Child Marriage

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What is child marriage?
Child/Early marriage refers to any marriage of a child younger than 18 years old, in accordance to Article 1 of the Convention on the Right of the Child. While child marriage affects both sexes, girls are disproportionately affected as they are the majority of the victims. Their overall development is compromised, leaving them socially isolated with little education, skills and opportunities for employment and self-realisation. This leaves child brides more vulnerable to poverty, a consequence of child marriage as well as a cause. Child marriage is now widely recognised as a violation of children's rights, a direct form of discrimination against the girl child who as a result of the practice is often deprived of her basic rights to health, education, development and equality. Tradition, religion and poverty continue to fuel the practice of child marriage, despite its strong association with adverse reproductive health outcomes and the lack of education of girls. Child and forced marriage

A forced marriage is defined as a marriage "conducted without the valid consent of one or both parties and is a marriage in which duress - whether physical or emotional - is a factor" [1]. FORWARD believes that any child marriage constitutes a forced marriage, in recognition that even if a child appears to give their consent, anyone under the age of 18 is not able to make a fully informed choice whether or not to marry. Child marriages must be viewed within a context of force and coercion, involving pressure and emotional blackmail and children that lack the choice or capacity to give their full consent. Where does Child marriage occur?

SOURCE: UNICEF, 2005 [2]
The map above shows the countries in the world where child marriage is practiced and gives an indication of the percentage of girls affected by child marriage in each country. Child marriage is a worldwide phenomenon but is most prevalent in Africa and Southern Asia and although its practice has decreased somewhat in recent decades, it remains common in, although not only confined to, rural areas and among the most poverty stricken [3]. It is predicted by the UNFPA that worldwide 100 million girls are expected to marry in the next decade [4]. In Africa, UNICEF estimate that 42 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18 and in some African countries the figure is much higher, such as in Niger where there is a 76 per cent incidence of child marriage [5]. The age at which children are married also varies between countries but marriage before the age of 15 is not uncommon and in some areas of West Africa and in Ethiopia, girls are sometimes married as early as age 7 [6]. Why does child marriage occur?

Poverty and economic transactions
Poverty is a critical factor contributing to child marriage and a common reason why parents may encourage a child to marry. Where poverty is acute, a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older - sometimes even elderly - man is believed to benefit the child and her family both financially and socially. In communities where child marriage is practiced marriage is regarded as a transaction, often representing a significant economic activity for a family. A daughter may be the only commodity a family has left to be traded and sometimes girls can be used as currency or to settle debts. A girl's marriage may also take place as a perceived means of creating stability. In uncertain times, poor harvest conditions or war, a family may believe it is necessary to ensure the economical 'safety' of their daughter and family, through marriage. In Africa the monetary value of bride price, or bride wealth, is linked with marriage. Bride price is a sum, either in cash or kind, used to purchase a bride for her labour and fertility. In the context of poverty, the practice of paying bride price can encourage early marriage. Young girls, a resource with which their parents can attain greater wealth,...
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