Inside Story

Child brides: How old is too young to marry?

The UN warns that 140 million girls will become child brides between 2011 and 2020.

The United Nations is warning that millions more young girls are destined to become child brides, saying if current trends hold many will be under the age of 15.

The marrying off of young girls is a culturally sensitive issue, and one that draws a range of reactions from different countries and different communities.

Critics argue it is fraught with danger, damage and discrimination – a violation of human rights.
And the UN is worried, predicting that 140 million girls will become child brides between 2011 and 2020. That is more than 14 million girls a year it says will marry too young – some 39,000 each and every day.

Furthermore, it is warning that of these, 50 million will be under the age of 15.

“This is a global crisis that we are facing, everyday 39,000 girls are being forced to marry and we know that it has a devastating impact not only in their lives but the lives of their communities, most often it means they are forced to leave their education and the opportunity to fulfill their potential and it also puts them at a great vulnerability to violence, abuse contracting sexually transmitted infections including HIV.”

– Naomi Williams, from the global children’s charity, Plan

The UN has identified 42 countries where one in three children under the age of 18 are married.

Statistics gathered over the last decade found that in both proportions and numbers, most child marriages take place in rural sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Niger has the highest rate with 75 percent of girls marrying before the age of 18, and Bangladesh is ranked the highest in Asia – at 66 percent.
Moving down the list, more African countries feature prominently, like Mali with 55 percent and Burkina Faso with 48 percent.

Morocco is one of the countries where child marriage is on the increase.
The latest figures show the number of young girls getting married rose to 35,000 in 2010, up from 30,000 just two years before.
Rights groups are calling for a total ban on the practise, and the government looks set to bow to pressure to change a law allowing those accused of raping minors to escape punishment by marrying their young victims.

Research suggests girls who get married when they are young are at greater risk from violence and health problems.

The International Centre for Research on Women says girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in child birth than women in their twenties, and pregnancy is now the leading cause of death for women aged 15-19 in the developing world.

“In Pakistan girls are not welcomed happily in their houses, a birth of a girl child is not of a happy occasion. She is an economic and financial burden, and as soon as possible parents want to get rid of her.”

– Sadaf Raza, from the Ideas for Life Trust

It adds that girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and sexual abuse, and child brides affected in this way show feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and severe depression.
So how old is too young to marry? And what are the reasons behind the marriage of minors?

Joining Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, are guests: Kakenya Ntaiya, a former child bride, who is the founder of the Kakenya Center for Excellence – a girl’s primary school in Kenya; Sadaf Raza, from the Ideas for Life Trust – promoting, among other things, women’s rights and education; and Naomi Williams, from the global children’s charity, Plan.

 “We grow up in a society that doesn’t know otherwise, we are molded and trained as soon as we start walking and being told on how to become a perfect wife, you train to collect water fire wood and help raise the other young siblings and everything around you is really to perfect you to become that perfect wife at 12, I grew up where we didn’t know otherwise.”

Kakenya Ntaiya, a former child bride