Ending Child Marriage
Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, according to data from the UN. That breaks down to 23 girls getting married every minute. Child marriage is a violation of girls' human rights and can have severe, lifelong physical, mental, emotional and financial consequences. It leaves young girls particularly vulnerable to rape, maternal and child mortality, and gender based violence. It also often forces girls to put aside their education, potential, and empowerment for a limited future. We sit down with Gayatri Patel and Nidal Karim from CARE USA to talk about child marriage.
Child marriage is an umbrella term that covers child, early and forced marriage. Child marriage refers to a marriage or an informal union in which one of the marrying parties is a child under 18. Early marriage refers to a marriage or informal union that involves a person under 18 marrying in countries where the age of majority is attained earlier, or upon marriage or informal union where both spouses are 18 or older but there are factors that make them not ready to consent to marriage, or a lack of information regarding the person’s life option. Forced marriage refers to a marriage or informal union completed without the informed consent of one or both parties or where one or both parties is unable to end or leave the marriage or union.
Child, early and forced marriage is found around the world and is not limited to one religion or region. Although the reasoning behind participating in child marriage varies from community to community, there are often underlying themes that stretch across communities, countries, and societies. These include undervaluing girls, restricting them to gendered roles like domestic or reproductive roles, perpetuating patriarchal control over adolescent sexuality, and gender-based violence or fear of gender-based violence, as well as the commodification of girls in the marital exchange.
The harms we see from child marriage are numerous. First and foremost, a children do not have the ability to consent, and entering a marriage often and unfortunately results in rape. There are lifelong physical, psychological, and emotional consequences to child marriage. Child brides have significantly higher rates of having children at young ages, and they suffer complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Child brides also have higher rates of HIV/AIDS contraction. Girls facing child marriage often end up leaving school and living in inter-generational poverty, and they are more likely to experience intimate-partner violence. The consequences of child marriage affects the girl, extends to her children, her household, and her community as a whole.
Child marriage is deeply rooted around girls’ sexuality, including fear of girls’ sexuality and control of girls’ sexuality. That makes it a sexual and reproductive health issue. Everything from comprehensive sex education to access to SRHR services are critical pieces of the fight against child marriage.
There is no silver bullet to end child marriage, but there are critical characteristics on how to approach the issue. Putting the girls at the center of the approach, involving parents and communities, and engaging men and boys in the conversation are vital approaches when talking about child marriage and its consequences.