An article in the Washington Post highlights some very disturbing facts about child brides around the world. Many of us might consider the problem to be isolated to a few countries and not affect a substantial number of children. We would be very very wrong. The information in the article was compiled from a Human Rights Watch brief and other sources.
1. Child brides often die from pregnancy or childbirth
In developing countries, where almost all child marriages take place, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the No. 1 cause of death for girls age 15 to 19. That means that pregnancy and childbirth kill more girls in the developing world than war, AIDS, tuberculosis or any other cause.
2. Child brides are typically far from equal partners in their marriage
husbands to child brides are typically adults and may have often paid her parents for the privilege; many activists consider child marriages to be a form of human trafficking, i.e. the buying and selling of human beings.
3. The conditions of child marriage make marital rape more likely
UNICEF calls child marriage “the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls.” Some activists argue that, in cases where the bride is clearly a young child, sex in such marriages should not be considered consensual. Separately, the fact that the husband may have paid for his bride can set up a dynamic that’s more transactional than romantic.
4. Girls are often forced out of school when they marry
Girls who drop out of school in their early teens or even younger are often left totally reliant on their husbands. This leaves them with little future except as a housewife and mother, a life they never have the opportunity to choose willingly as an adult.
5. Every year, 14 million girls become child brides, and that number is going up
Because child marriages are most common in countries where the population is growing, the overall number of child brides is expected to increase.
6. Child marriages are more common in poorer, rural regions
This is true both between and within countries. In other words, being born in a poorer country makes a girl more likely to become a child bride, and being born into a particularly poor or rural part of that country makes child marriage more likely still.
7. There are eight countries where more than half of girls marry before turning 18
Countries listed from those with the highest prevalence rate to the lowest: Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Nepal….The prevalence rate in Niger is 75 percent
8. One in seven girls in the developing world is married before turning 15
These girls – and they are, make no mistake, children – tend to be in West and Central Africa as well as South Asia.
9. The issue is controversial in some countries, more accepted in others
In Yemen, for example, girls often have few rights, legal protections or social norms on their side. When an 11-year-old Yemeni child bride who had been raped by her husband was brave enough to seek a divorce, the judge told her only, “We don’t divorce little girls.”
We are most likely to jump to the conclusion that child brides are mostly a problem in Islamic countries. However, according to according to a 2007 study commissioned by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), while religion is very often a major factor, Islam is not the only offender. Here are a few countries and the religious groupings of offenders.
- Chad Muslim/Non-Muslim
- Malawi Catholic/Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian/ Anglican/Seventh Day Advent-Baptist/Other Christian/Muslim/No religion/Other
- Cameroon Catholic/Protestant/Muslim/Animist/Other/No Religion/New Religions
- Nigeria Catholic/Protestant/Other Christian/Islam/Traditionalist/Other
- Burkina Faso Muslim/Non-Muslim
- Ethiopia Orthodox/Muslim/Protestant/Other
- India Hindu/Non-Hindu
- Bangladesh Muslim/Non-Muslim
These results indicate that targeting a particular religion across countries is not an effective way to address early marriage.
Further links on the ICRW website outline the problem and some solutions in more detail.
Most of the world has outlawed the purchase and sale of human beings, unless you marry the one you purchase. The concept of women being owned and controlled by men is tightly tied to religion, and fuelled by poverty.