"All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage" – David Cameron
What do want to become when you grow up? What are your dreams? The most common answers to these questions, posed to small children is that I want to be a superhero, pilot, chef or some other dream the child carries in his/her mind according to Forbes. But this is far from reality for many children around the globe.
1 in 9 are married before they are even 15
Child Marriage is defined as a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18. It refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner like a married couple. Even though child marriage is a banned practice, it is very much prevalent all over the world.
UNICEF notes that "Across the globe, rates of child marriage are highest in South Asia, where nearly half of all girls marry before age 18; about one in six were married or in union before age 15. This is followed by West and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa, where 42 percent and 37 percent, respectively, of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married in childhood."
India has the largest number of child brides in the world – one-third of the global total. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia (the fourth highest rate in the world). Nepal has also one of the highest rates of child marriage in Asia for both boys and girls.
Most of the countries in which child marriage rates are high, it is noted that there are also other socio-economic crisis prevalent like poverty, natural calamities, war, etc. In communities where the practice is ubiquitous, marrying a child is a part of their various religious beliefs and ideals. These societies are majorly sensed or analysed to be phallocentric (male-centric societies where the male is given the utmost power).
Child marriage does not affect only girls, it also affectsboys but in this case, the effect this has on the girl child is much more than the effect it has on the boy.
This is mainly because even in the 21st century a divorced woman is seen as a liability by the society. A very young girl is often married off to a much older man because the man wants a ‘virgin girl' to enjoy in his last few days. These girls are often sold to the various brothels around the world and the chauvinistic men make money out of thier inocent bodies.
These young brides face a lot of struggles. They are pulled out of their schools, their education is stopped hastily. They live their life dependent on their husbands financially. This makes them submissive by nature as they do not have any power at their disposal. This unfortunate situation leads to other social evils like domestic violence and marital rape.
According to The United Nations Population Fund, there would be 140 million child brides by the year 2020 which is only a year away now. This is an alarming number. It is a constant threat to half the population of the world.
A 2006 study in Nigeria found out that about 20 percent of the school drop out cases was because of child marriage. It was also found out that the gender education gap could be cut in half if the practice of child marriage was extinct.
It has been reported that complications arising during pregnancies and childbirth are the most common causes of death amongst girls between the age 15-19.
At the age when girls should be worrying about what game to play, these women are forced to think about running a family. Their whole childhood is snatched away from them.
It was found out that this practice is widely predominant in rural areas. Girls are married at an early age because then they would be protected from the ‘evil eyes' of the society and their ‘purity' would be preserved. In an urge to protect the vaginal purity of a woman (which in itself is archaic and sexist) parents themselves destroy their children's lives. A few others say they got their child married offbecause they were riddled with poverty and raising a girl child has many fiscal responsibilities that they were not able to fulfil. They fail to understand that it is a vicious cycle. Poverty can be overcome only by proper education and denial of education can only push the person into the deeper ends of poverty.
In India, the government has come up with many ways to combat this social evil. According to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, the legal age for marriage for a woman is 18 and for a man, it is 22 with no exceptions.
This act, however, applies to Muslims only from 2015, when a 17-year-old Muslim girl married Yunush Shaikh, who is 12 years older than her. Shaikh eloped and married the girl claiming that the Child Marriage Act won't apply to him as he is governed by the Muslim Personal Law. FIR was later filed against him under Section 366 (Kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel her marriage) and Section 363 (punishment for kidnapping) of Indian Penal Code. He was also charged with an offense under Section 18 of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.