YGB's "Sister Aid" Funding Fights Child Marriage

YGB Blog

Fri, January 10, 2014 4:12pm

YGB's "Sister Aid" Funding Fights Child Marriage

posted by YGB in Global Affairs , Tags: Child Marriage, Sister Aid

"About 40% of child marriage takes place in India..." from UN Women India, exactly what YGB is fighting with "Sister Aid" funding program. "... Child marriage remains widespread across the world, disproportionately affecting girls and endangering their lives and livelihoods. Learn more about the issue through this interactive presentation by Council on Foreign Relations

Child marriage remains widespread in developing countries, disproportionately affecting girls and endangering their lives and livelihoods. Rooted in cultural tradition and poverty, the practice not only violates human rights laws but also threatens stability and economic development.

International conventions prohibit child marriage and define eighteen as the age of adulthood. These laws are based on the argument that children and adolescents are not mature enough to make choices about marriage, and that marrying too young can lead to lasting emotional, physical, and psychological harm. Moreover, development experts say child marriage stunts girls' educational opportunities and income-earning prospects, and perpetuates poverty in communities worldwide, inhibiting progress toward national and global development goals and threatening stability. Delaying the age of marriage and investing in girls' futures, they say, can have a multiplier effect that benefits the communities at large.

The Value of a Bride

Poverty, cultural norms, and the low societal value of women and girls are the primary forces that fuel early marriage, although the relative significance of each varies from community to community.

In communities where women are generally not considered viable wage earners, families often view daughters as an economic burden. Impoverished parents may decide to betroth a daughter early to avoid the cost of education—if schooling is even available for girls—and ease the financial load of caring for a child. When schooling is not available, parents have an extra incentive to marry off daughters sooner. Families sometimes marry off a child to erase debts or settle feuds.

Dowries and bride prices also factor into the timing of child marriages. In such cases, youth is seen as enhancing the value of a bride; a younger girl has more time to dedicate to her new family and bear children. In many parts of India, dowries, or money given to the groom's family, can be lowered if the bride is younger. Bride prices, money given to the bride's parents (a common custom in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa), rise if a bride marries at an earlier age.

Research from the World Bank, based on Demographic and Health Surveys data, shows that across countries, girls from wealthier families tend to marry at later ages, supporting the hypothesis that poverty and economic survival are drivers of early marriage. Low esteem for girls and women facilitates these transactions involving young girls.
Cultural Norms

Child marriages occur most often in patriarchal societies where parents and elders have a significant role in selecting spouses for their children and new brides are absorbed into their new families as domestic help. Girls are often married shortly after puberty to maximize their childbearing potential.

Many cultures place an emphasis on girls' virginity, which is closely tied to a family's honor. Parents may marry off a daughter at an early age to ensure that she marries as a virgin and to prevent out-of-wedlock births. In Northeast Africa and parts of the Middle East, child marriage frequently occurs shortly after female genital cutting, a practice that is often justified as promoting virginity and deterring sexual assault.

People of various religions and sects support early marriage, which is contentious within many religious communities. In Ethiopia, for instance, child marriage is embedded in the customs of Orthodox Christian communities like those in the Amhara region, even though the country’s Orthodox church opposes the practice.

Some Muslims who follow a conservative interpretation of sharia argue that Islam permits child marriage as the Quran specifies that girls can be married upon reaching maturity, which conservative scholars define as puberty. However, there is debate within Islam about at what age a girl reaches maturity. Many Muslim communities and Islamic scholars agree with the internationally recognized age of maturity, eighteen. Moreover, many Muslims argue against child marriage because Islam mandates that men and women should choose their partners freely, and children are unable to do so.

The Toll

Marriage forces girls into adulthood before they are emotionally or physically mature, leading to a range of harmful effects that take their heaviest toll on the youngest brides. Girls' physical and emotional health, education, and wage-earning prospects are all jeopardized when they marry as children, and they often get little or no support if they try to leave their unions.

Child brides are often expected to bear children soon after marriage, which makes them vulnerable to pregnancy and childbirth complications, including obstetric fistula, a condition that causes chronic incontinence and occurs commonly in young girls who give birth before their bodies have matured. The World Health Organization reports that pregnancy complications remain the leading cause of death among girls aged fifteen to nineteen in low- and middle-income countries, and those girls are twice as likely to die in childbirth as are mothers aged twenty and older. Babies born to adolescent or child mothers are more likely to die than those born to mothers over age twenty. They tend to have lower birth weights and weak immune systems, and face higher risks of malnutrition.

In areas with high infection rates, early marriage makes girls more vulnerable to HIV. In Kenya and Zambia, a study found that HIV infection rates were higher among married girls than their unmarried, sexually active counterparts—girls who had more license to choose their sexual partners.

Demographic Tales

Girls with higher levels of education are less likely to marry before age 18
Women age 20 to 24 in developing countries married before 18
Source: UNFPA
Poorer households are more likely to marry off girls before age 18
Women age 20 to 24 in developing countries married before 18
Source: UNFPA
Girls in rural areas are twice as likely to marry before age 18
Women age 20 to 24 in developing countries married before 18
Source: UNFPA

Isolating Girls

Often when girls marry they are cut off from their families and peer networks and thrust into hostile environments where they are beholden to their new husbands and in-laws. Advocates for girls’ rights say this isolation can have emotionally scarring effects, as well as violent consequences if their new families mistreat them. The typically large age gap between a child bride and her spouse makes her more vulnerable to domestic abuse and nonconsensual sex. Even those girls with the option of divorcing abusive spouses are vulnerable because they have little earning power, education, and financial support. Human rights groups have reported cases of girls facing abuse after attempting to escape their unions. Brides may also find themselves without support if they are widowed early, leaving them with little means by which to raise their families.
Marriage may also strip girls of some legal protections afforded to children; in some places, statutory rape laws do not apply to married girls. This is the case, for instance, in Morocco, where rape or sexual assault of young girls is sometimes permitted if the perpetrator marries the victim.

The Education Dilemma

A shortened education is both a cause and effect of early marriage. While lack of educational opportunities may contribute to girls’ early marriage, married girls are also likely to drop out of school sooner. This restricts their wage-earning opportunities, and leaves girls dependent on their husbands and with less power in the household.
High prevalence rates of child marriage are correlated with less education for girls. A UNICEF study found that across forty-seven countries, girls with primary school education were less likely to be married than girls who had received no education. Another study by the International Center for Research on Women found that girls with no education were up to six times more likely to marry as children than girls who had received secondary education. 

The Poverty Cycle

Girls who marry early are left without the skills, knowledge, and social networks to financially support their household, which maintains their low societal status and makes their families vulnerable to an intergenerational cycle of poverty that hinders the development of their communities.
Numerous studies have linked investment in girls' education and development to larger economic benefits. Increased education for girls is associated with lower child and maternal mortality, lower birth rates, and higher female participation in the workforce, which increases a country’s GDP and per capita income. Child marriage, then, not only has implications for the trajectory of young girls' lives, but also economic growth.

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