Let Girls Be Girls, Not Brides

(Photos by Willow Gerber/MSH)

Cross-posted with permission from LMGforHealth.org.

By Willow Gerber

Every year, an estimated 14 million girls are forcibly married before they turn 18 . . . that’s something like 39,000 girls every day! That’s the first thing I heard as I walked into the late afternoon session on child marriage presented at the Women Deliver Conference in Kuala Lumpur this week. Beyond the moral question of this issue, there are huge health and welfare implications. Low- and middle-income countries are now focusing on girl brides and child marriage because they recognize that they can’t reach their development goals otherwise. Donor countries are also interested for similar reasons; child marriage has an enormous impact on economic development and global health.

Among the panelists at this session, aptly titled “Let Girls be Girls, Not Brides,” were Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda (World YWCA), Suzanne Petroni (International Center for Research on Women), Lakshmi Sundaram (Global Coordinator for the Girls Not Brides campaign), and Sarita Prabhakar Wagh, a young woman from India who convinced her parents not to marry her off while she was still a girl. Each presented compelling research and information that was beyond belief. A study by Anita Raj, PhD, on the prevalence of child marriage and its impact on fertility in India suggests that just a 10 percent drop in child marriage could lead to a 70 percent drop in maternal mortality. In developing countries, the leading cause of death for girls 15 to 19 years old is complications from pregnancy and childbirth. This situation of “bonded labor,” as it’s sometimes described, also contributes to high morbidity rates, lower literacy rates, and harmful social norms where girls continue to be under-valued.

Young girls are fortunate when support comes from those at home. Ms. Wagh told the audience that her father said about her when she was young, “Until she is well educated, we will not even discuss marriage!” She credited her father for her own emancipation, and said he was extremely supportive.

As health professionals, many of us are aware that higher numbers of girl brides mean higher morbidity, higher maternal and child mortality, higher risk of HIV and AIDS, higher vulnerability to domestic violence, lower rates of literacy, So how can health leaders, managers, and policy-makers help, particularly if they work in one of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage (that includes Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Guinea, Mozambique, Mali, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Malawi)? They can do three things:

  1. First and foremost, they can help prevent it by letting parents know the health dangers associated with child marriage.
  2. Just as importantly, they can provide sexual and reproductive health information and contraception to the young girls (and boys) who are already married.
  3. They can also ensure that health workers get the knowledge and skills they need to understand the adverse effects of early marriage, and promote a supportive environment for child brides who enter the health system so that they are not stigmatized.

To learn more and get the facts, go to www.girlsnotbrides.org.

MSH, Girls Not Brides, and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) organized the “Let Girls Be Girls, Not Brides: Working Together to End Child Marriage” session held on Tuesday, May 28.

Join MSH at Women Deliver

MSH: Stronger Health Systems, Stronger Women & Children
Please join Management Sciences for Health (MSH) and our partners during these featured events at Women Deliver 2013.


Women Deliver and MSH Career Fair

We are proud to partner with Women Deliver to host a career fair on Wednesday, May 29. With so many individuals attending who are dedicated to working together for women, it is an opportune time to connect job seekers and job makers.

Jobs & Java – A Sunrise Conversation about Mid-Career Professional Advancement

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 7:30am – 8:30am | Room 309

  • This session will kick off the all-day Career Fair with an interactive panel discussion and networking opportunity. Tea and coffee will be served.
  • Moderated by Leslie Duvall, MSH
  • Panelists
    • Jonathan Rucks, Pathfinder International
    • Suzanne Diarra, MSH

To The Point

Join MSH President and CEO Dr. Jonathan D. Quick on “Why universal health coverage is a women’s issue” at To The Point— A series of thought-provoking, passionate talks on the conference themes and a bit more (Please note change in date from Wednesday to Thursday).

Thursday, May 30, 2013 | 11:00am – 1:00pm | Plenary Hall

  • Moderator: Michelle Goldberg, Author, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of The World
  • Speakers
    • Feminism and family planning | Poonam Muttreja, Population Foundation of India (PFI)
    • Intimate Life in A Changing Arab World | Shereen El Feki, Author
    • Why universal health coverage is a women’s issue | Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, MSH
    • Effective advocacy for universal access to contraception | Valerie DeFillipo, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) Reference Group
    • Why I perform abortions | Dr. Nozer Sheriar, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO)
    • The price of defending freedom of expression | Mona Eltahawy, Columnist
    • Women and Micro Credit | Vicki Escarra, Opportunity International
    • Save Our Midwives; Save Our World | Ibu Robin Lim, Bumi Sahat Foundation
    • Don’t just do something; simply do everything | Dr. Imane Khachani, Maternity Hospital Les Orangers, National Reference Center in Reproductive Health
    • Faith, family planning and HIV | Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha, African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA), Uganda


Task Sharing and Task Shifting: Investing in Frontline Health Workers Pays in Lives Saved

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 11:30am – 1:00pm | Room 404

  • Moderated by Leo Bryant, Marie Stopes International (MSI)
  • Panelists
    • Fabio Castaño, MSH and Frontline Health Workers Coalition
    • Laura Hoemeke, IntraHealth International and CapacityPlus
    • Mengistu Asnake, Pathfinder International
    • Jameel Zamir, International Planned Parenthood Federation South Asia Regional Office

Women Deliver as Those Who Manage, Lead, and Govern for Health

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 2:45pm – 4:15pm | Room 305

  • Moderated by James Rice, Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project, MSH
  • Panelists
    • Fauziah Rabbani, Aga Khan University, Pakistan
    • Constance Newman, IntraHealth International
    • Hon. Ruth Kavuma Nuvumetta, Member of Parliament, Uganda
    • Belkis Giorgis, LMG Project, MSH, Ethiopia

Let Girls Be Girls, Not Brides: Working Together to End Child Marriage

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 2:45pm – 4:15pm | Room 306

  • Organized by Girls Not Brides, MSH, and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
  • Moderated by Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA
  • Panelists
    • Sarita Prabhakar Wagh, India
    • Suzanne Petroni, ICRW, USA
    • Lakshmi Sundaram, Girls Not Brides (global)


Community-Based Access to Injectables (CBA 2I)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 2:45pm – 4:15pm | Room 304

  • Moderated by Victoria Graham, Office of Population and Reproductive Health, USAID
  • Panelists
    • Morrisa Malkin, FHI 360
    • Vincent Kahi, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Kenya
    • Winifred Mwebesa, Save the Children USA
    • Bocar Daff, Ministry of Health, Senegal
    • Hedayetullah Mushfiq, Scaling Up Family Planning Program, MSH, Afghanistan
    • Sein Hlaing, IRC, Myanmar

Making Maternal and Newborn Health Safer in Humanitarian Crises

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 2:45pm – 4:15pm | Room 402

  • Organized by the Inter-Agency Working Grou p (IAWG) on Reproductive Health in Crisis.
  • Moderated by Susan Dentzer, Health Affairs
  • Panelists
    • Sandra Krause, Reproductive Health Programme, Women’s Refugee Commission
    • Kristin Cooney, MSH
    • Catrin Schulte-Hillen, Médecins Sans Frontières
    • Teresita Artiaga Elegado, Family Planning Organization of the Philippines

Financing Progress: Paying for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (RMNCH)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 2:45pm – 4:15pm | Plenary Theatre

  • Moderated by Peter Berman, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health, USA
  • Panelists
    • Justine Hsu, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
    • Ravi Rannan-Eliya, Institute for Health Policy, Sri Lanka and Asia-Pacific National Health Accounts Network
    • Geir Lie, World Health Organization (WHO)
    • Dan Kraushaar, MSH
    • Henrik Axelson, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH)

Universal Health Coverage through Health Financing

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 2:45pm – 4:15pm | Room 404

  • Moderated by France Donnay, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Panelists
    • Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, MSH
    • Peter Okwero, World Bank
    • Abdus Salam Khan, WHO South-East Asia Office (WHO-SEARO)
    • Ben Bellows, Population Council
    • Nirali Chakraborty, Population Services International (PSI)
    • Alysha Beyer, African Health Markets for Equity (AHME), MSI


Women play a crucial role in ensuring the health of communities. MSH builds the capacity of women as leaders and managers, health providers, and community health workers. For over 40 years, in more than 150 countries, MSH has promoted equal access to health care for women, men, girls, and boys. Our programs empower women, sensitize men, and integrate maternal, newborn, and child health, family planning and reproductive health, and HIV & AIDS services to improve access to quality care.