Child Brides

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Jarring wedding photos like the ones seen here have been posted and reposted because they are so very shocking to the unexpecting eye.  If you’re like me, you secretly cross your fingers and hope this is actually the misinterpreted picture of a grandfather sitting next to his granddaughter at a family gathering instead of a husband and “wife.” We hear a bit more about child marriage now with a few cases garnering worldwide attention.  The case of Sahar Gul, the teenage Afghan girl who had been married off at the tender age of 12 to a man much older, suffered sickening physical abuse at the hands of her husband’s family – cigarette burns, fingernails pulled out, chained and starved.

For most of the world, United States included, the legal marrying age is somewhere above 16 years of age. UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children report lists the top twenty countries for prevalence of child marriage. Afghanistan didn’t even make the list. Child marriage truly is a global problem and the International Center for Research on Women does a great job listing the effects of making brides out of girls. Here are some bullet points taken from their website.

  • Girls living in poor households are almost twice as likely to marry before 18 than girls in higher income households.
  • Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for girls ages 15 to 19.
  • Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later.
  • Child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.
  • No one religious affiliation was associated with child marriage, according to a 2007 ICRW study. Rather, a variety of religions are associated with child marriage in countries throughout the world.
  • Girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children. In Mozambique, some 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18, compared to 10 percent of girls with secondary schooling and less than one percent of girls with higher education.
  • Educating adolescent girls has been a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in a number of developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

Take home point for me? Marriage is devastating for young girls in so many ways. Having read the above stats, I envision not just a horrifying number of damaged girls but also a population of unprepared and traumatized (if not dead) mothers – a set up for another round of tragedy.

See ICRW's facts on child marriages.

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