Child Bride: A Global Challenge
Child bride is a term that refers to a girl who is married or in a union before the age of 18. It is a violation of human rights that affects millions of girls around the world, with serious consequences for their health, education, and well-being. According to UNICEF, approximately one in five girls are married in childhood across the globe.
Child marriage is often driven by poverty, lack of opportunities, gender inequality, and harmful social norms. Some families may marry off their daughters to reduce their economic burden, earn income, or secure their future. Others may do so to protect them from violence, unwanted pregnancy, or stigma. However, child marriage does not protect girls, but rather exposes them to greater risks and harms.
The Impacts of Child Marriage
Child marriage robs girls of their childhood and threatens their lives and futures. Some of the impacts of child marriage are:
Health: Child brides often become pregnant during adolescence, when their bodies are not ready for childbirth. They face higher risks of complications, such as obstetric fistula, hemorrhage, infection, and maternal mortality. They are also more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Child marriage also affects the health of their children, who are more likely to be premature, underweight, or die in infancy.
Education: Child brides usually drop out of school or are prevented from attending by their husbands or families. This limits their opportunities to learn, develop skills, and participate in society. They also miss out on the benefits of education, such as increased income, empowerment, and decision-making. Education is one of the most effective ways to prevent child marriage and empower girls.
Violence: Child brides often face domestic violence from their husbands or in-laws. They may also experience sexual violence, coercion, and abuse. They have little power or autonomy in their relationships and households. They are also more likely to experience other forms of violence, such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), child trafficking, and forced labor.
Mental health: Child brides often suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal thoughts. They may feel isolated, lonely, and hopeless. They may also experience low self-esteem, shame, and guilt. Child marriage can have a lasting impact on their psychological well-being and happiness.
The Solutions to End Child Marriage
Ending child marriage requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach that addresses the root causes and consequences of the practice. Some of the solutions to end child marriage are:
Laws and policies: Laws and policies that set the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both girls and boys, without exceptions, are essential to protect children's rights and prevent child marriage. They should also be enforced and monitored by authorities and communities. Laws and policies that promote gender equality, access to justice, and protection from violence are also important to end child marriage.
Education: Education is a key factor in preventing child marriage and empowering girls. Girls who complete secondary education are less likely to marry as children than those who do not. Education also provides girls with knowledge, skills, confidence, and opportunities to pursue their aspirations and contribute to society. Education should be accessible, affordable, quality, and gender-responsive for all girls.
Health services: Health services that provide sexual and reproductive health information, education, and services to adolescents are vital to prevent child marriage and its impacts. They should also address the specific needs and rights of married girls, such as family planning, antenatal care, safe delivery, postnatal care, and prevention and treatment of STIs/HIV/AIDS. Health services should be youth-friendly, confidential, respectful, and non-judgmental.
Economic empowerment: Economic empowerment programs that provide girls with financial literacy, vocational training, entrepreneurship opportunities, savings groups, cash transfers, or scholarships can help them avoid or delay child marriage. They can also increase their income, independence, bargaining power, and resilience. Economic empowerment programs should also target families and communities to address poverty and social norms that drive child marriage.
Social mobilization: Social mobilization campaigns that raise awareness, challenge attitudes, and change behaviors around child marriage are crucial to end the practice. They should involve various stakeholders, such as religious leaders, traditional leaders, media, civil society, youth groups, and men and boys. They should also amplify the voices and stories of girls who are affected by or have escaped child marriage.
Child bride is a global challenge that requires urgent and collective action. It is not only a violation of human rights, but also a barrier to development and progress. By ending child marriage, we can improve the lives and futures of millions of girls and their families, and create a more just and equitable world for all.
[UNICEF: Child marriage]
[BBC News: What is it like to be a child bride?]