Gloria was only 12 years old when she got married. Her mother thought that it would be best for her since her husband promised he would take care of her and her siblings, and lift them from poverty. Ever since Gloria’s father died, it’s been clear to her and her 10 young siblings that their mother wouldn’t be able to feed them, buy their clothes, or pay for their school fees. Gloria’s new husband gave her family a single goat instead of paying the dowry that her family had hoped for.
“I cried because I was too young to get married. I didn’t want to, I didn’t understand the meaning of marriage, I was filled with fear,” she said.
When her mother died and her father was killed, Doreen, the oldest of five children, struggled to survive poverty. Her grandmother took care of them, however, she finally feared that couldn’t survive like that for much longer. Thus, she felt she had no choice but to arrange a marriage for Doreen. “When I asked [my grandmother] about the school, she said the same man who will marry you will take you to school,” she said.
Much to her disappointment, Doreen was never sent to school after her marriage. Her husband made her do household chores and take care of him. "I used to think that my life would change for the better when I got married, but even the dream that I had that I would take care of my young brothers and sisters turned out to be a myth,” Doreen continued.
Gloria and Doreen are only two of the millions of girls married before the age of 18. While the awareness around the problem of child problems is increasing, girls are still finding themselves being married off at such a young age.
Child Marriage in Numbers
For many countries, raising a child is not ideal. Families living in marginalized communities have limited access to food and water, job opportunities are not that rampant, and poverty is very much present. There are not enough resources to ensure a child's overall well-being. Thus, traditional families resort to child marriage or the formal/informal marriage of a child under the age of 18. The United Nations reported that there are 37,000 girls under the age of 18 who are married each day -- reported as the greatest number of girls at risk of child marriage and married girls than ever before.
According to World Vision, a global humanitarian organization devoted to improving the lives of families and communities to overcome poverty, 40% of the world’s child brides are in South Asia. This is mainly driven by the region’s large population and the fact that child marriage has long been common there. India, in particular, is a constant home for child brides. It has more instances of child marriage than any other in the world with 15,509,000 child brides. Bangladesh comes in a distant second with 4,451,000 child brides, followed by Nigeria with 3,538,000, Brazil with 3,034,000, Ethiopia with 2,104,000, and Pakistan with 1,909,000.
Another region of concern is sub-Saharan Africa, where a large number of girls are at risk of child marriage. Reports show that Niger has the highest rate of child marriage across the globe; 76% of girls there are married before the age of 18. The Pew Research Center also reported that about 57,800 minors in the US aged 15 to 17 were married as of 2014. The rate of child marriage was higher in West Virginia and Texas, where about 7 of every 1,000 15- to 17-year-olds were married during the same year.
The report also showed that of the 57,800 Americans ages 15 to 17 who were married in 2014, an estimated 31,644 were girls and 26,156 were boys, with 55% being female and 45% male. According to DW, a German state-owned public international broadcaster, Monika Michell, an expert on "honor violence" for Terre des Femmes, stated that compiling statistics for child marriage across the world is difficult. It is also hard to investigate because very few of those affected come forward to seek help.
"They often don't view such a marriage as forced, because they do not know anything else. Many have grown up in circumstances where this is the norm, or maybe even look at the situation as one that is designed to protect them," she said.
Why Does Child Marriage Happen?
Child marriage means that young girls will not be able to grow up as normal children because they are expected to act and behave as married women. It systematically disempowers them because they are robbed of their chance to learn, grow, and fully realize their potential. Child marriage ensures that they will have no control in their lives, have no agency, and remain dependent on others all their lives. So, why do parents need to push their daughters to get married at such a young age?
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), child marriage seems like the only option for many families. Parents believe that marriage will secure a daughter’s future by making a husband or his family responsible for her care. They believe that they are protecting them and also increasing their economic opportunities. In these cases, money plays a huge role in the prevalence of child marriage in much of the world. Aside from that, some cultures see girls and women as a financial burden to the family than potential wage earners.
"Families are using child marriage, as an alternative, as a survival strategy [against…] food insecurity,” UNICEF's chief child protection officer in Niger said.
Why Ending Child Marriage is Important
Child marriage is gender-based discrimination against girls. Ending child marriage means we value these girls’ futures. This will protect them from abusive husbands and encourage them to pursue their dreams.
According to Global Citizen, a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030, individuals, lawmakers, and world leaders need to challenge norms that reinforce the idea that girls are inferior to boys to end child marriage. We also need girls to be their own agents of change by providing them with equal access to quality education and allowing them to complete their studies. Safe spaces and platforms should also be created for them to speak up for what they want and speak out against harmful practices.