Child Marriage: A Promise of Poverty

The average teenager worries about hanging out with friends, getting good grades, and fitting in with a group of people—not marrying a stranger and creating a home.

However, child marriage is a reality in the world’s 51 least-developed countries.  Half of all girls living in these countries are married before the age of 18, according to the United Nations. Parents arrange the marriage, and the groom can be more than twice the bride’s age.  Girls are ripped from their communities and forced into social isolation. These abrupt marriages sever a girl from her support network—a group of people necessary for helping the girl face the physical and emotional challenges of marriage.

Many cultures view girls as economic burdens, subservient individuals, or family mistakes. Marrying girls off as soon as possible alleviates the household expenses and restores the family’s reputation.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) established that the minimum age of marriage is 18 years old. This is considered the upper limit of childhood, and the individual is fit to decide whether to be married.  Many countries continue to practice child marriage despite proven physical and psychological effects.

World Vision reported that child marriages are increasing due to the increase in global poverty crises. 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year.  Child marriages are most prevalent in rural, poor areas and are associated with areas of low education and healthcare.  Polygamy is common, and these marriages are bargaining chips between two parties.

South Asia (46%) and Central Africa (41%) are the top areas for child marriages.  These regions do not monitor the age of spouses carefully.  Girls who live in countries with humanitarian crises are most likely to be subjected to child marriages. Fear of rape, unwanted pre-marital pregnancies, family shame, and hunger are the main motivators for child marriage. Poverty, weak legislation, gender discrimination, and lack of alternative opportunities reinforce these motivations.

Anti-poverty organizations, such as CARE, are working in various countries to combat child marriage.  According to CARE, “As levels of education and economic opportunities increase, so does the average age of marriage.”  CARE mobilizes community organizers, parents, and tribal and religious leaders to lobby against the child marriage law in Ethiopia. Leaders are constructing savings and loans groups to empower families financially. Though child marriage still exists, this will eliminate one major cause of child marriage. Community forums now focus on the elimination of bride price, bride abduction, and child marriage.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: NBC News