According to a United Nations report (Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects) 700 million women alive today and 156 million men were married before their 18th birthdays. About 250 million women were married before the ripe, wise, and old age of 15 (sarcasm detected). It was noted that girls that are married off are being paired up with much older men. The report also goes on to say that Child Marriage is a manifestation of gender inequality and it reflects social norms that perpetuate discrimination against girls. UNICEF’s position is that child marriages are marriages before the age of 18 and are a violation of human rights.
This strikes me as true, but in order to fully combat and eradicate the situation, we must strive to end all child marriages for both genders. It must be started with reducing the number of girls forced into marriage since they are the most vulnerable to be placed in such a situation.
One of the situations is socioeconomic status. Poorer children are married off at a higher rate and earlier than their wealthier counterparts. In India, the median age for first marriages among richer girls is 19.7; among poorer girls it is 15.4. These girls that are forced into marriage usually are susceptible to pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS because they rarely have had a formal education. The lack of education, poverty cycle, and attitudes about women perpetuate the cycle.
The report goes on to say almost half of all “child brides” worldwide live in South Asia; most notably 1 in 3 are in India. Besides a long standing patriarchal attitude that a woman’s life goals should be to get married and bear children, there is a new motivating force for these marriages. It is the increasing violence taking place against women in India. That fear has led families to marry off their children for the thought of safety. They also do not want their daughters to be a victim of rape because that leaves them “undesirable” to future suitors. In 2013 there was a reported 309,546 crimes against women, up from 244,270 reported in 2012 and an increase of rapes in both urban and rural settings.
India has stringent laws against child marriages and offers “rigorous punishment for 2 years” and/or a fine. This law also has the child’s rights at the center of it, unlike others. However, the law relies on community reporting and that is not always sufficient as people do not report these marriages.
What do you think can be done about child marriages, not only in India, but around the world? What can the International Community improve or add to reduce and end child marriages?
Image: Earth Action