Facing the Reality - Child marriages

Posted: 2016-04-26
Written by: EU Network
Category: Battle of ideas
Tagged: world india children rights child


Despite laws that marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights, child marriage is a reality for both boys and girls. Although girls are disproportionately the most affected. These girls are not only denied their childhood, they are often socially isolated and  with limited opportunities for education and employment. 

Of the world’s 1.1 billion girls, about 250 million or more than 1 in 3 girls have been  married  before age of 15. Due to population growth, this number will approach 320 million by 2050. The total number of women married in childhood can grow from more than 700 million today to approximately 950 million by 2030, and nearly 1.2 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund forecasts. It is an evidence of gender inequality, reflecting social norms that perpetuate discrimination against girls. Historically, child marriage was common around the world. The practice began to be questioned in the 20th century, with the age of individuals' first marriage increasing in many countries and most countries increasing the minimum marriage age.
Percentage of women aged 20 to 49 years who were married or in union before ages 15 and 18  in 2014.
Source: the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund 
Statistics of the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund  show, that the highest rate of child marriage is in Bangladesh (where 2 out of every 3 girls marry before age 18), followed by India, Nepal and Afghanistan. Child marriage among girls is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. 
- In South Asia lives almost 42 % of all child brides worldwide.
- Niger has the highest overall prevalence of child marriage in the world: 77 % of women aged 20 to 49 were married before age 18 in contrast to 5 % of men in the same age group.
- India alone accounts for 1/3 of the global child brides total.  
- Bangladesh has the highest rate of marriage involving girls under age 15. 
- Chad has among the highest levels of marriage by age 15  -  29 %.
- Boys are more likely to be married in childhood in the Central African Republic than in any other country in Africa
The 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage
Source: the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund  
Across all regions, girls who live in rural areas are more likely to become child brides than their urban counterparts. This difference is especially striking in some countries in West and Central Africa and in Latin American and the Caribbean, where the prevelence of child marriage in rural areas is about twice the level found in urban areas. 
There is also a substantial gap in the prevalence of child marriage between the poorest and richest. This disparity is particularly pronounced in certain countries. In India, more than half of women were first married before the age of 18. The same pattern is also observed in the Dominican Republic, where at least half of the poorest women entered into their first marriage at about age 17 compared to age 21 among the richest women. 
In South Sudan, child marriage is common even among more advantaged families. Girls from the wealthiest households are nearly as likely to be married by age 18 as girls from the poorest households. 
Not all girls face the same risk of becoming child brides, even within countries. In Ethiopia, the rate of child marriage is three times higher in the northern region of Amhara (75 %) than in the capital city of Addis Ababa (26 %). In Kenya, women living in Nairobi marry more than 6 years later than those living in the North Eastern province, where the median age at marriage is 17.6 years. 

Girls in Bangladesh

Girls with no education are five times more likely to marry as those with at least 10 years of education. Lower level of education are found among women who married in childhood. In Liberia, women with no education have a median age at first marriage of age 17.8. It is 4 years earlier than those with a secondary education or beyond. 
In sub-Saharan Africa, the lowest levels of child marriage are seen in Djibouti, South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Rwanda all below 10 %. 
Girls even under the age of 10 are deprived of their childhood and many of them suffer from the consequences of being married at an early age.  It has become ‘’normal’’ that   an 8  - 10 year old bride dies during her “wedding night”, because these girls are often married to considerably older men. The grooms are usually young men or middle-aged or widowers and even rapists who first abuse little girls and then claim them to be their wives. In Mauritania and Nigeria, more than half of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 who are currently married have husbands who are 10 or more years older than they are.
95 % of the world’s births among adolescents occur in developing countries.Evidence shows that girls who marry early often become pregnant and it  increases  the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. 
The projected trends in adolescent births closely track the numbers of sexually active adolescent girls with an unmet need for contraception. In all developing regions, women in rural areas, in poor households, and with no or low levels of education have lower levels of contraceptive use. Births to adolescent girls with no education are close to four times higher than for girls with secondary or higher education. The largest inequality related to education is found in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Child marriage process in India

Child brides are also less likely to receive proper medical care while pregnant.  In countries including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal and Niger, women who married as adults were at least twice as likely to have delivered their most recent baby in a health facility compared to women who married before age 15. This, along with the fact that girls are not physically mature enough to give birth, places both mothers and their babies at risk. These complications are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.
Trend analysis  of the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund  reveals:
- that sexually active, unmarried adolescent girls have more than twice the total demand for contraception compared to their married counterparts. 
- only 15 % of adolescent girls who are married are using modern contraception. 
- only 24 % of Ethiopian adolescent girls using modern contraceptives were informed about possible side effects. 
- the unmet need for family planning is highest among adolescents compared to women ages 30-34.  
- in Nepal 1 of 3  women aged 20 to 24 who married before age 15 had 3 or more children compared to 1 % of women who married as adults.
Examining demographic disparities and social and economic the importance of education and reproductive health in general  and access to voluntary family planning are crucial. In developing regions, the percentage of demand for family planning that was satisfied has climbed faster among more vulnerable groups. East and Southern Africa has experienced the fastest rise, particularly among disadvantaged groups.
In many regions, adolescent girls, who often marry much older husbands, have limited power to negotiate contraceptive use and family planning. Lack of education and/or money may reduce their ability to access health information and/or services. Children born to adolescent mothers face heightened risks of mortality, undernourishment and school dropout. 
While data from 47 countries show that, overall, the median age at first marriage is gradually increasing, this improvement has been limited. 1 in 4 young women today were married in childhood versus 1 in 3 in the early 1980s.The proportion of young women who entered into marriage before age 15 declined from 12 % to 8 % over the same period, especially when it comes to the marriage of girls under age 15. The prevalence of child marriage has been slowly declining in Middle East and North Africa, but remains higher than the global average. 
Percentage of women who were married before age 18 by regions
Source: the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund  
In the Middle East and North Africa, the percentage of women married before age 18 over the last three decades has dropped from 34 % to 18 %. In South Asia, the decline has been especially marked for marriages involving girls under age 15, dropping from 32 % to 17 %. Although rates of child marriage are lower overall in Latin America and the Caribbean, no significant change has been seen in the prevalence of child marriage.
In Indonesia and Morocco, the risk of marrying before age 18 is less than half of what it was three decades ago. In Ethiopia, women aged 20 to 24 are marrying about three years later than their counterparts three decades ago. However, in some countries where child marriage is common, including Burkina Faso and Niger, the median age at first marriage has not changed significantly.
Even doubling the rate of reduction will not be enough to reduce the number of child brides.  According to the United Nations Population Fund  report,  Africa will have the largest number and global share of child brides by 2050.
Child marriage threatens  lives and health of these girls and limits their future prospects. Ending child marriage will help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty by allowing girls and women to participate more fully in society. It requires significant political and financial commitments. However, expanding access to contraceptive options is a prerequisite to securing the human rights of adolescent girls. 
Empowering young women, through access to essential reproductive health services, can help countries realize the advantage of having a larger proportion of people in their working years. When girls are allowed to be girls, everybody wins, including their families, communities and country economies.  Empowered and educated girls are leading to healthier families and accelerate progress towards sustainable development.
Sintija Bernava, President, Chairwoman of the Board of the Non Governmental Organisation ‘’Donum Animus’’, Latvia (European Union). 
Sintija Bernava holds a Bachelor Degree in Political Sciences, Master Degree in Public Administration and  a long-standing experience working for the Latvian  Parliament and Government (State Chancellery) as well implementing local and international social inclusion and human capital development activities in emerging economies. Sintija Bernava is the only Scholar of the European  Union of the  Ministry of External Affairs of India, Government of India, Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation study program ‘’Entrepreneurship Education to Strengthen Emerging Economies" at the  Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India.


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