Coaxed and coerced, every year early and forced marriage directly affects 10 million girls under the age of 18. This is the equivalent of a girl becoming a child bride every three seconds.
The marriage of young girls often against their will is a harmful practice embedded in many cultures and traditions. The causes are complex but driven by factors that include gender inequalities, poverty, negative traditional or religious norms, weak enforcement of law and the pressures caused by conflict and natural disasters. It is a cross border issue affecting all countries including the UK.
For the girl early and forced marriage is a brutal transition from childhood to adulthood that all too often harms her education and health. Being forced to get married early is one of the biggest obstacles to education facing the 75 million girls not going to school. If the girl survives childbirth her children are less likely to grow up healthy and go to school, continuing the cycle of poverty for generations to come. Early and forced marriage harms boys too, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Plan works with more than 700,000 girls in 48 countries across the developing world and many tell us that they do not want to marry early and their fears of being forced to leave school if they do so.
There are many examples of communities themselves working to halt the practice of girls pressurised to marry early, including young campaigners and community and religious leaders in Egypt, Bangladesh and India, three countries with high numbers of child brides.
In the same way these community elders and young friends now recognise early and forced marriage as an abuse of human rights that ignores a girl's best interests, Plan and the Royal Commonwealth Society hope through its campaign ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October will prompt the associations 54 leaders' to act.
In our joint policy paper launched today, 'Empowering Girls: what the Commonwealth can do to end early and forced marriage', we outline why the leaders of the Commonwealth can no longer ignore the issue of forced marriage.
The Commonwealth needs to take action to protect the human rights of all its citizens but given the Commonwealth's focus this year on women and girls, the time is right for Commonwealth Leaders to take action to end this violation of the most basic of fundamental rights.