According to Wikipedia definition of child marriage;
- Child marriage is a formal marriage or an informal union entered into by an individual before reaching a certain age, specified by several global organizations such as UNICEF as minors under the age of 18.
- The term child marriage is used to refer to both formal marriages and informal unions in which a girl or boy lives with a partner as if married before the age of 18. An informal union is one in which a couple live together for some time, intending to have a lasting relationship, but do not have a formal civil or religious ceremony.
The legally prescribed marriageable age in some jurisdictions is below 18 years, especially in the case of girls; and even when the age is set at 18 years, many jurisdictions permit earlier marriage with parental consent or in special circumstances, such as teenage pregnancy. In certain countries, even when the legal marriage age is 18, cultural traditions take priority over legislative law. Child marriage violates the rights of children; it affects both boys and girls, but it is more common among girls (Child marriage is a form of violence because it violates a girls basic rights). Child marriage has widespread and long term consequences for child brides and grooms.
After much surfing on the internet I was able to collect some comments made by some girls who were lured in to child marriage by their parents without their consent and also by their parents, giving reason for taking such drastic step. Here are their sayings;
- I liked going to school with my friends and playing with them. I really liked studying. If my parents had allowed me to study I would have studied very sincerely. My friends could continue their study and now they have become wiser and clever. If I had studied, I would have been working like you [referring to the interviewer]. But my parents held my marriage. I could not do anything after marriage. I now have children to look after.
- It was much better for her to get married, even though she was still a child, than to be raped by a soldier, one mother said.
- Its not that I wanted to [drop out of school], it was out of ignorance that my parents said that a girls schooling is not the same thing as a boys and so they should pull me out of school to give me away in marriage. I did not want that.
- One mother in Bangladesh explained, She knew it was wrong to marry [her daughter off] very early, but marriage is seen as a cover of respect and protection by women. By not going to school, it reduces the risk of being sexually active outside the house or being harassed while commuting.
CAUSES OF CHILD MARRIAGE
After much conversation with some enlighten individuals in the society where I live I was able to gather some basic causes of child marriage. Here are the lists;
- LEVEL OF EDUCATION: Most women with no formal education were married before 18, compared to those who had completed higher education. Further education is almost impossible for some girls, who have little choice but to depend on their husbands for the rest of their lives.
- POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC TIES: Some girls are married off by their parents to enhance political and social alliances with rich families or business partners and to improve their economic status.
- GENDER NORMS: A gender norm” is a behavior or attribute that society attributes to a particular sex. Gender norms change from culture to culture and throughout history, since they’re based on the expectations of societies that are consistently evolving. Anything society attributes to a particular gender to can be considered a gender norm. These gender roles and norms have changed significantly over the years and continue to evolve.Critics of gender norms say they put pressure on males and females to behave a certain way in the home. Women especially have been gender-normed to do more cleaning and not work outside of the home in past generations. Jobs in more physical settings have been assigned to men within the traditional gender roles based on a perceived need for masculine strength. Women are seen as weaker vessels, they have no say in the society. Since some society feels women do not worth it they are married out at an early age. Girls are not accepted as equal partners within marriages, which contributes to a sense of low self-worth.Some people are also uncomfortable with the gender role society places on them because of their sex (especially the women).
- POVERTY: Poverty is the critical factor contributing to early marriage. Where poverty is acute, a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older man. This is a family survival strategy, and may even be seen as being in her interest. In some cultures, girls and women are not seen as potential wage earners theyre considered a financial burden to the family. In these cases, families living in poverty who have several children may arrange a marriage for their child to reduce their economic burden: One less daughter to take care of means one less mouth to feed and one less education to pay for. Girls are also married off to offset debts or settle conflicts, effectively acting as a substitute for money.
- TRADITIONAL AND CULTURAL PRACTICES: Traditional and cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) contribute to the early marriage of girls. Female genital mutilation (FGM) FGM is defined as partial or complete removal of the external female genitals for cultural rather than medical reasons. Other names for female genital mutilation (FGM) include female circumcision or ritual female surgery. It is performed in some African, South American, Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural rather than a religious practice, and its origins are unknown. However, its practitioners believe the procedure enhances the girls health, hygiene, chastity, fertility and marriage prospects. The effect of this practice on the circumcised girls is that they get a license to get married and the men are ready to take them away for marriage. According to some culture, the rite is very important and necessary as virginity at marriage is extremely highly valued, and is the second most common group of reasons centered around the belief that infibulation is the most valid means for ensuring that a girl will remain a virgin until marriage and that proof of an intact infibulation on the wedding night is proof of the virginity.Many cultures considered non-virgin girls as ruined and unsuitable for marriage, as a result, families marry off their young daughters to ensure they remain virgins until marriage, to prevent babies out-of-wedlock, and to maximize her childbearing years. A younger girl can also be more easily controlled and shaped into an obedient wife. Unfortunately, because of the cultural emphasis on virginity, child marriage is seen as a legitimate way to protect girls in unsafe environments.
- CEMENTING ALLIANCES: Reasons behind early marriages vary from one country to the next. The most cited reason for this is culture. According to a study done in Ethiopia by ICRW, children are betrothed before birth to cement the strategic alliances between families (International Centre for Research on Women, 2007:98).
- WOMENS STATUS IN SOCIETY: The status of women in society plays a key role in early marriage; women are seen as inferior and they are neglected and despised .For instance, in India, the birth of a girl is seen as an occasion of heartbroken sorrow and despair, even in relatively affluent and educated families. A girl is seen as a burden given the fact that she will get married elsewhere and leave her family. Thus, parents prefer to educate boys and marry the girls off at an early age. A male child is more likely to gain full education, gain employment and pursue a working life, tending to marry later. The low status of women in society is due to gender inequality. Gender inequality is a product of culture in that male children are given preference which leads to poor treatment of girls and women in society (Patriarchy)
Note – According to Wikipedia definition- Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.
EFFECTS OF CHILD MARRIAGE
The following are the major effects of child marriage:
- PSYCHOSOCIAL DISADVANTAGE:The loss of adolescence, the forced sexual relations, and the denial of freedom and personal development as a result of early/child marriage have led to psychosocial and emotional consequences. Inadequate socialization is also another part from this child marriage; they have nobody to talk to as they are surrounded by people who endorse their situation. Young girls suffered from traumas as a result of early marriage, premature sex and child bearing. Thus, distress is generally endured in silence. In addition to these Psychosocial Disadvantage, Repeated pregnancies devastates these girls there by leading to great physiological and emotional damage. Another Psychosocial Disadvantage they suffer is when the husband dies, the girl is treated as a widow and given in to a widower in the family. The child bride who is widowed at a very young age can suffer additional discrimination. Widows suffer loss of status and they, along with their children, are often denied property rights, and a range of other human rights. In parts of Africa, a widow is remarried to a brother-in-law, a custom known as levirate, originally intended, in part, to provide economic and social support to the widow. Young girls who are married off are more likely to have children while still physically immature. They are psychologically unprepared and unequipped to become mothers, which means they tend to have more health problems during pregnancy and childbirth due to inadequate health care and their babies have a reduced chance for survival. Here is a comment made by a girl who was lured in to child marriage by her parents. Here is what she says about the effect of it: “Motherhood is hard. When [babies] get sick, you dont know why. I dont have experience and dont know what to do with him, probably because of my age. I sleep very little, a 14-year-old wife and mother told the New York Times.”
- RISK OF PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE: Some of the most heart-breaking stories that I have heard in my life are from child brides who describe the sexual and physical violence they have faced from their husbands and, in some cases, their in-laws. Child brides are often made to leave school, are more likely to experience domestic violence, and are at higher risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications and so the children of child brides. Once married, a girls world narrows dramatically. Child brides experience isolation from their family, friends and communities, as well as violence, abuse and exploitation. Girls who marry early often become pregnant while they are still children themselves, with great risks for their own well-being and that of their babies. Child brides are vulnerable to physical violence from their partners, or their partners families. Research shows that they are more likely to be abused, threatened or beaten by their husbands than girls who marry later. Often, child brides are married off to men who are older than they are. This age difference is important as the greater the age gap, the more likely girls are to experience violence. As well as suffering physical violence, child brides often have a distorted sense of their own worth. For almost four years now, I have been having some nice conversation with people about child marriage. Yet I am still horrified every time when I hear a girl tell me that she fears for the night and the forced sexual relations that she experience every day Or when she says that her husband sees her as worthless and treats her like animals. Many of these child brides feel like objects and servants: they are just there to fetch water, cook and clean, and produce children. These are the realities of child marriage.
- CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES A GIRLS BASIC RIGHTS( RIGHT TO HAVE SEX, RIGHT TO EDUCATION) : Child marriage is a form of violence because it violates a girls basic rights. The right to education is been violated due to child marriage. Lack of education means that young brides often dont know about sex, are ignorant about their bodies and unaware about the mechanics of reproduction. Married young, these girls are denied control over their own bodies and are unable to make informed choices about sex and when or whether to have children. These especially affect the girls than the boys. Because getting married usually means an end to formal education. Because child marriage can be a driver to death sentence: child brides often become pregnant at a young age, long before they are ready physically or emotionally, and this can have devastating consequences. In fact, complications during pregnancy and child birth is the second most common cause of death for 15-19 year olds globally. Ironically, one of the drivers of child marriage is the belief that a girl will be safer if she is married, and that marriage will protect her against physical and sexual assault. The very opposite is true. Many child brides describe their first sexual experience as forced. Again, the age gap matters. The greater the age difference between a child bride and her husband, the more likely she is to experience intimate partner violence. Other studies have also found that many women who have married young continue to experience forced sex throughout their marriage.
- SEXUAL RELATIONS: In the case of girls married before puberty, the normal understanding between families is that there will be no sexual intercourse until first menstruation. In Gojam, Ethiopia, husband and wife may grow up playing together in the house of his parents. In this case, the mother-in-law must protect the girl from any advances by her son (Berhane-Selassie, 1993:10). However, the protection may fail where the husband is much older than the girl. Cases of forced intercourse by much older, and physically fully developed husbands with wives as young as eight have been reported in West Africa (Shireen, 2000:10). For the vast majority of under-educated rural adolescent girls in the developing world, marriage remains the likely context for sexual intercourse (Mensch et al., 1998:10). Pain and trauma are enhanced where girls have undergone some form of FGM (female genital mutilation), especially where this has been undertaken recently, and especially in the case of infibulation which is designed to make penetration difficult. Problems may be exacerbated after child birth. In many societies, and in many millions of individual cases, women have no choice but to resume sexual relations within two or three days of childbirth, even if there has been vaginal cutting during delivery, and regardless of the pain it causes (Adamson, 1996:7).
- DENIAL OF EDUCATION : Early marriage inevitably denies children of school age their right to the education they need for their personal development, their preparation for adulthood, and their effective contribution to the future well-being of their family and society. Indeed, married girls who would like to continue schooling may be both practically and legally excluded from doing so. Even though the attitude towards educating girls is changing, many parents still hold the view that investment in the girl is a wasted resource when she is simply going to be married and work in another household. The cost of investment in education for girls often leads towards girls withdrawal from school. In rural areas, secondary education often means that a girl must leave home to live in a school dormitory. Parents fear that this may expose her to risks including premarital sex and pregnancy. To protect the girl-child from being sexually harassed by male teachers and boys in school, parents opt to withdraw their daughters when they are still young and marry them off before their virginities are broken. The removals from school limit the girls opportunities to develop their intellect. They also lose out on socializing, making friends outside their family circle, and many other useful skills. This reduces their chances of developing their own independent identity (UNICEF, 2001:12).
SOLUTION/PREVENTIVE MEASURE TAKEN TO ERADICATE CHILD MARRIAGES
According to ICRW, This policy brief highlights five evidence-based strategies identified by ICRW to delay or prevent child marriage:
- Empower girls with information, skills and support networks.
- Provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families.
- Educate and rally parents and community members.
- Enhance girls access to a high-quality education.
- Encourage supportive laws and policies.
According to UNICEF, UNICEF sees ending child marriage as essential for girls empowerment and well-being, and we work with partners to tackle this rights violation wherever it occurs. We do so by focusing on those girls who are most at-risk, promoting their education and mobilizing those who influence families and wider society to give girls more control over their own lives and prospects.
Our work covers five key areas:
- Support for development and participation of adolescent girls.
- Strengthening legal systems to protect the rights of adolescent girls and boys.
- Carrying out cutting-edge research to build a robust evidence base for advocacy, policies, and programmes and tracking progress.
- Strengthening services to help adolescents at risk of, or affected by, child marriage, particularly girls.
- Raising awareness of the need to invest in and support girls, and shifting the social expectations that stifle their prospects.
My own personal opinion or take on the solution for child marriage
Let me start by asking myself this question
Is girls education the key to ending child marriage?
Increasing girls education is recognized as the most effective strategy for delaying child marriage a practice that greatly diminishes the choice and capacity of girls to achieve their life goals, and has further repercussions for their children, families and communities.
According to research institutes, this is what they have to say about child marriage:
Research suggests that increasing educational attainment produces a number of positive outcomes. For example, while lower educational attainment is a risk factor for child marriage, higher educational attainment is protective against child marriage.
Recently, researchers from the World Bank and ICRW examined data from 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and found a strong relationship between girls educational attainment and child marriage. The study found that across the 15 countries, each additional year of secondary school attendance significantly reduced the chance of girls being married before the age of 18.
Furthermore, they found that each additional year of secondary school attendance also reduced the likelihood of giving birth before the age of 18, contributing to safer pregnancies and healthier newborns.
Conversely, according to some study, they found that girls who marry early are significantly less likely to complete their secondary school education, which in turn lowers the potential earnings they can make as adults and thereby reduces their familys economic potential.
Moreover, child marriage and lower educational attainment creates ripples into the next generation by diminishing the educational prospects for children of child brides. In other words, child marriage may be playing an important role in perpetuating poverty.
Finally, investing in girls education can have a tremendous impact on reducing child marriage and therefore in reducing poverty for families, communities, and countries.
I will like to ask a simple question for my fellow readers and viewers.
- What is your own views and contributions on this articles?
- Are you aware of existence of early marriage in your area? If so, explain
- What are your perceptions on girls who marry early?
- Do these young girls enjoy in this marriage? Elaborate?
- How does early marriage affect the girl child in your opinion?
- What in your view is the best way forward to solve this problem?
- Do parents in any way play a role to this practice of early marriage?
- Does culture in any way contribute to early marriage?
Please let me know all your reactions, views and insights in the comment box below!
Kogwuonye Patrick Onyeka
University of Benin