Mamta, a winsome, wide-eyed girl of 12 moves through her daily chores in a poor household in India. Although still a child, her life has little play, and she will too soon be bearing the full responsibilities and burdens of an adult woman: Mamta was married at the age of 7. At puberty she will quit school and move to the house of her husband, who she's had no contact with since her wedding night five years ago.
You can meet Mamta in a special hour-long broadcast tonight of the PBS weekly newsmagazine NOW. In Child Brides: Stolen Lives, NOW senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa takes viewers to Guatemala, India, and Niger to explore stories of early marriages and to show how people are campaigning to end child marriage in many of these communities - sometimes at the risk of their own lives.
On a trip to Ethiopia last year, I saw firsthand the devastating ripple effects of child marriage on individuals and on an impoverished country. Millions of girls around the world are forced into marriages long before they are grown. They are usually deprived of schooling, virtually powerless when the husband or his family is abusive, at high risk for HIV/AIDS infection from their older, sexually experienced husbands, and face disability or death for themselves and their babies when they become pregnant before their bodies are ready.
The NOW broadcast is a great opportunity to learn more about child marriage and why it's so important to stand up on behalf of these children and support community-based efforts to end this practice. Child marriage legislation is currently before the U.S. Congress - to learn more, visit the International Center for Research on Women Web site.
Julie Polter is an associate editor of Sojourners.