Wedding photos are supposed to be happy. And, oh yeah, not have a 14-year-old bride in them.

As disturbing as forcing little girls to get married is, it's almost as appalling how little the global community is doing to stop it.

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Rachel Vogelstein (Council on Foreign Relations Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy): Every year there are 5 million girls married under the age of 15. Child marriage exists around the world. In South Asia, South-Saharan Africa, the Middle East to North Africa. It's across regions, it's across cultures, it's across religions.

Laura Laski (Chief of Sexual and Reproductive Health, United Nations Population Fund Child): Marriage is an abuse of human rights. Girls are married at an age in which they are supposed to be in school. They are supposed to be protected. And they are called to be playing roles of adults, and they are girls.

Nice Nailantei Leng'ete (anti-FGM advocate in Masai community): When I was 8 years old and my sister was 10 years old, my uncle came to our grandfather's place. And he told him "I think now these girls are big enough for circumcision". So you know, you first have to be circumcised for you to get married. We managed to escape for the first time, and then my uncle came. We were beaten and we had to tell him "Uncle, we promise that next time we are not going to run away".

Desmond Tutu (social rights activist and retired archbishop): These children went to sleep with old men, don't even know what they are going to be doing in bed. It is vicious.

Hooria Mashhour (Minister of Human Rights, Yemen): Traditionally, culturally, it is accepted. Especially in the rural areas, and also because of poverty. Poverty is the main reason for early marriage. When the family is very poor and they have many children, boys and girls, they prefer to send some of the female from the house to another family.

Isobel Coleman (Director, Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative): For the individual girl, it can be a time when her life changes dramatically. But when you magnify that across a whole county, you can see the impact that it has at a macro level. When girls are marrying below the age of 15, they are interrupting their education, too soon, they are reducing their economic potential in perpetuity, they are at much greater risk of dying, in child birth, of their infant dying in the first year of life; and are going to experience higher lifetime fertility, greater rates of poverty. And that really perpetuates a cycle of poverty for these countries.

Donald Steinberg (CEO, World Learning): Issues related to human security, issues like child marriage, are simply not soft issues. They are issues that can affect the stability of countries, they are issues that can affect the economics development of these countries. They are every bit as dangerous as wars over natural resources or wars that result from cultural differences. We, as a global community, not only have a moral interest in protecting young girls in particular. But we have own our security interests at heart.

Isobel Coleman: If you care about economic development, you care about investing in women and girls, you care about reducing maternal mortality and infant mortality. You have to look at child marriage as a driver for all of these things.

Hillary Clinton (former Secretary of State): The evidence shows us and commonsense shows us as well, that education can delay and even prevent child marriage. It can raise incomes and it can certainly improve health.

Donald Steinberg: There are a number of ways that the international community has sought in the past to address issues like child marriage, frequently, we adopt sanctions. We've also seen situations where we try to name and shame. In other situations we try to address it through general economic development approaches, through girls empowerment and girls education. And then there are other situations where you want to work with local actors. Whether those are legislators or government officials or traditional leaders. And what we've found all around the world, is that empowering those individuals within their own societies, has been by far the most affective approach.

Nice Nailantei Leng'ete: You don't just import them by telling them "this is what you need to turn in to decision makers," what we call the cultural elders. We need to enroll the young men because they are the future husbands of these girls, they're the ones who are marrying them. Everyone needs to get informed and let the decision come from them.

Laura Laski: It is not a disease, child marriage, it's a social condition. We are not talking about polio here. we are talking about a social engineering that will require many many things in place to really eradicate this. I think that it can be done within a generation.

Rachel Vogelstein: The issue of child marriage has been elevated in recent years. Both in terms of U.S. foreign policy and on the world stage. And at the country level I think we are also seeing signs of progress. So for example, take a country like Ethiopia, where you have a government that has actually committed to addressing this issue.

Nice Nailantei Leng'ete: One day, if I get a girl, I think she is really going to enjoy all the rights I didn't enjoy. She's going to go to school. Definitely, she's not going to get circumcised, she's not going to get married. Well, if she wants to get married, it's fine. If she doesn't want to get married, that's it. I can't really force her. She's going to decide for herself what she wants.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

The original video was made by the Council on Foreign Relations. Check out their Child Marriage InfoGuide Presentation for a whole lot more valuable info.

Feb 28, 2014

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