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Ending Child Marriage through Education for all

Written by Mitchelle Matheka

Child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union where one or both of the

parties are under the age of 18 years of age. Child marriage affects both the girl child

and the boy child, according to UNICEF girls are disproportionately the most

affected, child marriage is five times more common among girls than boys. Each

year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is 23 girls every minute.

Nearly 1 every 2 seconds.

Child marriage is a global problem. The highest rates of child marriage (Child

marriage prevalence is the percentage of women aged 20-24 who were first married

or in a union before they were 18 years old) are seen in Niger, Central African

Republic and Chad. The countries with the highest absolute numbers of child

marriage (Women aged 20-24 years who were married before they were 18 years old)

are India, Bangladesh and Nigeria , while Kenya ranks in at number 20.1

According to UNFPA there are a number of factors that promote child marriage.

These factors include gender inequality, poverty, culture, lack of education and

insecurity. Gender inequality is seen in many communities where girls aren’t as

valued as much as boys therefore marrying your daughter at a young age can be

viewed as a way to ease economic hardships by transferring the ‘burden’ to her

husband’s family. Poverty in certain communities can drive families to marry off their

girls to get bride price/dowry.Where poverty is acute, families and sometimes girls

themselves believe that marriage will be a solution to secure their future. In many

cultures in the world when a girls starts to menstruate they are seen as women in the

community and are therefore seen as fit to get married.But as Graça Machel,

widow of Nelson Mandela, says, traditions are made by people – and people can

unmake them.

The consequences of child marriage to the girl child are endless and include illiteracy

and poverty, health issues, domestic violence and many more. Illiteracy arises from

the fact that the girl is taken out to school to get married and have children before

1Source: UNICEF, State of the World's Children, 2017

Child marriage is a major cause of school dropouts in rural areas. Child marriage can cause health issues to the child bride that arises from marital rape and early pregnancy. Marital rape exposes the girl to Sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and also causes emotional distress to the girl.Early pregnancy exposes them to health risks such as obstetric fistulas, premature labour and obstructed labour.

What is being currently done about child marriage? Most countries around the world

have laws that set a minimum marriage age usually set at 18. However many

countries provide exceptions to the minimum marriage, upon parental consent or

authorisation of the court. Despite the strong legal framework that exists their

enforcement is often weak. Some of the common problems faced are; child marriages

often happen outside the law in the case of traditional marriages, underage victims of

child marriage struggle to take their case to court due to their age, knowledge or

resources and birth and marriage registration is weak or non existent.

One of the ways to end child marriage is by educating the community on the issue.

The first step is to educate the girl child. Girls with no education are 3 times as likely

to marry by 18 years old as those with a secondary or higher education. Over 60% of

women (20-24) with no education were married before 18. Girls may not have access

to good education or its too expensive or the parents do not believe in the value of a

good education this almost always inevitably ends in child marriage. Education for

girls can be improved by reducing the cost for school for girls, better proximity to

schools and sensitising the community. Educating the community is also an important

step in ending child marriage. This can be done by dialogue with religious and

community leaders to educate them on the dangers child marriage pose to their girls.

It’s important to note that education for all isn’t the only method that is used to end

child marriage. It is used in conjunction with other methods such as empowering

girls, mobilising families and communities, provide services and establish and

implement laws and policies to effectively end child marriage.

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