Nujood Ali fled her husband’s home at the age of 10, after being beaten regularly by her in-laws and raped by her husband for two months. She showed immense courage by going to court and obtaining divorce by breaking the social norms and tradition. Her story was later documented by a French journalist in “I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced “. Nujood became a prominent figure in Yemen’s movement against forced and child marriage. The impact of child marriage is extremely horrific to a girl as well as to the society.
Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is prevalent all over the world, from the Middle East to Latin America, South Asia to Europe. According to a UNICEF report, each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. Niger has the highest rate of Child marriage (76%), whereas India ranks first in the absolute number of child marriage 15,559,000.
What are the main reasons behind child marriage?
The causes of child marriage are complex and could be different in different cultures and societies. Though It is often related to the high poverty rate, cultural beliefs, and conflicts, the root causes of child marriage lie in gender discrimination and gender inequality. Some of the major causes are –
Societies desire to control and dominate female lives
Child marriage is also a reflection of society’s desire to control and dominate women’s lives. By marrying the girls young, patriarchal societies can have control over their lives. From the moment a young girl is married, she is expected to follow many socio-cultural norms, and she loses control over her own life and decision-making power. In the majority of the cultures, how after marriage, a minor girl should behave, how she should dress up, who she should be allowed to see or how she should live her life are dictated by family and husband.
Women are born to be a wife and a mother
People of many cultures still believe that the primary roles of girls are to produce children and satisfy and serve men. Therefore, as soon as a girl starts to menstruate, marriage is considered the next step towards giving a girl her status of a wife and a mother.
Girls are burdens in many cultures
In many cultures, girls are viewed as inferior to boys and as a burden to the family. For instance, in India and many other South Asian countries, girls are considered as ‘other’s property’, and parents raise them just to send off to the husband’s family by getting them married. Parents do not want to spend money on education or health of girl children and often try to pass the burden to another family by marrying her off – the earlier the better.
The insecurity of protecting a girl from the lust of men
In the lower socio-economic groups, parents often feel insecure if they have a young, unmarried daughter at home. As a result, they feel that marriage would protect their daughters from physical or sexual assault. Therefore, parents choose to marry them young, often to ensure her safety in areas where girls are at high risk of harassment and sexual violence.
Where poverty is acute, the chances of dropping out of school is much higher for girls compared to boys. Marrying a daughter allows parents to reduce family expenses by ensuring that they have one less person to feed. In some cases, the marriage of a daughter is a way to repay debts or settle social or economic disputes. Sometimes girls themselves believe that marriage will be a solution to secure their future.
Link to other harmful traditional practices
Harmful traditional practices are often linked to each other. For example, in southern Ethiopia, child marriage usually follows the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, which is considered a rite of passage to womanhood.
Dowry is another cause of early marriage. Bride’s family often has to pay less money if the bride is young.
If you want to understand how child marriage is related to other harmful social practices like dowry and female genital mutilation, or how girls’ rights are violated by the Patriarchal society, please read these posts to understand some of these issues –
Impact of Child marriage on society
“Premature pregnancy and motherhood are an inevitable consequence of child marriage. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their twenties.” -State of the World’s Children 2007, UNICEF
In June 2017, the World Bank published a report on the Economic Impact of Child Marriage. This study looks at five domains of impacts of child marriage: (i) fertility and population growth; (ii) health, nutrition, and violence; (iii) educational attainment; (iv) labor force participation, earnings, and productivity; and (v) decision making and other areas.
The table below summarizes the report –
Impacts of Child Marriage (CM) and Early Childbirths (ECBs) on Population:
|Fertility and Population Growth
Ending CM could reduce –
the total fertility rate by 11% across 15 countries
the share of girls having a child before age 18 by three-fourths
Ending CM and ECBs would reduce population growth substantially
|Health, Nutrition, and Violence
Ending ECBs would help save the life of three of every 100 children dying by age five, and stunting for one of every 100 stunted children under five
CM is associated directly with higher risks of intimate partner violence for women
The impact of ending CM on maternal mortality and morbidity is not fully clear
CM is the a primary reason for dropping out of secondary school for girls
Each year of secondary school education reduces the risk of CM by 4 to 6 percentage points
|Work, Earnings, and Welfare
Through education, CM reduces women’s earnings in adulthood by 9%, and ending CM could increase national earnings by 1.0%
CM affects consumption and food adequacy through household sizes and educational attainment
|Decision-making and Other Impacts
CM leads to –
loss in decision-making ability in a third of countries and higher land ownership for women
CM reduces women’s knowledge of HIV/AIDS through its impact on educational attainment
While Poverty is the main cause of child marriage, girls who are married early and do not have a secondary education find it hard to come out of the poverty cycle. Consequently, they will not be able to be economically independent or to contribute to the family income. Girls who had early marriage get very little access to economic opportunities. They also have less or no decision making power on family planning. This is how the cycle of poverty keeps repeating where child marriage is prevalent.
Parents often marry their girls young to protect them from violence. But sadly Child marriage is a form of violence and girls who marry young are highly vulnerable to physical, sexual and psychological violence.
Education and Overall Growth
Childhood marriage ends a girl’s access to formal education. Countries with a high rate of child marriage have a lower rate of quality and inclusive education of their population. Education is the main precursor of the social and economic development of any society. Therefore, the girl’s access to education has a negative impact on the development of the country.
Economic Development of a Country
Marrying early impacts a girl’s ability to become economically independent. Women’s representation in the workforce and contribution to the GDP are two very important metrics for the development of a country. When girls have the skills and opportunities to secure a job, they can support themselves and their families and break the cycle of poverty. Thus higher rate of early marriage impacts both the macro and microeconomic of any country.
What can we do to end child marriage
The causes of child marriage vary from one community to another. Thus the elimination of child marriage should also address the root causes relevant to the context of any specific community. This issue can not be solved in isolation and is related to several other Sustainable Development Goals, like the elimination of poverty, hunger, and enhancement of inclusive and quality education, gender equality, and economic security.
While educating the girls and elimination of poverty are the two most important steps to prevent child marriage, the actual elimination of this harmful practice requires the involvement of government, community, and religious leaders, and implementation of policies and laws.
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