Photos by Wikimedia Commons (Left, and Center), and Medicalmission via Flickr (Right).
According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one third of the world’s girls are married before age 18, and one in eight before age 15.
The practice of child marriage has proved harmful to girls, robbing them of their childhood and autonomy and increasing the likelihood of death and abuse.
What is child marriage?
Child marriage is widespread in today’s world. While in wealthier countries, women are getting married later (if at all) and have generous career opportunities, one third of the world’s women are married before age 18, in some cases as young as five to eight years of age.
Girls living in poverty with little to no education are more likely to be married young, the ICRW says, often for financial and cultural reasons. And the trend is only rising, despite attempts to bring the dangers to light.
On the current trajectory, according to GirlsNotBrides.org, there will be 142 million girls married as children within the decade.
Where is it most common, and why?
There are ten countries in which half or more of all girls are married before age 18. At the very top of this list is Niger at 75 percent, Chad and the Central African Republic following at 68 percent, followed by Bangladesh, Mozambique, Mali, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Malawi.
There are many factors that contribute to these statistics.
Girls Not Brides, a global partnership to end child marriage, pinpoints tradition, gender roles, poverty and security as major reasons this practice continues. It has gone on for generations in cultures that value women less than men, in which families marry off young girls for dowery and what is perceived to be security for their daughters.
Though religion is sometimes used to justify the practice, The Star confirms with Girls Not Brides Girls global coordinator Lakshmi Sundaram that child marriage is not officially endorsed by any religion.
What are the consequences?
Girls married before age 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Their children are at risk, as well: when a child is born from a mother under age 18, it is 60 percent more likely to die within the first year.
Not only this, but marriage for young girls often traps them in poverty, forces them to discontinue their education, and puts them at risk for both domestic abuse and STDs at the hands of their much older partners.
Recent and tragic cases include the alleged death of an eight-year-old girl in Yemen, who was reported to suffer fatal internal bleeding on her wedding night, which the families involved are now denying, according to Gulf News.
How can this be changed?
Officials of the U.N. and human rights groups are pushing to have laws changed and awareness raised on this serious issue.
Organizations like Girls Not Brides, Care.org, and ICRW focus on decreasing poverty and the occurrence of childhood marriages worldwide. They accept donations for their missions, which work toward the hope of demolishing this practice some day.
Originally published on November 12, 2013.