The problem of forced marriages of children is considered a violation of basic human rights throughout the world. About 198 countries have marriage age requirements, but at least six do not, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Even among countries that do have age requirements, children are often forced to marry regardless. The governments look the other way.
Saying No to Child Marriage
Breaking free from the tradition to marry children young can be difficult because these girls often don't receive support from their families to say no and cultural, economic and religious factors can make it nearly impossible for the girls to escape the tradition.
Countries Where Child Marriage Is a Problem
In the rural villages of Egypt, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India and the Middle East, young girls are rarely allowed out of their homes except to work in the fields or get married. These uneducated girls are often married off as young as 11 years old. 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.
It is believed that between 60 and 80 percent of marriages are forced marriages in Afghanistan.
The legal age to get married in Egypt is 16, and it is 18 in India and Ethiopia. But these laws are quite often ignored.
A spotlight was thrown on early forced marriage and sexual abuse of young girls in the U.S. with the April 2008 rescue of numerous children who were living on a ranch owned by a polygamist sect in Texas.
United Nations Report on the Violation of Basic Human Rights of Child Brides
According to "Factsheet: Early Marriage", a report issued by the United Nations, early marriage unions violate the basic human rights of these girls when they're forced into lives of isolation, service, lack of education, health problems and abuse.
This paper states:
"UNICEF believes that, because marriage under the age of 18 may threaten a child's human rights (including the right to education, leisure, good health, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination), the best way to ensure the protection of children's rights is to set a minimum age limit of 18 for marriage.
UNICEF is opposed to forced marriages at any age, where the notion of consent is non-existent and the views of bride or groom are ignored, particularly when those involved are under age."
Problems Attributed to Child Marriage
Poor health, early death and lack of educational opportunities lead the list of problems attributed to child marriage. Child brides have double the pregnancy death rate of women in their twenties. The leading cause of death for young girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in developing countries is early pregnancy. Child brides are at an extremely high risk for fistulas — vaginal and anal ruptures — from having babies too young, and their babies are sicker and weaker. Many do not survive childhood. Child brides have a higher risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases, and they're at increased risk for chronic anemia and obesity.
Child brides typically have very limited access to contraception and a lack of educational opportunities. They're often subject to a lifetime of poverty. Statistically, child brides have a higher risk of becoming victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and murder.
Education is Key
Education is the most important element in helping to end the practice of forced child marriages. Education of their parents is just as important as the education of the children. It may broaden their horizons and can help convince them that their children must be educated, not only in reading, writing, and math but in life skills as well as reproduction and contraception information.
India was able to cut child marriage rates by up to two-thirds by 2004 by providing more educational opportunities to girls and young women, according to the Chicago Tribune. Girls who are able to complete primary school tended to marry later and have fewer children.