A View on Child Marriage

 

Take a moment to imagine yourself as a young thirteen year old girl, dreaming of your future and independence, only to come home and have your parents tell you that your wedding will be taking place the next day. All your hopes of growing up to be an independent individual shattered in that very moment. To many young girls in developing countries, these aren’t scenarios being played in their minds, it’s their true life story. Child marriage, also known as “forced marriage” or “early marriage”, is defined as marriage before the age of 18 and is a harmful traditional practice that deprives girls of their dignity and human rights. Such marriages can lead these child brides to a life of slavery and abuse. As human beings too young to make an informed choice, child brides are often placed completely under their husband’s and his family’s control. It can distress the lives of many girls, shatter their families and upset their communities, and it can also weaken global development efforts that are focused on creating educated, healthy and economically stable populations.


  • One-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and one in nine are married before the age of 15.

  • In 2012, 70 million women aged 20-24 around the world had been married before the age of 18.

  • If present trends continue, 150 million girls will be married before their 18th birthdays over the next decade. That’s an average of 15 million girls each year.

  • While countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage are concentrated in western and sub-Saharan Africa, due to population size, the largest number of child brides resides in South Asia.


At such a young age, child marriage can have negative health effects on girls, especially when they are made to bear children before they are physically ready. The risks associated with youth pregnancy and childbirth can endanger their health and cost them their lives, including significantly increased risk of maternal death and morbidity, infant mortality and morbidity, obstetric fistula (a medical condition in which a hole develops in the birth canal as a result of childbirth), and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The health concerns not only impacts the child bride but also their children. Children born to child brides are more likely to have a higher risk of malnutrition, higher risks of stunting and low birth rate than children born to older mothers.

Along with the physical and health risks, the economic impacts and related costs of child marriage are extensive and wide-ranging, sweeping across multiple dynamics such as education, labor force participation and earnings, decision-making ability within the household, and even the risk of gender-based violence. As you can see, child marriage bare similar characteristics to child slavery and is often argued to be a form of child trafficking. Children in forced marriages may also engage in similar acts as victims of sex and labor trafficking and may be coerced to undertake domestic chores and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations.


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Along with the physical and health risks, the economic impacts and related costs of child marriage are extensive and wide-ranging, sweeping across multiple dynamics such as education, labor force participation and earnings, decision-making ability within the household, and even the risk of gender-based violence.


Shedding light on child marriage and taking it out of the shadows with modern day slavery is an important matter. Child marriage is a violation of human rights and a major drawback to gender equality. It deeply affects the growth and development opportunities not only for the child brides but also of their children. It is a social and economic issue across the world. Confronting child marriage and putting a stop to it is complex, as it requires a diverse and universal approach to address child marriage as an indicator of deeply rooted gender inequality that devalues girls. The International Center for Research on Women provide great community options on how to get involved, or you can follow their story on how they’re advocating through research evidence to inform policy solutions. The ending of child marriage will convey remarkable positive effects on girls’ life and education, which in turn would bring many additional benefits, such as increasing their lifetime expected earnings, improving household income, reducing their likelihood of experiencing intimate partner violence and increasing their ability to make decisions.


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About the Author

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Gaochen Xiong recently graduated with her Master’s in Public and Nonprofit Administration. As a first generation born Hmong American, who is dedicated to paving the way for her children and future generations, she is excited to expand her knowledge and fight for justice through Dressember. She’s an avid reader, lover of all things arts and crafts, and enjoys experiencing new adventures and traveling with her family.