child marriage, poverty, social custom, dowry
Around The World

Child Marriage: Getting Rid of the Burden-the sooner the better

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 the 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 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 highest rate of Child marriage (76%), whereas India ranks first in 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 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 start to menstruate, marriage is considered as the next step towards giving a girl her status as a wife and mother.

 

Girls are considered burdens or liabilities in many cultures

In the patriarchal societies, girls are viewed as inferior than boys and as burden. 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.

 

Insecurity of protecting a girl from the lust of men

Having a young, unmarried daughter at home could bring 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.

 

Acute poverty 

Where poverty is acute, 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. Bride’s family often have 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 –

Dowry-The Leading Cause of Female Infanticides and Female Foeticides in Indian Subcontinent ,

Dowry Killings: Why Does It Happen and How Can We Prevent It? 

Female Genital Mutilation: Facts, Figures and Resources

 

 

 

gender discrimination, gender equality, women empowerment, rights of equality, human rights

 

 

Impact of Child marriage on the 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

Educational Attainment

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

 

Increased Poverty 

While Poverty is the main cause of child marriage, girls who are married early and do not have 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 less 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.

 

 Increased Violence

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 high rate of child marriage have lower rate of quality and inclusive education of their population. Education is the main precursor of social and economic development of any societies. By depriving the girls from education has a negative impact on 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 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 considered to be the two most important steps to prevent child marriage, actual elimination of this harmful practice requires the involvement of Government, Community and religious leaders, and implementation of Policies and laws.

 

child marriage, poverty, social custom, dowry

 

Please help raise awareness against child marriage by sharing this post.

A Clinical Researcher by profession, I am originally from India; now live in California with my family. I am an advocate of gender equality and women empowerment. I am also a Certified Reiki Healer and a Certified Sexual Assault Counselor and Advocate. I write about women's rights, equality and gender based issues to create awareness and to include every body in my fight against gender discrimination.

31 Comments

  • Steve Good

    This is important –and strong — stuff. Thank you for posting. I found myself wanting to know more under each of your headings. Will more posts and information on this subject be forthcoming?

  • Swagata Sen

    Thanks Steve. Yes, I have plans to write separate posts on few of the subjects from the sub topics. Few topics were already covered in others posts on dowry and FGM . After reading your comments I realized I did not explicitly mention that anywhere in this post. Just now added few lines and the links ! Thanks so much for helping me realize that.

  • Shirley

    I truly must have my head in the sand because I didn’t realize this was an issue. Clearly I need to read more of your articles so I can better understand. Thank you.

  • lforsythe7040

    Are the girls that are married young being married to men that are older or boys that are similar in age to them?

    • Swagata Sen

      Yes, in most of the cases they are married to men twice/ thrice of their age or at least with some one much older than them. In countries, where polygamy (of men) is legally allowed, sometimes young girls are married with men with multiple wives and children.

  • sjd68

    Each time I read your posts I can’t imagine how different countries are as to what is accepted and what is not both culturally and economically. I couldn’t imagine marrying off my daughter so I didn’t have to feed her anymore or thinking so much less of a woman. It is terrifying to know this is still going on.

    • Swagata Sen

      I can totally understand that it is very difficult to even imagine some of the social practices of different cultures. My hope is that people will stop abusing and oppressing women and girls all over the world in the name of culture, tradition and religion

  • Johnny Quid

    Thank you for this post. We need to shed light on this issue. I have never felt comfortable about the whole arranged marriage thing. Just seems like you’re stripping your child of the choice to fall in love so that you can save a buck or inherit wealth, as your previous post about the dowry killings pointed out. It’s not fair them them, and if it’s just going to make it impossible for the girls to become independent and educated, then bottom line, it’s abuse. I think the US needs to get ACTIVELY INVOLVED to end this terrible “tradition”.

    • Swagata Sen

      Yes, I totally agree with you. Child marriage is nothing but a violation of fundamental human rights. Thank you so much for sharing such thoughtful comments. I really appreciate it.

  • Lindsay Rae

    Oh this is such an important and devestating topic. It is so horrific that these practices still happen. I think about my daughter who is eight and cannot imagine sending her into this kind of a lifestyle.

    My heart hearts for the women and girls put into these young marriages and unsafe relationships.

    I give you so much credit for spreading awareness and knowledge with each article you write.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you so much for such thoughtful comments! Really appreciate and it means a lot to me. I totally agree with you. Child marriage is one of the worst form of human right abuses. It is the beginning of a life long suffering for a woman.

  • Mary

    I think a lot of people forget that used to be the norm here and in Europe. While it’s horrifying to think of, we are not so far removed from this practice, and it is actually still legal in many states though not commonly practiced. We need to keep talking about it.

  • Andrea (2oddravens)

    This is horrific, and it is unbelievable that it is still so prevalent. R. Kelly married a 15 year old and is still a free man. Courtney Stodden was only 16 years old when 51 year old Doug Hutchison married her. These cases are right in the U.S. and highly publicized.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you do much for Andrea for highlighting these cases. It actually helps to put some light on this issue and puts things in perspective. Child marriage is an issue in all the societies, as opposed to some common beliefs that it is restricted only in particular religions or only in developing countries.

  • Melody

    It’s horrible to know that this is still happening on so many places. We tend to isolate ourselves in our knowledge of issues like these. I’m glad there are people like your self who are reminding us that this still goes on. Without enlightenment, things cannot change.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you so much for your comments, Melody. It really means a lot to me. I agree with you that unless an issue directly affects us, we tend not to think much about it. I grew up in a country with a larger gender gap and very widespread gender discrimination. I wanted to raise my voice against gender inequality since I was a child. I hope we can create this world a better place a for women and girls.

    • Swagata Sen

      I agree there have been some improvement, but a lot still needs to be done. It is always difficult to tackle issues when people blend them with religious and tradition. Child marriage is also not an exception.

  • Elease Colcord

    I always appreciate your ‘what you can do.’ While I can’t say I ‘enjoy’ reading about the challenges that are still being faced today, I know we can’t hide our heads in the sand.

    • Swagata Sen

      I always believe that, We all can do at least something to many harmful social issues. If nothing else, we can at least raise our voice, speak up for the oppressed, and be an advocate of them. Thank you so much for your comments.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thanks so much for wanting to share and spread more awareness about this issue. Child marriage is a global issue and is prevalent in many countries and we all must act together to eradicate it. Thanks again.

  • Luna S

    It is heart breaking to know this still goes on in this day and age, thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention as this subject should be shared more to help put a stop to it!

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you for your comments Luna! I hope this helps to create awareness against child marriage. We all must take some tangible actions to eliminate gender discrimination from the society.

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