On Child Marriage
On Child Marriage: how one event impacts a girl’s health, her education, and her opportunities
What happens when a girl is forced to marry at a young age? The statistics say the likelihood of continuing her education plummets as does any opportunity for better-paid work. They also show that her risk of death from childbirth and pregnancy-related complications increases dramatically.
Yet, child marriage persists. In the developing world, 1 in 3 girls will be married before their eighteenth birthday. 1 in 9 will wed by age fifteen. We are not talking about a handful of cases around the world; Almost a third of all girls living in low-income countries will experience the lasting impact of child marriage.
As defined by the World Health Organization, child marriage includes both formal marriages and informal unions under the age of eighteen. While both boys and girls can be subjected to forced marriages, girls overwhelmingly bear the brunt of this traditional practice. If allowed to continue unabated, 140 million girls will marry much too young by 2020.
Child marriage affects most regions around the world, including South and Central Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Arab states, the Caribbean and Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia (excluding China) account for nearly 70% of the world’s child brides. Disparities within regions are extremely common: girls living in remote rural areas are twice as likely to become a child bride than their urban counterparts, girls with low socioeconomic status are also at greater risk, as well as girls who lack an education.
Girls living in countries with wide gender gaps are often perceived as a burden on the family rather than an asset. For example, in India, a girl’s family must pay the groom a dowry, and the price for a younger, uneducated girl is much lower. In other areas, the groom pays a bride price to the family.
Once a girl is married, she is more likely to drop out of school and be poor because she is robbed of her educational and economic opportunities by an unwanted marriage. By taking away her potential for a better life, child marriage not only hinders her ability to provide for herself and her family, but also reinforces traditional gender roles and attitudes.
Young mothers suffer much more during pregnancy and childbirth than their older counterparts. Girls under fifteen are five times more likely to die in childbirth. Not only do they have a greater risk of death, girls who survive labor and delivery may be plagued by complications, like obstetric fistula or uterine prolapse. Simply put, young girls are not as biologically prepared to bear children as well as adult women, and this is reflected in the extremely troubling death rates for adolescent mothers.
Little progress has been made over the last ten years to decrease rates of child marriage. While women in the industrialized world are fighting to earn the same pay as men, girls in developing nations are fighting for basic rights-rights that we take for granted, such as owning property, attending school and driving a car. In communities where girls are undervalued, where there is a notion that girls are inferior, the inequity between male and female is more pronounced than ever and contributes to the stubborn prevalence of child brides.
Arne Hoel / World Bank. 2012. Primary school students in Gaza City. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/nwK6yr
Dominic Chavez / World Bank. 2013. Mothers wait to vaccinate their babies. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/hhYTB4
1. United Nations Population Fund. (2012). Marrying too Young End Child Marriage. Available from: http://unfpa.org/endchildmarriage
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