Definition of child marriage:
Child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is a reality for both boys and girls, although girls are disproportionately the most affected.
About a third of women aged 20-24 years old in the developing world were married as children. Child marriage is most common in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, but there are big differences in prevalence among countries of the same region. While data from 47 countries show that, overall, the median age at first marriage is gradually increasing; this improvement has been limited primarily to girls of families with higher incomes. Overall, the pace of change remains slow. While 48 per cent of women 45-49 years old were married before the age of 18, the proportion has only dropped to 35 per cent of women 20-24 years old. (UNICEF, Progress for Children , 2010)
Causes of child marriage:
For many poor families, marrying their daughter at an early age essentially is a strategy for economic survival; it means one less person to feed, clothe and educate. In Asia and Africa, the importance of financial transactions at the time of marriage also tends to push families to marry their daughters early. For example, in many sub-Saharan cultures parents get a high bride price for a daughter who is married near puberty. In Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal, parents feel that their burden of paying a dowry at their daughter’s marriage will be lower if she is married at a young age. Globally, forced child marriage is much more common in poorer countries and regions, and within those countries, it tends to be concentrated among the poorest households. For example, a girl from a poor household in Senegal and Nigeria is four times more likely to marry as a child than a girl from a rich household. In impoverished situations, parents see few alternatives for their daughters, aside from early marriage.
Limited education and economic options
Little or no schooling strongly correlates with being married at a young age. Conversely, attending school and having higher levels of education protect girls from the possibility of early marriage. In many countries, educating girls often is less of a priority than educating boys. When a woman’s most important role is considered to be that of a wife, mother and homemaker, schooling girls and preparing them for the jobs may be given short shrift. And even when poor families want to send their daughters to school, they often lack access to nearby, quality schools and the ability to pay school fees.
It is usually safer and economically more rewarding to spend limited resources on educating sons than daughters. This boxes families into early marriage as the only viable option for girls.
Insecurity in the face of conflict
When families live in unsafe regions, parents may genuinely believe that marrying their daughters is the best way to protect them from danger. In war-affected areas in Afghanistan, Burundi, Northern Uganda, Nigeria in recent times or Somalia, for example, a girl may be married to a warlord or another authority figure who can ensure that she and her family remain safe. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and elsewhere, girls have been abducted or recruited by armed groups and made into the ‘bush wives’ of combatants and commanders.
Tradition and Religion
In many societies, parents are under pressure to marry off their daughters as early as possible in an effort to prevent her from becoming sexually active before marriage; a woman who does so brings dishonour to her family and community. Because marriage often determines a woman’s status in many societies, parents also worry that if they don’t marry their daughters according to social expectations, they will not be able to marry them at all.
Forced child marriage also is a route to cementing family, clan, and tribal connections or settling obligations. For example, in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, Afghanistan and in some parts of the Middle East, marrying young girls is a common practice to help the grooms’ families offset debts or to settle inter-family disputes. At its core, forced child marriage is rooted in tradition. A 2007 ICRW study found that no one religious affiliation was associated associated with the practice the practice.
Rather, a variety of religions were associated with a high prevalence of forced child marriage, in a diversity of countries throughout the world. However, customs and traditions do change. In fact, forced child marriage has nearly disappeared in several countries where it used to be an entrenched cultural practice only a generation or two ago. These countries include China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia.
There is no reason why this harmful traditional practice can’t also become a thing of the past in the countries where it remains common today.
Problems of child marriage:
“Child marriage is not only wrong, it is dangerous. It exposes a young girl to profound health risks from early pregnancy and difficult childbirth and it exposes her baby to complications of premature birth,” says Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF.
According to the UN, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 years in developing countries. Of the16 million adolescent girls who give birth every year, about 90 per cent are already married. UNICEF estimates some 50,000 die, almost all in low- and middle-income countries. Stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50 per cent higher among mothers under the age of 20 than in women who get pregnant in their 20s.
In many poor countries, most young girls, regardless of age, are forced to demonstrate their fertility once they are married.“These children, because that’s what they are, are discouraged from using contraceptives or might have to ask their husbands’ permission, or they have no knowledge of or access to what they need,” says Carole Presern, PhD, Executive Director of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and a midwife.
The problems associated with child marriage are;
The big age gap between these girls and their husbands reinforces the inferiority status of girls increasing these girls’ risk of being subjected to domestic violence. Domestic violence has physical, psychological and fatal outcomes on young girls(UNICEF, Domestic Violence against Women and Girls, 2000). In Kenya, a study showed that girls who married earlier were more likely to believe that a husband is sometimes justiﬁed in beating his wife (UNICEF, Domestic Violence against Women and Girls, 2000). Te survey also revealed that girls who married before 18 were unlikely to talk to their husbands about contraception, how many children they wanted and when they wanted to have children (UNICEF, Domestic Violence against Women and Girls, 2000). Te causal connection between early marriages and domestic violence has been well-documented by the CEDAW Committee. According to the General Recommendation 19 of the CEDAW Committee, traditional practices like early marriages not only perpetuate gender-violence against women but they also lead to the deprivation of their human rights.
Child marriage curtails girls’ education
Early marriages also impede young girls’ education. The fact that a child will get married plays a big obstacle to young girls’ education. In Northern Nigeria, parents deliberately keep their daughters out of school because investing in their education is considered a liability to the parents (UNICEF, Early Marriage: A Harmful traditional Practice, 2005). Education for All has stated that, the custom of early marriage is acknowledged as one of the reasons for girls’ exclusion from school. A report published by the International Centre for Research on Women, conﬁrmed that early marriages prevent girls from completing their education because “after marriage, young girls’ access to formal and even informal education is severely limited because of domestic burdens, child bearing and social norms that view marriage and education as incompatible”. For the last two years, UNICEF has also been working with communities in three regions of Mali – Segou, Mopti and Kayes – to inform residents of the risks, help them abandon the practice, and set up committees that will intervene in cases of early marriage.
UNICEF in Mali has set up an internal working group to better coordinate work on early marriage, and hopes to extend these programmes nation-wide.
Child marriage undermines reproductive health
Because many married adolescents are pulled out of school at an early age, they may be unfamiliar with basic reproductive health issues, including the risk of HIV. Despite the large number of married girls, policies and programmes often fail to address their vulnerability to HIV or other reproductive health needs.Isolation and powerlessness pose additional reproductive health risks: Young wives often have limited autonomy or freedom of movement. They may be unable to obtain health care because of distance, expense or the need for permission from a spouse or in-laws.
These barriers can aggravate the risks of maternal mortality and morbidity for pregnant adolescents.Married adolescents often face familial and societal expectations to have children as soon as they are married. Even if contraceptive services are available, married adolescent girls may lack the power to use them.
As first-time young mothers, girls face high risks in their pregnancies including obstructed labour leading to obstetric fistula. There is a strong correlation between the age of the mother and maternal mortality and morbidity. Girls ages l0-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24. Girls ages 15-19 are twice as likely to die. The vast majority of these deaths take place within marriage.
Premature Pregnancy And Maternal Mortality: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically – or emotionally ready and girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
Tackling the persistent problem of child marriage in Africa:
West Africa has the continent’s worst rates of child marriage: 49 percent of girls under 19 are living in marital unions. Child brides in West Africa are likely to be married at the very early age of 9 to 12 years, the earliest tipping point in the global south. They are also more likely to be illiterate, to be younger at first birth, to give birth to more children over their reproductive lives, to be in a polygamous union and have a lower uptake of modern family planning services than child brides in other zones of Africa and indeed South Asia.
The report highlights the relationship between age at first marriage and primary school attendance or completion. Contrary to expectation, primary school attendance or completion was not necessarily associated with increase in age at marriage. That is because decisions about attending school are primarily those of parents, families, and communities, not the girls themselves. Marriage or union formation does not precede but rather follows primary school leaving, which is highly associated with factors such as poor schooling outcomes, poor grades, class repetitions, poor quality of teaching and unsafe school environment. Other studies suggest, however, that the reproductive health decision-making capacity of young people, including age at marriage, can be strengthened by encouraging completion of secondary school.
Nigeria had more early marriage intervention programs than any other country studied (25), almost all concentrated in the northern region. Eight aimed at increasing girls’ school enrolment and retention using scholarships or conditional cash transfers; six were fistula programs. In education programs, the best practices were involvement of communities through mass community mobilization such as radio programming; accurate targeting for direct grants to parents or girls; integrated programming in girls’ lessons; engagement of male faith and cultural leaders; school-to-work elements with skills instruction; youth-run and youth-friendly centers; and literacy support. Other useful practices were improvements to education quality, provision of safe spaces and school clubs for girls.
The report offers an integrated menu of recommendations on three levels – law and rights, policy and institutional frameworks, and programs, projects and actions. Any successful effort against early marriage in West Africa must operate at all three levels. The need for urgent action against child marriage is clear. The report herein offers an excellent opportunity to understand the dynamics of age at first marriage in West Africa from 2000 to 2012, it provides a menu of options for effective action at every level against this persistent problem. We argue that any successful effort against early marriage in West Africa must operate at all three levels.
Recommendations are framed for partnership and coordination by the multiple stakeholders involved.
Recommendations at the level of Law and Rights:
1) Codify provisions to protect girls against forced marriage in customary and Sharia law and to sensitize community judges in those systems, because of continued resistance to provisions against forced marriage in penal law. Married adolescents in the region have unique characteristics that define their vulnerability. This suggests that they must be targeted specifically by programs with measurable indicators and goals that give priority to their particular needs.
2) Establish a coordinating agency with responsibility for child rights and protection and a mandate to incorporate technical expertise and civil society inputs. The National Child Rights Implementation Committee (NCRIC) in Nigeria is a possible model.
3) Legislate Children’s Acts that focus on the social responsibilities of the family and the state and recognize age of marriage as part of social protection. Such an act in The Gambia upholds the principles of responsibility and the best interests of the child.
4) Support regional networks of community service organizations (CSOs) working to end early marriage within the framework of the Human Rights Commissions common to most West African countries and holding government, citizens and other agencies accountable.
5) Strengthen the CSO Forum of the AU by encouraging greater participation from Anglophone hotspot countries such as Nigeria, which are currently under-represented.
6) Strengthen regional gender and child rights networks.
These include the West Africa CSO Forum (WACSOF), Comité de Liaison des Organisations Sociales pour la Défense des Droits de l’Enfant (CLOSE), Coalition Nationale des Associations et ONG en Faveur de l’Enfance (CONAFE), ANPPCAN, and the Network of NHRIs in West Africa (NNHRI-WA).
7) Support an initiative to review and update the reading lists of university law, political sciences, sociology, education and development studies curricula in order to increase awareness of the problem of early marriage in the academic community.
8) Design a strong development media sub-project within national TV and print media outlets to showcase and track decisions and feedback from the ACRWC and the ECOWAS Community Court, as well as the compliance of national governments.
9) Support a regional conference among the West African Bar Association, National Associations of Women Judges and FIDA to discuss the issue of poor prosecution records for violation of early marriage laws.
10) Assist ECOWAS to strengthen its institutional and ad hoc forums, institutions and activities to support the girl child. Such recent forums included the 2009 Policy Dialogue on Education of Girls and Children with Disabilities in the ECOWAS Region, in Niger; the 2008 Meeting of Experts for the Promotion of Girls and Women’s Education in West Africa, in Benin; and the 2012 meeting of ECOWAS and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
11) Provide strategic support for ECOWAS to forge links with media for increased awareness and vigilance around ECOWAS policies and protocols to support the girl child, such as obligations under the Right to Protection of the Girl Child, the Gender Policy and the Education Protocol.
Recommendations at the level of Policy and the Institutional Framework:
1) Mainstream the special needs of the girl child into child protection policies and programs, using an approach in which government’s health, education, labor and other ministries work together. In Senegal, the multi-sectoral National Plan of Action for Children has been effective.
2) Train and strengthen government planning and budgeting ministries on child-centered budgeting, such as at the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children and Families in Mali.
3) Work with traditional and religious leaders to create awareness of laws and policies at the community level. The Senegalese Director for the Protection of Children’s Rights, for example, works to reduce harmful traditional practices in the country.
4) Support government’s efforts to implement the new WAEC Senior Secondary School Curriculum, which offers girls in secondary school a range of 34 vocational and technical subjects to choose from in developing a career.
5) Establish a National Gender Management System with fully functional machinery.
6) Improve the capacity of agencies including social welfare departments, the police, ministries of education and health and the courts to work together to address cases of coerced marriage. Toolkits can be developed for the Anglophone and Francophone West African countries. Trainings should be coordinated by intermediate CSOs.
7) Develop new strategies to support the domestication of National Gender and Child. Rights policies in hotspot zones by codifying and creating awareness of existing provisions in Sharia law for the protection of children.
8) Improve the technical design and implementation of education interventions in hotspot zones to target girls at the tipping point of early marriage and to build community support for girls’ education.
Recommendations at the level of Projects and Actions:
1) Support coordinated “quick wins” by CSOs throughout West Africa. These can increase awareness and address early marriage in the local environment. While high-level interventions targeting regional agencies may have potential for greater impact, community-level initiatives can also address cultural, economic and environmental barriers. Intermediary NGOs can make sub-grants, monitor and build the capacity of community- based organizations to incorporate child marriage objectives into their work plans.
2) Raise the profile of campaigns to end early marriage in West Africa by targeting commemorative days such as International Children’s Day, the Day of the African Child (DAC) on June 16 and the Day of the Girl Child on 11 October.
3) Scale up and improve delivery of conditional cash transfer pilot projects to improve targeting and reduce leakages.
4) Extend monitoring visits to beneficiaries of conditional social protection programs to sensitize families and communities about the rights of girls to education, as in Ghana’s LEAP program.
5) Develop a toolkit and a Monitoring & Evaluations Working Group to improve monitoring, evaluation and knowledge management of interventions to end early marriage.
6) Engage Christian and Muslim faith leaders and faith-based organizations in community awareness programs that target conservative community/ faith leaders as well as at partners and teachers. This should offer education about the harmful effects of early marriage in the form of a leadership development project. Learning visits to other countries could allow study of alternative ways to mitigate the impact of this harmful traditional practice.
In conclusion the need for urgent action against child marriage is clear.
Stakeholders seeking to end it include feminists and women leaders; development programmers; global, regional and sub-state agencies; and cultural, community and faith leaders. Despite the limitations of this report, the data presented here offer an excellent opportunity to understand the dynamics of age at first marriage in West Africa from 2000 to 2012. The recommendations provide a menu of options for effective action at every level against this persistent problem.
International initiatives to prevent child marriage:
UNICEF focuses on ending child marriage on the International Day of the Girl Child
NEW YORK, 11 October 2012 – On the first International Day of the Girl Child, UNICEF and partners highlighted joint efforts to end child marriage – a fundamental human rights violation that impacts all aspects of a girl’s life.
“The International Day of the Girl Child readily reflects the need to put girls’ rights at the centre of development,” said Anju Malhotra with the Gender and Rights Section in UNICEF, “The UN and partners are coming together to show the incredible progress made and to highlight the ongoing challenges.”
Under the headline ‘My Life, My Right, End Child Marriage’, a series of events and actions are taking place throughout the world to draw attention to this critically important issue. At UN Headquarters in New York, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will join UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women to discuss ways governments, civil society, UN agencies and the private sector can come together to accelerate a decline in the practice of child marriage. In Malawi, a parliamentary debate will put the issue at centre stage and in Uganda SMS technology is being used by young people to openly discuss the practice.
In partnership with governments, civil society and UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes, UNICEF is laying the groundwork to end child marriage globally. In 2011, 34 country offices reported efforts to address child marriage through social and economic change efforts and legal reform.
In India, one of the countries in the world with the largest number of girls being married before their 18th birthday, child marriage has declined nationally and in nearly all states from 54 per cent in 1992-1993 to 43 per cent in 2007-2008, but the pace of change is slow.
UNICEF supported the passage of the Child Marriage Prohibition Act of 2006, and has since supported the development and implementation of a national strategy on child marriage that aims to coordinate programmes and policies to address both the causes and the consequences of child marriage. Working with individual states, UNICEF took part in developing state action plans and supported the establishment of girls clubs and collectives that were trained on child rights and how to work with the community to stimulate a dialogue about ending child marriage.
Experiences in contexts as diverse as Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Senegal and Somalia show how combining legal measures with support to communities, providing viable alternatives – especially schooling – and enabling communities to discuss and reach the explicit, collective decision to end child marriage yield positive results.
“Child marriage can often result in ending a girl’s education. In communities where the practice is prevalent, marrying a girl as a child is part of a cluster of social norms and attitudes that reflect the low value accorded to the human rights of girls,” said Ms. Malhotra.
Education is one of the most effective strategies to protect children against marriage. When girls are able to stay in school an attitudinal change can also occur towards their opportunities within the community.
The proportion of child brides has decreased over the last 30 years but child marriage persists at high rates in several regions of the world, particularly in rural areas and among the poorest. Some child brides are the most marginalized and vulnerable of society. Young brides are often isolated – removed from immediate families, taken out of school and denied interaction with their peers and communities.
Most recent UNICEF estimates indicate that about 70 million – or around 1 in 3 – young women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18, with 23 million of them having been married before they turned 15. Global¬ly, almost 400 million women aged 20-49, or over 40 per cent, were married while they were children.
Child marriage puts girls at risk of early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening consequences. Maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are an important component of mortality for girls aged 15-19 worldwide, accounting for some 50,000 deaths each year. Moreover, girls between 10 and 14 years of age are five times more likely than women aged 20 to 24 die in pregnancy and childbirth.
“Through global commitments, civil society movements, legislation and individual initiatives girls will flourish in a safe and productive environment,” said Malhotra. ”We must accelerate progress and dedicate resources for girls to claim their rights and realize their full potential.”