There are more than 60 million girls in this world under the age of 18 (some as young as 8) who are being married (many to men twice their age or older) without their consent. If child marriage continues at its current rate, there will be an additional 100 million girls in developing countries who will be married within the next decade. In countries such as Sierra Leone, one in four girls are married by age 15.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, a “child” is defined as anyone under the age of 18. This means that all marriages to girls under the age of 18 are forced, because these girls do not have the personal agency or legal capacity to withhold consent and disobey their elders.
Not only is marrying a child to an older man against her will a violation of her human rights, it has seriously negative lifelong consequences. When a girl is married so young, she becomes the property of her husband and she has no chance of education. When these girls are impregnated by their husbands, they face STDs and medical complications associated with a very young pregnancy. This is because their pelvis and reproductive organs are not fully developed yet, especially if they are 15 years or younger. Death in pregnancy in girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their 20s.
Also, girls who are married this young will often be under the control of their husbands, which will restrict their freedom of movement and stop her from going to school, obtaining birth control or seeking healthcare. These girls will not have any schooling or educational opportunities, so they will not be able to enter the paid labour force and earn an income.
How Can We Stop Child Marriage?
There are many ways that child marriage can be stopped. First of all, we need to make sure that governments set a minimum legal age of marriage at 18 years. There also needs to be specific legal initiatives which will identify cases of marriage of girls under the age of 15, so that violators can be penalised.
Also, we can help to promote campaigns that encourage the elimination of child marriage within communities. These campaigns will stress the important benefits to human rights and girl’s health. It is crucial to invest into the education of young girls so that we can promote universal attendance of girls in schools at least up to age 15. It is also important to support education campaigns in schools, which can begin early in primary school and will teach about human rights and include the right to refuse marriage.
To find out more about the ways that we can help to eliminate child marriage, visit the Plan UK forced and early marriage page here.