Girls' rights

10.14.138:49 PM ET

The Plight Of Child Brides

Rates of child marriage exceed 25 percent in 51 countries, according to a new report.

Who can forget the story of Nujood Ali, the brave Yemeni girl whose family married her off at age eight to a much older man? Ali escaped and fought for her freedom through the courts, going on to pen the bestselling I Am Nujood, Age 10. No less a luminary than Hillary Clinton called Ali her hero.

Ali’s story is remarkable—and yet, there are 70 million girls like Nujood Ali around the world, married off as children and trapped in a life that affords them little hope of an education or the future of their choosing. It’s a problem that stretches across continents, and it’s finally getting the attention it deserves from the International Center for Research on Women and Girls Not Brides, which recently issued a joint report on “Solutions To End Child Marriage.”

According to the report, 51 countries have child marriage rates higher than 25 percent, from Niger (which tops the list at more than 70 percent) and Bangladesh to Afghanistan, Somalia, Brazil and Haiti. Among them, only 11 countries had programs to evaluate the prevalence of child marriage.

The report offers a roadmap for legislators and policy makers to lower those dire statistics, from ensuring girls’ right to education to providing economic incentives to families in order to counteract a “bride price” and encouraging a legal minimum age for marriage. It also spotlights organizations such as Egypt’s Ishraq, which aims to return out-of-school girls to the classroom and educate them about the consequences of marrying too young, and Ethiopia’s Berhane Hewan, which educates families about child marriage and rewards families with goats or sheep for keeping their daughters in the program.