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Big Story 10

U.S. wedding industry profits tapped to fight child marriage globally

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Some profits from the multi-billion-dollar U.S. wedding industry will be funneled into the global fight against child marriage, said organizers of a campaign that kicked off on Monday.

The campaign, called VOW, will raise funds in the United States to be distributed to community-based efforts around the world, said Princess Mabel van Oranje of the Netherlands, who founded the campaign.

“Couples and companies can help to make sure that, somewhere else in the world, a girl who’s not yet ready to get married can say, ‘I don’t,’” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Each year, 12 million girls are married before they turn 18, according to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership opposing child marriage.

Campaigners say children married young tend to leave school, have limited economic opportunities, are vulnerable to health problems and abuse, and are more likely to live in poverty than those who marry later.

“Part of the solution is working at the community level,” said the Dutch princess.

“You need people who understand what drives it, and you need people who understand who holds the power to create change.”

The U.S. wedding industry - from bridal gown sales to tent rentals, cake makers and gifts - is a $100 billion-a-year business, according to The Knot, a wedding planning website.

The Knot will work with VOW, alongside the retailer Crate and Barrel, which is owned by Germany’s Otto GmbH & Co KG [OTTOG.UL], and the New York-based swimsuit maker Malia Mills.

Money will be raised through wedding registries, product sales, social media and direct donations, organizers said.

Funds raised by VOW will be distributed through the Girls First Fund, a charity that the Ford Foundation helped to found.

“This scourge of child marriage is going to require creative partnerships, and it’s going to require us to work in ways we have not worked in the past,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.

By tapping into the U.S. wedding industry, VOW can raise awareness “in a part of the world where child marriage isn’t an in-your-face problem all the time,” said Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director of Girls Not Brides.

The campaign will fund an array of efforts, including religious leaders helping change perceptions of girls, networks helping them resist pressure to marry young, and schooling for those already married as children, Sundaram said.

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