Growing up, I was never one of those girls who dreamed about her fairy tale wedding. Of course, I made sure that Barbie and my MC Hammer dolls were married once a week, but I never really gave any thought to MY own wedding day. It was not until I got much older that I really considered the concept of marriage. I do not feel that it is something I have to do. But, if the option is presented to me and the stars are aligned, then I will take that leap. It will be MY choice.
However, there are millions of girls across the world that will never get to make that choice. As one of my colleagues previously stated, child marriage is defined as “a formal marriage or informal union before age 18”.[i] This practice affects both boys and girls, even though a system of cultural traditions and financial incentives make girls much more vulnerable to this practice. In some countries, girls are not considered a gift or a blessing. Rather they are seen as a financial burden on the household that is better served as a source of potential income. The money that families receive from dowries or bride prices is worth a lot more to them than any investment in their daughters’ education. In other countries, families place such a high value on honor and chastity that they will marry their daughters off at a young age in an effort to “protect” them.
Let’s talk numbers:
- By the end of this decade, approximately 142 million girls will marry before the age of 18; 50 million of which will be under the age of 15. [ii]
- Niger has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. 75% of women ages 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18. 36% of women in this same category were married before the age of 15.[iii]
- In 54 countries, girls are permitted to marry one to three years younger than boys. Ex: In Venezuela, boys are allowed to marry at 16 years old, while girls are allowed to marry as young as 14 years old.[iv]
- As of right now, Yemen and Saudi Arabia are the only two Middle Eastern countries that currently do NOT have laws setting a minimum age of marriage.
The consequences of child marriage are long lasting and severe. Many of these girls suffer hard pregnancies that often lead to birth complications or death. Young brides are prevented from receiving an education. Instead, they are forced to focus on managing the household, where they often suffer from domestic and sexual violence. If their husband dies or decides to divorce them, the situation becomes worse. Child brides must then carry the burden of an entire household on their backs with no sufficient means or way for doing so. All of this leads to an entire generation of young women who are illiterate, socially isolated, and lacking any sort of economic independence.
So, what can we do to help eliminate this horrible practice? Well, I can think of a few things!
- Empower Young Girls: We should encourage and teach a rhetoric that states that young girls and boys across the world can do anything no matter their circumstances. We should encourage them to exercise their rights across all spheres and build a support network that allows them to do so.
- Know Your Rights: Do you know what the legal age of marriage is in your country or state? What about the percent of girls who are forced to marry before that age? Does your country have laws on the books that prevent child marriage? What are the options for help available to victims? Know your rights so that you can not only help yourself, but so that you can also help another person in need.
- Education, Education, Education: We should teach everyone about the long lasting effects of child marriage, especially the disastrous health consequences. The more you know, the better decisions you make. Education is the key to a better society.
- Get Involved: There are thousands of ways that you can get involved, choose one! Here at WomanStats, we’ve decided to support the Beijing +20 Initiative. We’ve created infographics, written blog posts, and developed an entire social media campaign that supports their agenda. We’re even trying to send some of our coders to the conference in March.
- Visit the WomanStats Database: The WomanStats Database has 100% coverage for information on the age of first marriage practice and 63% coverage on dowry and bride price practice for the 175 countries listed in our database. I encourage you to look at the following variables:
- AOM-PRAC-1: By custom, how young are girls (and boys) married?
- AOM-LAW-1: What is the legal age of marriage for both women and men?
- AOM-DATA-1: What is the average at first marriage both women and men?
- MARR-PRAC-1: In practice, can a woman be forced to marry against her will?
- MARR-PRAC-5: Are bride prices and dowries present? Even if they are illegal, do they happen anyway? How common are they?
- MARR-LAW-4: Are bride price and/or dowries legal?
So, what will you do?