Child marriage is an issue affecting many children, but mostly girls, in various areas around the world. Per definition by UNICEF, child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.
Over the past years, the issue has decreased in number. Still, it remains a severe issue that’s affecting millions of children worldwide and needs to be prevented.
Children, who are forced to participate in such a harmful practice often face severe consequences for their entire life. If a child is married before reaching adulthood, it suffers a heavy impact on their physical and psychological well being. These children are much more likely to experience domestic violence and not to attend education anymore.
They are also likely to encounter the dangerous health risks which go along pregnancy and childbirth during this age. This can lead to major complications for the mother as well as the child. The affected girls’ health can be damaged in a way that they will suffer lifelong consequences. A pregnancy during adolescence also has a higher chance of being fatal for the mother.
Child marriage is a big issue in Africa- more specifically sub-Saharan Africa. In this region, according to UN data, 38% of women were married underaged. In this area, Niger, the Central African Republic and Chad are hotspots for the issue with percentages of women who were involved in child marriage, between 67% and up to 76%.
But not only Africa is the issue. In South Asia, ten years ago, 49% of children were married. Even though this region has seen the greatest decline in child marriages, today the rates are still at 30%.
And while it mostly happens in developing countries, even in the developed world children can sometimes be involved in a marriage.
There are multiple factors which have to be taken into consideration when talking about child marriage. The most significant aspects are poverty and gender inequality.
In areas with more traditional societies, parents view ‘marring off’ their daughter as a viabl solution to their financial situation. If a girl marries, her new husband will take care of her. Therefore, parents are not responsible for their daughter anymore but can still secure her financial safety.
What also encourages parents is that in many societies, girls are seen as burdens, rather than just a child. Girls aren’t seen as people who can earn money and care for themselves. Therefore, parents try to get their daughter financially secured as soon as possible.
Dowry also plays an important role. Dowry can be defined as “in some societies, an amount of money or property that a woman's parents give to the man she marries.” This increases the girl’s role as a financial burden to a family. The amount of Dowry a girl’s family is obliged to pay increases with time, so parents try to ‘marry off’ their daughter quickly, so Dowry remains low.
In some cultures this process is reversed and the bride’s family gets paid by the groom’s. In this scenario, the daughter’s marriage is viewed as a source of income.
Either way, more often than not, child marriage happens because of a family’s financial interests and not because of the child’s request. This also happens, but often also is just used as a way to leave home early.
WAYS OF PREVENTION
This practice can only be ended when the main reasons behind it are eliminated. This means, poverty, gender inequality and a lack of education. Therefore, these are the aspects UNICEF should focus on and try to tackle