the chores.

“In our culture, she has to draw water, feed the rest of the family, cook from a very big pot, and she’s a very small girl. She has to draw water for all the people there. She won’t like it.”

Forcing girls to abandon their education can limit her potential and impact future generations. According to the World Bank, women who marry as children earn 9 per cent less than they would if they married later.

For families already living in poverty, this can create a cycle that is almost impossible to break without intervention.

How to end child marriage

Ending child marriage requires work at every level of society.

ChildFund works with national and local lawmakers to ensure laws are in place to protect children from violence and exploitation.

Laws alone do not stop child marriage, ChildFund Zambia child protection specialist Katongo Mwansa says.

“In Zambia the legal age for marriage is 21 (or 18 with parental consent), but the law is not followed in many rural communities,” he says.

“The moment a girl reaches puberty, she becomes a woman in the eyes of the community. Marriage and motherhood is the next obvious step.

“We’re working with communities to change harmful attitudes and make sure all children are protected by the legal framework.”

ChildFund works closely with local communities to empower children, educate local officials and build stronger child protection networks.

In many communities ChildFund holds workshops where children learn about their rights and what to do if they are threatened.

We also work closely with parents and caregivers to help them understand the risks of harmful practices such as child marriage.

Alongside this important community education work, we also help vulnerable families earn additional income so they are able to keep their children in school.

Sonam, a 17-year-old girl from India, who stood up against being married off early, is an advocate for ending child marriages in her community. She says parents are the key to ending the practice.

“If convinced properly, parents will support their daughters’ wishes to study instead of getting them married at an early age,” says Sonam.

How you can help

You can help end child marriage by supporting ChildFund’s appeal to protect children from violence and exploitation.

Your donation will help ChildFund work directly with local communities so that children are cared for, encouraged and valued, no matter where they live.

Every year millions of girls around the world become mothers and wives before they are ready.

Globally, around 21% of young women were married before their 18th birthday, which means that 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children.

On this Mother’s Day, Mavis from Zambia shares the story of how she was married at 13, and what can be done to protect other girls – including her daughters – from early marriage.

Child Marriage: a global problem

This is a story about too many young girls worldwide.

It’s a story that happens out of order — one that shatters a girl’s dreams, her body, her view of herself.

This time, it’s about Mavis, who lives in Zambia, where the rate of child marriage is among the highest in the world: 42 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 have married before the age of 18.

Mavis, 29, was married and had her first child at age 13. She now has five children. Two of them are sponsored, and all of them participate in ChildFund's programs. Mavis freely shares her story to prevent children from repeating her difficult experience.

Mavis (above) is beautiful, and full of love, and she lights up when she looks at her five children. She is 29.

The eldest of five children in her family, 10th-grader Carol is 16 and participates in ChildFund's programs in her community.

Mavis’ oldest child, Carol (above), is 16. Twenty-nine minus 16 is 13.

Mavis’ father died when she was 2. Her mother remarried soon after. Mavis’ new stepfather didn’t want her, so her mother gave her to an aunt, whose husband supported the family with odd jobs. When those dried up, Mavis had to quit school.

She was 10 and in third grade.

At 12, Mavis’ life got away from her, and she became pregnant. Choices were made for her, including marriage to the father, a 7th-grader who had to quit school to care for his new family.

Mavis didn’t die when she thought she would, at 13, as she laboured three days to give birth to Carol at home. They couldn’t afford to go to the hospital.

The second of five children in his family, Stephen is 13 and participates in ChildFund's programs in his community.

She didn’t die at 15, when Stephen (above) was born. But the chores became too much for her, and her young husband, frustrated and still a child himself, began beating her.

She blamed herself. She still does. “I was very childish,” she says. “I could not manage household chores like cooking for my husband, looking after my babies, washing clothes for my husband and my babies.”

The third of five children in her family, Faris is 11 and participates in ChildFund's programs in her community.

Around then, a ChildFund social worker visited and told them about sponsorship, livelihood training and other opportunities available to them as young parents. By the time Faris (above) was born, when Mavis was 18, life had improved.

“I behaved like a child until I had my third one,” she says. The beatings ended.

Loveness is 5. Henry is almost 2. The family lives in a small compound with various cousins and in-laws. Mavis’ husband volunteers with ChildFund’s local partner organisation.

Both Carol and Faris are sponsored through ChildFund, and all the children participate in various programs. “ChildFund encourages children to remain in school until they finish,” says Mavis.

Mavis and her family. From left: Stephen (13), Carol (16), Faris (11), Loveness (5) and Mavis (29), holding Henry, 21 months.
From left: Stephen (13), Carol (16), Faris (11), Loveness (5) and Mavis (29), holding Henry, 21 months.

As a child, Mavis had dreams. “At school, I was dreaming of becoming a teacher or doctor, because I wanted to look after my mother,” she says.

Now her dreams are for her children. “I want my children to be educated,” she insists. “I don’t want my children to experience what I went through. Because I don’t know many things — I don’t know how to read or write my name. I don’t want my children to earn a living by selling tomatoes, like me.”

Sixteen-year-old Carol, left, walks and talks with her mother, Mavis, 29. Says Mavis, "Carol is committed to school. She does not fool around, and I teach her about the way a young lady should conduct herself.” Carol aspires to become a teacher so she can take care of her parents.

“Carol is committed to school,” she adds. “She does not fool around, and I teach her about the way a young lady should conduct herself.”

Carol aspires to become a teacher so she can take care of her parents.

Given the occasional chance, Mavis still loves to play.

And she dreams of learning to read and write.