Marriage is God’s idea: one man and one woman joined together before God and pledging love and respect for each other.

How this picture is in stark contrast to the marriages of the 650 million girls and women in our world today who were married as mere children, often against their wishes! Sadly, it is a problem of true global proportions that affects every country, culture, ethnicity and religion. Child marriage involves any marriage or union where one or both individuals are under 18. It may also be a forced marriage that takes place without the full consent of one or both individuals.

For thousands of years, child marriage has been practiced around the world. Cultural traditions, the belief that girls are inferior to boys and economic hardships that threaten families have all played parts in keeping this dangerous custom alive.

Child marriage is devastating to girls, their children and our culture in general. As children, girls are not ready physically or emotionally to become wives or mothers. With underdeveloped bodies, they risk complications in pregnancy such as fistulas, vaginal and anal ruptures, which may lead to long-term health issues, shame and isolation. These brides often find themselves subject to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Their vulnerable state also leaves them open to traffickers and others with violent intent.

Fortunately, the fact that societies appear to be increasingly respecting and valuing women is leading to major changes in this area. Groups like Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 1,000 civil-society organizations from over 95 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfill their potential, have formed to address this problem. This global problem has gotten the attention of the United Nations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes specific goals – to end poverty. One of the subgoals, Target 5.3, is to eliminate the practice of child marriage by 2030.

May we be committed as Christians to pray for marriages that please and honor God.

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Eph. 5:33).