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Child Marriage

What is the current situation?

Throughout the developing world, millions of girls are married off to virtual strangers
while they are still just children.
Some are as young as six or seven years old when they are married. The girls
themselves rarely have any say in the matter. Many do not even know or fully
understand what is planned for them until they arrive at their husband’s home.
In families with limited resources, child marriage is often considered a way to provide
for a daughter’s future. Poor families have few resources to support more healthy
alternatives for girls, while economic gains through marrying off a daughter may also
motivate poor parents to choose this path.
Worldwide, 100 million girls will be married before the age of 18 in the next decade
alone. In countries like Niger and Bangladesh, grinding poverty and adherence to
tradition results in more than three out of every four girls being married off before
they turn 18 (ICRW).

What are the risks for young girls?

Child marriage is a great threat to young girls, for health and other reasons:
• Child brides are often pressured to bear children themselves long before their
bodies are fully developed. Combined with lack of power, lack of information,
and reduced access to health services, it can be disastrous. Girls younger than
15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and
pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for girls ages 15 to 19. Early
childbearing can cause obstetric fistula (when a young mother’s vagina, bladder
and/or rectum tear during childbirth) a condition that causes urine and feces
leakage, often resulting in ostracism.
• Adolescent childbirth is extremely dangerous for the infant, as well. Children
born to young girls are far more likely to perish than are children born to older
• Young brides are at higher risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. Girls are often married
to significantly older men who are more likely to have contracted HIV in their
lifetime. In sub-Saharan Africa, married girls have a notably greater risk of HIV
infection than sexually active single girls of the same age because married girls
cannot abstain from sex or insist on the use of condoms. One study in Kenya
and Zambia showed a young girl’s married status increased the chances of her
contracting HIV by an astounding 75 percent! (ICRW)
• After marriage, young girls’ access to formal and even non-formal education is
greatly limited because of domestic burdens, childbearing, and social norms
that view marriage and schooling as incompatible. Removal from school is often
the first thing that will happen to a child bride This is particularly tragic since
primary education for girls is one of the most effective ways to fight the cycle of
poverty and disease, reduce child death rates, improve nutrition, and promote
democracy and development.
• Marriage also vastly reduces girls’ access to resources like social support and
autonomy. Young married girls have little power relative to their husbands and
parents-in-law, leaving them extremely vulnerable to abuse. Girls who are
married young are twice as likely to report being beaten and three times as
likely to report being forced to have sex than women who marry after 18 years
of age (ICRW).
What is needed?
Promoting educational and economic opportunities for girls can reduce child marriage.
Educating adolescent girls has been critical in increasing the age of marriage
countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand. Working with parents
and community leaders to increase these opportunities has delayed marriage for girls
in parts of Kenya and Zimbabwe. Child marriage can be ended, but only with a more
concerted effort to ensure the public, in all countries, are aware of the terrible toll
child marriage takes on girls and their future children.
Take action. Help end child marriage.