Having to choose between sending a child to school or marrying a child off at a young age to better benefit the family is not often a choice most would believe families in First World countries must make. However, this is a very real decision for many families in countries all over the world, including in some first world countries. This process of marrying off a child at a very young age, for any purpose, is referred to as child marriages. Child marriages are made as a last resort for a family with minimal other options or opportunities for their daughter/child.
The definition of child marriage is, “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.”1 It is referred to as child marriage because the child cannot consent to the marriage due to their age. These marriages require the parents to sign off, consenting to the marriage, and require no documentation from the child being married off. There is consenting child marriage in certain situations where a minor wants to get married and the parent or guardian’s consent and there is forced child marriage where the child is sold or given to a suitor by their guardian or parent. The vast majority of child marriages are female/girl/daughter victims and often are the result of, “entrenched gender inequality, making girls disproportionately affected by the practice.”2
When a child is married off to a suitor this is usually due to the fact that the family cannot financially afford the mouth to feed or the education necessary for the child being married. Generally, with child marriages the daughter is married to the suitor with the intent of a better life for the child. Families are trying to save their child from facing hardships. The families in this situation are often trying to cope with economic growth, trying to protect their daughter from increased violence, including sexual violence, selling their daughters with the promise to reunite with the family later, etc., however, often their daughter being married off does not solve the issue it was originally intended to for the family and the daughter is, many times, faced with similar or worse hardships.3
Girls forced to marry at a young age are a very high-risk demographic in their lives. One in every five girls are married off as a child. Yet, this number has improved in the last decade from one in every four.4 This number continues to grow in less developed countries showing that 40% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 12% before the age of 15.5 Because these girls are so young, but still of reproductive age, they are often sexually abused and trafficked after their marriage. This creates a problem for the girl’s health, both mentally and physically, and their education as they rarely get back to school once married. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth and over 250 million women alive today were married before their 15th birthday.6 Often there is a high risk of slavery by the suitor or slavery-like tendencies, especially with girl victims because of social and patriarchal norms put in place by societies.7 Child marriage overall ends the chance of furthering a child’s education which is another large concern for this international issue.
Education is seen as a privilege for many impoverished countries and is becoming harder and harder to access especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many schools were shut down to lessen the spread of the virus. Early marriage, “effectively puts an end to child spouses’ education,”8 which furthers the gender inequality towards women and limits a woman’s ability in future prospects. During previous pandemics, epidemics, and financial crisis there is a rise in the number of child marriages due to the lack of resources and the binds that families are put in during the hard time brought on.9 There have been more resources put toward the limitation of child marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic, but seeing as this is an issue the Humans Rights Counsel has been attempting to prevent and lower the causation of with only a small amount of success it is unlikely the Humans Rights Counsel would be able to limit this more during a global pandemic.10
With the current state of the pandemic, schools being forced to close, shortages of most necessities, boarders being shut down, etc., many families are stuck with this devastating decision to make. The decision to marry off a daughter/child is often made with the intent to protect the child but in turn generally does the opposite and puts the child at risk for different, possibly life-threatening hardships. These girls have fallen victim to a patriarchy and a system that is not there to support them or their families leaving minimal options and opportunities.
1 “Child Marriage,” UNICEF, March 7, 2021, https://www.unicef.org/protection/child-marriage. 2 Ibid. “Child Marriage”
3 “Why It Happens,” Girls Not Brides, accessed October 12, 2021, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child- marriage/why-child-marriage-happens/.
4 “Child Marriage,” UNICEF, March 7, 2021, https://www.unicef.org/protection/child-marriage.
5 “Child, Early and Forced Marriage, Including in Humanitarian Settings,” OHCHR, March 7, 2021,https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/women/wrgs/pages/childmarriage.aspx.
6 “Anti-Slavery: Today’s Fight for Tomorrow’s Freedom,” Anti-Slavery International, June 1, 2015, https://doi.org/https://www.antislavery.org/wp- content/uploads/2017/01/behind_closed_doors_child_marriage_as_slavery.pdf. Page 1
7 Ibid. Page 2
8 Ibid. Page 1
9 Yousafzai, Malala. “Malala Fund Releases Report on Girls’ Education and Covid-19: Malala Fund Newsroom.” Malala Fund
10 “Child, Early and Forced Marriage, Including in Humanitarian Settings.” OHCHR, June 2019.https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/women/wrgs/pages/childmarriage.aspx.
“Anti-Slavery: Today’s Fight for Tomorrow’s Freedom.” Anti-Slavery International, June 1, 2015. https://doi.org/https://www.antislavery.org/wp- content/uploads/2017/01/behind_closed_doors_child_marriage_as_slavery.pdf.
“Child Marriage.” UNICEF, March 7, 2021. https://www.unicef.org/protection/child-marriage.
“Child, Early and Forced Marriage, Including in Humanitarian Settings.” OHCHR, June 2019.https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/women/wrgs/pages/childmarriage.aspx.
“Resource Centre.” Girls Not Brides. Accessed October 12, 2021. https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/learning-resources/resource-centre/.
“Why It Happens.” Girls Not Brides. Accessed October 12, 2021. https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/why-child-marriage-happens/.
Yousafzai, Malala. “Malala Fund Releases Report on Girls’ Education and Covid-19: Malala Fund Newsroom.” Malala Fund | Newsroom, July 13, 2020. https://malala.org/newsroom/archive/malala-fund-releases-report-girls-education-covid-19.