For Better or Worse: Child Marriage Is a Violation of Girls' Rights

16/02/2015 17:41 GMT | Updated 18/04/2015 10:59 BST

How many marriage proposals do you think there have been in the past few days in the UK? With Valentine's Day having fallen on a Saturday this year, I daresay there were romantic weekends a-plenty and a rush of calls to wedding venues early this week.

The excitement of deciding to marry and of planning the wedding itself is something many of us either fondly remember or look forward to. And for those who choose not to marry, too, the realisation that you want to spend your life with the man or woman you love is a truly a moment to treasure.

But globally, marriage is not always something to celebrate. While some 350 couples a day decide to tie the knot in the UK, around the world 41,000 girls every day enter into a union they didn't choose.

That's one girl every two seconds married against her will.

For the world's child brides, marriage represents not a declaration of their love but a violation of their rights.

Here in the UK, it's easy for us to think that marrying young is just 'the norm' for girls who live in other parts of the world. The risk is that we don't then understand the very real dangers linked to a practice that has affected around a tenth of the entire world's population.

First and foremost the marriage of a child denies them their basic right to choose if, when and who they marry. This is made clear in international agreements which state that marriage requires "free and full consent", and that a child - anyone under 18 - isn't able to give that consent.

But the problems caused by child marriage don't stop at the wedding day. A girl married as a child is less likely to complete her education; often she'll drop out of school to assume the duties of a housewife. She's less able to negotiate safe sex, and when childbirth comes, her body is often not ready. Giving birth is the leading cause of death for girls under 19 in the developing world.

Latifa, from Tanzania, escaped this fate - just. Aged 15, a man more than double her age paid to marry her. "I remember wondering what it means to get married," she explains. "I was at school and not grown yet."

Latifa moved with the man - a total stranger - from her home in the highlands of the north to Dar es Salaam. "The worst thing was that I was so lonely. I missed school and my friends," she says.

"Nine months after I gave birth to a baby. The birth took eleven hours and they had to cut me to get the baby out because I was so young. The doctor said if I had not come to the hospital I could have died."

Soon after, Latifa and her baby girl Zainabu were abandoned by her husband and spent two months on the street.

Thankfully, with the help of a neighbour and support from Plan, Latifa is turning things around. She works in the market and is making some money, and with Plan's help she's able to save some of it for her daughter's future.

As Latifa's story so powerfully demonstrates, child marriage is an abuse we must wake up to. But this brave young woman also shows that there is hope. Telling stories like this is the first step to raising awareness and ending this practice. Supported by Plan, many girls across the world are doing just that; speaking up so that future generations needn't suffer as they have done.

"I have chosen to tell my story in the hope that it can stop other girls from going through the same experience as me," Latifa explains. "I hope that Zainabu's life will be better than mine. I'll do what I can to ensure that she will not be married against her will and she gets to go to school."

Wherever we are, let's make sure we do what we can to make sure that's the case for girls the world over.

For more information about Plan's work to end child marriage or to make an online donation, visit