Thursday, October 13, 2011

Child Brides: A third of women aged 20-24 in the developing world were child brides

UN Children's Fund

NEW YORK, 12 October 2011 – Child marriage is a violation of a child’s human rights and is prevalent across the developing world, UNICEF said today as a key report was presented to the UN General Assembly. A third of women in developing countries aged 20 to 24 were married before 18.

Some of those child brides were the most marginalized and vulnerable in society. Married children are generally isolated – removed from immediate families, taken out of school and denied interaction with their peers and communities, according to the UN report on child brides.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake presented the report of the Secretary-General to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Child brides become child mothers before they are ready, the report noted. Some 15 million adolescent girls give birth each year – most are married but are not physically ready for motherhood. Girls between 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy than those 10 years older.

For the babies of child brides, the consequences are just as severe. Stillbirths are 50% more likely to occur with girls under 20 than women aged 20 to 29. Child brides are more susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation than adult brides. They are more vulnerable to catching sexually transmitted diseases.

Child brides are a result of economic and social pressures. Child marriages are cheaper because the girl leaves the care of the parents and the dowry tends to be lower. Socially, families enjoy approval if they are seen to uphold tradition, safeguard the chastity of their girls, protect the honour of the family and minimize the risk of girls bearing children out of wedlock. Failure to abide by social norms is met with social disapproval, which may even entail violence against the girl or members of the family.

If current trends continue as many as 100 million girls could be married during the next decade.

Addressing the issue of child brides is complex and requires action on both economic and social fronts. Whilst child marriage rates, have been going down very slowly, according to a 2010 review by UNICEF, it also highlighted the social inequities tied with the practice. Child marriage is associated with girls who have little formal education and come from poor families.

The review showed that the decreases in practice have occurred primarily in the highest income families, and substantiated the perception that child marriage is motivated in part by economic factors. However, addressing those factors will not be sufficient to bring about an end to the practice.

Experience shows that ending child marriage requires an approach that has the community at the core – where it supports finding better alternatives. Even though it is hard to enforce, enacting legislation and working with government are also critical to change perceptions and provide legitimacy to those who are working to end the practice of child marriage.