It might be hard to imagine that in many countries across South Asia and Africa, getting married right after you hit puberty is common. For instance, Niger has the highest child marriage rate with 75 percent of girls married before 18. Chad, Bangladesh, and Guinea also have alarming rates of child marriages. Child marriages impact both boys and girls, but often girls bear the biggest brunt of this injustice.
Any marriage under the age of 18 is a child marriage and should be considered a violation of human rights. However, in countries like Afghanistan, the minimum age may be 15 or 16.
Why do child marriages happen in the first place?
Child marriage is especially prevalent in communities and societies where:
Poverty is widespread and financial security is rare
There is little access to education
Gender inequality is rampant
Legal loopholes allow families to get away with child marriages
Climate change, natural disasters, war, and the uncertainty and financial struggle that come from them are common
Birth and death rates are high
Little to no healthcare is provided
Traditions and cultural expectations are restrictive
Birth registration is lacking and it's difficult to know the exact age of the person
The start of a period for a girl marks her ready for adulthood and marriage
How do child marriages impact girls?
While both genders suffer if they get married before they emotionally and physically develop, it has longer-lasting effects on the health, development, and well-being of young girls.
Early marriages lead to early pregnancies in which the body has not fully developed to bear children. This can lead to difficult pregnancies and losing children.
A girl's brain has not fully developed and is not ready to take on the responsibilities of managing household duties and in-laws. She has little or no decision-making power and negotiation skills to safeguard her interests or sexual and reproductive rights.
Marrying young can make girls vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases or violence and abuse. It also impacts their ability to complete their education and reduces their mobility, as well as economic and employment opportunities.
How do they impact boys?
Often in the conversation around child marriage, the problems and long-term consequences that boys or child grooms face are ignored.
Child grooms take up adult responsibilities far too early and have extreme pressure to provide for a family. They sometimes drop out of school so they can take up a job.
Leaving school early means limiting their future opportunities for career growth and salary increments. Many child grooms suffer from depression, loneliness, and extreme stress.
Which stakeholders need to get involved and take action?
Schools and teachers
NGOs and human rights activists
Research centers, hospitals, and healthcare institutions
Lawyers and laws around the prevention of child marriages
If we want child marriages to stop, communities and youth need to rally together and contact different stakeholders to make sure this practice is not normalized.
How do I report a child marriage?
Depending on the country you live in, there are various ways to report it.
In Pakistan, you can report a child marriage to the Social Welfare Department and Child Protection Unit or dial 1121 (Sindh Child Protection Authority) for complaints.
How do child marriages happen?
Here's an example:
Fatima is a 14-year-old girl living with her parents and two younger siblings in a village. She left school as her mother was unwell.
Fatima’s mother is worried about her marriage and wants to see her settled. She requested relatives to find a suitable match for Fatima.
One day an aunt visits Fatima's house and informs her parents that she has found a match for Fatima. The boy is 25, the youngest of four siblings. He is well-off and agreeable to the marriage. Fatima’s parents are happy but she is disturbed and sad.
Her parents are unaware of the consequences of early marriages and don't understand that their daughter will be better off if she completes her education and becomes independent.
What should Fatima do if her parents are looking for a groom for her?
What laws are needed to protect children from child marriages?
Raising the legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls to 18 years
Making child marriages a punishable offense
Imprisoning a man over 18 years of age who contracts a child marriage
Jail time or punishing anyone who solemnizes an underage marriage
Prosecution for parents or guardians who authorize or fail to prevent a child marriage
What can you do end to child marriages in your community?