Each year 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 – this is 28 girls every minute. Child brides face a lot of challenges that impact their overall development. They are often isolated, deprived of an opportunity and the right to enjoy their childhood and are often disempowered.
Child brides face physical and mental abuse for their husbands as their bodies are not physically ready to become mothers. Child brides are at risk of complications complicated and traumatic pregnancy/childbirth, suffering domestic abuse and contracting STI’s such as HIV/AIDS (GilrsnotBrides. 2002-2017).
Child marriage is a global issue that surpasses ethnicities, religion and culture. Child brides can be found in many regions including Europe, Latin America, south Asia and united kingdom.
In 2016, the UK Forced Marriage Unit’s helpline dealt with 1,428 cases of forced marriage, 15% of the cases dealt with involved children age 16 and under.
According to NSPCC, there is a “12% rise in ChildLine counselling sessions about forced marriage”. NSPCC reported that girls as young as 13 told ChildLine counsellor that they were afraid about being taken aboard and being forced to marry strangers. The children reported that they were worried about being isolated and disowned by their families if they refused to engage with the marriage.
Peter Wanless (Chief Executive for NSPCC) stated that “no child should be forced into marriage and we must be clear that, regardless of cultural expectations, this is a crime and an abuse of human rights. Forcing a child to marry shows a complete lack of regard for their feelings, thoughts and ambitions”.
Child marriage holistically impacts a child’s development negatively; it creates barriers to their physical, emotional, social and mental well-being. Two (2) main areas of development that are affected by child marriage are:
Health: Parents may believe that marriage will protect their children from sexually transmitted disease; in reality they are putting their child more at risk. As the husbands of their daughters are often considerably older and have more sexual experience and may already infected with STIs or HIV. Child marriage not only puts girls at risk of STIs but also leads to an increased risk of maternal death as younger girls more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth – (Unite for Sight 2000-2015 ).
Education: Child marriage often means the end of girl’s school formal education. Child marriage places responsibility of a wife, maintaining a home and in some cases looking after children on young girls. A lot of married children are not in school because their parents value marriage more than their education. In cases where some families are poor, they see marriage as the better option as the child will now be cared for by her husband. In other cases, children are already promised to older men in exchange for money, goods, property etc or as part of a family arrangement.
Reasons for the practice of child marriage according to ChildLine (0800 1111) includes:
- The belief that it is a religious or cultural practice.
- Families worries about their reputation and honour (also known as ‘izzat’)
- Families wishes of the family’s money to staying together
- In exchange for money, goods, property etc
- Attempts of preventing their child being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Attempts of stopping relationship and sex before marriage
- Pressure by their communities or other family members to follow traditions
- Keeping family values and honour.
Child Marriage is a human right violation and against the law in the UK. Child marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage people have a choice! It is important to remember that all major religions ((Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Jewish) are against child marriage, child marriage is not a religious practice.
If you are at risk of child marriage or would like some support please seek for support from the agencies below:
Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) will help you think about what your options are.
Karma Nirvana has advice on how to protect yourself from the risk of a forced marriage or honour violence.
Child Helpline International provides information about the different helplines around the world. If you’re abroad and need help, this site might be useful.
Freedom Charity has advice on your rights, how you can stay safe and how to get help if you’re at risk of forced marriage.
References and Further Reading