Child marriage threatens girls' health and rights

Every day, more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married worldwide, rights groups estimate. For many child brides, a future of poverty, exploitation and poor health awaits. These are some key facts on child marriage around the world.

  • Every three seconds, a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere in the world, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
  • The practicer affects a third of girls -and some boys - in developing countries, according to UNICEF, which describes child marriage as "perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls."
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says 18 years should be the minimum age for marriage.
  • Child rights activists say marriage at a young age violates a child's basic human rights because they are too young to be able to give "free and full consent" - a right enshrined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Child marriage is most common in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • In many developing countries the practicer is illegal but the law is often not enforced or it operates alongside customary and religious laws.
  • Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s. If they are 15-19, they are twice as likely to die.
  • Girls under the age of 18 are more likely to develop obstetric fistula, which causes severe incontinence. This condition occurs during childbirth when a hole develops between the vagina and bladder or rectum.
  • Girl brides are more likely to be infected with the HIV virus by their older husbands. A study in Kenya and Zambia by University of Chicago researchers found that among 15- to 19-year-old girls who are sexually active, being married increased their chances of having HIV by more than 75%.
  • A girl bride is more likely to be beaten or raped by her husband and experience abusive relationships with her in-laws.
  • The babies of child brides are 60% more likely to die before the age of one than children of women older than 19.
  • Child brides are rarely allowed to go to school. Many are expected to bear and raise children and carry out domestic work for their in-laws.
  • Girls from poor families are nearly twice as likely to marry before 18 than girls from wealthier families.
  • The number of child marriages often increases during conflicts or natural disasters.
  • Some families use marriage to build and strengthen alliances, to seal property deals, settle disputes or pay off debts.

(Reuters Health, Lisa Anderson, August 2011)  

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