South Asia (MNN) — Picture a little girl from rural South Asia, a six- or seven-year-old from Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh. Instead of starting school, David Lovett of Operation Mobilization USA says she – and other little girls like her – only have a few years left to enjoy childhood.
Then comes marriage, often to a man old enough to be their dad or grandpa. “Especially in rural areas with high illiteracy, young girls – [some] even as young as ten-,11-, 12-, 13- [years old] – are being married to older men,” Lovett says.
“In Bangladesh, something like 22-percent of young girls are being married before they’re 15 years of age.”
OM USA partners with churches and NGOs to give kids like these a different future – one rooted in Christ’s love and hope. Here’s how you can help
How much does a girl child cost?
According to UNICEF, South Asia leads the world in child marriages. Child marriage affects both boys and girls globally, but it affects girls disproportionately – especially in South Asia:
Child marriage violates children’s rights and places them at high risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. India has the largest number of brides in the world – one-third of the global total. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia (the fourth-highest rate in the world). Nepal has also one the highest rates of child marriage in Asia for both boys and girls.
A report released earlier this week says the COVID-19 pandemic could make this trend worse. UNICEF officials say the economic side effects of coronavirus restrictions will likely drive families deeper into poverty, putting an estimated 600 million children at higher risk of exploitation.
Desperate times lead to desperate measures. If family members cannot produce an income, they become expendable. “In one of these countries, if you are a young kid – five, six, or seven years old – you’re already rolling cigarettes by hand [for up to] seven hours a day, for about $1 a day,” Lovette says.
“You cannot and do not attend a local school because your parents are illiterate; they don’t see the value of the school… If you miss grades one, two, and three, you can never attend a primary school there.”
Circumstances like these make life even more difficult for young girls. “[If] you’re looking at how can you have less of an economic burden, girls that are younger are [easier] to get married off in that part of the world,” Lovette explains.
The resulting conception and birth of a child introduces new problems. Watch Needata’s story to learn why. “We come alongside and do vocational training, literacy training, and then help them (former child brides) find a future out of this situation,” Lovette says.
Find your place in the story
Now that you know, how will you respond? Lovett requests prayer first and foremost. “Jesus said, ‘Pray the Lord of the harvest for workers’,” he summarizes.
“That’s always a prayer – ‘Lord, raise up people from within Bangladesh, other parts of the world, who would be willing to come love and serve, and help make an impact and difference in these kind of projects.’”
Find more prayer requests listed alongside this article. If you can spare $10, support this critical work through OM USA. Plus, use the buttons below to share this article with a friend and help spread the word.
“The challenge is just so huge and we’re seeking to build awareness,” Lovett says. “So much of the rest of the world [doesn’t] hear and know about this.”
Header image courtesy of David Lovette.