Tuesday, 13 December 2011


(Picture via SUE LLOYD-ROBERTS, Daily Mail)
Allowing people to marry under the age of 18 is against the UN convention and the practice is outlawed in most countries.

In India, child marriage was made illegal under the Child Marriage Restraint Act passed during British rule in 1929. The Indian government also signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, emphasising the right to education and freedom from abuse which the Convention entails.  Despite these laws, mass child marriages continue to take place even today--openly defying the law.

A father from India who married off his 6-year old daughter to a 20-year old boy justified his action by saying, "It's the tradition. Girls are married at a very young age, regardless of the age of their husbands, and they're expected to adjust to the situation." (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-389469/The-illegal-child-brides-India.html#ixzz1gQLWA6dB)  

The practice of child marriage is also common in Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Nepal, Uganda and Cameroon, where over 50% of girls are married by the age of 18. More than 30% of girls are married by the age of 18 in another eighteen countries, mostly in Asia and Africa (UNICEF, Early Marriage, a Harmful Traditional Practice. Statistical exploration, 2005). (UNICEF, Early Marriage: Child Spouses, 2001). (source:  excerpt from an article by Diana Brown submitted to the UN Human Rights Councilon behalf of IHEU and the World Population Foundation on 27 February 2006).

Major Causes of Child Marriages: Poverty and culture

Statistics show that child marriage is most common among the poorest groups in society. Extreme poverty is often highlighted as a major cause for child marriages, especially in Asian and African regions where poor families regard their daughters as a burden. This obvious gender inequality existing in most countries where women are treated as ‘second-class citizens’diminishes the true value of the female gender.  As bride slaves, young girls are treated as chattel, bartered and sold, turning them into literal sex slaves.  Some are even sold into marriage to pay off the family debt.

Culture and tradition also play strong roles in the continuation of such practices. This brings about unwillingness from the authorities to put a stop to the practice continuing to expose young girls into forced child marriages with not even the authorities wanting to help them. These girls end up having no one to turn to for help.  

Consequences of Child Marriage: Health Risks and more

The risk that a girl of 15 or younger will die in childbirth is five times more than a woman in her 20s. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women between the age group of 15-19. Child brides face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience. Girls ages 15 – 19 are 2 to 6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys of the same age in sub-Saharan Africa. (http://unaskedadvice.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/being-married-as-a-child-causes-mental-illness/ )

Of the 10 million children under 5 who die each year worldwide, two million are in India.
The rate of women dying in childbirth in India is 490 per 100,000 live births, compared with single digits in Europe and the United States. 

Also, many of these child brides become victims of domestic violence. They are also deprived of the education they very much need, to be independent and seek better opportunities to improve their lives. And when the child marriage crosses borders, this can lead to human or child trafficking where the child is forced into a life of being a child bride and slave labourer at the same time. Their situation not only keeps them trapped in their life of poverty but also creates health issues and even death.

However, a June 2011 article on child brides pointed out that child brides exist even in developed countries (Tracy McVeigh, social affairs editor of guardian.co.uk):

  •       Rates of early and forced marriage are also high in Europe, with the highest percentages in Central and Eastern Europe where 2.2 million girls have married before their 18th birthday.
  •       The highest rates are in Georgia (17%) and Turkey (14%). At least 10% of adolescents marry before the age of 18 in Britain and France.
Clearly, the problem is of global concern and should be addressed.

Taking Action

Jengri from India, a child bride at age 11 and now a widow, transformed herself to being an advocate and voice for children who are bride slaves.

She said, "I thought my life was over but now I have a cause and I have a new life." Her husband,  an alcoholic truck driver and more than 20 years older than her died from an accident  3 days after the wedding. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-389469/The-illegal-child-brides-India.html#ixzz1eYCvqi4e)

Jengri may be one of the few who didn’t have to suffer years of brutality from her husband as a bride slave. For an 11-year old widow, she went through a rude awakening. But this didn’t stop her from overcoming her harrowing experience. Instead of dragging herself into depression and hopelessness, she changed her view from being a victim to being an activist to champion the cause against child bride slavery. 

Several non-government organizations (NGO) have been established over the years advocating for women’s rights and empowerment to address global concerns including child marriages. In India alone, over 47 women’s organizations exist to address women and child issues. (list of women NGOs can be viewed through: http://www.jagriti-international.org/organizations.asp) 

There is a need to call for global action not only to strictly enact, standardise and enforce national laws on child marriages, but also to address the causes of child marriages and other global problems.

With people like Jengri giving a voice to those who cannot speak, and a global awareness resounded on the issue, girl children across the world may finally look forward to a life that their well-to-do counterparts enjoy.

Contributed By: Lylin Aguas

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