It’s a storybook wedding. The bride’s hair is perfectly curled, her make-up is going on and she’s dressing in white. She walks down the aisle towards her husband-to-be as guests look on. But, wait! Something’s not quite right.
This isn’t the serene scene of a wedding set between two loving adults. The only adult here is the groom.
Confused? If the words “child bride” aren’t something that you know much about, you aren’t alone. With 15 million girls under the age of 18 being wed to adult men across the globe each year you might think that this problem would be on everyone’s radar. But, not so. That’s why UNICEF has created this video, which depicts the fictional wedding of a child bride to an adult male is an eye-opener for anyone who isn’t aware of this issue.
If the video doesn’t get you thinking (we’re pretty certain it will), consider the fact that one-third of girls in developing countries are married before they turn 18. If that stat sounds serious in itself, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) notes one in nine girls are married before age 15! Given the current rate of child marriages, the ICRW projects that over the next decade 150 million girls under 18 will become brides.
Where is this happening and who are these girls being forced to marry as children?
The majority of child marriages happen in South Asia (primarily due to the large population size), followed by Western and Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the ICRW, 75 percent of girls in Niger are married before they turn 18. That’s three-fourths of girls.
Why are there so many child brides in developing countries?
While getting married at 13 or 16 years of age might not be unheard of in your town, it’s much more of problem in high poverty areas. Countries that have greater percentages of child marriages (areas such as Bangladesh and Mali – where more than half the girls are before their eighteenth birthdays) are also places where more than three-fourths of the people live on under $2 per day. Along with poverty, lack of education is also a factor in child marriage.
Along with the obvious reasons why child marriage is such a serious problem come other consequences. Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D., Executive Director of UNFPA tells UNICEF, “Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects.” The UNICEF video makes the in-your-face point that child marriage literally means that a “child” is getting married (or rather, forced into getting married). The coloring books, the teddy bears and everything else that comes along with childhood are all lost when a little girl becomes a bride. Not getting to decide what her future holds comes with more risks than just the mental or emotional anguish.
In many areas child brides are forced into marrying much older men – who have years (if not decades) of sexual experiences. This also may mean that these older ‘grooms’ have one or more sexually transmitted diseases. This puts young brides at a higher risk of contracting an STD, including HIV. Another serious sexually-related issue surrounding child marriage is pregnancy. Complications from pregnancy is the number one cause of death for teen girls (ages 15 through 19).
Not only is child marriage considered a morally corrupt practice, but it’s also a violation of human rights. Michelle Bachelet, M.D., Executive Director of UN Women tells UNICEF, “No girl should be robbed of her childhood, her education and health, and her aspirations. Yet today millions of girls are denied their rights each year when they are married as child brides.”
What can you do to help stop this practice? Educate yourself on the subject and check out UNICEF’s website for more information.