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Stop Child Marriages
Stop Child Marriges
Child marriage is a violation of human rights. WPF and IHEU therefore urge all governments to end child marriage: a practice in which the parents of a child arrange a marriage with another child or an adult. In most cases young girls get married off to significantly older men when they are still children. Child marriages must be viewed within a context of force and coercion, involving pressure and emotional blackmail, and children that lack the choice or capacity to give their full consent. Child marriage must therefore always be considered forced marriage because valid consent is absent - and often considered unnecessary. Child marriage is common practice in Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Nepal, Uganda and Cameroon, where over 50% of girls are married by the age of 18. More than 30% of girls are married by the age of 18 in another eighteen countries, mostly in Asia and Africa (UNICEF, Early Marriage, a Harmful Traditional Practice. Statistical exploration, 2005). Poverty, protection of girls, fear of loss of virginity before marriage and related family honour, and the provision of stability during unstable social periods are suggested as significant factors in determining a girl's risk of becoming married as a child (UNICEF, Early Marriage: Child Spouses, 2001). Statistics show that child marriage is most common among the poorest groups in society (Ibid.).
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Physical, social and psychological consequences of child marriage
Young girls who get married will most likely be forced into having sexual intercourse with their, usually much older, husbands. This has severe negative health consequences as the girl is often not psychologically, physically and sexually mature. Child brides are likely to become pregnant at an early age and there is a strong correlation between the age of a mother and maternal mortality and morbidity. Girls aged 10-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24 and girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die (UNFPA, Child Marriage Factsheet, 2005). The body of a young girl is not yet ready for pregnancy and childbirth, which leads to complications such as obstructed labour and obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula can also be caused by the early sexual relations associated with child marriage, which take place sometimes even before menarche. Good prenatal care reduces the risk of childbirth complications, but in many instances, due to their limited autonomy or freedom of movement, young wives have no access to health services, which aggravates the risks of maternal complications and mortality for pregnant adolescents. Because young girls are not ready for the responsibilities and roles of being a wife, sexual partner and a mother, child marriage has a serious negative impact on their psychological well-being and personal development.
On top of pregnancy-related complications, young married girls are also at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Girls are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS as compared to boys due to physical and social factors. Young married girls are even at higher risk because their older husbands may already be infected in previous sexual relationships. Furthermore, the age difference between the girl and the husband and her low economic status make it almost impossible for the girl to negotiate safe sex or demand fidelity.
Girls and women who are married younger, especially when married as children, are more likely to experience domestic violence and to believe that it is justified for a man to beat his wife. In addition, child brides are least likely to take action against this abuse (IPPF and the Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women and Girls. Ending Child Marriage, A Guide for Global Policy Action, 2006). Domestic violence seriously endangers the physical and mental health of women and girls and can even put their lives at risk.
Gender inequality is both a cause as well as a consequence of child marriage. Child brides usually have lower levels of education than girls who get married at an older age. Education is therefore seen as a way to prevent child marriages. Once a girl is married, she experiences a lack of autonomy to make personal decisions about her life. Early marriage, together with its relation to low levels of education, high levels of violence and abuse, severe health risks and harmful power dynamics, results in increased vulnerability to poverty for girls and young women.
Human Rights Violation
Child marriage is a violation of human rights and is prohibited by a number of international conventions and other instruments. Nonetheless, it is estimated that in the next ten years more than 100 million girls are likely to be married before the age of 18 (UNFPA, State of the World Population, 2005).
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that men and women of full age are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties.
The Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (1964) says that no marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties. States should specify a minimum age for marriage (not less than 15 years) and all marriages should be registered by the competent authority.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women (1979) states that the betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, should be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990) prohibits child marriage and the betrothal of girls and boys. Effective action, including legislation, should be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years.