Save the Children
We’ve written about the frightening reality of child marriage before, and we’ll write about it again.
Across the world, children are bound into marriages—often against their will—at disturbingly young ages, be it for reasons of honor, family wealth, tradition, or even poorly-disguised human trafficking.
Though it’s easy for many to dismiss the notion of child marriage as a ‘foreign’ problem for ‘others,’ statistics show that it does happen in the United States, right in our own backyards. And just as in other countries, this marriage at such a young age, long before the child involved could possibly understand what a commitment it is, has the same adverse effects, and it disproportionately affects girls.
A new study from Save the Children, an NGO dedicated to the rights and welfare of the world’s children, released updated child marriage statistics today, and the numbers will make you realize that this is truly an epidemic.
Child Marriage on the Map
According to Girls Not Brides, child marriage isn’t necessarily a cultural problem, as many might think. In fact, it happens on nearly every continent, affecting over 700 million women and children today. The rate of women ages 20-24 who were married before the age of 18 is highest in countries like Niger (76%), Chad (68%), the Central African Republic (68%), and Mali (55%). The countries with the highest absolute number of child brides are India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Brazil.
In the United States, there are as many as 3,000 estimated cases of forced child marriage, many of which are able to happen because of lax state legislation.
Child Marriage by the Numbers
Now, a new report from Save the Children have updated statistics for 2016.
According to the report, called Every Last Girl, 15 million girls each year are married before the age of 18; in developing countries, this correlates to 1 in 3 girls married before 18 and 1 in 9 married before 15.
The countries in which child marriage is prevalent also speaks volumes. The study states that the “majority of the 25 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are considered fragile states or at high risk of natural disaster.” Even within these countries, the rates of child marriage can differ dramatically from region to region.
If child marriage continues at its current rates, there will be more than 1.2 billion child brides by 2050.
What It Means for the Girls
As child marriage disproportionately affects young girls, the results are even more disastrous when compounded by the traditional restrictions that exist for women in many countries and cultures in the first place.
According to Save the Children CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt, “Child marriage starts a cycle of disadvantage that denies girls the most basic rights to learn, develop and be children. Girls who marry too early often can’t attend school, and are more likely to face domestic violence, abuse and rape. They fall pregnant and are exposed to STIs including HIV.”
Girls in regions of political turmoil and humanitarian crises, such as the Ebola outbreak, are especially prone to child marriage and teen pregnancy, says the report.
The report explains, “Child marriage is rooted in gender discrimination and structural inequalities. In many contexts, it is sustained as a result of harmful social norms and practices associated with the roles and expectations assigned to girls, and the negative consequences of poverty and deprivation. Girls affected by multiple forms of overlapping disadvantage are most at risk, including those from poor families, in remote locations, and from minority ethnic and religious groups.”
So what can be done to stop the damaging practice?