Child marriage still persists today in different parts of the world. While there are different reasons why parents marry off their daughters so early, the negative consequences remain the same.
Reporting on her findings from her recent trip to Malawi, Africa, Jennifer Ludden of NPR said she found that one in three girls in the developing world get married by the age of 18. And, by age 15, one in nine girls are wed. More than 14 million child marriages are estimated to occur annually, according to the International Center for Research on Women. Sub-Saharan African countries have the highest rates of such marriages, but South Asia actually has the highest number of child brides.
Ludden also found that child marriage is on the rise. For most of the last fifty years, the average age when a girl got married went up in most countries. However, the age increase hit a snag over the last ten years. In the countries with rapidly increasing populations, child marriages are more common. UNICEF expects births by girls under the age of 15 will almost double by the year 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Parents believe that they are acting in the best interest of their daughters by settling them off in marriage. Often times, parents get a dowry in exchange for their daughter’s hand, and there is, no doubt, a solid correlation between being poor and marrying early. For example, when crops whither in severe drought, desperate times prevail and child brides increase in number. According to ICRW’s Suzanne Petroni, some parents may believe that marriage will make their daughter’s life better as her husband may provide for her better than they can.
Additionally, the risk of rape is high for teenaged girls – even on the walk to school. This gives further incentive to parents to marry off their daughters before a sexual assault mars their girls’ reputations and marriage potential in the community.
Despite laws prohibiting child marriage in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, it is still rampantly practiced. According to Priya Nanda of ICRW, it is a matter of family honor as parents fear sexual assault and premarital sex. The fear propels them to marry off their daughters early.
Contrary to these parents’ reasoning though, child marriages may not be as beneficial as they seem. Pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications are responsible for most deaths in girls aged 15 – 19 in developing countries.
It is very difficult for child brides to ask their husbands to consider family planning and take measures to prevent pregnancy. This results in many girls getting pregnant while their bodies are not yet ready. Women in their twenties are five times less likely to die while giving birth than girls under the age of 15, according to ICRW. In addition, UNICEF reports that children born to girls under the age of 18 have a 60 percent increased likelihood of dying before their first birthday.
Child marriage not only puts girls at risk, but it is also bad for the economy of developing nations. The World Bank estimates billions of dollars in lost GDP and productivity in countries like India, Brazil and Kenya. When child brides marry, most likely they will stop schooling. This, in turn, reduces their ability to make money in the future. Furthermore, the report does not even take into account how lack of education will take its toll.
Realizing the persistent danger that child marriages bring forth, chair of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has called for an end to the controversial practice.
“We must do away with child marriage,” she said at an international summit for family planning. “Girls who end up as brides at a tender age are coerced into having children while they are children themselves.”
By Fatema Biviji