Child Marriages

May 30, 2016 10:57 pm Published by Comments

What do we mean by Child Marriage?

Child marriage, defined as marriage before age 18, is a violation of human rights, compromising the development of girls and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, with little education and poor vocational training reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty. Most child marriages are also forced marriages, where the consent of the child is not considered before the consummation of the union. While boys are affected by child marriage, the issue impacts girls in far larger numbers and with more intensity.

What do we mean by Child Marriage?

  • Economic reasons: Girls are either seen as an economic burden or valued as capital for their exchange value in terms of goods, money or livestock.
  • Control over sexuality: Child marriage is often regarded as necessary for controlling girls’ sexuality which is directly linked to family honor and status.
  • Custom and tradition: Where child marriage is prevalent there is strong social pressure on families to either conform or face ridicule, disapproval or family shame. Local perceptions regarding an ideal age of marriage are tied to economic factors such as dowries, bride price, et cetera.
  • Security: In many cases parents turn to child marriages in order to secure a future for their daughters. Situations of insecurity and acute poverty can prompt parents to resort to child marriage as a protective mechanism or survival strategy.

The prevalence of child marriage varies across region and nation. According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), 51 million girls between the ages of 15-19 are currently married; 100 million girls will be married before eighteen within the next decade.

What are the consequences of child marriage?


The majority of young brides have limited access to contraception and reproductive health services and information. They are exposed to early and frequent sexual relations and to repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically mature and psychologically ready. Obstetric fistula is one of the most devastating consequences, affecting over two million girls and young women. Pregnancy related deaths are the leading cause of mortality in 15-19 year old girls, and girls age 15 years or under are five times more likely to die than those over 20.


According to the ICRW, education is the strongest predictor of marriage age. For example, in Mozambique approximately 60% of girls with no education are married by 18, compared to 10% of girls with secondary schooling and less than 1% of girls with higher education. Human rights research shows that the greatest obstacles to girls’ education iii – as identified in many government reports to human rights monitoring bodies – are child marriage, pregnancy and domestic chores.


In many countries child marriage is linked with poverty. This is because it affects particularly the poorest in the population, and helps to reinforce cycles of poverty. Child wives tend to have more children and fewer independent income options. Poverty ultimately fuels child marriage, which in turn perpetuates the feminization of poverty. This situation is also supported by country economic indicators for measuring the health of the economy:  several countries with very low gross domestic products (GDPs) tend to have higher rates of child marriage.


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