Child Marriage – A Worldwide Epidemic

The Many Perils of the Child Marriage Trend

While the vast majority of countries today have elected 18 as the minimum marrying age, this does not dispel the rising rates of child marriage worldwide. Many of us tend to think that this traumatic practice solely exists in non-Western, developing countries run by evil dictators, this is far from the case. Certainly, the highest rates of child marriage exist in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and I do plan on discussing this extensively in this post. However, I would also like to exemplify that Western culture is far from immune from the child marriage influence.

In short, 700 million women in the world today married before the age of 18. According to UNICEF, more than 1 in 3 of these women were wed before even 15 years of age. Be advised that child marriage does not affect women exclusively. Young boys absolutely bear the partial brunt of the issue, however, there is no question that young girls are more affected. UNICEF explains, “In the Republic of Moldova, for example, 15 percent of women aged 20 to 49 were married before age 18 compared to 2 percent of men.” In Niger, the percentages of underaged married women (77%) to underaged married men (5%) is even more staggering. This implies that girls are being married off to older men. These partners will likely force them into subservient domesticity and early motherhood when they are only children themselves.

In several countries, young girls are statistically more likely to be wed than to receive secondary education. Niger tops the list, according to the Vows of Poverty article, with an alarming 77 percent of girls married before 18 and only 10 percent enrolled in secondary school. Following this example are Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Somalia, among others. However, increasing educational opportunities for girls play an integral part in increasing the marrying age for girls in developing countries. As stated by the International Center for Research on Women, Thailand, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia statistically exemplify the effects of education on child marriage, as their rates have decreased dramatically in recent years.

The Circumstances leading to Child Marriages 

While I do not condone this practice by any stretch of the imagination, I do feel it is important to address the circumstances under which this dynamic have developed. The ongoing civil war and military conflicts in Somalia, for example, contribute to the high instances of girls marrying young (45%) and bypassing school (5%). Parents often feel as though they would rather marry their daughters off to older men, who in theory provide protection from the violence, as opposed to sending girls to school where an attack could happen at any time. Niger’s harsh climate exacerbates their issue insofar as parents more eagerly push their daughters to marry young. This way, they are someone else’s responsibility to feed and house. Afghani families often struggle to afford education. Because of the culture’s deeply rooted misogyny, they often choose to send sons to school before daughters.

Not only does this practice negatively impact women’s education, but also women’s health. ICRW claims that pregnancy is one of the leading causes of death to girls 15-19 worldwide. Partially because bearing children too early in life presents high risks to the adolescent body. Particularly in developing countries without the most advanced healthcare, women dying from childbirth and pregnancy-related complications run rampant. Additionally, child brides face an increased risk of contracting HIV since they frequently wed older men with more sexual experience. This can, in turn, lead to children with inherited HIV. In Sub-Saharan Africa, girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are 2-6 times more likely to contract HIV than their male counterparts.

The Western Culture

How does Western culture fit into all of this? According to Girls Not Brides, while the minimum legal age to independently marry is 18, individuals under 18 may marry with parental/judicial consent. Eligibility to receive such permission has no minimum age requirement in 25 states. This loophole largely explains the 250,000 girls between 2000 and 2010 that married before turning 18. According to Fraidy Reiss’s New York Times article, “Parents give many reasons for forcing their children into marriage, including controlling the children’s sexuality and behavior and protecting “family honor.” Often families use forced marriage to enhance their status or gain economic security.”

Many non-profits have manifested to combat child marriage, as awareness increases about its corruption. Women everywhere are slowly banding together to affect some measure of change in their respective environments. Some will endure longer, harder fights than others. We can help by spreading awareness, donating our time, and furthering our education on the matter. I have included some further reading and resources below.

Unchained At Last

Girls Not Brides


Child Rights International Network

Save The Children


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About The Author

Anneliese Aberg Scalzo is a senior World Literature major at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She hopes to pursue a career as a human rights attorney. Anneliese is immensely passionate about issues involving disadvantaged populations and hopes to utilize her affinity for words to spread awareness. In her downtime, Anneliese enjoys practicing her Swedish language skills, adding to her home library, and relaxing with her dogs.