Child Brides: Forced early marriages

“When I was 10 my parents arranged for me to marry in the forest. They pretended it was just a party. But it was a wedding and they sent me away. My mother never told me I was going to be married. They came and took me by force. I cried but it didn’t make any difference.” – Child Bride aged 10.

Throughout the world, the problem of early, forced marriages of children is considered to be a violation of basic human rights. It has been estimated that 49 countries have a significant child bride problem.

Wedding ceremonies are often held in the middle of the night, with the whole village keeping the secret for fear there might be a police raid.

Breaking out of the tradition to marry young is difficult. These girls do not often receive support from their families to say no to marriage.

Additionally, cultural, economic, and religious aspects of the communities when they live make it nearly impossible for the girls to break free from marrying early.

Poverty is a critical factor contributing to child marriage and a common reason why parents may encourage a child to marry. Where poverty is acute, a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older – sometimes even elderly – man is believed to benefit the child and her family both financially and socially.

In communities where child marriage is practiced marriage is regarded as a transaction, often representing a significant economic activity for a family. A daughter may be the only commodity a family has left to be traded and sometimes girls can be used as currency or to settle debts.

A girl’s marriage may also take place as a perceived means of creating stability. In uncertain times, poor harvest conditions or war, a family may believe it is necessary to ensure the economical ‘safety’ of their daughter and family, through marriage.

Egypt, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, and the Middle East: In the rural villages of these countries many young girls are rarely allowed out of their homes unless it is to work in the fields or to get married.

These uneducated girls are often married off at the young age of 11. Some families allow girls who are only 7 years old to marry. It is very unusual for a girl to reach the age of 16 and not be married.

In Afghanistan , it is believed that between 60 and 80 percent of marriages are forced marriages.

Even though the legal age to get married in Egypt is 16, and in India and Ethiopia, the age is 18, these laws are quite often ignored.

England and the United States: The issue of child brides has also reached other countries such as England and the United States where secret illegal weddings are being performed.

Three years ago, the case of Nujood Ali came to worldwide attention. The ten-year-old Yemeni girl managed to escape her home and made her way to a courthouse to request a divorce from the man in his 30s her father had forced her to marry and who beat her.

She became the poster girl for children in her position around the world and a recent book, translated into 30 languages – I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. She is now back with her family and has returned to school.

Not all girls have such a lucky escape. Few who are married off as children have any chance of an education but there are far worse consequences.

Many are raped and have a low life expectancy due to the number of children they carry at such a young age.

Girls suffer physical abuse and are too frightened to escape because they are threatened with death.

The medical consequences are also extremely serious and in some cases fatal.

One doctor based in the Yemeni capital Sanaa listed some of the medical consequences of forcing girls into sex and childbirth before they are physically mature – ripped vaginal walls and internal ruptures called fistulas which can lead to life-long incontinence.

Girls are often too young to understand the concept of reproduction. The doctor said: ‘The nurses start by asking, “Do you know what’s happening?” “Do you understand that this is a baby that has been growing inside of you?”

Few are equipped with the information of how to care for themselves or their babies after childbirth leading to high infant mortality rates.

June 2011

Some sources:

Child Brides. The Problem of Early, Forced Marriage The awareness of early forced marriage and sexual abuse of young girls in the United States was

Ten Facts About Child Brides and Child Marriage

The number of child brides and child marriages worldwide is 51 million and…/TenFactsAboutChildBrides.htm

Child Marriage and Forced Marriage | FORWARD

Child/Early marriage refers to any marriage of a child younger than 18 years old FORWARD believes that any child marriage constitutes a forced marriage,




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