Child marriage is a tragic reality faced by 15 million girls around the globe every year.*
Early and forced marriage is a violation of human rights that destroys girls' childhoods and women's lives. It has to end. With your help we can end child marriage and forced marriage within a generation, by 2030.
Early and forced marriage statistics
- 1 in 3 girls in the developing world are married by their 18th birthday. This can end their chance of completing an education and puts them at greater risk of isolation and violence.
- For girls under 15 the incidence of early and forced marriage is 1 in 9. Some are married as young as five years old.
- Victims of early and forced marriage typically have children very young. Approximately 70,000 girls die in labour every year because their bodies aren’t ready for childbirth.
What we do
We believe that education is crucial to reducing the incidence of early and forced marriage. This means improving access to quality education for girls, and also educating the wider community to change the social norms that enable forced marriage to continue. We work to raise awareness of girls’ rights at community, national and global levels, striving to change both legislation and attitudes.
Help us end early and forced marriage within a generation by supporting our Because I Am A Girl campaign.
If you are affected by child marriage, or are concerned about a child’s safety, call Karma Nirvana's helpline on 0800 5999247.
Karma Nirvana is a charity that has been instrumental in developing refuge centres across the UK for men and women fleeing forced marriages. The helpline offers advice, information and support.
The causes of early and forced marriage
The causes of early and forced marriage are complex, interrelated and dependent on individual circumstances and context. But the practice is driven by these main factors:
• Gender inequality. Women and girls often occupy a lower status in societies as a result of social and cultural traditions, attitudes, beliefs that deny them their rights and stifle their ability to play an equal role in their homes and communities. In the ten countries with the highest rates of early and forced marriage, five have laws that permit girls to be married earlier than boys.
• Poverty. In families on a low income, girls may be viewed as an economic burden. The perception of girls’ potential to earn an income as comparatively poor pushes girls out of their homes and into marriage. Globally, girls from the poorest 20% of households are three times more likely to be a victim.
• Negative traditional or religious practices. In many countries the importance of preserving family ‘honour’ and girls’ virginity is such that parents push their daughters into marriage well before they are ready. There is a belief that marriage safeguards against ‘immoral’ or ‘inappropriate behaviour’.
• Failure to enforce laws. Sometimes families are not even aware they are breaking the law. In some countries early marriage is so prevalent, prosecutions are seldom brought.
• Conflicts, disasters and emergencies. Disasters and emergencies increase economic pressures on households and many families that wouldn’t previously have considered early marriage turn to it as a last resort.
The consequences of early and forced marriage
Early and forced marriage contributes to driving girls into a cycle of poverty and powerlessness. They are likely to experience:
• Illiteracy and poor education. When a girl enters into early or forced marriage, their family will remove them from schooling, as their role will then be to carry out domestic work and bear children. Girls with no education are 3 times more likely to be married before the age of 18 than those with secondary education. And the impact continues through the generations. Daughters of young, uneducated mothers are more likely to drop out of school and be married early, repeating the cycle.
• Increased mortality rate. Girls who are victims of early and forced marriage have higher mortality rates than their unmarried counterparts. In developing countries the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 is childbirth, where they are twice as likely to die in labour as a woman over 20.
• Poor sexual health. Most girls who are subjected to early or forced marriage usually have poor sexual health. They will have engaged in sex before being physically and emotionally ready, and due to marrying an older man will be at increased risk of sexual infections such as HIV. Research carried out in Nyanza, Kenya found that HIV rates in adolescent married girls was double that of the national average.
• Higher risk of abuse. According to research carried out by the World Health Organisation, married girls aged 15 to 19 are more likely to experience violence than older married women. Due to lack of education, lower status, lack of control and powerlessness, girls subjected to early or forced marriage suffer higher levels of violence, abuse and rape.
Is early or forced marriage legal?
Marriage is a formalised, binding partnership between consenting adults. Child marriage involves either one or both spouses being children and may take place under civil, religious or customary laws with or without formal registration. A child is usually someone under 18.
According to the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), marriage before the age of 18 shouldn’t be allowed since children don’t have the ‘full maturity and capacity to act’. Similarly, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that marriage should be ‘entered only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses’. Where one of the parties getting married is under 18, consent cannot always be assumed to be ‘free and full’.
End early and forced marriage now
The issues surrounding forced marriage are complex and can’t be eradicated overnight, but with your support we can work to end the misery of millions of girls across the world. Help us today.
* Source: Ending Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects, Unicef (2014)