Child marriage is detrimental to young women socially, physically, economically, and educationally. Marriage at a young age implies that young women will be sexually active and dependent on their husband. This puts them at risk for domestic abuse, disorders endangering the lives of themselves and their child, and illiteracy. In order to improve society, education of women must be a priority. Laws restricting child marriage should be established globally. This way, women will be given a fair chance at equality and an overall improved life.
Even with recent advances in children and women’s protection of rights, child brides still exist. According to the World Health Organization, “Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund.” This means that if policies don’t change, 14.2 million girls will be married off a year.
Every countries perspective on child marriage varies, so there are many differing laws on the minimum age for marriage. According to an article published Equality Now, 48 countries in the world set a minimum age for marriage at eighteen years old, 88 countries have a standard of eighteen, but with certain exceptions, and 68 countries allow marriage below the minimum of eighteen years. Exceptions include consent from parents or courts, and exceptions due to religion. In Saudi Arabia, no minimum age is required for marriage. Essentially, children could get married off as soon as they were born.
The action of marrying their child off at such a young age can be economically driven. According to the International Center for Research on Women, “Child marriage most often occurs in poor, rural communities.” The arrangement usually occurs without the child’s knowledge. According to an article published on FORWARD, “A young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older (sometimes even elderly) man is believed to benefit the child and her family both financially and socially.” The family believes that child marriage is the best choice, especially economically.
The child’s family sees the young marriage as an honorable distinction. The family’s honor is carried on a young girl’s shoulders because a high importance is given to her virginity. If she loses her virginity, it brings shame to the family. Parents believe that getting married young guarantees that a girl’s “virtue” is still intact. Not only does the marriage keep shame from the family, the family trusts that a young girl will be well guided by an older man. An older man is thought to act like a guardian and keep the young girl’s behavior in check. Unfortunately, an older man doesn’t simply equate to a positive influence.
Because there is such an age difference, there is an automatic power struggle. A young girl could be taken advantage of by a much older man who knows he can get away with it. A girl may even think that domestic abuse is acceptable. Domestic violence is widespread in child marriages. The girl could feel so vulnerable that she will not speak up and seek help.
Not only is domestic violence an issue with child marriages, health complications due to sexual activity at a young age also present problems. According to an article published on FORWARD, ten to fourteen year old girls are five times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than compared to women twenty to twenty-four years old and fifteen to nineteen year old girls are twice as likely to die. A young girl’s body is not equipped to be pregnant, especially in places where medical attention is not readily available. An article published on FORWARD states that risks include infection, anemia, heavy bleeding, fistula, and eclampsia which put both mother and baby at risk. Most of these disorders are life-threatening when not given the proper care of a doctor and the use of modern technology. An article on the website of International Center for Research on Women states, nearly all of the 290,000 yearly deaths of women during childbirth take place in developing countries. So much emphasis is put on a woman’s childbearing, yet her health and the health of her baby is not a concern.
Another risk factor associated with sex is the contraction of HIV. Biologically, women are more susceptible to HIV than men. According to the International Center for Research on Women, sixty percent of HIV/ AIDS recipients in sub-Saharan Africa were women. Women are less likely to get tested for the virus or to ask their partner to get tested because they have little autonomy with the fear of being abused by their husbands. Because it is not being talked about, it can be spread to other partners if the husband is cheating.
Birth control and abortions are not options, even if the mother’s life is at risk. According to a story on the website of Center for Reproductive Rights, Beatriz, a woman living in El Salvador faces complete humiliation, cruel treatment, and the risk of death after getting an abortion. There is a ban on abortion in El Salvador and many countries alike. These countries have no exceptions to their bans such as rape, incest, or health risks to the mother. In some countries, preventative birth control is banned, furthering the spread of sexually transmitted disease and giving women no choice.
From an early age, young girls are taught to depend on their husbands for everything. It can be absolutely devastating once that is taken away from them and they don’t have the knowledge to make it on their own. According to an article published on FORWARD, “Early marriage has also been linked to wife abandonment and increased levels of divorce or separation and child brides also face the risk of being widowed by their husbands who are often considerably older.” Women who have been left by their husbands, either by divorce or death, are not accepted by society. They can be ostracized and denied property rights. The community turns their back on these women just when they need their support the most.
Due to being taken out of school early to be a wife, child wives have little ability. An article published on FORWARD states, “Their overall development is compromised, leaving them socially isolated with little education, skills and opportunities for employment and self-realization.” Most are illiterate and won’t be able to teach their children how to read. They will remain dependent on their husbands for the rest of their lives.
Banning child marriage is the only long-term solution to this growing problem. Unfortunately, many countries would object to the ban and there isn’t an efficient way to enforce such a law. To help communities who are feeling the effects of child marriage now we must start with the empowerment of women through education. Whole regions can benefit economically by giving women the tools they need to succeed. Families will have more control over their lives, children will be encouraged to go to school, the family will eat better, and become healthier overall. The realities of child marriage and women’s oppression make this dream unlikely.
The more people participating in the marketplace equates to a better economy for everyone. If women make up half of the workforce, they would be able to gain wealth and purchase more, ultimately contributing to the economy. According to the International Center for Research on Women, “Where women’s participation in the labor force grew fastest, the economy experienced the largest reduction in poverty rates.” Not only will women have economic power, they will gain self-confidence and the ability to bargain at home with their husbands. Women won’t feel as vulnerable and helpless. They will also make their communities a brighter place.
Note: the woman in the featured image is young, but I am unsure if she is a child bride. She is a Bedouin mother we visited with in Morocco. She gave us permission to take her picture.