Child marriage is a global problem and human rights violation that puts young girls at risk, keeping them mired in poverty and heartbreaking conditions. It’s an issue that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities.
In many regions, parents arrange their daughter’s marriage unbeknownst to the girl. They enter a marriage with feelings of powerlessness and fear, which is reinforced when the sudden changes in their lives leave them without control. Married off by their parents often times before reaching puberty, millions of girls become brides at such a young age, that during the wedding ceremony you can find them holding onto their toys.
UNICEF calls child marriage “the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls.”
The practice, which is sheathed in tradition, results in profound negative consequences for the girls, their families and their entire communities. Besides the traumatic introduction to sex, the young girls are expected to carry the heavy burden of household responsibilities, without contact from her birth family and friends.
“In my whole life, I have never felt love,” says Mejgon, a girl from Afghanistan who was married off at 11.
Here are a few shocking facts about child brides compiled from a Human Rights Watch brief and other sources.
Girls Have Few Rights
It’s okay for a middle-aged man to exchange money to marry a girl too young to consent. In some countries, for example, in Yemen, young girls do not have legal protection on their side. When they get married off to older men, and these men rape them, it doesn’t matter how brave they are, a judge will tell her, “We don’t divorce little girls.”
Legislators in Nigeria, including 40 pro-child bride lawmakers, explicitly allow child marriages. In 2010, one legislator paid $100,000 dowry in order to marry a 13-year-old girl.
Marriage Before 15
One in seven girls in the developing world, especially in South Asia and Africa, are married off while still children. In these countries, 30 percent of girls marry before the age of 18.
Child Brides Die from Pregnancy
Pregnancy and childbirth for girls age 15 to 19 often result in serious complications. Because the girls’ bodies are not ready, childbirth kills more girls in the developing world than tuberculosis, war and AIDS. Girls under the age of 15 are five times as likely to die.
Child Marriages a Form of Human Trafficking
Considering that these children are being sold off to older men for marriage, the implications become more sinister than what you may initially imagine. At the subject of their husbands, these young girls are not seen as a partner, but more like a slave–engaging in sex that is not consensual. Marital rape is often justified as a function of the girls’ marriage.
38,000 New Child Brides Per Day
Every year, about 14 million girls become child brides, and that number is only rising. Due to the fact that the majority of child marriages take place in countries where the population is ever-increasing, the overall number of young girls being wed is also expected to increase.
In 2010, a study found that 67 million women age 20 to 24 had become married as children. The same study anticipated that this number would rise to a staggering 142 million by 2020.
Eight Countries with Highest Prevalence
Throughout these eight countries, more than 50 percent of women age 20 to 24 became brides as children. The prevalence rate in Niger is 75 percent, which means that one in four girls will be married before turning 18.
Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Nepal.