Millions of children are deprived of their childhood when forced to marry when they are minors
Today, there are over 700 million women in the world who married before they turned 18. And about 250 million did before they were 15.
Child marriage is a union in which at least one of the spouses is still not 18 years old.
It is a legal practice in many countries and has negative consequences for children who suffer it. When children are forced to marry, their childhood is snatched away: they are separated from their environment and taken away from their families and friends.
Although child marriage is not explicitly prohibited by international treaties, it violates several principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other agreements.
For example, when they get married, many children are forced to leave school and work forcibly, thus violating their fundamental right to receive an education.
Other important principles are also violated, like the right to be protected against abuses. This problem is especially serious in the case of girls, who risk contracting sexually transmitted diseases and premature pregnancies.
In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also includes the right to freely choose and accept marriage. In that sense, child marriage is considered forced because one of the parties is not mature enough to take this decision.
In the worst case, child marriage can result in cases of slavery, prostitution, child trafficking and violence.
Gender inequality also affects child marriage and are strongly marked by gender discrimination: for every child forced to marry, there are five girls affected by child marriage.
Many times, it is the same parents who accept this type of marriage so that their daughters have a ‘male guardianship’: they believe that this way they are protected against sexual aggressions and pregnancies, but these can also happen within the marriage.
La violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas se manifiesta de forma física, sexual y psicológica: violación, acoso, matrimonio infantil, MGF, trata… datos que deberíamos conocer https://t.co/O7ovkTjuJl #16días vía @ONUMujeres
— Naza Mateos (@nazamateoss) November 21, 2017
At risk: poor and rural families
The majority of cases of child marriage happen in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. One third of child marriage worldwide takes place in India.
However, it is a widespread practice throughout the world and depends more on the traditions and the ethnic community, since child marriage is regarded by some groups as part of their culture.
Besides, children from poor families and those living in rural areas are the most vulnerable. Some families, despite understanding the negative effect of child marriages, agree to it in exchange for money.
What governments can do about it
According to data collected by Unicef, there are fewer and fewer cases of child marriage but there is still a long way to go.
Each country should review its laws, set the minimum age of sexual consent and marriage and prosecute those who fail to comply. They should also protect and support those children who escape from marriage.
Child marriages are closely related to poverty and lack of education. So, to prevent them, countries must focus on a quality education that reaches all children.
— ONU Mujeres México (@ONUMujeresMX) November 17, 2017
Local organizations can also help put a stop to this practice, help to break down stereotypes and fight against community customs and traditions that support child marriage.