Child Marriage in LiberiaChild marriage in Liberia is not uncommon. According to Girls Not Brides, 36% of girls in Liberia enter into marriage before reaching their 18th birthday and Liberia ranks 20th in the world for the highest rates of child marriage.

UNICEF defines child marriage as “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child” and warns that the effects extend not only to the girl’s health and future prospects but also to the economy through economic detriment on a national level. A 2017 study by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) projects that the prevalence of child marriage “could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030 – the year by which the U.N., through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calls for the elimination of the practice.”

Child brides are more likely to face domestic violence and early pregnancy before their bodies have even fully developed. Child marriage also increases the risk of HIV among young girls.

The prevalence of child marriage in Liberia will continue to hinder progress toward gender equality in Liberia unless the government introduces legislation and improvements in policy. For as long as child marriage exists, Liberia will not see significant strides in education or the economy.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Liberia

Plan International describes the generalized reasons for child marriage prevalence in countries as systemic gender inequality, poverty and societal customs/traditions, among other reasons. In terms of poverty, according to the World Bank, 34.6% of the population in Liberia lives under the international extreme poverty line ($2.15 per person per day in 2017 PPP). Due to entrenched gender discrimination and inequalities, impoverished families often view daughters as economic burdens. Parents push young daughters into marriage to ease the household’s financial burden and bring in finances in the form of the “bride price.”

Regarding customs, Plan International details that some families push their daughters into child marriage to safeguard family honor by ensuring that sexual relations outside of marriage do not occur. Child marriage in Liberia persists despite domestic legislation setting the legal age of marriage for girls as 18. Humanium explains that “the lack of consistency of customary and statutory laws” and engagement with traditional leaders means people routinely break these laws and forced marriage practices persist.

It is also important to note that while 36% of girls younger than 18 enter into marriage, this figure stands at 5% for boys in Liberia, highlighting obvious gender inequality and disparities that need to be addressed. Gender-based violence and inequality in Liberia extend to female genital mutilation (FGM). According to Equality Now, Liberia is one of the three remaining West African countries that have not legislated FGM as a criminal offense.

Organizations and NGOs Striving to Reduce Child Marriage in Liberia

BIRD-Liberia (Brighter Initiatives for Revitalization and Development) was founded by Sammenie O. Sydney in 2014. The organization’s latest efforts include working with youth activists to eliminate child marriage. BIRD-Liberia began the Power to Girls campaign, in collaboration with Girls Not Brides, to raise awareness of child marriage.

“The activists will go around the country to speak to students and school administrators,” Emmanuel Quiqui, BIRD’s Office Administrator, said to Girls Not Brides. “They’ll go to radio stations around Liberia and meet with the national legislature to spread the campaign message.” Bird-Liberia has trained 10 activists to educate fellow Liberians on the detriment of child marriage with the aim of ending the practice entirely.

Though child marriage persists, activists and organizations on the ground are showing their commitment to ending the practice and safeguarding children’s rights.

– Priya Maiti
Photo: Flickr

the-cost-of-childhood-why-child-marriage-in-pakistan-persistsQubra, a 13-year-old Pakistani girl, was forced to become a child bride because of “her father’s beliefs.” In an interview with VOA News, she revealed, “My father believed that it was sinful for a daughter to remain unwedded once she reached puberty.” According to data from a 2017-2018 survey, 18% of Pakistani girls got married before the age of 18 and 4% before the age of 15. Child marriage in Pakistan continues to persist due to tradition and cultural practices.

Driving Forces Behind Child Marriage

According to UNICEF, in 2018, Pakistan ranked sixth in the world for the highest child marriage rates. The driving causes of child marriage in Pakistan are customs and traditions, poor living conditions, gender norms and lack of education and awareness.

Poverty. One of the key drivers of child marriage in Pakistan is poverty. The Asian Development Bank estimated in 2018 that the number of people in Pakistan living below the poverty line stood at 21.9%. In a study published in 2020 by Girls Not Brides, findings in Punjab revealed that low-income households are more likely to marry their daughters off earlier than well-off households. Rural areas are also more likely to practice child marriages and do so due to the belief that marriage eases a family’s economic burdens.

Customs. Social norms also stand as a key factor, with cultural and religious traditions both playing an equally significant part. Pakistani society considers females the family honor and marrying them early helps preserve this honor. This holds particular weight if young girls have experienced some sort of sexual assault or engaged in premarital sex. According to Islam, marriage is obligatory and different factions argue that early marriage for girls is mandatory as a religious practice. Because of the prevalence of such norms, child marriage deeply embeds itself into the social fabric of Pakistani society.

Lack of Education. According to the World Bank, the literacy rate of females 15 and older in Pakistan stood at 46% in 2019. Many girls do not receive a full education because their parents force them to drop out of school early to marry and do housework. This lack of education means girls have no decision-making powers and are often unaware of their legal rights.

Facts About Child Marriage in Pakistan

Child marriage can have an adverse impact on the future of young girls. Child marriage makes girls more likely to drop out of school and increases the risk of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, child brides face higher chances of at-risk pregnancies and complications during childbirth because their bodies have not fully developed. Child marriage also reduces a female’s independence and ability to have a say in important decisions.

A report by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in 2017 estimates that incidences of child marriage will bring about “trillions of dollars” in costs for developing nations. The same study highlights that “ending child marriage in Pakistan could see a 13% rise in earnings and productivity for Pakistani women.”

Steps to Address Child Marriage in Pakistan

Child marriage is a difficult topic to address in Pakistan for many reasons: First, there is extreme institutionalization of social and religious norms. In addition, many provincial laws do not align with national law, and laws, in general, are very poorly enforced. Furthermore, Pakistani courts apply Sharia Law, which says that postpubescent girls can enter into marriage.

Regardless, progress is visible. According to Girls Not Brides, Pakistan agreed to end all marriages under 18 by 2030 in order to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. In 2019, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that it established a National Consultation on Child Marriage with the support of key human rights groups.

Civil society has played a huge role since 2013 by pushing for stricter marriage laws and working with both law enforcement agencies and religious scholars to tackle this issue at the local level. Organizations like the Malala Fund are working to increase access to education for young girls to combat child marriage, while others, like Girls Not Brides, specifically focus on the issue of child marriages and advocates against it.

Future Action Required

Despite progress, the government and organizations must still take further action to reduce the prevalence of child marriage. Any program or movement that seeks to eradicate child marriage needs to work with institutions, law enforcement, religious leaders and families to change attitudes as well as laws. Such a multidimensional approach is the only way to reduce child marriage in Pakistan.

Umaima Munir
Photo: Flickr

facts about child marriage in Africa
Child marriages have been occurring for thousands of years. While child marriage is more commonly seen between female children and much older men, child marriage is defined as marriages where either one or both partners are younger than the age of 18. According to UNICEF, Africa has the highest rate of child marriages in the world. Specifically, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates where every four in 10 girls are married before the age of 18. Within this region, the country of Niger has the highest child marriage rates, with 77% of girls married before the age of 18. Here are seven facts about child marriage in Africa.

7 Facts About Child Marriage in Africa

  1. Children marry as young as 7 and 8 years old. The U.N. estimates that every day around 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. Of the girls forced into marriage, one in three girls experience child marriage before the age of 18 and one in nine experience it before the age of 15. UNICEF estimates that if no change occurs, the rate of child marriages in Africa alone may double by 2050.
  2. Girls often experience suppressed education. Most girls who are in a child marriage do not get an education higher than the mandated primary education of grades one through nine. This is due to social stereotypes that categorize girls as domestic wives who stay in the home to cook, clean and bear children. Another reason is that most child marriages take place in poverty-stricken areas and they cannot afford to pay for an education or do not have access to education near them.
  3. Children involved in child marriages are at greater risk of domestic violence. A high percentage of girls in a child marriage experience domestic and sometimes sexual violence. According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), girls who marry before the age of 18 are twice as likely to experience domestic violence when compared to girls who marry after the age of 18. Many girls cannot escape this violence because of poverty and the lack of education.
  4. Having a daughter is seen as a burden in Africa. Most child marriages take place in poverty-stricken areas where families consider daughters to be economic and financial burdens. Many families, wanting to make up for the money they put into raising a daughter, require a dowry for their daughter’s marriage. The high cost of a dowry means that most men will work for years to save up for a wife. As a result, most child marriages are between a young girl and a much older man.
  5. Child brides have a greater risk of contracting HIV and other STDs. Since men are typically much older when they marry a child bride, they tend to have had multiple partners before they are married. As a result, girls involved in child marriages are more susceptible to contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, research found that many young people lack the proper knowledge of HIV and other STDs and safe sexual education. Sex education is a mandatory curriculum in Africa, but religious and cultural taboos prevent schools from properly teaching this curriculum. In 2015, the Department of Basic Education began developing lesson plans for grades seven through nine that properly educate children about safe sex and STDs.
  6. Many child brides face high-risk pregnancies. Since girls marry at such young ages, many girls have high-risk pregnancies due to their underdeveloped bodies. As a result, they often have a difficult childbirth. Additionally, pregnancy lessens the body’s immune system, leaving young girls easily susceptible to illnesses such as malaria. Malaria is harder to treat when one is HIV positive and can lead to death in young pregnant girls.
  7. Ultimately, child marriage violates human rights. Child marriages involving boys is significantly more rare than those involving girls. The primary difference in a marriage involving young boys is they do not pose the same health risks as girls. However, child marriages between both sexes take away a child’s basic human rights. In 1948, in an attempt to discourage child marriages, the U.N. declared child marriage an act against human rights, as stated in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

These seven facts about child marriage in Africa explain the difficulties young girls face every day. While child marriages around the world have been in a steady decline, Africa has been the slowest progressing area. According to the U.N., child marriages in Africa could actually continue to grow rather than decline. A continued growing awareness around the world helps to end child marriages. A group of girls in Africa started a petition to change the laws and raise the age of consent. So far, the petition has received over 245,000 signatures. Efforts like these continue to help bring an end to child marriages in Africa.

– Chelsea Wolfe 
Photo: Flickr