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Girls & Women

7 Reasons Child Marriage Is Horrible for Girls: The Guardian

It’s rare that a national newspaper takes on one of the Global Citizen issues in its editorial — so we’re thrilled to see the compelling “wedlock is a padlock” opinion piece from the Guardian this week. 

The more voices that are raised in the fight to eliminate the outdated practice of child marriage once and for all, the better, in our book. 

Child marriage is a serious problem and we’re not going to stop going on about it until it’s well and truly over. As well as being one of the UN’s Global Goals, it also has a knock-on effect on many of the other 16 goals — quality education; access to quality healthcare; gender equality; and no hunger, to name a few. 

But still, a girl under 18 is married somewhere in the world every two seconds. More than 750 million women and girls who are alive today were married when under 18, and some 250 million of these were married before the age of 15. 

Take action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts by Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

While the proportion of young women getting married before 15 has dropped from 12% to 8% since the early 1980s, there’s still a long way to go. 

So, in the wise words of the Guardian, here are seven reasons that child marriage is terrible for girls. 

1. Child Marriage Is Sexist.

While child marriage affects both girls and boys, girls are significantly more at risk from the practice with nine in 10 children who get married being girls. 

Read more: ‘I’m Just a Child’: These 3 Girls Brides Share Their Heartbreaking Stories to Put an End to Early Marriage

2. It Exploits the Youngest, Most Vulnerable People.

Almost a third of girl brides get married to a man older than 21. There is an increasing scrutiny of the issue, and more and more of some of the most shocking examples of child exploitation are coming to light. Last year, a 6-year-old girl was traded to a 55-year-old man in Afghanistan in exchange for a goat. In August, a 16-year-old girl from India was sold to a 65-year-old Omani sheikh. Cases like these draw global attention to the practice, but there are still many girls that slip through the net. 

3. It Traps Children.

Marriage is often seen as protecting girls, especially if they are pregnant, but it locks children into often abusive relationships. In many countries, child brides can’t launch legal action — for example divorce — or even access refuges, because they are minors. 

Read more: 5 Countries With Highest Numbers of Child Marriage

4. It Can Stop a Girl in her Tracks.

Child marriage is one of the greatest barriers to girls around the world. It’s linked to poverty, and is often an end to a girl’s education. When a girl gets married, she is often expected to drop out of school and she’s not likely to return — instead taking on the domestic duties of a wife and mother. 

5. It’s Linked to Violence and Exploitation. 

In a 2017 survey of laws in 73 countries, it was found rapists in at least nine countries could avoid punishment if they married their victim — including in Bahrain, Iraq, the Philippines, Tajikistan, and Tunisia. 

Read more: Proposed Iraq Law Would Allow Girls as Young as 9 to Marry

6. It’s Everywhere. 

Even in countries that are supporting global efforts to eliminate child marriage. In every US state, child marriage is legal in specific circumstances. In 25 US states, girls of any age are allowed to marry in certain circumstances, while others have minimum ages as low as 13. In the UK, 16-year-olds can get married with parental consent, and 16-year-olds in Scotland can get married without it.

7. The Effects Are Hereditary.

Child marriage is hampering global efforts to reduce poverty and population growth. It’s not just a problem for this generation. It’s a problem for future generations too. 

It’s linked to maternal and infant mortality, largely because child brides are forced to have babies before their bodies are ready. Even if they survive, the children of child brides are less healthy, and less likely to access education. As the saying goes, educate a girl and you educate a family. 

As well as the girls and their families, child marriage is impacting us globally. The World Bank has warned, for example, that child marriage will cost developing nations trillions of dollars by 2030. 

The problem is not necessarily a case of creating laws to protect girls — although legislation is undoubtedly a start and sends a significant message. 

But it takes more than just laws. Even in countries where child marriage is illegal, many marriages aren’t formally registered. In other places, according to the Guardian, officials turn a blind eye to breaches. 

Read more: Activists Are Worried Turkey’s New Law Signals Future Women’s Rights Rollback

Something more is needed, as well as legislation — enforcement. There is little point creating ever harsher laws against child marriage if communities aren’t able to enforce them, and girls and their families have no idea of their legal rights. Governments and local authorities need to step up to put into practice the laws that are already in place. 

Another fundamental step in tackling child marriage is eliminating the underlying factors that keep driving girls into marriage. Poverty, for example; lack of economic opportunities; limited or zero access to contraception; patriarchal and traditional attitudes; and conflict. 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN Global Goals, including for gender equality. We aim to put an end to laws that discriminate against and even endanger women around the world, through our #LeveltheLaw campaign. You can join us by taking action here.