In the United States, and other developed nations around the world, a child can grow up and choose whether or not to get married. For them, the decision is often a happy one, based on love and a mutual decision to commit to one another. This idyllic scenario is only a dream however for millions of young girls across the globe, who as young as nine years old, are forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an estimated 140 million girls under the age of 15 will become child brides by 2020. This is despite the fact that the legal marriage age is often 18, which sadly goes unenforced. Millions of young girls whose physical, emotional and economic well being will be jeopardized by having the duties of wifehood forced upon them prematurely. Child marriages are known to be fraught with sexual violence and abuse, death in childbirth and an overall reduced quality of life for the girls. UNICEF research has shown that, “still births and newborn deaths are 50% higher among mothers under 20 than in women who get pregnant in their 20s.” These physical problems are also coupled with the obvious emotional challenges and trauma that can come from premature birth, unwanted sexual encounters, and the unhappiness many experience.
Sadly, this is a problem set to only expand in scope as the youth population grows at an increasingly disparate rate in the nations where child marriage tends to be practiced. India, due to its population, ranks the highest with 47% of all marriages involving a child under 18 (UNFPA). In an attempt to solve this growing crisis, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which includes a partnership between Canada, Bangladesh and Malawi convened on March 7 to begin drafting solutions.
Malawi specifically has a near 50% child marriage rate and has begun taking action to curb the practice. According to the World Health Organization, these efforts include:
- providing free universal access to primary education;
- working with chiefs to sensitize their communities on the importance of sending children to school, with an emphasis on the girl child;
- implementing a policy that allows girls who become pregnant during school to go back to school after delivery to continue their education;
- working with parliamentarians to raise the age at marriage to 18 years by 2014; and
- providing Youth Friendly Health Services. This outreach empowers youths with the information that would enable them to make informed choices about their reproductive health.
It is hoped that through the enforcement of these measures, girls will be able to enjoy an education and a childhood, allowing them to create their own futures free from the burden of early marriage.