Child Marriage Or Forced Marriage: Where Do We Draw The Line?

Last week on Kenyan Television, we were told of harrowing story of a girl in Kajiado County who, at 14years, had a child from being raped by a relative. To add insult to injury, there were plans to marry her off to a 40 year old man for a measly dowry price of 40,000kshs (about $800 US). This was a clear illustration on reasons why child marriage should not happen – among those is the fact that it perpetuates the acceptability of gender based violence given the incestuous sexual violence that led the young teenage girl to be a mother to a 4 month old baby.

A few days ago, I also read of a Ugandan mother who refused USHS.600, 000(about 400USD) as dowry price for her daughter which emphasizes on how young girls are seen as a commodity – something that can be bought and sold – rather than a functioning human being that has rights, hopes and dreams. This comes on the back of retrogressive actions in other parts of the world such as Bangladesh, where the country is considering a legal provision that will lower the legal age of marriage from 18 years to 16years.

Pervasive reality
These girls, the one in Kajiado and the one whose mother refused dowry, are not isolated cases. If anything, they are an accurate but saddening reflection of a pervasive reality. UNICEF; estimates 15 million girls are married every year before they reach 18 years. Furthermore, 1 in 4 girls globally are married by their 18th birthday, and 1 in 12 were married by age 15, with some as young as 8 or 9years. In South Asia 46% of girls below 18 are married; 39% in sub-Saharan Africa; 29% in Latin America and the Caribbean; 18% in the Middle East and North Africa; and in some communities in Europe and North America too. In total 700 million of the world’s women were married before their 18th birthday.

The numbers above are a representation of millions of girls across the world deprived of autonomy, personal freedom and choice to become the women of their dreams. Child brides instead are doomed to endure the vicious cycle of poverty. Their education is curtailed, their voices are silenced, their economic parity is nil and their sexual and reproductive rights are violated. They are forced to become not only child brides, but also child mothers. Putting both their lives and the lives of their unborn children at risk. Child marriage not only exacerbates poverty, but it is most times served with a bloodcurdling cocktail of Female Genital Mutilation and maternal deaths.

Draw a line
Unfortunately if the world does not draw a line or apply concerted action to define child marriage as a form of violence against girls that should be fought with every resource at our disposal, these numbers will grow—the total number of girls married in their childhood could increase to over 1.2 billion by 2050 if the current statistics are anything to go by. This is certainly not what we want, is it?

Time is running out quickly on the MDGs and the world is racing to perfect the post 2015 development agenda. Now is not the time to turn a blind eye to a major issue inhibiting the success of these goals. Child, early and forced marriage has directly hindered the achievement of 6 of the 8 MDGs on health, education and poverty. Ending child marriage will be critical to achieving 7 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals. Without serious and comprehensive national attention to ending child, early and forced marriage, the proposed goals on poverty, nutrition, health, education, gender equality, economic growth and reduction of inequality will not be achieved.

Most of us have been brought up in a society that objectifies, sexualizes and highly commoditizes women and girls (for all the girls given for marriage at a tender age, there is a price on their head normally the price is direct monetary value, debt payment , tradeoff or just mere objectification). At this point, it would suffice to say that culture is not static. It is therefore our generations’ responsibility to fight this practice with the same zeal the world fought racism and be the ones to draw a line where girls’ rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed.

For Evil to thrive anywhere, all that is required is for good people to do nothing.

A resolution on child, early and forced marriage will be considered in the UN General Assembly in November – now is the time to urge your government to support the forthcoming resolution. Ensure that your government knows that its people will not stand for the subjugation of young women and girls any longer!

This year’s resolution builds on last year’s short resolution on child marriage by recognizing child marriage as a human rights and development issue. It also recognizes the importance of retaining the target (5.3) to end child, early and forced marriage in the final framework for the post-2015 development agenda during and after the intergovernmental negotiation set to begin in January 2015

It is critical that as many countries as possible, from a broad geographical range, co-sponsor the resolution. It is particularly important that the resolution is co-sponsored and supported by governments of countries with a high prevalence of child marriage. A widely-supported resolution will help to build global support for ending child marriage by demonstrating global consensus on the issue and highlighting its link to sustainable development and the post-2015 agenda. The power is in the hands of the member states at the United Nations, but they represented you – and we need to let them know that development will not be achieved without the advanced protection of young women and girls.

Read the text of this year’s resolution.

Find out if your government co-sponsored last year’s resolution.

Background on the child marriage target in the Open Working Group report.

Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1
  • Ahsan

    It was a good article. highlighting the early age marriage and other perspective.
    It is a fact that these statistics are on up scale as compared to down scale.

    Thank you for highlighting it.

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