In the developing world, 1 in 9 girls is married before they reach the age of 15, while 1 in 3 girls marry before they’re 18. Groups campaigning for the abolition of child marriage like Girls Not Brides report that each year, 12 million girls worldwide marry before reaching 18.
Because of population size, Sub-Saharan and West African countries have the highest numbers of child marriage, however, child marriage is proportionally most common in South Asia.
Why Do Parents Marry off Their Daughters?
Apart from child marriage traditions in certain areas of the world, poverty, gender inequality, and lack of education are the main causes. Parents in poor societies arrange marriages for their daughters to reduce the number of mouths to feed as well as to gain from dowries. In addition, gender inequality is also prevalent, with girls not valued in the same way as boys.
According to the International Center for Research on Women, education also plays a significant role. In Mozambique, for example, nearly 60 percent of uneducated girls are forced into marriage, whereas only 10 percent of girls with secondary schooling marry before reaching 18.
Girls Not Brides further explains that in some places, parents arrange marriages for their daughters to protect them against harassment, physical and sexual assault.
How Does Child Marriage Impact on Girls?
Girls who are forced into marriage often suffer a severe curtailment of their human rights and freedoms. Deprived of basic rights like health care, education, and personal safety, these girls have little hope of living their lives freely or pursuing a career.
In addition, girls who marry before reaching 18 are much more likely to become victims of domestic violence. According a ICRW study conducted in two states in India, child brides are twice as likely to be threatened, beaten or slapped by their husbands.
The psychological effects of child marriage are also devastating with many girls suffering from feelings of hopelessness and despair, signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome and of sexual abuse. With regard to physical health, Girls Not Brides points out that girl brides are much more likely to suffer pregnancy and childbirth complications or to contract the HIV virus.
Child Marriage is Legal in Over 100 Countries
According the PEW Research Center, UN and US state department data on 198 countries and territories showed that child marriage is legal in 117.
What Are Campaigners Doing?
Many charities are fighting to put an end to child marriage. According to figures published by UNICEF on 6 March 2018, numbers have been dropping by approximately 15 percent over the last decade. The greatest decline has been recorded in South Asia where figures dropped from 50 to 30 percent. Government action, better education along with public awareness campaigns into the ills of child marriage are believed to be the driving forces behind the drop.
The World Has Pledged to End Child Marriage by 2030
Though the recently released figures show a drop in child marriage numbers, efforts will need to be redoubled to achieve the goal of ending child marriage by 2030.