Early Marriage in South Asia
THE PREVALENCE OF EARLY MARRIAGE
CAUSES OF EARLY MARRIAGE
CONSEQUENCES OF EARLY MARRIAGE
RESPONSES TO EARLY MARRIAGE OF CHILDREN
Early marriage affects millions of children through the world. It is widely practiced in the countries of South Asia where every year millions of girls-preteens and teens- become the wives of older men. Young girls are married when they are still children and as a result are denied fundamental human rights. Early marriage compromises their development and often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, with little education and poor vocational training reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty. Required to perform heavy amounts of domestic work, under pressure to demonstrate fertility, married girls and child mothers face constrained decision-making and reduced life choices. Both boys and girls are affected by child marriage but the issue impacts girls in far larger numbers, with more intensity—and is wide ranging.
Early marriage, better known as child marriage, is defined as marriage carried below the age of 18 years, “before the girl is physically, physiologically and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and child bearing”. Many factors interact to place a child at risk of marriage. Parents encourage the marriage of their daughters while they are still children in hopes that the marriage will benefit them both financially and socially, while also relieving financial burdens on the family. Strong correlations between a woman’s age at marriage and the level of education she achieves, the age at which she gives birth to her first child and the age of her husband have been well documented. Early marriage means also the individual becomes sexually active early, raising children while children themselves. The marriage of a young girl affects not only her life but that of the children she will bear.
Early marriage is by no means a new phenomenon. It is a socially established practice that has been carried on from generation to generation. This is despite the existence of international and regional instruments that all the States in South Asia have ratified. Governments in the region also settled upon 18 as the minimum legal age at marriage. However, they are often either unable to enforce existing laws, or rectify discrepancies between national laws and customary and religious laws. Most often, child marriage is considered as a family matter and governed by religion and culture, which ensure its continuity. It remains therefore a widely ignored violation of the rights of girls and women and exposes them to multiple risks, including to sexual abuse and exploitation.
Compiled from a study undertaken by Mira, B. AGHI, this paper examines early marriage in the region in order to offer information for analysis and discussion.
The Prevalence Of Early Marriage In South Asia
It is very difficult to get accurate data on the true extent of early marriages. This is because most marriages are not officially registered, and many parents resort to falsifying girls’ ages. Such acts are made easier in rural areas where birth certificates are often non-existent or not properly recorded. There is also very little data on girls married before the age of 15. Available data are often outdated and fail to provide adequate information. Although early marriage is said to be declining in many parts of the world, the total number of girls at risk or affected is very significant and cannot be ignored. It is estimated there are worldwide more than 51 million adolescent girls aged 15–19 who are married and bearing the burden of domestic responsibility and the risks associated with early sexual activity, including pregnancy. In South Asia in 2005, 48% (nearly 10 million) of young women were married before the age...
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