It is time to End Child Marriage!

What were you doing as an 8 year old girl?

Maybe you had just started second grade, getting an education, having Tea-Tuesday picnics and playing with imaginary friends in the garden under the watching eye of your parents, who were making sure you are safe and sound. Or were you forced into an early marriage at the tender age of 8, being physically, emotionally and mentally harassed, viciously and brutally sexually assaulted by your male companion [now husband] who is 40 years older. A pain so complex no child is meant to experience – and yet this is a reality for many young girls from as young as 6 years old in countries where child marriage continues to be legal and practiced.

An 8-year old child bride from Northwestern Yemen, Hardt in the Middle East, died on her wedding night after suffering internal injuries and sexual trauma from her betrothed husband. This particular incident sparked international outrage and called for global outcry to end child marriage in Yemen. It is believed the young girl died due to internal bleeding which was the result of sexual intercourse that tore her uterus and other organs.

According to United Nations agencies and organizations working on child marriage,

Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million will become child brides. Furthermore, of the 140 million of the girls who will marry before 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15.

Generally we concede and acknowledge poverty as the primary reason why child marriage continues to happen, as parents believe marrying the girls off to wealthy men that will secure their daughters future. This sometimes also implies that girls can be seen as an economic burden, as a commodity, means of settling debts or disputes and means of securing political, social and economic alliances. We’ve seen most of these despicable acts and trades happen after natural disasters such as the war in Syria, food in-secure Kenya, young girls married off to “tsunami widowers” in Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia as a way to obtain state subsidies. Conflicts in Sudan, Uganda and Liberia where girls were abducted and given as “bush wives” to war lords by their families as means to secure protection. Over 270 girls in Nigeria were abducted whilst sleeping at their boarding school by rebel group, Boko Haram, because of an archaic belief that girls should be settled into early marriage instead of getting an education – the list of such indecent activities is endless.

Many children accept marriage as their allotted fate. This form of coercion is then often involved when families apply social or emotional pressure to urge marriage for economic reasons or further advocate marriage in the (misguided) belief that such a union will keep their daughters safe. In other countries, it is said that blessings come when a child is married off before their first menstruation. It is crucial for all countries in the world to join forces in advocating for the ending of child marriages everywhere in the world, because the evidence of the devastating impact of child marriage to a girls’ life is clear and proven.

Child marriage is a violation of human rights and deterrent to development: Child marriage is a violation of Article 16(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouse”. Article 16(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that women should have the same right as men to “freely choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and fair consent” and that the “betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no effect”.

Countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage are concentrated in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa and the largest numbers of child brides residing in South Asia. Not only does child marriage result in the child bride being subjected to physical, emotional and sexual violence, but they often lose access to health and most importantly education and economic independence in the future. Allowing child marriage to continue will result in more young girls being subjected to gender based violence and the recreation of an ongoing ripple effect of marginalized, uneducated, unhealthy and politically unprotected young women around the world. This is currently being perceived as a norm but should not be!

Call to Action:

  • Youth Activists need to play a role in advocacy by being the voice of the marginalized youth, in putting pressure on governments to change legislation and setting 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage
  • Civil Society Organizations across the world have to engage in active advocacy and communicate the effects of child marriage from those affected as well as results achieved to encourage and demand change in legislation, policies and practices
  • Youth and Traditional Leaders in the political and social communities from countries where child marriage is not legal, should use their influence to demand their governments to invest in pressuring governments of child marriage prevalent economies to change their state constitutions and abort child marriage practices by setting the minimum age to marry at 18
Image by DFID / Girl Summit
Image by DFID / Girl Summit

Imagine – 8 years old, getting married and dying on the night of your wedding day due to sexual brutality or having to wed off your very own young daughter down the line. Child marriage is a violation of human rights and a deterrent for development of girls (and boys) who are exposed to the life threatening and burdening experience. It is time to stop this practice, everywhere in the world.

Visit the Girl Summit 2014 and pledge your support to ending child marriage and FGM/C

A version of this text was originally published on Zanele Mabaso’s personal blog. 

Featured image courtesy of UNFPA, and part of the Too Young To Wed photo collection.

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Category: Rights
Tagged with: #GirlSummit2014    Child Marriage    Early Marriage    end child marriage    forced marriage    Gender Equality    Girl Summit    Girls' rights

Zanele Mabaso

Zanele Mabaso (23) is a youth health policy adviser, social justice writer and an ardent advocate for the global public health adolescents & youth community. Her interests are in Adolescent, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, Gender Equity & Equality, Gender-Based Violence, Youth Leadership & Participation and the socioeconomic empowerment of young women and girls in Africa. She is inspired by the outlook on the future of African Adolescents & Youth and considers Africa, home. Connect with her on @zanelemabaso23

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