Child marriage is defined as girls being wed at least before they reach the age of 18. Child marriage statistics indicate that one in every 3 young girls will wed prior to their eighteenth birthday. One in every nine young girls will marry prior to their fifteenth birthday. While this is against the law in some countries, it is acceptable in others. It has become widespread in many countries among teenagers too young to marry. In fact, more than 67 million child brides exist in the world today.
This kind of practice endangers the lives of the young ladies, their families and even the community at large. There are many psychological problems in the home of the married teenager. Some of them also suffer serious medical complications due to early intimacy and childbearing. Some experience chronic incontinence as a result of forced sexual activities.
Most of these child brides are usually from rural regions, have little education and come from poor families. In the next ten years, it is estimated that approximately 14 million of these nuptials will take place annually in developing countries around the world. While there are also boys who become exposed to early marriage, girls are unduly affected and can be counted as the majority when it comes to being a victim.
These marital arrangements are made by parents and sometimes, the young girls don’t know about it beforehand. This means that one day, she might be playing in the yard with her other siblings and the next day, be married to a stranger. The swap, sometimes, is made because the parents are poor and have other kids to take care of. Sometimes, the girl is taken out of school and separated from her schoolmates and family.
Child marriages in India are one of the highest in the world, even though it is said to be on the decrease. According to census taken in 2001, approximately 1.5 Indian girls under the age of 15 are wives. Of this number, 20% have given birth to at least one child. Many factors influence an India child marriage. In most cases, it boils down to poverty and dowry. It is a normal thing among this gender where adolescent brides are given to meet family expenses. However, there is a high fertility rate and many unwanted pregnancies involved as it relates to a child marriage in India. The population is the highest where child marriage exist the most.
Child marriage in Afghanistan is just as prevalent. However, the conditions are challenging for women since this is a predominantly Muslim country where women are not given the respect like men receive. There are over 50% of Afghan teens who are either engaged or married by the time they reach the age of 12. Approximately 60% of teens are wed at the age of 16. About 80% of these happen in rural areas and are sometimes forced, bartered or arranged. Many of the suitors are older men, some even in their sixties. The area lacks security because of 30 years of war and there is always a risk of rape and kidnapping. Therefore, families are prompted to wed their young daughters as a result. Some of these young ladies are swapped to repay a debt or bring resolution to a dispute in hope of settling. Poverty is also a reason why parents are compelled to give away their daughters to older men in matrimony. The cost to care for them may be too much. Wealthier men take the daughters and pay a large price to the parents.
In the city of Kabul, it is not unusual for young girls to be hospitalized soon after being married. Some of them remain in a state of shock from serious bodily injuries from early sexual encounters with their new husbands. Because of their low status in the new family unit, some may be abused by their spouses. In some cases, they are traumatized, physically and mentally.
Yemen child marriage is widespread throughout the entire country, but especially in the rural regions. The story of an eight year old child’s death has placed this issue under the radar. In this country, it is said that fathers also take their young daughters out of school to give them over in matrimony to older men for a substantial dowry so that they can provide for the remaining members of the family. In February 2009, a law was passed to set the age of marital consent at 17 for child marriage in Yemen. However, the law was repealed when some lawmakers spoke out against it, saying it was not an Islamic thing to do. The law was being reviewed, until it was delayed by a group of policymakers, challenging that enforcement of this law would be contrary to Islamic practice.
There are many child marriage stories, but two that have been highlighted in the news are 10 year old, Nujood Ali and 10 years old, Arwa. Njuood’s story made headlines in the year 2008. She escaped from the marriage to the man that purchased her as a child bride. Now currently 16 years old, Nujood is said to be living with her older brother because her father used the money she got for a book deal, planned for her education, to wed twice and arrange a child marriage for the younger sibling. Arwa divorced her husband in 2009 and this story sparked a lot of media attention and debate.
A Destructive Practice
This destructive practice has its consequences. It propagates the cycle of poverty. It increases the rates of mortality to both mother and unborn child. Kids are suffering from sexually transmitted diseases at a young age. In some cases, this includes HIV/AIDS. The girls are usually socially isolated from their parents, family members and peers.
Though child marriage is engrained in custom and traditional culture, change is likely. Oftentimes, these young persons and their parents do want to choose other options, but don’t have the luxury. While the government and the communities may be trying to discourage the practice, though, there are many families who are still choosing this option.
Over the next 10 years, if the existing trends don’t stop, there will be 142 million of these girls who will be married before they reach the age of 18. Each year the number is said to be 14.2 million teenage girls being affected.
In countries like Bangladesh and Mozambique, 75% of the people make less than $2 each day. The low family income forces parents to take the early marriage approach. With a higher level of education, girls have better choices of waiting for marriage. 10% of the girls with secondary education and 1% with higher education are not affected. It is important, then to educate adolescent girls. Some countries taking this approach are:
- Sri Lanka
Young girls less than the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to die during childbirth compared to women who are 20 years or older. Globally, pregnancy is steadily among the main reason for death among females, ages 15 to 19.
In South Asia, there are almost 10 million (48%) of teens who are wed before reaching their 18th birthday. In Africa, the number is also staggering at 42% and in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is not much better at 29%.
Teens between the ages of 15 and 18 who marry are more likely to be faced with domestic violence issues compared to their peers who choose to marry at an older age. They were more likely to report abuse from their husbands where they were beaten or threatened. Some experience post-traumatic stress that includes:
- Chronic Depression
Those who suffer from fistula are oftentimes detested by society and abandoned by their partners. It is documented that over 2 million teenagers are currently suffering from fistula and each year, there are more than 100,000 new cases.
There is a wide range of religion affiliations associated with child marriage around the world, according to a 2007 study done by the International Center of Research on Women (ICRW).
Child marriage encroaches upon the basic human rights of the adolescent female. Isolation from family can result in grave depression. Typically, the girl may be prevented from communicating with her parents or participating economically in the community. There is a lack of data to show how this tough issue impacts the economics of communities. This includes economic opportunities and the financial cost, lost earnings, lost education and healthcare cost. There are roughly 200 births for each 1000 adolescent girls. The high birth rate and premature pregnancy is a result of child marriage. Contraceptives are rarely encouraged by husbands of the young girls. With more mouths to feed, this perpetuates poverty as the spouse is usually the sole breadwinner.
It is apparent that child marriage is a worldwide problem. It affects the family structure, communities and schools. If something is not done about it, one country at a time, it will become a major epidemic and a problem that can never be solved.