Early Marriage

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  • Topic: Marriage, Human rights, Age of consent
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INNOCENTI DIGEST

No.7 - March 2001

EARLY MARRIAGE
CHILD SPOUSES
s OVERVIEW s HOW COMMON IS EARLY MARRIAGE? s EARLY MARRIAGE: THE CAUSES AND CONTEXT s THE IMPACT OF EARLY MARRIAGE s TAKING ACTION s THE NEED FOR RESEARCH s IN CONCLUSION s LINKS s REFERENCES

EARLY MARRIAGE w
CONTENTS
EDITORIAL OVERVIEW Neglect of the rights perspective Scope of the Digest HOW COMMON IS EARLY MARRIAGE? EARLY MARRIAGE: THE CAUSES AND CONTEXT Early marriage as a strategy for economic survival Protecting girls 6 6 5 1 2 2 3 4

CHILD SPOUSES

EDITORIAL
Throughout the world, marriage is regarded as a moment of celebration and a milestone in adult life. Sadly, as this Digest makes clear, the practice of early marriage gives no such cause for celebration. All too often, the imposition of a marriage partner upon a child means that a girl or boy’s childhood is cut short and their fundamental rights are compromised. Over the last thirty years with UNICEF in Asia, I have encountered the phenomena of child marriage and early marriage on numerous occasions. While much of the impact remains hidden, it is absolutely clear that millions of children and young people – particularly girls – suffer negative consequences. This Digest looks at the reasons for the perpetuation of early marriage, and its possible increase in populations under stress. A key factor is poverty, with the marriage of children often seen as a strategy for economic survival. In addition, it is perceived as a way to protect girls and to provide some stability in situations where societies are under extreme pressure. This Digest also examines the harmful impact of the practice. I have received countless reports of complications and even death in pregnancy and childbirth of wives too young to safely bear children. I have seen child wives who should be in school or playing, working in near slave-like conditions in the homes of their in-laws. I have reviewed education statistics revealing the large numbers of children, particularly girls, who drop out of school because of early marriage. And I have heard so many married women of all ages lament the fact that they cannot even read because they had to leave school early to be married. Finally, the Digest offers positive guidelines to end the practice of early marriage. We must work to change attitudes in families and in societies at large, extend opportunities for childhood learning and education, offer appropriate support to families and children, and seek to have all children – girls and boys – recognised as valuable members of society rather than economic burdens. Our intention is to raise awareness of the situation and, where necessary, to stimulate action. Where there is insufficient data on the practice and repercussions of early marriage, researchers and officials in both government and civil society are encouraged to initiate research in this area. In some countries, similar local ‘Digests’ could be useful tools for raising awareness. The field offices of UNICEF and other international organizations are also encouraged to use this publication to raise awareness, to advocate for action and to contribute to the formulation of concrete plans of action. We are indebted to Mehr Khan, the former Director of the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, who paved the way for this Digest. Stephen H. Umemoto, Acting Director

UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre

Contemporary pressures and early marriage 7 Sanctions against early marriage: the legal context Consent: law and practice THE IMPACT OF EARLY MARRIAGE ON CHILDREN AND ON SOCIETY Psychosocial disadvantage Adolescent health and reproduction The denial of education Violence and abandonment TAKING ACTION THE NEED FOR RESEARCH IN CONCLUSION WORKING TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN MARRIAGE by Dr Nafis Sadik, Executive Director, UNFPA

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9 9 9 11 12 12 16 17

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LINKS REFERENCES

Innocenti Digest no. 7

Main issues

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Birth, marriage and death are the standard trio...
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