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). 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.
According to a 2010 study in India one-fifth of married women were married before they were 15 years-old and half of those surved were married before they turned 18 years-old. The study was conducted by the Population Council of India and released by Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in Febu, also stated that 47 percent had their first pregnancy in the first year of their marriage, while a quarter of those who are married as children also experience some form of physical violence int he marriage (Hindu).
In Yemen the battle against child marriage has been thrust into the global spotlight over the last few years as following growing support to pass laws to ban child marriage following the stories of two child brides made international headlines in 2008 after seeking to divorce their husbands. Nujood Ali, who was 10 years-old, was one of the child brides who was granted a divorce from her husband after walking herself into court and relentlessly stating her case, continued to make international news headlines long after her story broke. Continuing her activism, she became a voice for child brides across the country, last year Ali co-authored, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, a story of her short yet trying life and battle to escape and advocate against child marriage. According to a study by Sana University, researchers found the average age of marriage in rural Yemen to be 12 to 13. According to a report issued in 2007 by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), 48.4% of Yemeni women under the age of 18 were married.
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.
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. While support is growing to ban child marriage the fight is far from easy.
Part 2 of 2
See previous posts for more on Child Marriage.