Child marriage is an issue that is rampant in some countries around the world, and less so in others. Termed as a formal marriage, normally, before a child (boy or girl) reach the age of 18, the issue affects women more than men. Approximately 35percent of women in the 20-24 age bracket in emerging nations were married during their childhood and a staggering 48percent of women in the 45-49 age bracket. Although, this percentile has seen a reduction for women from high-income families it’s still not enough. Research suggests that young girls leave education often and opt for pregnancy because of early marriages. Child marriages are usually embedded into the fabrics of the society which chooses to uphold them and this means there’s widespread discrimination simply based on gender, and not just on matrimonial subjects – in education, and to survive economic hardship too, at times.
To break free from the shackles of child marriages for women, means fighting honour, social norms, the prospect of losing the opportunity to provide ‘economic protection’ to their families for many women. A dowry is one of the ways a marriage is secured in some poor countries, where presents such as a property, or any other wealthy item acts as a challenging situation for a family to have to cope with. But the graveness of the situation varies from one country to another. Here’s a look at the issue in some of the devoloping countries I’m involved in, for foreign policy:
South Africans have a law in their country which regards child marriages to be a form of a traditional marriage, considering it to be acceptable for young women aged as young as 12, to be married.
In Bangladesh, child marriage is prevalent, with 69percent of women in the 20-24 age bracket married before they hit the age of 18.
The situation in India is dire, with respects to child marriages – 47percent of women in the 20-24 age bracket are married before they become 18 in metropolitan areas, and 56percent marrying in rural provinces before they’re 18.
Iranians sometimes marry girls as young as 10 into families they have disputes with, simply to end such disputes but what’s even more devastating of a reality is that girls often marry as young at 13.
Child marriages in the country are widespread but there’s hope here because draft laws since 2011 has left room for leniency in classifying what should be deemed an appropriate minimum age of consent for marriage in Saudi Arabia.
With the minimum age of consent for marriage sitting at 15, with permission from her father, the situation here is one that just goes from bad-to-worse, when you take into account the concept of “ba’ad” – a local custom. This custom permits elders in villages to resolve disputes, inbetween families by coercing the “guilty” family to give away their young child as a bride.
Around 22percent of young women go through child marriages in Indonesia, and what has been found as a surprising discovery is that social networking platforms have been feeding into this percentile, with many young couples meeting each other over Facebook, and often ending up with pregnancy at a young age.
In Latin America, 29percent of young women get married, overall, with rates varying for countries specifically, be it Ecuador or the Dominican Republic but poverty and acceptability of a young minimum age for marriage is considered to be the root of this issue.
The effects that child marriages can have on young women is disheartening. From the prospect of having to face increased domestic violence to illiteracy, the onus falls upon us to take action here to change the face of what is universally, and locally, considered to be the appropriate age for a girl to get married. Young women shouldn’t be traded off by marriage to settle any kind of family disputes or bring economic benefits to a family simply because of her gender or the socio-economic diaspora she belongs to. It is of the utmost importance that governments take notice about the change that can be implemented here through legislations targeting social-norms of child marriages, increasing awareness of the subject and widening access to education for young girls (and boys) so that no child is left behind any longer to face the prospect of a childhood lost because of an early marriage.