In a not too distant future, I hope to see and even to write about it: “The end of child marriage”. The very idea of such unions makes me sick for many reasons: because I am a mother, a woman, and because childhood should be the best stage of anyone’s life and not the hell that millions of children live through.
This union consists of one or both spouses being under 18 years old, which is considered inappropriate. This marriage, according to analysts, constitutes a violation of the human rights of minors.
It is estimated that, worldwide, 650 million women got married during their childhood, and an average of 12 million of them get married every year. It should be noted that this practice is not exclusive to underdeveloped countries; it also occurs in developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
In the midst of all this, nearly 25 million child marriages have been prevented in the world thanks to the actions of international organizations such as UNICEF.
Precisely, a report by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, UNFPA, clarifies questions in this regard: why do these marriages occur? The reality is that, in some cultures, due to gender inequality, daughters are considered burdens or merchandise and when the family is in an economic situation of poverty, parents tend to believe that marriage guarantees them a good future and a source of income for their families.
Similarly, some parents see marriage as a way to protect their daughters from war-related sexual violence. But the cure seems worse than the disease because this “care measure” actually causes girls to experience sexual, physical and emotional violence from their partner.
And although most child marriages occur among girls, boys can also be forced into marriage. UNFPA has found that 1 out of 25 boys, or 3.8 percent, gets married before the age of 18. The situation is common in Madagascar, Central African Republic, Laos, Comoros and Nepal.
It should also be noted that some marriages are not by choice of the parents or guardians. Many teenagers want to get married to leave their home, to escape extreme poverty or domestic violence, to be independent and to be sexually active.
UNFPA works with governments to promote legislation, policies and mechanisms to end this practice. Two of the agreements that support this initiative are: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); however, laws alone are not the only solution.
In November 2019, UNFPA released a study in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University and in collaboration with the Universities of Victoria and Washington. That study calculated that ending child marriage in the 68 countries that admit it would account for 90 percent of cases, globally.
The researchers conclude that preventing a girl or a boy from being forced to get married costs about $600, which is equivalent to paying for a night in a luxury hotel. In estimated figures, it would cost about 35,000 million dollars to put an end to the whole situation, approximately, in the year 2030. This investment would be earmarked for educational, social and empowerment programs, which would prevent around 58 million child marriages.
As long as young people have access to quality information about their sexual and reproductive health and are able to decide freely and responsibly about gender equality, their rights, discrimination and violence, they will be less likely to marry before the age of 18.
If, in addition, they study and work according to their abilities, not only would their quality of life and that of their families improve, but they could also support them economically, and even become leaders who defend and inspire their communities.
Traducción del español: Catalina Oviedo Brugés.