What does child marriage mean for girls’ lives? And why does child marriage persist?

The European Union could do more to help end child marriage, and members of the European Parliament are working for it to do just that.

On Thursday, the parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee adopted an opinion calling for the EU’s diplomatic arm to develop a clear strategy and dedicate funds to eradicating child and forced marriage by 2030.

This could not be more timely. Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, countries around the world pledged to end child marriage – any marriage in which one or both spouses are under age 18 – by 2030.

Achieving this will be difficult. Child marriage occurs in every region of the world, in staggering numbers. About 15 million girls under 18 marry each year – one every two seconds. Every seven seconds, a girl under 15 marries. Most girls marry men over age 18 – in some cases, much older.

Research shows that child marriage is severely harmful. Married children often drop out of school and are locked in poverty as a result. Married girls often quickly become pregnant, and early pregnancy involves serious health risks – including death – for girls and their babies. Girls who marry are at higher risk of domestic violence than women who marry as adults.

The EU has a key role to play. The EU and many of its member states contribute significant amounts of aid to countries with high rates of child marriage. Donors can provide critical assistance for legal and policy reform in these countries. They can also help provide the support – access to education, sexual and reproductive health information and services, economic security, and social empowerment – girls need to escape child marriage.

There is also work for the EU to do at home. A number of EU member states still permit child marriage. Several countries – the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden – have banned child marriage (and non-EU Norway is considering doing so). But others – including Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, to name a few – have laws allowing children younger than 18 to marry under some circumstances.

The European Parliament’s committee is on the right path to push the EU on this issue. The Foreign Affairs committee and the full parliament should not only adopt this opinion, but ultimately deliver a resolution calling on EU member states to take concerted action. Girls’ lives depend on it.