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Girls & Women

Underage Marriage Should Be Considered a Form of Child Labor, Activist Says

A woman protests against underage marriages.
Sunday Alamba/AP

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — All underage marriage should be considered a form of child labor as young brides face abuse and are made to perform domestic work, a campaigner said on Wednesday.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Stop Child Marriage for Good

Most of the 152 million victims of child labor are boys working in agriculture, but legal expert Seth Earn said the figure should include underage brides, who are confined at home and routinely exposed to physical and sexual abuse.

"Child marriage often is a way to replace what otherwise is paid labor," said Earn, legal advisor for New York-based AIDS-Free World, which campaigns against inequality.

"The child enters into a situation without their consent, if it is coerced from the beginning then everything that goes from there is also without their consent."

Read More: 6 Unbelievable Things That Girls Have Been Traded for in Child Marriage Cases

Key anti-slavery groups included 15 million people forced into marriage as part of their joint estimates on victims of modern slavery for the first time last year.

More than a third were aged under 18 when wed, and many are women taken from homes, raped, and abused.

Earn told a global conference on child marriage in Kuala Lumpur that the International Labor Organization should recognize young brides as victims of child labor so they were eligible for help.

However Laura Vidal, researcher for the charity Good Shepherd in Australia, said such recognition could be a barrier when victims did not see themselves as slaves.

Read More: This Sheikh From Oman, 65, Bought His 16-Year-Old Bride From India for $7,800

The conference hosted by advocacy group Girls Not Brides was aimed at ending child marriage, which affects some 650 million women and girls today.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit