Child Marriage and Its Impact

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Child Marriage: A Silent Health and Human Rights Issue
Abstract
Marriages in which a child under the age of 18 years is involved occur worldwide, but are mainly seen in South Asia, Africa, and Latin America. A human rights violation, child marriage directly impacts girls’ education, health, psychologic well-being, and the health of their offspring. It increases the risk for depression, sexually transmitted infection, cervical cancer, malaria, obstetric fistulas, and maternal mortality. Their offspring are at an increased risk for premature birth and, subsequently, neonatal or infant death. The tradition, driven by poverty, is perpetuated to ensure girls’ financial futures and to reinforce social ties. One of the most effective methods of reducing child marriage and its health consequences is mandating that girls stay in school. Key words: Child marriage, Early marriage, Maternal mortality Child marriage, defined as marriage of a child under 18 years of age, is a silent and yet widespread practice. Today, over 60 million marriages include girls under the age of 18 years: approximately 31 million in South Asia, 14 million in sub-Saharan Africa, and 6.6 million in Latin America and the Caribbean (Figure 1). Each day, 25,000 girls are married and an anticipated 100 million girls will be married in 2012.1 Over 60% of girls are married under the age of 18 in some sub-Saharan countries and Bangladesh, and 40% to 60% of girls undergo child marriage in India (Figure 2).

Figure 1
Number of women aged 20–24 who were married or in union before age 18, by region (2006). CEE/CIS, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Reproduced with permission from United Nations Children’s Fund. Progress ...

Figure 2
Percentage of women aged 20–24 who were married or in union before age 18 (1987–2006). Reproduced with permission from United Nations Children’s Fund. Progress for Children: A World Fit for Children Statistical Review. New York: ... Child marriage has been referred to as early marriage or child brides, but these terms are not optimal. Early marriage does not imply that children are involved, and the term is vague because an early marriage for one society may be considered late by another. The term child brides glorifies the tradition by portraying an image of joy and celebration. Most of these marriages are arranged by parents, and girls rarely meet their future husband before the wedding. The girls know that after the wedding they will move to their husband’s household, become the responsibility of their in-laws, and might not see their own family or friends for some time. Although child marriage includes boys, most children married under the age of 18 years are girls. In Mali, the ratio of married girls to boys is 72:1; in Kenya, it is 21:1; in Indonesia, it is 7.5:1; in Brazil, it is 6:1; and even in the United States, the ratio is 8:1.2–4 Go to:

Human and Children’s Rights
The United Nations and other international agencies have declared that child marriage violates human rights and children’s rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that individuals must enter marriage freely with full consent and must be at full age. In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women stated that child marriage is illegal. In 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child defined children as persons under the age of 18 years. Many countries passed laws changing the legal age of marriage to 18 years, but enforcement of these laws, and of laws requiring marriages to be registered, is weak.5 For example, although the legal age of marriage is 18 years, in Mali 65% of girls are married at a younger age; in Mozambique, it is 57%; and in India, it is 50% (Figure 3). In some parts of Ethiopia, although the legal age of marriage is 15 years, 50% of younger girls are married, and in Mali, 39% of younger girls are married. Furthermore, in some regions, an arranged...
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