Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18. While child marriage is observed for both boys and girls, overwhelming majority are girls. It is related to child betrothal and unmarried teenage pregnancy.
In some cases only one marriage-partner is a child, usually the female, due to importance placed upon female virginity. Other causes of child marriage include poverty, bride price, dowry, laws that allow child marriages, religious and social pressures, regional customs, fear of remaining unmarried, and perceived inability of women to work for money.
Child marriage was common in human history. Today child marriages are fairly widespread in parts of the world, especially in Africa, South Asia, Southeast and East Asia, West Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. The incidence rates of child marriage have been falling in most parts of the world. The five nations with the highest observed rates of child marriages in the world, below the age of 18, are Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh and Guinea. The top three nations with greater than 20% rates of child marriages below the age of 15 are Niger, Bangladesh and Guinea.
- 1 History
- 2 Causes of child marriage
- 3 Child marriage by region
- 4 Consequences of child marriage
- 5 International initiatives to prevent child marriage
- 6 Prevalence data
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Before modern history, child marriage was a common practice found everywhere in the world. With the advent of 20th century, the practice began to be questioned, discouraged by a majority but not all governments, and child marriage practice has been declining across the world.
In ancient and medieval societies, girls would be betrothed at or before puberty. In Greece, early wedding and early motherhood for girls was encouraged. Even boys were expected to marry before they reached the age of 18. With an average life expectancy between 40 to 45 years, around the world, early marriages and teenage motherhood was typical. In Ancient Rome, girls married above the age of 12 and boys above 14. In the Middle Ages, under English civil laws that were derived from Roman laws, marriages before the age of 16 were common. In Imperial China, child marriage was the norm.
Friedman claims, "arranging and contracting the marriage of a young girl were the undisputed prerogatives of her father in ancient Israel." Most girls were married before the age of 15, often at the start of their puberty.
Most religions, over history, influenced the marriageable age. For example, Christian ecclesiastical law forbade marriage of a girl before the age of puberty. Hindu vedic scriptures mandated the age of a girl's marriage to be adulthood which they defined as three years after the onset of puberty. Jewish scholars and rabbis strongly discouraged marriages before the onset of puberty. In contrast, some Islamic marriage practices have permitted marriage of girls below the age of 10, because Sharia law is based in part on the life and practices of Muhammad, the Prophet, as described in part in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. The Prophet married Aisha, his third wife, and consummated the marriage before she reached the age of 10.
Narrated 'Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).
Some Islamic scholars have suggested that it is not the chronological age that matters; marriageable age under religious laws of Islam is the age when the guardians of the girl feel she has reached sexual maturity. Such determination of sexual maturity is a matter of subjective judgment, and there is a strong belief among most Muslims and scholars, based on Sharia, that marrying a girl less than 13 years old is an acceptable practice for Muslims.
Causes of child marriage
Dowry and brideprice
Dowry is the parental property that is distributed to a daughter at her marriage, instead of after parent's death. It has been an ancient practice, but often an economic challenge for the bride's family. The difficulty to save and preserve wealth for dowry was common, particularly in times of economic hardship, or persecution, or unpredictable seizure of property and savings for discriminatory taxes such as Jizya. These difficulties pressed families to betroth their girl, irrespective of her age, as soon as they had the resources to pay the dowry. Thus, Goitein notes that European Jews would marry their girls early, once they had collected the expected amount of dowry.
Bride price is the price paid by the groom to the parents of a bride to marry their daughter. In some countries, the younger the bride, the higher the price she may fetch. This practice creates an economic incentive where girls are sought and married early by her family to the highest bidder. Child marriages of girls is a way out of desperate economic conditions, or simply a source of income to the parents. Bride price is another cause of child marriage and child trafficking.
Persecution, forced migration, and slavery
Social upheavals such as wars, major military campaigns, forced religious conversion, taking natives as prisoners of war and converting them into slaves, arrest and forced migrations of people often made a suitable groom a rare commodity. Bride's families would seek out any available bachelors and marry them to their daughters, before events beyond their control moved the boy away. Persecution and displacement of Roma and Jewish people in Europe, colonial campaigns to get slaves from various ethnic groups in West Africa across the Atlantic for plantations, Islamic campaigns to get Hindu slaves from India across Afghanistan's Hindu Kush as property and for work, were some of the historical events that increased the practice of child marriage before 19th century.
A New York Times report and other scholars claim the origin of child marriages in India to be Muslim invasions that began more than 1,000 years ago. The invaders raped unmarried Hindu girls or carried them off as booty, prompting Hindu communities to marry off their daughters early to protect them. Similarly, among Sephardi Jewish communities, child marriages became frequent from 10th to 13th century as Muslim invasion and rule spread in Spain. This practice intensified after the Jewish community was expelled from Spain, and resettled in the Ottoman Empire. Child marriages among the Eastern Sephardic Jews continued through the 19th century in Islamic majority regions.
A sense of social insecurity has been a cause of child marriages across the world. For example, in Nepal, parents fear likely social stigma if grown-up adult girls (past 18 years) stay at home. Other fear of crime such as rape, which not only would be traumatic but may lead to less acceptance of the girl if she becomes victim of a crime. In other cultures, the fear is that an unmarried girl may engage in illicit relationships, or elope causing a permanent social blemish to her siblings, or that the impoverished family may be unable to find bachelors for grown up girls in their economic social group. Such fears and social pressures have been proposed as causes that lead to child marriages.
Extreme poverty, in many cases, makes teenage girls feel like an economic burden to a poor family; early marriage is a way to reduce that economic burden. Poor parents have few alternatives they can afford for the girls in the family; they often view child marriage as a means to ensure their daughter’s financial security and to reduce the economic burden of a growing adult on the family. In reviews of Jewish community history, scholars claim poverty, shortage of grooms, uncertain social and economic conditions were a cause for frequent child marriages.
Religion, civil law and child marriage
The laws in many countries allow child marriages, that is the marriage of girls and boys less than 18 years of age. The minimum legally approved age of marriage is less than 15 in some countries. Such laws are neither limited to developing countries, nor to state religion. In Europe, for example, Catholic canon law sets 14 as the minimum age for the marriage of girls, as does Spain with a legal guardian's permission. In North America, girls can be legally married at age 15 in Mexico. Canada and many states in the USA permit child marriages, with court's permission.
Lower legally allowed marriage age does not necessarily cause high rates of child marriages. However, there is a correlation between restrictions placed by laws and the average age of first marriage. In the United States, per 1960 Census data, 3.5% of girls married before the age of 16, while an additional 11.9% married between 16 and 18. States with lower marriage age limits saw higher percentages of child marriages. This correlation between higher age of marriage in civil law and observed frequency of child marriages breaks down in countries with Islam as the state religion. In Islamic nations, many countries do not allow child marriage of girls under their civil code of laws. But, the state recognized Sharia religious laws and courts in all these nations have the power to override the civil code, and often do. UNICEF reports that the top five nations in the world with highest observed child marriage rates — Niger (75%), Chad (72%), Mali (71%), Bangladesh (64%), Guinea (63%) — are Islamic majority countries.
Politics and financial relationships
Child marriages may depend upon socio-economic status. The aristocracy in some cultures, as in the European feudal era tended to use child marriage as a method to secure political ties. Families were able to cement political and/or financial ties by having their children marry. The betrothal is considered a binding contract upon the families and the children. The breaking of a betrothal can have serious consequences both for the families and for the betrothed individuals themselves.
Child marriage by region
According to UNICEF, Africa has the highest incidence rates of child marriage, with over 70% of girls marrying under the age of 18, in three nations. This UNICEF report is based on data that is derived from a small sample survey between 1995 and 2004, and the current rate is unknown given lack of infrastructure and in some cases, regional violence.
African countries have enacted marriageable age laws to limit marriage to a minimum age of 16 to 18, depending on jurisdiction. In Ethiopia, Chad and Niger, the legal marriage age is 15, but local customs and religious courts have the power to allow marriages below 12 years of age. Child marriages of girls in West Africa and Northeast Africa are widespread. Additionally, poverty, religion, tradition, and conflict make the rate of child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa very high in some regions.
In many tribal systems a man pays a bride price to the girl's family in order to marry her (comparable to the customs of dowry and dower). In many parts of Africa, this payment, in cash, cattle, or other valuables, decreases as a girl gets older. Even before a girl reaches puberty, it is common for a married girl to leave her parents to be with her husband. Many marriages are related to poverty, with parents needing the bride price of a daughter to feed, clothe, educate, and house the rest of the family. In Mali, the female:male ratio of marriage before age 18 is 72:1; in Kenya, 21:1.
The various reports indicate that in many Sub-Saharan countries, there is a high incidence of marriage among girls younger than 15. Many governments have tended to overlook the particular problems resulting from child marriage, including obstetric fistulae, premature births, stillbirth, sexually transmitted diseases (including cervical cancer), and malaria.
In parts of Ethiopia and Nigeria many girls are married before the age of 15, some as young as 7. In parts of Mali 39% of girls are married before the age of 15. In Niger and Chad, over 70% of girls are married before the age of 18.
In 2013, Nigeria attempted to change Section 29, subsection 4 of its laws and thereby prohibit child marriages. This was opposed by Islamic states of Nigeria, who called any attempts to prohibit child marriages as un-Islamic. Christianity and Islam are practiced by roughly 50%-50% of its population respectively, and the country continues with personal laws from its British colonial era laws, where child marriages are forbidden for its Christians and allowed for its Muslims. Child marriage is a divisive topic in Nigeria and widely practiced. In northern states, predominantly Muslim, over 50% of the girls marry before the age of 15.
In Morocco, child marriage is a common practice. Over 41,000 marriages every year involve child brides. Before 2003, child marriages did not require a court or state's approval. In 2003, Morocco passed the family law (Moudawana) that raised minimum age of marriage for girls from 14 to 18, with the exception that underage girls may marry with the permission of the government recognized official/court and girl's guardian. Over the 10 years preceding 2008, requests for child marriages have been predominantly approved by Morocco's Ministry for Social Development, and have increased (~ 29% of all marriages). Some child marriages in Morocco are a result of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code, a law that allows rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their underage victims.
In South Africa the law provides for respecting the marriage practices of traditional marriages, whereby a person might be married as young as 12 for females and 14 for males. Early marriage is cited as "a barrier to continuing education for girls (and boys)". This includes absuma (arranged marriages set up between cousins at birth in local Islamic ethnic group), bride kidnapping and elopement decided on by the children.
According to UNICEF's "State of the World's Children-2009" report, 47% of India's women aged 20–24 were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% marrying before age 18 in rural areas. The report also showed that 40% of the world's child marriages occur in India. As with Africa, this UNICEF report is based on data that is derived from a small sample survey in 1999. The latest available UNICEF report for India uses 2004-2005 household survey data, on a small sample, and other scholars report lower incidence rates for India. According to Raj et al., the 2005 small sample household survey data suggests 22% of girls ever married aged 16-18, 20% of girls in India were married between 13-16, and 2·6% were married before age 13. According to 2011 nationwide census of India, the average age of marriage for women in India is 21. In the age group 15-19, 69.6% of all women surveyed in India had never been married.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 was passed during the tenure of British rule on pre-partition India. It forbade the marriage of a male younger than 21 or a female younger than 18 for Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and most people of India. However, this law did not and currently does not apply to India's 165 million Muslim population, and only applies to India's Hindu, Christian, Jain, Sikh and other religious minorities. This link of law and religion was formalized by the British colonial rule with the Muslim personal laws codified in the Indian Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937. The age at which India's Muslim girls can legally marry, according to this Muslim Personal Law, is 9, and can be lower if her guardian (wali) decides she is sexually mature. Over the last 25 years, All India Muslim Personal Law Board and other Muslim civil organizations have actively opposed India-wide laws and enforcement action against child marriages; they have argued that Indian Muslim families have a religious right to marry a girl aged 15 or even 12. Several states of India claim specially high child marriage rates in their Muslim and tribal communities. India, with a population of over 1.2 billion, has the world's highest total number of child marriages. It is a significant social issue.
According to "National Plan of Action for Children 2005", published by Indian government's Department of Women and Child Development, set a goal to eliminate child marriage completely by 2010. This plan has been unsuccessful.
According to two 2013 reports, over 50% of all marriages in Pakistan involve girls less than 18 years old. Another UNICEF report claims 70 per cent of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 16. As with India and Africa, the UNICEF data for Pakistan is from a small sample survey in 1990s.
The exact number of child marriages in Pakistan below the age of 13 is unknown, but rising according to the United Nations. Andrew Bushell claims rate of marriage of 8 to 13 year old girls exceeding 50% in northwest regions of Pakistan.
Another custom in Pakistan, called swara or vani, involves village elders solving family disputes or settling unpaid debts by marrying off girls. The average marriage age of swara girls is between 5 and 9. Similarly, the custom of watta satta has been cited as a cause of child marriages in Pakistan.
According to Population Council, 35% of all females in Pakistan become mother before they reach the age of 18, and 67% have experienced pregnancy — 69% of these successfully — before they reach the age of 19. Less than 4% of married girls below the age of 19 had some say in choosing her spouse; over 80% were married to a near or distant relative. Child marriage and early motherhood is common in Pakistan.
Child marriage rates in Bangladesh are amongst the highest in the world. Every 2 out of 3 marriages involve child marriages. According to statistics from 2005 45% of women then between 25 and 29 were married by the age of 15 in Bangladesh. According to the “State of the World’s Children-2009” report, 63% of all women aged 20–24 were married before they were 18. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs is making progress in increasing women's education and employment opportunities. This, combined with specific education about child marriage and cooperation with religious leaders, is hoped to decrease child marriage.
A UNICEF discussion paper determined that 79.6 percent of Muslim girls in Nepal, 69.7 percent of girls living in hilly regions irrespective of religion, and 55.7 percent of girls living in other rural areas, are all married before the age of 15. Girls who were born into the highest wealth quintile marry about two years later than those from the other quintiles.
A 2013 report claims 53% of all married women in Afghanistan were married before age 18, and 21% of all were married before age 15. Afghanistan's official minimum age of marriage for girls is 15 with her father's permission. In all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, the customary practice of ba'ad is another reason for child marriages; this custom involves village elders, jirga, settling disputes between families or unpaid debts or ruling punishment for a crime by forcing the so-called guilty family to give their 5 to 12 year old girls as a wife. Sometimes a girl is forced into child marriage for a crime her uncle or distant relative is alleged to have committed.
In Iran, girls may marry at 13 and boys at 15, and children under 10 may marry if their guardian approves it. According to a 2013 report, about one million children, including those under age 10, are married every year. About 85% of these married children are girls. As in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in some cases, girls are married to settle disputes between families.
Over half of Yemeni girls are married before 18, some by the age eight. Yemen government's Sharia Legislative Committee has blocked attempts to raise marriage age to either 15 or 18, on grounds that any law setting minimum age for girls is un-Islamic. Yemeni Muslim activists argue that some girls are ready for marriage at age 9. According to HRW, in 1999 the minimum marriage age 15 for women was abolished; the onset of puberty, interpreted by conservatives to be at age nine, was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage. In practice "Yemeni law allows girls of any age to wed, but it forbids sex with them until the indefinite time they’re 'suitable for sexual intercourse" As with Africa, the marriage incidence data for Yemen in HRW report is from surveys between 1990 and 2000. Current data is difficult to obtain, given regional violence.
In April 2008 Nujood Ali, a 10-year-old girl, successfully obtained a divorce after being raped under these conditions. Her case prompted calls to raise the legal age for marriage to 18. Later in 2008, the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood proposed to define the minimum age for marriage at 18 years. The law was passed in April 2009, with the age voted for as 17. But the law was dropped the following day following maneuvers by opposing parliamentarians. Negotiations to pass the legislation continue. Meanwhile, Yemenis inspired by Nujood's efforts continue to push for change, with Nujood involved in at least one rally.
The widespread prevalence of child marriage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been documented by human rights groups. Saudi clerics have justified the marriage of girls as young as 9, with sanction from the judiciary. There are no laws in place defining a minimum age of consent in Saudi Arabia, though drafts for possible laws have been created since 2011.
About 22% of Indonesian girls experience child marriage every year, and 12% get married before age 15, according to 2012 United Nations Population Fund report. There are many reports of Muslim clerics taking multiple underage wives, some less than 12 years old. Indonesian prosecutors have attempted to stop this practice by demanding prison terms for such clerics, however local courts have issued soft sentences.
In Indonesia the 1947 Law on Marriage stipulates that a woman must be at least 16 years old and a man must be at least 19 years old to marry. With the popular rise of social networking sites like Facebook underage marriage appears to be increasing in areas like Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta. Couples have reported becoming acquainted through Facebook and continuing their relationships until girls became pregnant. Among the Atjeh of Sumatra girls formerly married before puberty. The husbands, though usually older, were still unfit for sexual union. Among the islanders of Fiji, also, marriage took place before puberty.
The Marquesas Islands have been noted for their sexual culture. Many sexual activities seen as taboo in Western cultures are viewed appropriate by the native culture. One of these differences is that children are introduced and educated to sex at a very young age. Contact with Western societies has changed many of these customs, so research into their pre-Western social history has to be done by reading antique writings. Children slept in the same room as their parents and were able to witness their parents while they had sex. Intercourse simulation became real penetration as soon as boys were physically able. Adults found simulation of sex by children to be funny. As children approached 11 attitudes shifted toward girls.[clarification needed] When a child reaches adulthood, they are educated on sexual techniques by a much older adult.
The next day, as soon as it was light, we were surrounded by a still greater multitude of these people. There were now a hundred females at least; and they practised all the arts of lewd expression and gesture, to gain admission on board. It was with difficulty I could get my crew to obey the orders I had given on this subject. Amongst these females were some not more than ten years of age. But youth, it seems, is here no test of innocence; these infants, as I may call them, rivalled their mothers in the wantonness of their motions and the arts of allurement.
Adam Johann von Krusenstern in his book about the same expedition as Yuri's, reports that a father brought a 10-to 12-year-old girl on his ship, and she had sex with the crew. According to the book of Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu and Étienne Marchand, 8-year-old girls had sex and other unnatural acts in public.
Child marriage is common in Latin America and the Caribbean island nations. About 29% of girls are married before age 18. The child marriage incidence rates varies between the countries, with Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti and Ecuador reporting some of the highest rates in the Americas. Bolivia and Guyana have shown the sharpest decline in child marriage rates as of 2012. Poverty and lack of laws mandating minimum age for marriage have been cited as reasons of child marriage in Latin America.
Child marriage, as defined by UNICEF, is observed in the United States. The UNICEF definition of child marriage includes couples who are formally married, or who live together as a sexually active couple in an informal union, with at least one member — usually the girl — being less than 18 years old. The latter practice is more common in the United States, and it is officially called cohabitation. According to a 2010 report by National Center for Health Statistics, an agency of the government of United States, 2.1% of all girls in the 15-17 age group were in a child marriage. In the age group of 15-19, 7.6% of all girls in the United States were formally married or in an informal union. The child marriage rates were higher for certain ethnic groups and states. In Hispanic groups, for example, 6.6% of all girls in the 15-17 age group were formally married or in an informal union, and 13% of the 15-19 age group were. Over 350,000 babies are born to teenage mothers every year in the United States, and over 50,000 of these are second babies to teen mothers. In 1991, underage teen pregnancies were significantly higher.
Laws regarding child marriage vary in the different states of the United States. Generally, children 16 and over may marry with parental consent, with the age of 18 being the minimum in all but two states to marry without parental consent. Those under 16 generally require a court order in addition to parental consent.
Until 2008 the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints practiced child marriage through the concept of "spiritual marriage" as soon as girls were ready to bear children, as part of its polygamy practice, but laws have raised the age of legal marriage in response to criticism of the practice. In 2008 the Church changed its policy in the United States to no longer marry individuals younger than the local legal age. In 2007 church leader Warren Jeffs was convicted of being an accomplice to statutory rape of a minor due to arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man. In March 2008 officials of the state of Texas believed that children at the Yearning For Zion Ranch were being married to adults and were being abused. The state of Texas removed all 468 children from the ranch and placed them into temporary state custody. After the Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that Texas acted improperly in removing them from the YFZ Ranch, the children were returned to their parents or relatives.
In Denmark people at 15 can get married if they have the municipality's approval. The municipality's approval requires that they have their own homes.
As with United States, cohabitation is observed in the United Kingdom. According to a 2005 study, 4.1% of all girls in the 15-19 age group in the UK were cohabiting (living in an informal union), while 8.9% of all girls in that age group admitted to have been in a cohabitation relation (child marriage per UNICEF definition), before the age of 18. Over 4% of all underage girls in the UK were teenage mothers.
Consequences of child marriage
Child marriage has lasting consequences on girls, which last well beyond adolescence. Women married in their teens or earlier, struggle with the health effects of getting pregnant too young and too often. Early marriages followed by teen pregnancy also significantly increase birth complications and social isolation. In poor countries, early pregnancy limits or eliminates their education options. This affects their economic independence. Girls in child marriages are more likely to suffer from domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and marital rape.
- Health consequences
Child marriage threatens the health and life of girls. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the main cause of death among adolescent girls below age 19 in developing countries. Pregnant girls aged 15 to 20 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their 20s, and girls under the age of 15 are five times as likely to die. These consequences are due largely to girls’ physical immaturity where the pelvis and birth canal are not fully developed. Teen pregnancy, particularly below age 15, increases risk of developing obstetric fistula, since their smaller pelvises make them prone to obstructed labor. Fistula leaves its victims with urine or fecal incontinence that causes lifelong complications with infection, pain, and smell. Complications during pregnancy and birth are worsened in poor countries where child marriage is prevalent.
- Illiteracy and poverty
Child marriage often ends a girl’s education, particularly in impoverished countries where child marriages are common. Without education, girls and adult women have fewer opportunities to earn an income, financially provide for herself and her children. This makes girls more vulnerable to persistent poverty when their spouses die, abandon, or divorce them.
- Domestic violence
Married teenage girls with low levels of education suffer greater risk of social isolation, domestic violence and sexual violence from their spouses, than more educated women who marry as adults. Domestic and sexual violence from their husbands has lifelong, devastating mental health consequences for young girls because they are at a formative stage of psychological development. Child brides, particularly in situations such as vani, also face social isolation, emotional abuse and discrimination in the homes of their husbands and in-laws.
- Women's rights
Child marriages impact a range of women's rights such as access to education, freedom of movement, freedom from violence, reproductive rights, and the right to consensual marriage. The consequence of these violations impact not only the woman, but her children and broader society.
International initiatives to prevent child marriage
In September of 2011 a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/66/170) designated October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child. On October 11th, 2012 the first International Day of the Girl Child was held, the theme of which was ending child marriage. 
In 2013 the first United Nations Human Rights Council resolution against child, early, and forced marriages was adopted; it recognizes child marriage as a human rights violation and pledges to eliminate the practice as part of the U.N.'s post-2015 global development agenda.   
Percentage of women aged 20–24 who were married or in union before the age of 18 is listed in the table below. The data from ICRW, if traced all the way to the ultimate sources, is from surveys that are 10 to 20 years old. The UN data is between 10 to 15 years old.
per ICRW data
|Country||% girls married
| % girls married
|5||Central African Republic||61||42|
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