Can you imagine paying a debt or ending a dispute by handing over your nine-year-old daughter to be married? It may not sound like the storybook wedding you dreamed of for your daughter, but early and forced marriage is the reality in places where girls and women have few rights and no recourse.
Lack of education, lack of alternatives, and fear of retribution, even from their own families, keep most girls from attempting to free themselves.
Around the world, about ten million girls under the age of 18 marry each year. In many cases, these child marriages take place between relatives, arrangements borne of economic necessity and cultural tradition.
In some places, females are considered little more than personal property. Marrying off a daughter for money is sometimes the only way a poverty-stricken family can pay off an obligation – or put food on the table. The reasons for early and forced marriage boil down to gender inequality, poverty, and religious or cultural practice.
Impact of early and forced marriage
Child marriage has long-term consequences, including:
• Lack of education: When girls marry, they tend to leave or are forced out of school. Lack of education traps girls in a lifetime of dependency.
• Abuse: Early and forced marriage often leads to emotional and physical abuse, including rape.
• Poor health: Young girls who marry older men are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. They are also more prone to suffer poor reproductive health and endure early childbirth.
Education, the first step towards eliminating child marriage
A child – that is someone who is under the age of 18 – cannot give consent to be married, according to the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That doesn't stop child marriage from happening.
In cultures where girls are expected to marry rather than engage in paid employment, educating girls is considered a waste of money. Keeping girls in school, and providing girls with the same quality education as boys, are among the priorities for organizations working towards preventing child marriage.
It's going to take more than that, though. It's going to take change at local and national levels, and a push toward gender equality around the world. Only when girls are recognized as full human beings with talents and ambitions of their own will child marriage become a thing of the past.
For further information about child marriage, please visit: http://www.plan-uk.org/early-and-forced-marriage/
By Plan UK