Child marriage cuts across countries,
cultures, religions and ethnicities; 46% of girls under 18 are married
in South Asia; 38% in sub-Saharan Africa; 29% in Latin America and the
Caribbean; 18% in the Middle East and North Africa; and in some
communities in Europe and North America too.
Child marriage is a violation of all the
rights of the child. It forces children, particularly girls, to assume
responsibilities for which they are often physically and psychologically
not prepared for.
Girls who are forced to marry face a life
of violence in the home where they are physically and sexually abused,
suffer from inhuman and degrading treatment and ultimately slavery.
Early marriages also impacts on girls’
right to education, health, and participate in the decisions that affect
them. Girls who marry early often drop out of school, significantly
reducing their ability to gain skills and knowledge to make informed
decisions and to earn an income. An obstacle to girls’ and women’s
empowerment, it also hinders their ability to lift themselves out of
Child brides are more likely to get
pregnant at an early age and, as a result, face higher risk of maternal
death and injury due to early sexual activity and childbearing.
A vast array of international instruments
recognizes the right to free and full consent to marriage. In
particular, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women states that the marriage of a child shall
have no legal effect, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
requires States parties to take all effective and appropriate measures
with a view to abolishing practices that are harmful to children.
On the first United Nations International
Day on the Girl Child, the committees called on States to increase the
age of marriage to 18 years of age for girls and boys without exception
and adopt urgent measures to prevent child marriage. The committees also
condemned child marriage stating that, 'As with all forms of slavery,
forced early marriages should be criminalized. They cannot be justified
on traditional, religious, cultural or economic grounds.'
However, an approach which only focuses on
criminalization cannot succeed in effectively combating forced early
marriages. 'This should go hand in hand with public awareness raising
campaigns to highlight the nature and harm caused by forced and early
marriages and community programmes to help detect, provide advice,
rehabilitation and shelter where necessary,' said the joint statement
urging further that 'In addition, birth registration should be made
universal to support proof of age and prevent forced early marriage.'
The committees also reminded the States of
their obligation to promote and protect the rights of girls and that
harmful practices against girls, including early and forced marriage
should be put to an end, in accordance with international law.
'No girl should be forced to marry. No
girl should be committed to servile marriage, domestic servitude and
sexual slavery. No girl should suffer from violations to their right to
health, education, non-discrimination and freedom from physical,
psychological and sexual violence. Not a single one,' said the joint