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Child Marriage: A silent human rights issue

by: Sabeen Sheikh Abid

Child marriage is a truly global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions, and ethnicities. This is a growing issue that needs urgently concerted and integrated action required. Child and forced marring represents a violation of virtually all human rights. It deprives children and especially girls of autonomy, freedom and personal growth. Child marriage, defined as the marriage of a child under 18 years of age, is a silent and yet widespread practice. Child marriage can be found in every region in the world. Researches show marriages in which a child under the age of 18 years is involved occur across the world, However, child marriage occurs in disproportionately high numbers in developing countries, mainly seen in South Asia, Africa, Middle East, Latin America and also in  Europe. In recent decades, over 60 million marriages include girls under the age of 18 years. Most of these marriages are arranged by parents, and girls rarely meet their future husband before the wedding. The girls know that after the wedding they will move to their husband’s household like a piece of property, become the responsibility of their in-laws and in some places guardianships rights over her will even be transferred to her husband. She will be expected to become a woman, who keeps house and raises a family, rather than play and study like the child she is. Although child marriage also includes boys, most children married under the age of 18 years are girls. Many girls who are married off before they turn 18 or are forced into early marriages are made to leave school, depriving them of their right to education and future independence. Child brides are also more likely to experience domestic violence. The trend of child marriages has been a major cause of girls ‘illiteracy or lower level of education. It can also damage the girls ‘physical, mental, and social health, leading to serious health issues in the future.

A human rights violation, child marriage directly impacts girls ‘education, health, psychological well-being and the health of their offspring. It increases the risk of depression, sexuality transmitted infection, cervical cancer, obstetric fistulas, and maternal mortality, Because young girls who are married off are more likely to have children while still physically immature .they are at higher risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications also their offspring are at an increased risk for premature birth and subsequently, neonatal or infant death. Child brides who have children may also be psychologically unprepared and ill-equipped to become mothers at such a young age.

There are Three main forces drive child marriages, poverty, the need to reinforce social ties, and the belief that it offers protection. Child marriage is predominantly seen in the area of poverty .parents are faced with two economic incentives, to ensure their daughter’s financial security and to reduce the economic burden of daughters place on the family. Child marriage is first and foremost a product of sheer economic need. Gils are costly to feed, clothe, and educate, and they eventually leave the household. Marriage brings a dowry to the bride’s family. The younger the girl, the higher the dowry, and the sooner the economic burden of raising the girl is lifted. By marrying their daughter to a good family, parents also establish social ties between tribes or clans and improve their social status. Parents also believe that marrying their daughter’s young protect them from rape and premarital sexual activity. There is also a false belief in many countries’ cultures that a man can be cured of Aids by sleeping with a virgin young girl. Child marriages are symptomatic of gender-based discrimination against girls and cultural norms that value girls less than boys. In some countries such as families are using child marriage as an alternative as a survival strategy. Child marriage flourishes in impunity.

A recent decade’s statics data shows that in countries where poverty has decreased, the incidence of child marriage has also declined. Research has long enforced the importance of education for girls and their families. Child marriage truncates girls’ childhood, stop their education, and impacts their health and the health of their infants. The government should aim to educate the community, raising awareness, engaging local and religious leaders, involving parents, and empowering girls through education and employment can help stop child marriage. Few programs that have shown success are those that give families financial incentives to keep their daughters in school, those that feed children during school hours so parents do not have to bear that responsibility, and those that promise employment once girls have completed their schooling. One of the most effective methods of reducing child marriage and its health consequences is mandatory that girls stay in school. It should also emphasize on advocate campaigns to raise the legal age of marriage. To end child marriage, individuals, lawmakers, and world leaders need to challenge norms and cultures that reinforce the idea that girls are inferior to boys, and instead empower girls to be their own personal growth. Providing girls with equal access to quality education and allowing them to complete their education will enable them to support themselves and lead fulfilling, independent lives. Creating safe spaces and channels for them to speak up for their rights and speak out against harmful practices will allow their voices to be heard. And lawmakers and leaders must level the law to remove all forms of gender discrimination from legislation and ensure that girls are equally valued and protected from child marriage and other types of gender-based violence and harmful practice. It must be emphasized, the existence of laws that set a minimum age for marriage is an important tool that helps those working to dissuade families and communities from marrying off their daughters as children.

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