Child Marriage: Why is the Act Performed Throughout Countries Around the World? According to the International Center for Research on Women, “if present child marriage trends continue, more than 142 million girls worldwide will be forced to marry adult men during the next decade-the equivalent of 38,000 girls every day.” Child marriage is defined as marriage before the age of eighteen (International Center for Research on Women, 2012). This marriage is usually forced and comes as a shock to the young girl. Any day, at anytime, a young girl can be taken from her home, sold, married off, and forced to live a life full of threats, violence, and abuse. When I first heard of child marriage I assumed that it happens in countries that aren’t that well off, whom are still living in poverty. I was taken aback when I found out that child marriage is a practice affecting women all over the world: Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and in some communities in Europe and the Americans (Worden, 2010).
I want to find out all the usual questions one would ask about a problem in the world today: how, when, who, where, and WHY does child marriage even happen in all of these countries?! After researching these questions in depth, amongst a few of these countries I want to look into what child marriage may have in common in these different countries. In Afghanistan, statistics show that an estimate of 67 percent of all marriages are forced and approximately 57 percent of girls are married before the age of 16. (The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 2010). Child marriage occurs in Afghanistan despite certain laws that have been made, due to culture and traditions, protection of the child, and economic problems families may face. Child marriage has been part of Afghan culture for thousands of years, and trying to rid a country of a culture event angers a lot of the people living in Afghanistan. Child marriage is known to be apart of Afghan culture as a form of protection. When one tries to put an end to child marriage in Afghanistan, the Afghans view this as going against the culture and traditions of the community (Yousef, 2013).
Parents of a young girl, believe they are doing the right thing by selling, giving away, or exchanging their child because they know she will be clothed, fed, and sheltered from the violence and sexual abuse that the country of Afghanistan is faced with. Under Afghanistans constitution, the minimum age for females is 16, but in rural and urban areas the tradition of marrying off daughters while young in order to receive money remains common among the poor. (Irinnews.org) Families living in poverty is one of the reasons child marriage is so high in Afghanistan. Some Afghan families can’t afford to take care of their children once they are born, so their best solution is marrying off their daughters. They view this as “if she gets married, she will have something for herself”. (Yousef, 2013) As if child marriage isn’t a problem already, a huge problem arises once the marriage is in effect.
The problem that arises is childbirth in young girls who aren’t mature enough to carry a child to full term. This results in the baby not making it to full term, or the young girl dying while trying to give birth. In Afghanistan, it is said that every hour, two women die while giving birth- the highest maternal mortality rate in Asia. (Irinnews.org) This all comes as a shock to me as I read that “most harmful practices are crimes under Afghan law and inconsistent with Sharia law”. Under Islam, marriage is said to be a mutual contractual agreement and consent is required by both the woman and the man for a marriage to be valid. The marriage of girls before the age of sixteen, is against Afghan law. (Gangon, 140) So why are all these marriages occurring?! Well, it is said that “the police and judiciary in Afghanistan often fail to enforce laws that respect women’s rights, and tend to take a selective rather than impartial approach to administering justice”. (Gagnon,142)
Even some community and religious leaders are prolonging the issue of child marriage because they are uneducated, without any training on women’s rights. Child marriage: a “practice that robs millions of girls of their childhood, their rights, and their dignity” (Hedayat, 2011). This a quote from Girls Not Brides global initiative that launched in Africa, and made it’s way over to India. Statistics show that 40% of the world’s child marriages take place in India (Hedayat, 2011). Even though child marriages are illegal in India, priests still conduct child weddings, and guests still attend with happiness and excitement. The legality doesn’t seem to affect the people in India, even though one would be charged with a fine of Rs100,000 ($1,600 in US currency) for not preventing or stopping a child marriage. These marriages are still being performed in India, more or less “secretly”.
Child marriages are supported by villages in India, so when these marriages are performed, nobody informs the police. A difference between India and Afghanistans child marriages, is that once the young couple gets certified as husband and wife, they don’t end up living with each other until they are older (Around 15 or 16). It seems to me in India child marriage is opposed by the Indian government, and largely tolerated by the families, and young girls of India. One young girl says: “Had I been married later, I’d have learned to read and write” (Hedayat, 2011). The young girls are expressing that one of the biggest struggles with child marriage, is not being able to receive an education. If I was forced into marriage at any age before 16, I’m not even sure I would have the emotional stability to even think about an education because I would be traumatized. This culture shock really intrigued me.
The main reason why child marriages are being performed throughout India, is directly similar to Afghanistan. The two main reasons are due to culture, and parents wanting their daughter to be better provided for by an older man, because they can’t provide the type of life they want for their daughter. Which absolutely makes no sense to me! Yes, they maybe getting all the necessary essentials to be surviving, but these young girls are barely even living when they have to suffer through the traumatizing effects of being a child bride. Of course, many young girls in India also are forced into having a baby, resulting in deaths of the young girls and their soon to be child. In India, out of every 1,000 children born due to child marriage, 31 die before they are one year old (Resource Centre for Participatory Development Studies, 2011).
These statistics make me cringe, because in reality so many young girls and newborn babies deaths can be stopped, if this horrible acceptable view of child marriage is put to an end. When researching child marriage in Africa, statistics showed that 42% of girls were married before turning 18 (PBS, 2010). As I was reading an article, I came across a horrid sentence that literally broke my heart. I read that in Africa, parents “consider their daughters second-class citizens and see them as potential sources of income.” (Kamba, 2013). In Central and West Africa, 2 out of every 5 girls are married before they reach the age of eighteen (Kamba, 2013). According to Kambas article, child marriages are being performed in Africa due to parents wanting to protect their young girls from pre-marital sex and unwanted pregnancy, “which tarnish a family’s honour and may diminish the value of a future dowry.” South Sudan is known to have the world’s highest mortality rate, “with about 2,054 deaths per 100,000 live births.”
The young women having these babies, also don’t have a good chance in living, where as one in seven girls die due to pregnancy at such a young age (Kamba, 2013). Just like Afghanistan, and India, traditional practices play a huge part of why child marriage is still performed in Africa. Child marriage is engraved in Africa as an “ancient tradition”. Even though tradition plays a huge role on child marriage, the economic struggle of Africa also comes into play. Child marriage can be blamed on “the country’s poorly-defined and contradictory laws as well as the government’s weak execution and enforcement of them” (Kamba, 2013). Overall, I can find some sense into child marriage being blamed on the government’s weak enforcement, because if the country is facing economic difficulties, how can they have enough money and support to have a strong forceful government?
After researching Afghanistan, India, and Africa, I wanted to see if child marriage is performed throughout the European and American nations. European and American nations don’t deal with as much poverty as these other countries do, which made me curious to find out if child marriage is actually performed in these nations. I did some research, and even though there isn’t much on the internet of child marriage in European and American nations, I came across a few sources. In Europe child marriage is practiced in Georgia (rate of 17%), Turkey (rate of 14%), and Ukraine (rate of 10%). Ten percent of young children marry before the age of eighteen in Britain and France (United Nations Population Fund, 2012). According to Dr. Lisa Dana, child marriages are most common in the Southern part of the United States, because laws on marriage are more lenient there.
In the United States, statistics found that 8.9% of children were married off young, which is dramatically lower than the other countries that I’ve researched. All but two states in the United States require both the members of a partnership to be at least eighteen years of age or older to be allowed to marry without parental consent (Strat, 2011). I was surprised with how little information on child marriage I came across while researching Europe and Latin/Northern America. I came to the conclusion that a lot of child marriages aren’t reported from these nations, or as sad as it is, it doesn’t happen that often because these countries aren’t in severe poverty. So, after researching all these different countries, I asked myself two questions: Why does child marriage even happen and are there common reasons of why this is happening throughout the world?
I came to the conclusion that child marriage is practiced due to culture/tradition, poverty, security, and failure for authorities to enforce laws. Throughout all these countries, besides the European nations, I found that these four main factors play a common role in why child marriage happens. Culture and tradition is definitely the main reason why child marriage is prevalent in these countries. Culture places strong social pressures on families to conform to everything the culture expects. If families decided to go against tradition, they face the consequences of facing disapproval or family shame. (Equality Now 2010). Culture plays a huge roll in families from these countries, and it is purely unacceptable to go against the culture that you’re from. Poverty is another reason why child marriage happens. Families that can’t afford to raise a child due to low income, look at the child as an economic burden (United Nations Population Fund 2012).
If the girls aren’t seen as a burden, they are “valued as capital for their exchange value in terms of goods, money, or livestock” (Equality Now, 2010). How horrific! I can’t even imagine the emotional insecurities these young girls face when being bargained off to random men who are much older than them. Security also plays a big role on why child marriage occurs around the world. Many of these countries don’t have a secure home base for their children to be safe. Parents want their child to have a safe future, so they turn to child marriage as a secure base. This goes back on the poverty aspect, if parents can’t afford to take care of their daughter, they sell her off to a man whom can. Even though he really isn’t “taking care “ of her. In my opinion the child would have a “safer future” if she just stayed with her family, because she doesn’t have the risk of being abused, or dying due to young pregnancy.
Lastly, failure to enforce laws that have been made for women, and the issue of child marriage plays a huge roll on why child marriage is still occurring to this day. In most of these countries, there are laws that don’t allow marriage until the age of eighteen, and many laws that are protecting women. Some families aren’t aware that they are breaking the law, while others just don’t care to stop because nobody is strictly enforcing these laws. “In some countries early marriage is so prevalent, prosecutions are seldom brought”(United Nations Population Fund, 2012). If authorities went into these countries, and tried to pin point exactly where child marriage is happening, even in the “secret villages”, and prosecuted the individuals performing in this act, we might see lower statistics.
“According to the Convetion on Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)- marriage before the age of 18 shouldn’t be allowed since children don’t have the ‘full maturity and capacity to act’ (United Nations Population Fund, 2012). I couldn’t even imagine being forced into a marriage at a age where I am barely able to read and write. Marriage is ones personal decision, not a forceful requirement. How could anyone force their two year old child into wedlock and ten years down the road force the child out of their home? The concept of child marriage makes me sick to my stomach and leaves me with an uneasy feeling. I am infatuated with children, and the thoughts and images that run through my mind about child marriage, utterly break my heart.
Whether the concept of child marriage is due to culture/tradition, poverty, security, or failure for authorities to enforce laws, there is really no excuse for this act being performed! Young girls deserve to be educated and grow to be the best possible women they can in the future. Every girl, deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential. Child marriage needs to be put to an around the world, but what can you do? The most important action to take in order to stop child marriage, is to educate and empower girls. “Education is one of the most powerful tools to delay the age at which girls marry as school attendance helps shift norms around child marriage” (Girls Not Brides, 2013).
I encourage each and every girl to educate another women they know about child marriage. Do research, find answers, make your voices heard. One thing you can do is sign UK’s Take the Vow petition. As I was researching, I came across this petition that is urging the UK’s government to take action and early and forced marriage around the world (United Nations Population Fund, 2012). You can take this vow, just like I have, and the world could just be one step closer to the world ban of child marriage.
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