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 a 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 early marriages.
Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is prevalent in all over the world, from the Middle East to Latin America, South Asia to Europe.
According to an 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 causes of 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, but 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 driven by the societies desire to control and dominate women’s lives. By marrying the girls young, patriarchal societies can have the power over their lives – how a girl should behave, how she should dress, who she should be allowed to see, how she should live her life, etc.
Women are born to be a wife and a mother
In some cultures, people still believe that the primary roles of girls are to produce children and satisfy and serve men. Therefore, when a girl starts to menstruate, marriage is considered the next step towards giving a girl her status as a wife and mother.
Girls are considered burdens or liabilities in many cultures
In patriarchal societies, girls are viewed as inferior to boys and as burdens. 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 the 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
Having a young, unmarried daughter at home could bring a lot of insecurities to parents, especially in the lower socio-economic societies. Parents feel that marriage would protect their daughters from physical or sexual assault. Therefore, they choose to marry them young, often to ensure her safety in areas where girls are at high risk of harassment and 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, 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. The bride’s family often has to pay less money if the bride is young.
Traditional practices are continued without being questioned as they have been part of a community’s life and identity for a very long time.
You may 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. The 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 report is summarized in the table below-
|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
Ending CM could reduce the share of girls having a child before age 18 by three-fourths
Ending CM could increase national use of modern contraceptives slightly in some countries
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
Ending ECBs would help avoid 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 cited as a primary reason for dropping out of secondary school for girls
CM reduces substantially the likelihood of secondary school enrolment and completion
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%
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 is directly associated with a loss in decision-making ability in a third of countries
CM is associated with higher land ownership for women
CM reduces women’s knowledge of HIV/AIDS through its impact on educational attainment
CM is not directly associated with a reduction in the rate of birth registrations for young children
While Poverty is the main cause of child marriage, girls who are married early and do not have a secondary education are more likely to be trapped in poverty for the rest of their life. They will not be able to be economically independent or to contribute to the family income. Girls who are married in childhood have very little access to economic opportunities. They also have less or no decision making power on family planning. 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 social and economic development of any society. By depriving the girls of education has a negative impact on the development
Impact on the Economy of a Country
In societies where women do not have access to education and are married early have lesser development rate and it affects the economic development in a negative way. When girls have the skills and opportunities to secure a job, they can support themselves and their families and break the cycle of poverty.
What Can we do to End Child Marriage?
The Cause of Child marriage could vary from one community to another. The elimination of child marriage should also address the root causes relevant to the context. 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 eliminating poverty are considered to be 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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