Child Brides

Every year, an estimated 15 million girls aged under 18 are married worldwide with little or no say in the matter. In the developing world, one in 9 girls is married before her 15th birthday and some child brides are as young as eight or nine when they are married off.

Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.

According to UNICEF, If there is no reduction in the practice of child marriage, up to 280 million girls alive today are at risk of becoming brides by the time they turn 18. Due to population growth, this number will approach 320 million by 2050. The total number of women married in childhood will grow from more than 700 million today to approximately 950 million by 2030, and nearly 1.2 billion by 2050. The number of girls under age 18 married each year will grow from 15 million today to 16.5 million in 2030 to over 18 million in 2050.

The 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are: Nige (75%), Chad and Central African Republic (68 %); Bangladesh (66%); Guinea (63%); 
Mozambique (56%); Mali, (55%); Burkina Faso and South Sudan (52%); and Malaw (50 %) (UNICEF)

Violence in child marriages

Loss of girlhood and health problems related to early pregnancy are not the only hazards confronting young brides. Even though some parents believe early marriage will protect their daughters from sexual violence, the reverse is often true, according to UN studies. Young girls who marry before the age of 18 have a greater risk of becoming victims of intimate partner violence than those who marry at an older age. This is especially true when the age gap between the child bride and spouse is large.

“Child marriage marks an abrupt and often violent introduction to sexual relations,” says   Claudia Garcia Moreno, M.D., of WHO, a leading expert in violence against women. “The young girls are powerless to refuse sex and lack the resources or legal and social support to leave an abusive marriage.”

The problem is not restricted to any particular country, however there have been many reports of forced child marriage in Yemen. A 2011 Human Rights Watch report documented severe and long-lasting harm to Yemeni girls forced by their families to marry, in some cases when they were as young as 8. Human Rights Watch spoke to 34 Yemeni girls and women. They said that marrying early meant that they lost control over their lives, including the ability to decide whether and when to bear children. They said that it had cut short their education, and some said they had been subjected to marital rape and domestic abuse.

There is no legal minimum age for girls to marry in Yemen and the only legal protection for girls is a prohibition on sexual intercourse until the age of puberty. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, however, girls were married before their first menstrual period and were raped by their husbands.


Malawi’s work to end child marriage.

In Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, at least half of young women are married before the age of 18. The country is working to end the practice and “to allow the girl child to continue with education, to become a learned citizen who can contribute to the development and economy of the country,” says Ms. Catherine Gotani Hara, Malawi’s Minister of Health.

Another reason for Malawi’s effort is the high teenage pregnancy rate and the fact that teen pregnancies contribute to 20-30 per cent of maternal deaths in the country. “By ending early marriages we can avert up to 30 per cent of maternal deaths and also reduce the neonatal mortality rate,” she says.

The Minister reports that Malawi has taken a number of steps aimed at ending the practice of child marriage. These include:

The India’s Daughter campaign aims to work closely with it’s partners to address the issue of child marriage. Please visit our TAKE ACTION page, JOIN US as a partner and DONATE to help in bringing an end to child marriage.