Child Marriage Continues To Endanger Millions of Children

Child Marriage Continues To Endanger Millions of Children
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Despite widespread condemnation of child marriage, the practice persists around the world and about 37 thousand children are victims each day. Activists around the world are now finding different ways to tackle this pressing issue.

Compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

Despite widespread condemnation of child marriage, the practice persists around the world, perpetuated by a toxic mix of poverty and gender inequality. Its effects are devastating, yet the issue is often deeply misunderstood.

Many people believe child marriage has become rare, when child marriage is in fact legal in more than 90 countries.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports, about one in three girls in the developing world is married before 18. UNFPA estimates that in this year alone, 13.5 million children, most of them girls, would be married before they turn 18. About 4.4 million would be married before they turn 15. This comes to an average of 37,000 child marriages a day.

Another myth about child marriage is that it only happens in Muslim, Africa, or poor countries. But child marriage takes place all over the world, across continents, cultures and religions. It even happens in wealthy Western countries, including the US and UK. However, it is much more common in the developing world because one of the main driving factors of the issue is poverty.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 10% of girls are child brides; 19% in the Arab States whereas the number rises as high as 43% in other regions.

The majority of child marriage takes place in Asia and the Asia Pacific, the most populous region, where about 40 million girls are child brides.

While most child marriages happen to girls, boys can also be married off at a young age. United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that about 18% of those married before 18 are boys, while the rest are girls.

On February 14, Ashley Judd, an American actress and humanitarian activist, wrote an article for The Guardian pointing out the potential factors leading to child marriage and its potential outcomes.

“Child marriage is both a cause and a consequence of poverty and gender inequality,” she says. “225 million women around the world still lack access to modern family planning. In the desperation of not being able to plan and space births, selling or trading girls to men can seem a practical solution.”

Speaking of the possible consequences of the problem, Judd writes, “Child marriage is a mass abuse of human rights. It undercuts global development. Being a child bride dramatically increases her risk of facing death or injury. In fact, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19. The adolescent wife is ill equipped to care, emotionally and financially, for her children who do survive. Some things, love alone cannot overcome.”

Child marriage video produced to heighten awareness

To raise the awareness of child marriage issues, a pressure group called KAFA (“enough” in Arabic), filmed a video as part of a campaign to end child marriage in the country. KAFA aims to fight the violence and exploitation of women in Lebanon.

Supported by UNFPA, the film features a 12-year-old girl in a full bridal outfit posing next to her smiling groom, a man who looks old enough to be her grandfather. Over two million viewers have watched the video and it has sparked an international outcry.

Child marriage in Lebanon, which is what the video highlights, is something that people don’t know enough about, says Maya Ammar, a spokesperson for KAFA.

“Some people do not know that the law in Lebanon allows child marriage, and others do not feel concerned about the matter. We chose to do the child marriage video to draw more attention to the issue, while at the same time engaging people in a real scene happening before their eyes. The scene was supposed to seem shocking because the practice itself is shocking," she says.

In certain areas of Lebanon, a parent can give their permission for their daughter to marry when she is nine years old. Without parental permission, girls can marry as young as 14.

Estimates of child marriage in Lebanon do not include the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees whose daughters are increasingly getting married at a young age due to the deteriorating situation in their home country. These girls are more likely to be victims of domestic violence and less likely to go to school.

The pregnancy-related complications and suicide are the leading causes of death of child brides.

The UNFPA and the KAFA campaign are working to raise awareness and introduce legislation to bring an end to child marriage in more than 100 countries.

Activists in Pakistan fighting against child marriage

In Pakistan, social activists and religious scholars raised their voices in favor of the Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Bill at a meeting held in Peshawar, a major city in the country, on February 16.

Members of the meeting pressed the government to punish anyone who facilitates child marriage. They said such people should be imprisoned and fined according to the law.

Religious scholar Arshad Qayyum says three factors are important for a marriage: wit, consent and puberty. Qayyum adds that physical and mental maturity of a girl is also extremely necessary.

Sobia Khan, a legislator, says, “An immature and uneducated girl cannot raise a child properly.”

Shabeena, a social activist, says, “If we are expected to be 18 years old to obtain a Computerized National Identity Card, why can’t a similar rule apply for marriage?”

Edited by Olivia Yang

“Top 10 myths about child marriage" (UNFPA)
“Lebanon Child Marriage Video Highlights Scale Of Young Brides Across The World" (The Huffington Post)
“Video of child bride in Lebanon shines spotlight on 37,000 child marriages every day” (Independent)
“Not a Home Video: Passerbys React to Wedding of 12-Year-Old to Older Man” (Sputnik)
“Protecting their future: Social activists push for anti-child marriage bill” (The Express Tribune)
“Passers-by react angrily as middle-aged man ‘marries 12-year-old girl in seaside wedding’” (Mirror)
“’Bride of just 12′ poses for wedding photos in front of horrified onlookers… as part of stunt to test reactions” (The Sun)
“Love conquers all? Not for child brides unable to choose sweetheart or spouse” (The Guardian)