Every day, more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married worldwide, human rights groups estimate. For many child brides, a future of poverty, exploitation, and poor health awaits. Here are nine things you should know about a practice that is harming girls around the globe.
1. A girl under the age of 18 is married every three seconds—over 9 million each year—often without her consent and sometimes to a much older man. Most of those marriages take place in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia.
2. Human rights activists say six of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015 are directly affected by the prevalence of child marriage—the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction in child mortality; improvement in maternal health; and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
3. Girls who bear children at a young age may face serious health consequences. Young mothers experience higher rates of maternal mortality and higher risk of obstructed labor and pregnancy-induced hypertension because their bodies are unprepared for childbirth. Girls between 10 and 14 are five times more likely than women ages 20 to 24 to die in pregnancy and childbirth. Girls ages 15 to 19 are twice as likely as older women to die from childbirth and pregnancy, making pregnancy the leading cause of death in poor countries for this age group.
4. Girls who have babies also have a high risk of suffering from obstetric fistula, a condition in which the vagina, bladder, and/or rectum tear during childbirth and, if left untreated, causes lifelong leakage of urine and feces. Two million women suffer from obstetric fistula worldwide, and an additional 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop annually among girls.
5. Girls who are married young often lack status and power within their marriages and households, and so are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual abuse, and isolation from family and community. A survey in India found that girls who married before 18 reported experiencing physical violence twice as often as girls who married at a later age; younger married girls reported experiencing sexual violence three times more often. Girls who marry young are also more likely to believe violence is justified. A Kenya study found that 36 percent of girls who married before 18 believe that men are justified in beating their wives, compared to 20 percent of those who married at a later age.
6. Child brides are more likely to be infected with the HIV virus by their older husbands. A study in Kenya and Zambia by University of Chicago researchers found that among 15- to 19-year-old girls who are sexually active, being married increased their chances of having HIV by more than 75 percent.
7. In some Muslim countries, marriage is used as a cover for the illegal child sex tourism trade. Some Muslims groups allow temporary marriages such as Nikāḥ al-Mutʿah (“pleasure marriage”) and Nikah al-Misyar (“traveller’s marriage”) as a way to get around Islam’s prohibition against premarital sex. By making the unions temporary, Egyptian child sex tourism manages to capture much of the worst of child marriage and child prostitution. “Some girls have been married 60 times by the time they turn 18,” an Egyptian government official who works on the issue told Inter Press Service. “Most ‘marriages’ last for just a couple of days or weeks.”
8. Child marriage enslaves women and hinders efforts to spread the Gospel, says Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist expert on Nigerian relations. Ojutiku adds that in Nigeria, a law allowing child marriage is “having a religious inclination, all of which is against the Christendom and to strengthen the Islamization of our country.” Preteen Christian girls bought as the brides of Muslim men are forced to convert to Islam. Child brides also will acquire the right to vote, most likely for the Muslim candidates their husbands support, Ojutiku told Baptist Press.
9. The Bride Price: Consequences of Child Marriage Worldwide is a video containing moving images by Stephanie Sinclair – recipient of the 2007 UNICEF Photo of the Year – on the many issues of child marriage. Sinclair’s photos include images of child brides in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and India.