A Series of Unfortunate Marriage Practices

In January, Netflix released its televised adaption of the hit children’s books A Series of Unfortunate Events. As an avid fan of the books, I eagerly watched the entire show in just a couple of days. The story begins with orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire going to live with their evil guardian Count Olaf after the death of their wealthy parents. Count Olaf seeks their fortune, and concocts a plan to marry fourteen-year-old Violet so he can legally claim the money.

What follows is Count Olaf’s incredulous attempt to wed the child until an audience of grown-ups finally realizes what is happening and stops the marriage. I had not read the books in years, and completely forgot about this plotline. I felt utterly disturbed at this villainous plot to exploit a child bride.

Although this show attempts humor and satire, child marriage is a horrendous act that happens far too often. Girls Not Brides reports that 700 million women today married as children, and that 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is said to be married before 18.[1] Unfortunately, countries often suffer from a great discrepancy between law and practice. Today, 121 countries require a woman to be 18 or above to be married without parental consent (there are far more countries, however, that permit marriage under 18 with parental consent).[2]

One hundred and twenty-one countries outlawing child marriage? That sounds wonderful, given the about 190 countries in the world. But in how many countries do these laws go unfollowed? For example, most Sub-Saharan countries set their legal age of marriage as 18 or above. Some countries, like Libya, have a legal age of 20 years for women. [3] Yet, many of these countries fall among the world’s top perpetrators of child marriage.[4] Meanwhile, the countries that legalize child marriage are mostly in South and Central America.[5]

Some governments have attempted to shrink the gap between law and practice of child marriage. In Malawi, the legal age of marriage is 18 for men and women, but child marriage is frequently practiced. Reports suggest that 850 underage marriage happened within three years and 300 in three months. Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of the Dedza district in Malawi decided to fight this cultural tradition that supersedes law. She explained, “I have terminated 330 marriages, yes, of which 175 were girl-wives and 155 were boy-fathers. I wanted them to go back to school and that has worked.” She found sponsors for these children’s studies and made “sure the children stay in school through a network of secret mothers and fathers who monitor villages.”[6]

Yet bridging the disparity between practice and law is not as simple as Chief Kachindamoto’s strategy. People are resistant, and often the promise of a bride price or dowry tempts parents into arranging marriages for their children. Two solutions must happen: encouraging all countries to raise the marriage age to 18 and bettering enforcement measures of existing laws.

Child marriage not only prevents young boys and girls from enjoying their childhood, but stunts emotional and physical health, and prevents many girls from receiving an education. These consequences can thus inhibit economic and social growth in communities throughout the world. Poor, rural, and less-educated girls are the most vulnerable to child marriage.[7] Those fighting the practice must appeal to the families of these girls to change practice and the government officials to change the laws.

Advocates can spread awareness of this issue—many in rural societies may not realize the adverse effects of child marriage. This awareness can increase the positive, economic effects of raising the minimal age of marriage in law and practice. Other initiatives include making girls’ education more accessible and expanding educational programs on maternal health.[8] Diplomatic pressure must increase to encourage countries to raise minimal ages and enforce the laws they do have. These types of initiatives can only do so much, however. Only when people’s mindsets about women, marriage, and girls’ futures will these practices actually discontinue.

—by ORR



[1] “Child Marriage Around the World.” Girls Not Brides, 2017. http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/where-does-it-happen/

[2] “Legal Age of Marriage.” United Nations Data, July 11, 2013. http://data.un.org/DocumentData.aspx?id=336

[3] The WomanStats Project. “AOM-LAW-1,” 2017. http://www.womanstats.org

[4] For example, Central African Republic, India, Mozambique, and Bangladesh.

“Child Marriage Around the World.” Girls Not Brides, 2017. http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/where-does-it-happen/

[5] The WomanStats Project. “AOM-LAW-1,” 2017. http://www.womanstats.org

[6] Chutel, Lynsey. “A female chief in Malawi is breaking up child marriages and sending kids back to school.” Quartz, April 9, 2016. https://qz.com/658229/a-female-chief-in-malawi-is-breaking-up-child-marriages-and-sending-kids-back-to-school/

[7] “Child Marriage.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2013. http://www.cfr.org/peace-conflict-and-human-rights/child-marriage/p32096#!/?cid=otr_marketing_use-child_marriage_Infoguide#!%2F

[8] “Child Marriage.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2013. http://www.cfr.org/peace-conflict-and-human-rights/child-marriage/p32096#!/?cid=otr_marketing_use-child_marriage_Infoguide#!%2F

One thought on “A Series of Unfortunate Marriage Practices

  1. V Hudson says:

    When people ask me what one thing I would do to help the world become a better place, I always say, “end child marriage.” There are so many cascading ramifications–all negative–from the practice, not only for the children who are married, but also for their children and for the country as a whole! Great post!

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