Stand Together Network

SAFEGUARDING FUTURES: BAN CHILD MARRIAGE

What is child marriage:

Child marriage is a deeply entrenched and harmful practice that continues to affect millions of children around the world. It involves marrying children below the age of 18, often without their consent, and is rooted in cultural, economic, and social factors. In this blog, we will explore the issue of child marriage, its causes, consequences, and the ongoing efforts to eradicate this harmful practice.

Child marriage in India, according to the Indian law, is a marriage where either the woman or man is below the age of 21. Most child marriages involve girls, many of whom are in poor socio-economic conditions. Child marriages are prevalent in India.  

Who can be a victim:

The majority of victims are young women and girls between the ages of thirteen and thirty. Where the young person is under eighteen it is also a case of child abuse. There is some evidence to suggest, however, that as many as fifteen per cent of victims may be male. While some boys marry before the age of 18, the vast majority of children who marry are girls, often against their will and with grave consequences.

There are clear links between child marriage and school drop-out, with girls who are married before the age of 18 less likely to be in school than their peers, and girls who drop out of school more likely to be married.

Understanding Child Marriage

There has been growing awareness about the negative consequences of child marriage, especially for girls, including the impact of marriage on children’s education and risks to their physical and psychological health.

It should be noted that many marriages involving children will not amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years. However, child marriage can also obscure what are actually cases of slavery or slavery-like practices.

Child marriage in India, according to the Indian law, is a marriage where either the woman or man is below the age of 21. Most child marriages involve girls, many of whom are in poor socio-economic conditions. Child marriages are prevalent in India.

Child marriage is more than a simple union of two individuals; it’s a complex web of social norms and practices that perpetuate gender inequality and perpetuate harmful traditions. Key aspects of child marriage include:

  • Age: Child marriage typically involves one or both partners being under the age of 18, which is the legal marriage age in many countries

  • Consent: In most cases, children are married without their free and informed consent. Instead, they are often pressured or forced into these unions.

  • Power Imbalance: Child marriage is often driven by unequal power dynamics between the genders, with girls being more vulnerable to this practice.

  • Cultural and Economic Factors: Child marriage is influenced by cultural and economic factors, including dowry traditions, social expectations, and poverty.

Causes of Child Marriage

Child marriage is prevalent in communities where poverty is widespread, birth and death rates are high and access to education and healthcare is low. It can be seen as a strategy for short-term financial security, often taking place in exchange for goods or resources that support the survival of other family members.

Several factors contribute to the persistence of child marriage:

  • Gender Inequality: Societal norms that prioritize men over women perpetuate child marriage. Girls are often seen as property, and marriage is seen as a way to transfer their “care” and economic burden to their husbands.
  • Poverty: Families living in poverty may marry their children off at an early age, as they believe this will secure a better future for them. Dowry practices can also incentivize early marriages.
  • Lack of Education: Limited access to education, particularly for girls, can lead to a higher likelihood of child marriage. When girls are not in school, they are more vulnerable to early marriage.
  • Cultural Norms: Traditional customs and practices can pressure families into marrying their children off young, particularly in communities where child marriage is the norm.

Consequences of Child Marriage

Child marriage has devastating consequences for those involved, including:

  • Health Risks: Early pregnancy and childbirth can lead to significant health risks for young brides, including complications during childbirth and higher infant mortality rates.
  • Limited Opportunities: Child marriage often ends a girl’s education and opportunities for personal and economic growth.
  • Domestic Violence: Child brides are at a higher risk of experiencing domestic violence and emotional abuse.
  • Reproductive Rights: Child brides often have little control over their reproductive rights, including when and how many children they will have.
  • Psychological Impact: Child marriage can lead to lasting psychological trauma, depression, and anxiety.

Efforts to Eradicate Child Marriage

Efforts to eradicate child marriage are ongoing, with organizations, governments, and communities working to combat this harmful practice:

  • Legal Reforms: Many countries have raised the legal marriage age to 18 and have implemented legal penalties for those who engage in child marriage.
  • Education: Promoting access to quality education, especially for girls, is critical in reducing child marriage rates.
  • Community Engagement: Local leaders, religious leaders, and communities can play a significant role in changing social norms and practices.
  • Economic Empowerment: Programs that provide economic opportunities for families can reduce their reliance on child marriage to secure their future.

UNICEF estimates that 11% of women worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15. Although boys can be affected by the practice, it is mostly girls who suffer slavery as a consequence of child marriage.

Child marriages in parts of Europe and Central Asia may reflect a hardening of gender attitudes that reinforce stereotypical roles for girls and limit their opportunities. Child marriage is often linked to patriarchal attitudes towards girls, including the need to safeguard family ‘honour’.

While rates of officially registered marriages of girls aged 15 to 19 in the region range from just over 2 per cent in Ukraine to 23 per cent in Turkey, the true percentages may be far higher, as many child marriages are never registered. Rates of child marriage spike among marginalized communities in particular, including Roma girls in south-eastern Europe. In parts of the Balkans, half of all Roma women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18, compared to just 10 per cent nationally.

There are also spikes in child marriage for girls in parts of the Caucasus, Central Asia and in Turkey, especially in refugee and migrant populations. Child marriage increases dramatically during humanitarian emergencies, driven by social and economic pressures as well as concerns about girls’ safety. A survey in 2014, for example, found that the average age of marriage for Syrian refugee girls in Turkey was between 13 and 20 years, with many parents saying that they would not have married off their daughters at such a young age under more normal circumstances.

Once married, a girl’s world narrows dramatically. Child brides experience isolation from their family, friends and communities, as well as violence, abuse and exploitation. Girls who marry early often become pregnant while they are still children themselves, with great risks for their own well-being and that of their babies.

In southeast Turkey, for example, UNICEF is working with the Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality to identify causes and cases of child marriages and develop mechanisms to prevent them. The programme aims to reach around 50,000 children and 50,000 parents by the end of 2017.

In Bulgaria, family centres have drawn on UNICEF-supported research on the causes of child marriage to create programmes to prevent such marriages and promote greater access to secondary schools for girls from Roma communities.

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the ‘Empowering Roma children and families to exercise their rights’ programme implemented by a Roma organization with support from UNICEF mobilizes Roma communities, institutions and groups to advance the rights of children, with a particular focus on ending child marriages.

The solution

UNICEF sees ending child marriage as essential for girls’ empowerment and well-being, and we work with partners to tackle this rights violation wherever it occurs. We do so by focusing on those girls who are most at-risk, promoting their education and mobilizing those who influence families and wider society to give girls more control over their own lives and prospects.

Ending child marriage means tackling many challenge

We address child marriage through programming across sectors to tackle the many aspects of this harmful practice, particularly in marginalised communities. In countries as diverse as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey, we have taken different steps to prevent child marriage, including support for hotlines and referrals to services that offer direct support to girls.

Our programmes draw on robust evidence, informed by the views of marginalized girls and boys, to empower communities and strengthen the systems that act as a safeguard against child marriage, such as education and social protection. We recognize that ending child marriage involves tackling the many challenges that perpetuate this rights violation, such as gender inequality and discrimination, lack of education, and poverty.

Our work covers five key areas:

  • support for development and participation of adolescent girls
  • strengthening legal systems to protect the rights of adolescent girls and boys
  • carrying out cutting-edge research to build a robust evidence base for advocacy, policies, programmes and tracking progress
  • strengthening services to help adolescents at risk of, or affected by, child marriage, particularly girls, and
  • raising awareness of the need to invest in and support girls, and shifting the social expectations that stifle their prospects.

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