Child marriage is a formal marriage or informal union entered into by an individual before reaching the age of 18. The legally prescribed marriageable age in some jurisdictions is below 18 years, especially in the case of girls; and even when the age is set at 18 years, many jurisdictions permit earlier marriage with parental consent or in special circumstances, such as teenage pregnancy. In certain countries, even when the legal marriage age is 18, cultural traditions take priority over legislative law. Child marriage affects both boys and girls, though the overwhelming majority of those affected are girls, most of who are in poor socioeconomic situations.
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Firstly, in many communities and countries, gender based violence specifically violence against the girl-child is very high with adolescent girls at risk of rape, even while walking to school. Given the prevalence of violence against the girl-child, parents may offer a daughter's hand marriage in the belief this will help protect her from a sexual assault that could leave her stigmatized in the community. The paradox is that parents are often wrong. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence including marital rape than their peers who marry later. Moreover, child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.
Secondly, underlining these forms of violence and abuse against the girl-child is pervasive gender discrimination that frequently causes girls to be regarded as less worthy of care and protection. In patriarchal cultures, where girls lack the same perceived value as boys right from birth; families and communities may discount the benefits of educating and investing in their daughters’ development. Child brides are a strong reflection of pervasive gender discrimination.
Effects of child marriage
The leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity for girls age 15 to 19 is pregnancy and childbirth. Child brides are almost always married to older men, and lack the standing or skills to negotiate over sex or birth control. That means many girls get pregnant soon after marriage, when their bodies are too underdeveloped. Among the disabilities associated with early childbirth is obstetric fistula, an injury which leaves girls in constant pain, vulnerable to infection, Sexually Transmitted Diseases including HIV, incontinence, and are often shunned by their husbands, families and communities.
According to UNICEF the child of a mother aged below18 years also has a 60-percent greater chance of dying in his/her first year. Married girls are often under pressure to become pregnant immediately or soon after marriage, although they are still children themselves and know little about sex or reproduction. A pregnancy too early in life before a girl’s body is fully mature is a major risk to both mother and baby.
The society and the country also suffer the consequences of child marriage. Child marriage undermines development efforts. The World Bank has calculated the...