The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner defines child marriage as “any marriage where at least one of the parties is under eighteen years of age”. This practice disproportionately impacts girls and compromises development as it may result in early pregnancy, social isolation, interruption of schooling, and limiting career and vocational advancement opportunities. Child marriage does, however, play a role in lifting families out of poverty, which may be an incentive for families to engage in the practice. Families also may believe that young marriage to older men protects their daughters and increases their economic opportunities. Across the globe, rates of child marriage are highest in West and Central Africa, with almost 40% of girls married before their eighteenth birthday, and the total number of girls married before they turn eighteen is 12 million annually. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that free and full consent in marriage is a human right, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals identify child marriage as a barrier to gender equality.
As a result of cultural and social beliefs, women and girls may be denied equal roles in their households and communities. Cultural beliefs and values may place more priority on women’s role within the family and the household, thus leaving girls more susceptible to young marriage. Familial beliefs also play a role – many families believe that marrying their daughters young will provide them with opportunity and protection. This is not usually the case. The negative consequences of child marriage may, in fact, prove the opposite as child brides are at higher risk of sexually transmitted infections due to inability to negotiate safe sex practices, higher risk of dangerous pregnancies for both the mother and the child due to the young age of the mother, and higher risk of domestic violence within their marriage. Child marriage also poses a risk to girls’ educational opportunities by pulling them from schooling at a young age and preventing them from returning by forcing them to start a family. Girls are often impacted by child marriage in the context of familial poverty when their families lack access to resources and assets. Many families enter a dowry with the man marrying their daughter, which can provide substantial economic relief for struggling families.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) partnered in 2016 to launch a program that seeks to combat child marriage in 12 nations with high rates of child marriage. This program aims to connect families, communities, governments, and young people to increase girls’ access to services and resources while educating their families on the risks and dangers associated with child marriage. The new nature of these programs means that results and data on their impact are not necessarily readily available. It is up to the committee to determine if these means will be effective enough in combating child marriage or if other means are needed instead or in addition to these measures.
The Fourth World Conference on Women:
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: