Take a minute to let that sink in.

During that minute, 30 girls became child brides. During your lunch hour, another 1,800 will join them. More than 43,000 young girls will be married today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.

Each and every year, child marriage cuts short the childhoods of another 15 million girls — nearly 2 million of who won’t even have reached their 15th birthday — and increases their risk of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of husbands sometimes twice their age. It takes away their opportunity to learn, play and grow up in a safe and secure environment, and it shortens their education, severely limiting their economic options, and potentially pushing them into poverty.

Child marriage puts young girls on a rushed path to adulthood, burdened with adult responsibilities. Girls also experience an unnaturally premature start to motherhood, with ramifications that are horrifying and yet wholly preventable: every year, approximately 70,000 girls die in labour simply because their bodies are not ready for childbirth, many having been married at a very young age.

Lack of education a key factor

There are several reasons why child marriage continues in many countries: extreme poverty, gender norms that perpetuate inequality, and an absence of children’s rights protection. When these factors are coupled with inaccessibility to quality schooling and vocational training for girls, the situation is exacerbated.

“We know that girls with no education are three times as likely to marry by 18 than those with secondary or higher education, and children born to women who have not had the opportunity to get educated are even more at risk to continue this vicious cycle,” says Caroline Riseboro, President and CEO of Plan International Canada. “One of the most effective, safe, and non-discriminatory ways to prevent child marriage is to increase girls’ access to at least nine years of quality education.”

Global data shows that if all women were able to complete their primary education, the number of maternal deaths would be cut by two-thirds. When a girl in the developing world receives even seven years of education, she marries an average of four years later, has fewer (but healthier) children, and earns a higher income to help support everyone in her family.

Breaking the cycle of child marriages

Yet child marriage persists because of the powerful social norms in so many countries that perpetuate discrimination against girls and women.

It’s time to change the story. It’s time to break the cycle of discrimination by giving girls equal access to opportunities when they are young, so they can grow up to thrive as educated, healthy, and empowered women.

It’s time to nurture girls’ ambitions without restricting them to predefined ideas about their futures and their roles as women.

And it’s time to help those who have already become child brides to get a second chance at education, to gain access to health care, contraception and economic opportunities, and to find a place where they can socialize and receive support.

Ending child marriage is not just the responsibility of women and girls themselves. Every one of us has a part to play. By ensuring every young girl is valued as equally as the boys and other girls around her, we can ensure she has the opportunity to achieve her full potential.