Representing an immense victory for women and girls worldwide, in February 2015, the Malawian Parliament passed the “Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Bill,” increasing the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. In a country where 50% of girls are married before the age of 18, this was by far one of the most important pieces of legislation, if not the most important piece of legislation, passed this year. According to Jessie Kabwila, an academic, feminist, educator and activist who helped to drive through the new legislation, “this law is extremely crucial because child marriage is a big, big problem in our country. The country will for the first time clearly articulate that we are saying ‘No’ to child marriage.”
As the world continues to grapple with and tackle this human right problem, as was addressed by UNICEF, here are 6 facts to keep in mind on what child marriage means for children in our world today.
What is it?
Child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is a reality for both boys and girls, although girls are disproportionately the most affected. Child marriage is widespread and can lead to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation.
Who does it affect?
Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before 15. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence.
How does it affect young teenage girls?
Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life. According to UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children if a mother is under the age of 18, her infant’s risk of dying in its first year of life is 60 per cent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19. Even if the child survives, he or she is more likely to suffer from low birth weight, under nutrition and late physical and cognitive development.
What happens when girls are married young?
As was reported in UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children, evidence shows that girls who marry early often abandon formal education and become pregnant. Maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are an important component of mortality for girls aged 15–19 worldwide, accounting for 70,000 deaths each year
What socially constructed notions is child marriage rooted in?
Where prevalent, child marriage functions as a social norm. Marrying girls under 18 years old is rooted in gender discrimination, encouraging premature and continuous child bearing and giving preference to boys’ education. Child marriage is also a strategy for economic survival as families marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce their economic burden.
What does this mean for the future of children involved in child marriages?
Child marriage often results in separation from family and friends and lack of freedom to participate in community activities, which can all have major consequences on girls’ mental and physical well-being. If rates of decline seen in the past three decades are sustained, the impact of population growth means the number of women married as children (more than 700 million) will remain flat through 2050. Doubling the rate of decline would bring the number of women married as children down to 570 million by 2030 and 450 million by 2050.
Source: UNICEF (http://www.unicef.org/)