INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Terri M. KelleherNews Weekly
400 million child brides: a global scandal
, June 7, 2014
The world’s 400 million under-age marriages is a global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities.
Developing countries make up the top 20 nations for child brides, according to data from UNICEFs Demographic and Health Surveys, as summarised by the Girls Not Brides website.
Of the top 20 countries, 10 are majority Christian, eight are majority Muslim, and two are predominantly Hindu, according to further analysis using the Pew Religious Futures program, which measures religious belief across countries.
Girls Not Brides says that:
• almost 400 million women aged 20-49 were married before 18;
• one in three girls in the developing world are said to be married before 18;
• by the end of the decade another 142 million girls will be married as children, unless the practice of child brides is stopped.
It rates countries according to the percentage of women aged 20 to 24 who were married or in a union before they were 18 years old.
For example, Niger is rated as the number one nation for child brides. It has seen 75 per cent of women aged 20-24 married before they turned 18.
The top 20 are:
1. Niger, 75 per cent.
2. Central African Republic, 68 per cent.
3. Chad, 68 per cent.
4. Bangladesh, 65 per cent.
5. Guinea, 63 per cent.
6. Mali, 55 per cent.
7. South Sudan, 52 per cent.
8. Burkina Faso, 52 per cent.
9. Malawi, 50 per cent.
10. Madagascar, 48 per cent.
11. Mozambique, 48 per cent.
12. India, 47 per cent.
13. Eritrea, 47 per cent.
14. Somalia, 45 per cent.
15. Sierra Leone, 44 per cent.
16. Zambia, 42 per cent.
17. Nicaragua, 41 per cent.
18. Nepal, 41 per cent.
19. Dominican Republic, 41 per cent.
20. Ethiopia, 41 per cent.
By far, India has the highest number of child brides. In 2013, around half of India’s women aged 15 or older (212 million) had been child brides.
Although fewer Indian girls are now marrying before the age of 15 (falling from 23.5 per cent to 18.2 per cent), rates of marriage have increased for girls in the 15-18 age group (increasing from 26.7 per cent to 29.2 per cent) between the late 1990s and 2006.
Many factors perpetuate child marriage.
Particularly in developing countries, child marriage is often a traditional practice going back centuries.
In many communities where child marriage is practised, girls are not valued as much as boys — they are seen as a social or economic burden.
Where poverty is acute, giving a daughter in marriage allows parents to reduce family expenses by ensuring they have one less person to feed, clothe and educate. In communities where a dowry or “bride price” is paid, it is often welcome income for poor families.
Often, many parents marry off their daughters to ensure their safety in areas where girls are at high risk of physical or sexual assault.
The London-based Anti-Slavery International says that, in the child-marriage debate, the links to slavery have been largely absent.
It says that “many married children can experience levels of suffering, coercion and control that meet international legal definitions of slavery and slavery-like practices, including servile marriage, child servitude, child trafficking and forced labour”.
It continues: “A potentially high proportion of child marriage cases appear to constitute worst forms of child labour.”
In Australia, more than 3,000 under-aged teens are married or in de facto marriages across the nation, according to the 2011 census.
According to The Australian, “The majority of 15-to-17 year-olds married or in a de facto marriage were born in Australia.
“Of those who identified as married, 57% identified as Christian and 6% were Muslim. About 30% did not state their religion or identified as no religion.”
The census revealed under-age marriage was prevalent in several indigenous communities.
The Australian said that eight of the top 10 locations for under-age marriage had major indigenous communities — the Northern Territory’s West Arnhem, Barkly, MacDonnell, Roper Gulf, East Arnhem, Central Desert and Victoria Daly Shires, and South Australia’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara local government area.
The top location was Brisbane, and eighth on the list was Sydney’s Blacktown.
When de facto marriages were also included, the top three locations for under-age marriages were all found to be in Queensland — Moreton Bay, Brisbane and Logan.
Solutions to the under-age marriage problem vary according to the circumstances in each community and can include bringing traditional leaders onside, enforcing laws that set a legal age for marriage, and mobilising and educating communities.
According to Girls Not Brides, “Improving girls’ access to quality schooling will increase girls’ chances of gaining a secondary education and helps to delay marriage. When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries on average four years later.”
Terri M. Kelleher is Victorian state president of the Australian Family Association.
 UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2013.