Child marriage is a truly global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Child brides can be found in every region in the world, from the Middle East to Latin America, South Asia to Europe. In 2010, 13.5 million girls were married before they turned 18. If we do nothing, by 2030 an estimated 15.4 million girls a year will marry as children. In the developing world, one in nine girls is married before her 15th birthday and some child brides are as young as eight or nine.
Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT?
HEALTH; Child marriage can have devastating consequences for a girl’s health. It encourages the initiation of sexual activity at an age when girls’ bodies are still developing and when they know little about their sexual and reproductive health. Neither physically or emotionally ready to give birth, child brides face higher risk of death in childbirth and are particularly vulnerable to pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula.
When a girl marries as a child, the health of her children suffers too. The children of child brides are at substantially greater risk of perinatal infant mortality and morbidity, and stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50% higher in mothers younger than 20 years than in women who give birth later. There is little doubt that reducing child marriage will help to ensure more children survive into adulthood.
- 90% of adolescent pregnancies in the developing world are to girls who are already married.
- When a mother is under 20, her child is 50 percent more likely to die within its first weeks of life than a baby born to a mother in her 20s
- Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women aged 20-24.
GIRLS SAFETY; Child marriage puts women and girls at particular risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence throughout their lives. Girls who are married before 18 are more likely to experience domestic abuse than their unmarried peers and to report that their first sexual experience was forced. Early pregnancy and forced sexual initiation can affect the mental health of child brides for years after.
EDUCATION;Child marriage often means the end of education for girls. It is closely linked to girls dropping out of school, denying children their right to the education they need for their personal development, their preparation for adulthood, and their ability to contribute to their family and community.
- Mortality rates of children whose mothers have at least seven years of education are up to 58% lower than rates among children whose mothers have no education.
POVERTY;Poverty is one of the main drivers of child marriage. Child brides are more likely to be poor and to remain poor.Where poverty is acute, giving a daughter in marriage allows parents to reduce family expenses by ensuring they have one less person to feed, clothe and educate. In communities where economic transactions are integral to the marriage process, a dowry or ‘bride price’ is often welcome income for poor families.
HUMAN RIGHT AND JUSTICE; Child marriage is a serious human rights violation affecting children’s and women’s rights to health, education, equality, non-discrimination and to live free from violence and exploitation. These are rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as other international and regional human rights instruments.
- Educating and empowering girls
- Supporting young people to become activists for change
- Mobilising and educating communities
- Bringing men and traditional leaders on board
- Enacting and enforcing laws that set a legal minimum age for marriage
- Raising awareness in the media