Ending Male Childhood Marriage

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SEATTLE, Washington — In developing countries, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, South Asia and East Asia, childhood marriage is a common practice. Although the media primarily focuses on the rates of females forced into childhood marriage, a staggering number of young boys have been forced into early marriage too. Despite the fact that the rate of child marriages is declining, an estimated 23 million boys are married by the age of 15. Organizations like UNICEF and CARE.org are working to end male childhood marriage.

Male Childhood Marriage

In 2019, UNICEF found that at least one in 10 males in Nepal was married before 18. The highest rate of male child marriage can be seen in the Central African Republic. The country accounts for 28 percent of the world’s child grooms. The next highest rate comes from Nicaragua, which is accountable for 19 percent of child grooms.

There is no clear data that links the countries of child marriage. It has been observed that the 10 countries with the highest rate of male childhood marriage all have various income levels, including three that are upper-middle-class countries. Although, child marriage is more prominent in developing countries. There is no geological connection between countries with high male child marriage rates.

There are many reasons why a young boy might be forced to marry young. Commonly it is due to financial pressure as well as cultural expectations. Childhood marriage is not just a union between a child and an adult. In Nepal, there have been reports of young boys marrying young girls with some as young as six years old.

The Limitations of Ending Male Childhood Marriage

The biggest limitation towards ending male childhood marriage is the lack of data and representation on the topic. Mass-media and news outlets tend to cover the stories and statistics on childhood brides since the number is higher and the practice is more common. Cultural practices represent another major limitation. Because many cultures believe in the practice of child marriage, it is difficult to develop laws that ban the practice.

In India, where child marriage is illegal, the practice is still continued due to cultural beliefs. According to UNICEF India, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, which prohibits girls from marrying before 18 and boys before 21, is widely ignored across the country. It is believed that the act of the practiced social norm is more important than the law. This is a reflection on how weak the laws preventing male child marriage are due to a lack of proper research and believed cultural norms.

The Negative Impact of Child Marriage

Childhood marriage has a negative impact on an individual’s physical growth, mental development, emotional development and overall health. It also reinforces a cycle of poverty, gender discrimination, illiteracy, high infant mortality rates and high maternal mortality rates. Many childhood grooms are forced to drop out of school to get a job that can provide for their families. They often find low-paying since they have not received a proper education.

Before the age of eighteen, child grooms are concerned about fatherhood, the economic pressure of providing for his family and limited career advancements due to lack of education. Child groom Pannial Yadav shared his story with CARE.org. He talked about the negative impact that male childhood marriage has on his life. Yadav said, “forcing children to marry doesn’t just push them deeper into poverty and threaten their health. It crushes their ambitions–whether they are girls or boys.”

Organizations Fighting to End Child Marriage

Globally, there are 10 countries where male child marriage is greater than 10 percent. The practice of child marriage for boys is uncommon in the Middle East, Northern Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The greatest decline in child marriage can be seen in the Middle East and North Africa where the rate has dropped 10.5 percent. In South Asia, where childhood marriage has decreased by 4.1 percent. Although little progress is being made in Latin America and the Caribbean where the practice has only decreased by 0.4 percent, organizations have taken initiatives to end male childhood marriage.

  1. UNICEF: In 2016 UNICEF and UNFPA launched the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. The organization also has offices in regions that have high child marriage rates where the work to advocate for victims and educate against childhood marriage.
  2. CARE.org: This organization has become an advocate for individuals who are victims of childhood marriage. Through advocating for “gender equality, women empowerment and champions among men and boys,” they have given both genders a platform to convey the struggles of and help end the practice of childhood marriage.
  3. Girls Not Brides: Although primarily focused on ending the trope of childhood brides, Girls Not Brides has made an impact on all aspects of child marriage. By empowerment, education and providing services, GNB has helped establish and implement laws that are helping to end childhood marriage. The organization has helped with the registering of births and marriages as well as strengthening laws that uphold girls’ rights.

Although childhood marriage is a common practice for young girls, it impacts boys as well. Male childhood marriage impacts about 4 percent of the global population, and yet the practice is hardly talked about. There is no known connection between countries with high rates of male child marriage. And, despite a major decline in some countries, others are still implementing the practice. The biggest limitation to decreasing the rate of male child marriage is the lack of research on the subject as well as improper representation of the issue.

Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

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