Oct. 11 (GIN) – By the time they’re 15, over half of all girls in the Amhara region of Ethiopia are married. They’re not alone.

Every year an estimated 10 million girls worldwide are married before they turn 18, usually with no say in when or whom they marry. Child marriage almost always cuts girls’ education short, trapping them and their children in poverty. It often leads to early pregnancy and childbirth, putting girls’ lives and health at risk.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the practice “insidious and widespread,” but until recently even people like himself knew little about it.

“I was quite flabbergasted to discover that the highest incidence is in Niger and that south Saharan Africa is responsible for about 46 or so percent of all child marriages,” he said.

Now, the Elders, a group of distinguished global leaders including Archbishop Tutu, Graca Machel and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, have launched of an international campaign, Girls Not Brides, aimed at ending child marriage in a generation.

“Many people are hesitant to go against an issue that’s seen as an entrenched tradition, a cultural practice or even part of indigenous religious beliefs,” observed Mrs. Machel, wife of former president Nelson Mandela. “But this is a universal issue. You can’t say, “this is not my business”… And it’s not just Chad, Niger, Ethiopia and Mozambique — it’s many countries.” w/pix of child bride

For more information about the movement to end child marriage, visit www.girlsnotbrides.org