Child Marriage

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

What is child marriage?

The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) defines child marriage as “any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl is physically, physiologically, and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing.” An array of international instruments – including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1979 United Nations’ Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child – echoes the perspective of the IAC: that marriage decisions should be the preserve of consenting adults. Children have the right to be protected from prematurely assuming the responsibilities of adulthood, especially marriage and child-bearing.

Even though some countries permit marriage before age 18, international human rights standards classify these as child marriages, reasoning that those under age 18 are unable to give informed consent. Child marriages involving parental, partner and/or social influence, collusion or pressure are, de facto, forced – regardless of the extent of enthusiasm or acquiescence of the child designated in marriage. In many settings, however, these basic standards are considered irrelevant rather than universal and – even more pointedly and dismissively – “Western”. In Ethiopia, where more than half of all girls are married before age 18 and medical problems associated with early child-bearing are rife, one Orthodox priest insisted, “These days, with Western ideas spreading everywhere, girls stay unmarried as late as 30. It’s all very scientific and modern, but in our church it is prohibited. Such girls are neither clean nor blessed.”

The unsurprising upshot of such perceptions resounds in the chatter of 12-year-old Deepali from Bangladesh, who has embraced her society’s perception that a girl’s worth is measured by her ability to marry at a young age:

“People say I’m very fortunate to have been born so fair, so beautiful. My parents had no problems finding an eligible husband for me. Unlike my dark cousin Maya, who is 13 and still unmarried! I also don’t have to go to school anymore. But Maya – she has to go to school until she gets married.”

Others do not embrace their fate as easily as Deepali. Girls in focus group discussions in Afghanistan, for example, repeatedly identified child marriage as a major concern in their lives. Even those as young as 10 or 11 years of age understood that marriage and schooling for Afghan girls are almost always mutually exclusive. In Afghanistan, as in many other parts of the world, losing out on an education is just one of a broad spectrum of consequences of child marriage for a young girl.

The extent of the problem

The implications of child marriage are all the more alarming given its scope: Around the world, a projected 82 million girls who are now between the ages of 10 and 17 will be married before their 18th birthdays. OF the 331 million girls aged 10 to 19 in developing countries (excluding China), nearly hald will be married before turning 20. Although many marriages coincide with a girl’s first menstrual period, girls in some communities may be betrothed in infancy and married as early as age eight or nine.

Many of these young wives live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where on average one in every three girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is already married. In Central America and the Caribbean, the numbers are slightly better at an estimated 20 percent. And those averages do not capture the remarkable extremes: Two out of every three girls in Yemen, Mali, Nepal, and Mozambique will be married before age 18. In Niger, Bangladesh, and Chad, the prevalence of underage marriages is as high as 70 percent to 80 percent.

Child marriage is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. While the marriage of young girls and boys is common in the history of most societies around the globe, the average age of wedlock in the world’s industrialized regions has risen along with social and economic development. Only 2 percent to 4 percent of girls in North America, East Asia and Western Europe marry before age 19. By not marrying at a young age, girls in these areas have greater opportunity to complete their education, increase life skills and develop a sense of personal autonomy. As such, they are better equipped to contribute to society, whether in the public or private spheres. Even among the small percentage of girls who do wed at an early age in these regions, entering the marriage is much more likely to be the result of personal choice rather than pressure from parents and community.

Child marriage and its negative consequences are also decidedly gender-biased. The number of boys in child marriages around the world is significantly lower than that of girls. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, for example, only 5 percent of boys marry before age 19. For most boys who do become young husbands, child marriage is not the harbinger of misfortune that it is for many girl wives. Boys from traditional societies who marry at a young age are less likely than girls to be strictly bound by their family responsibilities. Whereas girls who marry early automatically attain the status of adults and loose any special protections that come with being a child, boys have more freedom to continue their education and acquire skills that will further their personal and social development.

All text is copyright (IRIN). Full permission is given for reproduction for non-commercial purposes.


One Response to “Child Marriage”

  1. Present time, child marriage is a curse in the global society. Child marriage is a violation of human rights. In most cases young girls get married off to significantly older men when they are still children. Child marriages must be viewed within a context of force and coercion, involving pressure and emotional blackmail, and children that lack the choice or capacity to give their full consent. Child marriage must therefore always be considered forced marriage because valid consent is absent – and often considered unnecessary. Child marriage is common practice in India, Niger, Bangladesh, Pakistan Guinea, Burkina Faso, Africa and Nepal,where mostly girls are married below the age of 18.
    Child marriage has its own worse effect on the young girls, society, her children and health. Young girls who get married will most likely be forced into having sexual intercourse with their, usually much older, husbands. This has severe negative health consequences as the girl is often not psychologically, physically and sexually mature. Child brides are likely to become pregnant at an early age and there is a strong correlation between the age of a mother and maternal mortality and morbidity. Girls aged 11-13 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24 and girls aged 15-19 are
    twice as likely to die.

    The above is an extract from Arun Kumar essay “Child Marriage as an Human Rights Issue”. This essay was ranked among the top ten essay in Human Rights Defence’s Essay competition 2008. If you would like to read more, visit:

    Yours sincerely,

    Tomas Eric Nordlander

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