UNITED NATIONS - The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)
for a global campaign to prevent child marriages.
This call, coming on the eve of International Women's Day, is part
of a new
report entitled 'Early Marriage, Child Spouses' which presents
statistics showing that half of all girls in some countries are
married by the
time they reach age 18.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, 74 percent
of girls but
just five percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 are
to the report.
''Until now there has been virtually no attempt to examine child
marriage as a
human rights violation in and of itself,'' Carol Bellamy,
''Forcing children, especially girls, into early marriages can be
and emotionally harmful ... it violates their rights to personal
growth,'' Bellamy emphasised.
For both boys and girls, early marriage has profound physical,
psychological and emotional consequences.
For girls, in addition, it will almost certainly mean premature
which causes higher rates of maternal mortality, and is likely to
lead to a
lifetime of domestic and sexual subservience, said the report.
Girls aged 15 to 19 give birth to 15 million babies a year,
UNICEF, and many of them do so without attending one ante-natal
receiving the help of a professional midwife.
''I have received countless reports of complications and even
pregnancy and childbirth of wives too young to safely bear
Stephen H. Umemoto, Acting Director of the UNICEF Innocenti
Research Centre in
Teenage girls are more susceptible than mature women to sexually
infections including HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, their vulnerability is
increased because of the false belief in some places that if a man
a virgin, he'll be cured of HIV/AIDS, said UNICEF.
There are also reports from HIV/AIDS researchers in Eastern Africa
marriage is seen as one option for orphaned girls by care givers
who find it
hard to provide for them. Of the world's 13.2 million children
AIDS, 12.1 million are in Africa, according to UN Secretary-
Annan's latest report on HIV/AIDS.
Child marriages can be found across the globe, but are especially
parts of Africa and South Asia.
''In Western Europe and North America, marriages have historically
later in life,'' the report contends.
In the United States marriage cannot legally take place before the
sexual relations before the age of 16 is deemed statutory rape (in
the age is 18).
Poverty is one of the major factors underpinning child marriages -
marriage is a strategy for economic survival for some. Where
poverty is acute,
a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her
marriage to a much
older - sometimes even elderly - man, is a family survival
strategy, and may
even be seen as in her interests.
In Bangladesh, poverty stricken parents are persuaded to part with
daughters through promises of marriage, or by false marriages,
which are used
to lure girls into prostitution abroad, says the report.
A recent study of five poor villages carried out by the Egyptian
Social Affairs found young girls being married off to much older
oil-rich Middle Eastern countries through brokers.
Abuse is common in child marriages. Data from Egypt indicates that
of married adolescents have been beaten by their husbands (or
others) and, of these adolescents, 41 percent have been beaten
A study in Jordan, published in 2000, found that 26 percent of
of domestic violence were committed against wives under 18.
Domestic violence causes some girls to run away in desperation.
''Those who do
so, and those who choose a marriage partner against the wishes of
parents, may be punished, or even killed by their families. These
risk of 'honour killings' that occur in Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan,
Pakistan, Turkey and elsewhere,'' the UN states.
To prevent child marriages a wide range of individuals and
community leaders to international bodies must take action, UNICEF
''We must work to change attitudes in families and societies at
opportunities for childhood learning and education, offer
to families and children, and seek to have all children - girls
and boys -
recognised as valuable members of society rather than economic
Education is key in this process.
Persuading parents to keep their daughters in school is critical
overall development of girls - and in the postponement of
Sri Lanka and the Southern Indian State of Kerala are good
examples - both
high rates of first marriages taking place when a girl is older
and both have
also given high priority to girls' education. ''This has changed
the way men
and women perceive their roles and potential, and has led to a
for the rights of women than is found in other parts of [South
UNICEF's Global Girl's Education Programme, which addresses child
part of its broader approach to gender discrimination, operates in
countries to ensure that girls have equal opportunity at
education. For girls
who are already married, services must be developed to counsel
them on issues
ranging from abuse to reproduction, said UNICEF.
By analysing child marriage as a violation of a child's basic
UNICEF report seeks to build momentum for change.
''This is another step in a growing movement to end the silent
millions of children, especially girls, who are being shuttered
away in lives
often full of misery and pain,'' Bellamy said.
Copyright 2001 IPS