The global state of child marriage #GirlsNotBrides

OK, it’s finally happened, I’ve woken up with nothing to post – I’ve been on the road for the last two weeks, and it’s hard to keep feeding the blog between events, travel etc. So I thought I’d just repost the most powerful item from the 60 or so articles in my RSS feed today. Shanta Devarajan setting out the case for a Universal Basic Income was a strong candidate, but in the end I went with this on child marriage, because the video made me cry. By Darejani Markozashvili on the World Bank’s People, Deliberation, Spaces blog.

Child marriage is a violation of human rights and needs to be addressed worldwide by citizens, community organizations, local, and federal government agencies, as well as international organizations and civil society groups. Child marriage cuts across borders, religions, cultures, and ethnicities and can be found all over the world. Although sometimes boys are subjected to early marriage, girls are far more likely to be married at a young age.

This is where we stand today: in developing countries, 1 in every 3 girls is married before the age of 18. And 1 in nine girls is married before turning 15. Try looking at it this way: the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that if current trends continue, worldwide, 142 million girls will be married by 2020. Another prediction from a global partnership called Girls Not Brides suggests, that if there is no reduction in child marriages, the global number of child brides will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.

Why is this such a critical issue? Child marriage undermines global effort to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity, as it traps vulnerable individuals in a cycle of poverty. Child marriage deprives girls of educational opportunities. Often times, when girls are married at a young age, they are more likely to drop out of school and are at a higher risk of death due to early childbirth. According to the World Health Organizationcomplications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second cause of death for 15-19 year-old girls globally. 

In order to raise awareness about child marriage in the Middle East, a Lebanon-based organization, KAFA, produced this video as a social experiment.

According to the World Policy Centerin 7 countries, there is no nationally set minimum age of marriage. An additional 5 countries have the minimum age for girls to be married at age 13 or younger. Another 30 countries allow girls to be married at age 14 or 15.

Want to find out what the minimum age is of marriage for girls with parental consent? Check out the data from the World Policy Center:

child marriageUpdate: really liked the comment from Susan Watkins, who argues that this whole approach is mistaken – any reactions?


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3 Responses to “The global state of child marriage #GirlsNotBrides”
  1. Susan Watkins

    “Child marriage deprives girls of educational opportunities. Often times, when girls are married at a young age, they are more likely to drop out of school and are at a higher risk of death due to early childbirth.” I wish you had found something worthier to blog about. If advocates of ending child marriage were to be effective in poor countries (e.g. Africa),I think ending what has been called “an epidemic of child marriage” would result in “an epidemic of our-of-wedlock births.” In rural Malawi (85% of the population), where I do research, the state of schooling for girls (and boys) is appalling: in grade 6, 75% of students in school are innumerate, 64% are illiterate: South Africa is much higher (95% + 93%), Zambia and Zimbabwe are lower, but still very low (Spaull & Taylor 2014). Schools are overcrowded and under resourced (e.g. a grade 2 teacher may have over 100 pupils), so the teachers teach those they think have a chance to pass the high school exams and send the others out to play. Parents do want, desperately, for their kids to stay in school so they can eventually get a job. But both parents and kids know that with such poor schooling, that is not going to happen. So what are they to do? In this subsistence economy, there are few ways for either boys or girls to get money, but fewer for girls. For girls in this subsistence economy, the best most can do for support is to get married–and pregnancy is a route to marriage: the parents of the girl go to the parents of the boy to complain, and often the parents of agree to insist that the couple marry. The advocates of child marriage would do better if they knew something about the context, and focused on getting the government to (1) improve the schools and the teachers (who teach by rote, no participatory learning here) and (2) work to create job opportunities–even those who manage to pass the high school exams can’t get jobs. Our survey hires as interviewers young men and women with a high school degree–typically there are ~400 applicants for ~40 positions for these month-long jobs.