05 August 2011

Child marriage threatens girls' health and rights

For many child brides, a future of poverty, exploitation and poor health awaits. These are some key facts on child marriage around the world.


Every day, more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married worldwide, rights groups estimate. For many child brides, a future of poverty, exploitation and poor health awaits. These are some key facts on child marriage around the world.

  • Every three seconds, a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere in the world, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
  • The practicer affects a third of girls -and some boys - in developing countries, according to UNICEF, which describes child marriage as "perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls."
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says 18 years should be the minimum age for marriage.
  • Child rights activists say marriage at a young age violates a child's basic human rights because they are too young to be able to give "free and full consent" - a right enshrined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Child marriage is most common in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • In many developing countries the practicer is illegal but the law is often not enforced or it operates alongside customary and religious laws.
  • Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s. If they are 15-19, they are twice as likely to die.
  • Girls under the age of 18 are more likely to develop obstetric fistula, which causes severe incontinence. This condition occurs during childbirth when a hole develops between the vagina and bladder or rectum.
  • Girl brides are more likely to be infected with the HIV virus by their older husbands. A study in Kenya and Zambia by University of Chicago researchers found that among 15- to 19-year-old girls who are sexually active, being married increased their chances of having HIV by more than 75%.
  • A girl bride is more likely to be beaten or raped by her husband and experience abusive relationships with her in-laws.
  • The babies of child brides are 60% more likely to die before the age of one than children of women older than 19.
  • Child brides are rarely allowed to go to school. Many are expected to bear and raise children and carry out domestic work for their in-laws.
  • Girls from poor families are nearly twice as likely to marry before 18 than girls from wealthier families.
  • The number of child marriages often increases during conflicts or natural disasters.
  • Some families use marriage to build and strengthen alliances, to seal property deals, settle disputes or pay off debts.

(Reuters Health, Lisa Anderson, August 2011)  


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