Child brides may not be a huge problem in Canada, but the problem itself is huge. The International Center for Research on Women estimates that one-third of girls are married before the age of 18. The countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa and South Asia. In Niger, 75 percent of girls are married before the age of 18. The ICRW lists the top 20 countries in the world with the highest rates of child brides.
The Problems Associated With Child Brides
- Young girls who marry before the age of 18 do not get educated as well as girls who wait to marry.
- These young girls may not have access to healthcare and other services they require to grow and mature.
- Girls who marry under the age of 18 are more likely to live in poverty.
- Child brides have a higher risk of HIV and other STDs.
- Child brides die at a higher rate from pregnancy than women who are older when they marry.
- Younger brides are more likely to experience domestic violence than the women who marry later in life. In India, the risk of domestic violence for girls under 18 is twice that of women who wait.
Changing Child Marriage
Although many people outside of the regions associate child marriage with Islam, it’s simply a myth that only one religion is affiliated with child brides. Many religions actively participate in the tradition. It is more common in rural areas than urban, and many times girls do not have a say in the matter. One day, they’re playing with friends and helping mom cook dinner. The next day, they’re shipped off to their husband. The bride and groom may not even meet before the wedding.
In Nepal, it’s estimated that about 41 percent of girls are married before turning 18. Some activist groups place the number even higher, at 50 percent. Families even lie about a girl’s age to get around the law. Nepal has banned child marriage for 54 years. Girls are supposed to be at least 20 before getting married. However, it is difficult to enforce the law. Nepal is trying to end the practice by 2030. The country is working with the U.N. and other agencies to implement plans to stop the practice.
Fortunately, Nepali Hindi priests are beginning to advocate against child marriage. When a girl is born, she receives a special scroll that can be used to tell her fortune. Even if a family lies about her age to the priest who is marrying her, the scroll gives her real age. Priests are using their place in the community to educate families about child marriages. Although the number of people convinced to wait is small, these priests continue to work. It may take another generation to turn the tide of child brides in Nepal, but they are doing something today.
What Can You Do?
You may not have the influence to stop child marriages in places such as Nepal, Madagascar or Zambia, but you can certainly support the efforts of those who are working to change the tradition. ICRW is just one activist organization trying to change the tide. UNICEF is another excellent organization that promotes gender equality and education around the world. At Girlsnotbrides.org, you can find even more ways to act and raise your voice in the fight against child marriages.
There isn’t an easy solution to change when it’s embedded in the culture. It’s going to take everyone working together to empower girls and enact new laws designed to support the rights of all children in these countries. Girlsnotbrides.org works with more than 600 groups around the world to help change behaviors and attitudes associated with child marriage. Learn more about what you can do.