The issue of child marriages is one the weighs heavy on the minds of many around the world. As the modern world continues to increase with globalisation, the issue is thrown into the spotlight. While those in the west are most often quick to say that all child marriages should be outlawed, many in rural and tribal settings disagree or our conflicted by the issue. Some feel that baning child marriages is in part ending a longstanding rite and practice, that will only further contribute to the dissolve their cultural ways.
Why are childhood marriages so common and desired? There are a multitude of reasons that societies continue to practice early marriage and feel the benefits out way any undesirable consequences. For example if a girl is married young her virginity is more likely to be guarantee, but the main reason is that with early marriage come increased economic and social benefits. A wedding in a rural community is a great source of joy and pride for a family, especially the family of the bride, for they can now see that their child is cared for and has a future. Marriage is also of social importance, as the family receives a great standing in the community, based on the family of the groom or bride. Economically the families of the bride additionally benefit with the increase in social status and having one less mouth to feed, and often benefit from a dowry. In rural agricultural societies once families are joined they often pull their resources together to increase their output and profitabilities.
Child marriages cover the globe, and are most common in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, including Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. However child marriages continue in other parts of the world, including South America and among the Roma of Europe.
Uness Nyambi, of Malawi, “said she was betrothed as a child so her parents could finance her brother's choice of a bride. Now about 17, she has two children, the oldest nearly 5, and a husband who guesses he is 70. ‘Just because of these two children, I can not leave him,’ she said.” (Forced to Marry Before Puberty, African Girls Pay Lasting Price)
Photo by Venessa Vick for the New York Times
Although many countries have now set minimum legal ages for marriage, the laws are often ignored, or even unheard. In many countries the minimum legal age for marriage is 16-18, however it is widely ignored in the rural areas, where illiteracy remains high, and it is therefore increasingly difficult to end this archaic practice. For example the minimum legal age for marriage in Ethiopia is 18, however children as young as 8 are already being promised in marriage, and though the marriages may still not occur for a few years, girls remain under the legal age at the time of marriage. (Rural Ethiopia Ignores Law Against Child Brides). In India, Parliament passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1978, setting the minimum age for women to get married as 18 and 21 for men. Despite the law child marriages still continue, especially in populous northern states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, and many believe Child Marriage, is a Curse That Still Prevailing in India. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states in Article 1, that a child is anyone under 18 years of age, and in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it states that persons must be at “full age” at the time of marriage, which must be entered into “freely” and with “full consent.” The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, requires minimum ages for marriage to be specified by states, and declares child marriages as illegal, under Article 16.
The facts remain that a girl who is married young is at a greater risk of abuse, regardless of ethnicity or religion. In extreme instances abuse can result in death, or honor killings, if a girl attempts to flee an abusive husband. In many countries the myth of using sex with a virgin to cure sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, remains widely common place. Girls who marry young, consequently give birth young, and therefore have an increased risk for complications or even death in childbirth. Child brides are also more likely to be voiceless in their marriage, regarding most, if not all major decisions. Child brides are also less likely to compete their education, maintain social circles, In the developing world it is estimated that 1/3 of girls are married as children.
A number of reports have been conducted in recent years, on the subject of child marriage, including the report Childhood Marriage and Domestic Abuse, which was conducted by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). The report stated that, “child marriage persists because these countries lack the resources, and sometimes the political commitment, to enforce the laws”. In the report Early Marriage: A Harmful Traditional Practice, conducted by UNICEF in 2005, it was found that “little overall change in the average age at marriage for age cohorts born between 1950 and 1970 in most regions, as well as little change in the incidence of child marriage.” In 2001 UNICEF published Early Marriage: Child Spouses, stating: “Real progress will come from introducing and promoting initiatives to change attitudes towards the gender roles of girls and boys in general, and towards the practice of early marriage in particular. This means that societies must reexamine traditional gender roles.”
Child marriages violate the rights of the child in many ways, but the most concerning violation is a girls right to consent, and this right is continually violated through the life of the marriage for most girls. How do we end this outdated practice, that continues to violate the rights of girls across the globe? The causes and implications of child marriage, are complex and interconnected, thus their is no simple solution in eradicating child marriage. In order to end child marriage for good we must look at all the source reasons that people continue to practice child marriage; poverty, marginalization of girls, illiteracy, lack of education, poor health. To find an end to child marriage, States and the International Community, must ensure that families are educated about the true effects of child marriage, and see that sustainable solutions are put in place. Making education available for girls, seeing families have alternatives to paying debts, eliminating poverty, providing health education on HIV/AIDS and other diseases, are all needed to end the suffering of girls across the globe, and put child marriage in the past, where it belongs.
UNICEF Child Marriage Statistics
Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages
The African Charter on the Rights Welfare of the Child
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
State of the World Population 2005 – Child Marriage Fact Sheet
Population Council Works to Eliminate Child Marriage
Stop Child Marriage
Roma rivalry over child bride ban
AFGHANISTAN: New contract to curb child marriages
India Tackles Child Marriage
Child marriages, trafficking on the rise in West Bengal
Marriage is Not Child's Play
Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa
NEPAL: Child marriage still common in rural southwest