INNOCENTI DIGEST No. 7 – March 2001 EARLY MARRIAGE CHILD SPOUSES s OVERVIEW s HOW COMMON IS EARLY MARRIAGE? s EARLY MARRIAGE: THE CAUSES AND CONTEXT s THE IMPACT OF EARLY MARRIAGE s TAKING ACTION s THE NEED FOR RESEARCH s IN CONCLUSION s LINKS s REFERENCES EARLY MARRIAGE w CONTENTS EDITORIAL OVERVIEW Neglect of the rights perspective Scope of the Digest HOW COMMON IS EARLY MARRIAGE? EARLY MARRIAGE: THE CAUSES AND CONTEXT Early marriage as a strategy for economic survival Protecting girls 6 6 5 1 2 2 3 4 CHILD SPOUSES EDITORIAL Throughout the world, marriage is regarded as a moment of celebration and a milestone in adult life.
Sadly, as this Digest makes clear, the practice of early marriage gives no such cause for celebration. All too often, the imposition of a marriage partner upon a child means that a girl or boy’s childhood is cut short and their fundamental rights are compromised. Over the last thirty years with UNICEF in Asia, I have encountered the phenomena of child marriage and early marriage on numerous occasions. While much of the impact remains hidden, it is absolutely clear that millions of children and young people – particularly girls – suffer negative consequences.
This Digest looks at the reasons for the perpetuation of early marriage, and its possible increase in populations under stress. A key factor is poverty, with the marriage of children often seen as a strategy for economic survival. In addition, it is perceived as a way to protect girls and to provide some stability in situations where societies are under extreme pressure. This Digest also examines the harmful impact of the practice. I have received countless reports of complications and even death in pregnancy and hildbirth of wives too young to safely bear children. I have seen child wives who should be in school or playing, working in near slave-like conditions in the homes of their in-laws. I have reviewed education statistics revealing the large numbers of children, particularly girls, who drop out of school because of early marriage. And I have heard so many married women of all ages lament the fact that they cannot even read because they had to leave school early to be married. Finally, the Digest offers positive guidelines to end the practice of early marriage.
We must work to change attitudes in families and in societies at large, extend opportunities for childhood learning and education, offer appropriate support to families and children, and seek to have all children – girls and boys – recognised as valuable members of society rather than economic burdens. Our intention is to raise awareness of the situation and, where necessary, to stimulate action. Where there is insufficient data on the practice and repercussions of early marriage, researchers and officials in both government and civil society are encouraged to initiate research in this area.
In some countries, similar local ‘Digests’ could be useful tools for raising awareness. The field offices of UNICEF and other international organizations are also encouraged to use this publication to raise awareness, to advocate for action and to contribute to the formulation of concrete plans of action. We are indebted to Mehr Khan, the former Director of the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, who paved the way for this Digest. Stephen H. Umemoto, Acting Director UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre
Contemporary pressures and early marriage 7 Sanctions against early marriage: the legal context Consent: law and practice THE IMPACT OF EARLY MARRIAGE ON CHILDREN AND ON SOCIETY Psychosocial disadvantage Adolescent health and reproduction The denial of education Violence and abandonment TAKING ACTION THE NEED FOR RESEARCH IN CONCLUSION WORKING TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN MARRIAGE by Dr Nafis Sadik, Executive Director, UNFPA 7 8 9 9 9 11 12 12 16 17 18 20 25 LINKS REFERENCES Innocenti Digest no. 7 Main issues 2 Birth, marriage and death are the standard trio of key events in most people’s lives. But only one – marriage – is a matter of choice.
The right to exercise that choice was recognized as a principle of law even in Roman times and has long been established in international human rights instruments. Yet many girls, and a smaller number of boys, enter marriage without any chance of exercising their right to choose. Some are forced into marriage at a very early age. Others are simply too young to make an informed decision about their marriage partner or about the implications of marriage itself. They may have given what passes for ‘consent’ in the eyes of custom or the law, but in reality, consent to their binding union has been made by others on their behalf.
The assumption is that once a girl is married, she has become a woman – even if she is only 12. Equally, where a boy is made to marry, he is now a man and must put away childish things. While the age of marriage is generally on the rise, early marriage – marriage of children and adolescents below the age of 18 – is still widely practised. While early marriage takes many different forms and has various causes, one issue is paramount. Whether it happens to a girl or a boy, early marriage is a violation of human rights.
The right to free and full consent to a marriage is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and in many subsequent human rights instruments – consent that cannot be ‘free and full’ when at least one partner is very immature. For both girls and boys, early marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts, cutting off educational opportunity and chances of personal growth. For girls, in addition, it will almost certainly mean premature pregnancy and childbearing, and is likely to lead to a lifetime of domestic and sexual subservience over which they have no control.
Yet many societies, primarily in Africa and South Asia, continue to support the idea that girls should marry at or soon after puberty. Their spouses are likely to be a few years older than they are, but may be more than twice their age. Parents and heads of families make marital choices for daughters and sons with little regard for the personal implications. Rather, they look upon marriage as a family-building strategy, an economic arrangement or a way to protect girls from unwelcome sexual advances. Neglect of the rights perspective
Social reformers in the first part of the 20th century were concerned about early marriage, especially in India,4 and influenced the UDHR and other human rights conventions of the 1950s and 1960s. In the latter part of the 20th century, interest centred on the behavioural determinants fuelling rapid population growth, for obvious reasons. 5 Early marriage extends a woman’s reproductive span, thereby contributing to large family size, especially in the absence of contraception. 6 More recently, advocates of safe motherhood have turned their attention to this issue.
Pregnancies that occur ‘too early’ – when a woman’s body is not fully mature – constitute a major risk to the survival and future health of both mother and child. 7 Concern with the special health needs of adolescents has also recently been growing in a world where young people are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. 8 However, from a demographic and health perspective, early marriage is seen primarily as a contributory factor to early child-bearing. And sometimes, even in this context, its role is overlooked: the phrase ‘teenage pregnancy’ is typically understood to mean pregnancy outside marriage.
Yet far more adolescent or teenage pregnancies occur within marriage than outside it. 9 During the past decade, the movement for ‘Education for All’ has stressed the need to enrol more girls in school and to keep them from dropping out before completion. 10 In this context, the custom of early marriage is acknowledged as one of the reasons for girls’ exclusion from school, especially in cultural settings where girls are raised for a lifetime con- Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage Main issues ly no attempt to examine the practice as a human rights violation in itself.
Children and teenagers married at ages well below the legal minimum become statistically invisible as ‘children’. 14 Thus, in the eyes of the law, an adult male who has sex with a girl of 12 or 13 outside marriage may be regarded as a criminal, while the same act within marriage is condoned. To date, most studies on the effects of early marriage have focused on premature sex and pregnancy and school drop-out. Much work remains to be done, therefore, to analyse the full impact of this practice. A shift in focus is beginning.
The groundbreaking work of the Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women and Girls is one example of this shift. The Forum, which is the only international inter-agency network on this topic, published Early Marriage: Whose Right to Choose? in May 200015 – a key resource for this Digest. The Forum also worked with UNICEF to organize a workshop on this issue during the UN Special Session on Women (Beijing+5) in June 2000. This Innocenti Digest is a contribution to this changing focus in the dialogue on early marriage, and to efforts to repair a glaring omission in human rights analysis and action.
It stresses the urgent need for more studies – particularly rights-based studies – on this issue. More research is also needed to identify ways to help those affected by the practice, and pinpoint the wider changes required in society to postInternational Human Rights Instruments and Early Marriage A number of human rights instruments lay down norms to be applied to marriage, covering issues of age, consent, equality within marriage, and the personal and property rights of women.
The key instruments and articles are as follows (paraphrased for clarity in some cases): Article 16 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states: (1) Men and women of full age … have the right to marry and found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties. Similar provisions are included in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 1 of the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery includes in the institutions and practices similar to slavery: Article 1(c) Any institution or practice whereby: (i) A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family … Articles 1, 2, and 3 of the 1964 Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages state: (1) No marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties, such consent to be expressed by them in person … as prescribed by law. (2) States Parties to the present Convention shall … specify a minimum age for marriage (“not less than 15 years” according to the nonbinding recommendation accompanying this Convention). No marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where a competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interests of the intending spouses … (3) All marriages shall be registered … by the competent authority. Article 16. of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women prescribes equally for men and women: (a) The same right to enter into marriage; (b) The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent; … Article 16. 2 states: The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage. Article XXI of the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child states: Child marriage and the betrothal of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be eighteen years. pone marriage and foster ‘full and free consent’ – the right of every human being. Scope of the Digest This Digest focuses on marriages that take
Early Marriage and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) The CRC has been ratified by all countries with the exception of the United States and Somalia. Virtually every provision of the CRC is of some relevance to the issue of early marriage. Among the most pertinent, however, are the following (paraphrased for clarity in some cases): Article 1: A child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier. Article 2: Freedom from discrimination on any grounds, including sex, religion, ethnic or social origin, birth or other status. Article 3: In all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. Article 6: Maximum support for survival and development.
Article 12: The right to express his or her views freely in all matters affecting the child, in accordance with age and maturity. Article 19: The right to protection from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parents, guardian, or any other person. Article 24: The right to health, and to access to health services; and to be protected from harmful traditional practices. Articles 28 and 29: The right to education on the basis of equal opportunity. Article 34: The right to protection from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Article 35: The right to protection from abduction, sale or trafficking.
Article 36: The right to protection from all forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspect of the child’s welfare. place under the age of 18 – the upper age limit for protection under the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It examines early marriage from the human rights perspective in order to offer guidelines for much-needed analysis and action. The CRC and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) provide the foundation for such a perspective, which requires a holistic approach to early marriage. This means examining every implication of the practice, from its limitation upon personal freedom to its impact upon health and education.
There is also a deliberate attempt to focus on unions that are recognized either in statutory or customary law as marriages, rather than informal or consensual unions. This Digest looks at the bindingness of marriage and what this means for those who are married too young, against their best interests, and without their effective consent. While boys are affected by early marriage, this is an issue that impacts upon girls in far larger numbers and with more intensity. In many societies, adolescence 3 Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage Main issues means an opening up of opportunity for boys, whereas for girls it often means a closing down of opportunity and personal freedom. 16 The experience for boys is, therefore, less likely to be as exploitative or physically harmful as it is for girls.
As the table on married adolescents below shows, even in those societies where early marriage is common, very few boys under age 19 enter marriage compared to girls. 17 This unequal division of power in marriage is likely to be exacerbated where the husband-wife age gap is wide. This Digest focuses mainly therefore, on the implications of early marriage for girls. w HOW COMMON IS EARLY MARRIAGE? The practice of marrying girls at a young age is most common in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. However, in the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of Asia, marriage at or shortly after puberty is common among those living traditional lifestyles.
There are also specific parts of West and East Africa and of South Asia where marriages much earlier than puberty are not unusual, while marriages of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 are common in parts of Latin America and in pockets of Eastern Europe. One problem in assessing the prevalence of early marriages is that so many are unregistered and unofficial and are not therefore counted as part of any standard data collection system. Very little country data exist about marriages under the age of 14, even less about those below age 10. An exception is Bangladesh, where the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) of 1996-97 reported that 5 per cent of 1014 year-olds were married. 18 Small-scale studies and anecdotal information fill in the picture. They imply that Married Adolescents: Percentage of 15-19 year-olds married Sub-Saharan Africa Dem. Rep. f Congo Niger Congo Uganda Mali Asia Afghanistan Bangladesh Nepal Middle East Iraq Syria Yemen Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage marriage at a very young age is more widespread than country data suggest. National statistics often disguise significant rates of very early marriage in some regions and among some sub-populations. In the Indian state of Rajasthan, for example, a 1993 survey of 5,000 women revealed that 56 per cent had married before age 15, and of these, 17 per cent were married before they were 10. 19 A 1998 survey in Madhya Pradesh found that nearly 14 per cent of girls were married between the ages of 10 and14. 20 In Ethiopia and in parts of West Africa, marriage at seven or eight is not uncommon.
In Kebbi State, Northern Nigeria, the average age of marriage for girls is just over 11 years, against a national average of 17. 21 Plenty of marriage data exist for those aged 15-19, mostly in relation to reproduction or schooling. DHS data also allow some analysis of the proportion of women currently married who married below age 18. Sub-Saharan Africa Trends have been exhaustively examined courtesy of World Fertility Survey and DHS data. Analysts have detected two groups of countries: those where marriage age is rising, such as Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Senegal, and those where there is little change, including Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Liberia and Mali. 2 In several countries, over 40 per cent of young women have entered marriage or a quasi-married union by the time they reach the age of 18. 23 By contrast, in only two countries are more than 10 per cent of boys under 19 married. 24 Early marriage is generally more prevalent in Central and West Africa – affecting 40 per cent and 49 per cent respectively of girls under 19 – compared to 27 per cent in East Africa and 20 per cent in North and Southern Africa. 25 Many of these young brides are second or third wives in polygamous households. In some African countries, notably Botswana and Namibia, few girls marry in their teens. However, cohabitation is relatively common.
While the trend towards later marriage is clear for the continent as a whole, there are some countries, such as Lesotho and Mozambique,26 where the trend has been in the other direction. There are also cases where the stress of conflict or HIV/AIDS seems to be contributing to early marriage. Asia Marriage patterns are much more diverse. The extreme cases are Afghanistan and Bangladesh, where 54 per cent and 51 per cent of girls respectively are married by age 18. 27 In Nepal, where the average age at first marriage is 19 years,28 7 per cent of girls are married before they are 10 years old and 40 per cent by the time they are 15. 29 In China, the proportion of early marriages fell by 35 per cent in the 1970s, but rose from 13 per
Percentage of Women Aged 25-29 Married before Age 18 Latin America Guatemala Dominican Republic Paraguay South Central and Southeast Asia Bangladesh Nepal Pakistan Indonesia Sub-Saharan Africa Niger Mali Burkina Faso Mozambique Malawi Cote d’Ivoire Cameroon Benin 39 38 24 boys 5 4 12 11 5 9 5 14 15 4 5 girls 74 70 56 50 50 54 51 42 28 25 24 30 29 24 81 68 37 34 77 70 62 57 55 44 43 40 Latin America and Caribbean Honduras 7 Cuba 7 Guatemala 8 4 Source: UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Marriage Patterns 2000 Middle East and North Africa Yemen 64 Egypt 30 Source: Population Council Main issues cent in 1979 to 18 per cent in 1987. 0 In many Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, there are vast differences among regions, states or islands; some in line with ethnographic patterns. Meanwhile some countries have managed to raise the age of marriage significantly. In Sri Lanka, for example, the average age at first marriage is 25, compared to 19 in neighbouring India. Middle East and North Africa Early marriage is less common in this region than in South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. Data are scarce, but we know that 55 per cent of women under 20 in the United Arab Emirates are married, while in Sudan the figure is 42 per cent. 31 In a number of countries, averages may again disguise major disparities.
A Ministry of Health field study in Upper (southern) Egypt in the late 1980s discovered that 44 per cent of rural women married in the previous five years had been under the legal age of 16 at the time. 32 Caribbean and Latin America In this region, UNICEF reports that 11. 5 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are married. These figures also mask diversity, with much higher ages in the Caribbean, and lower ages in countries such as Paraguay, Mexico and Guatemala. 33 Marriage age among rural indigenous peoples is typically much lower than that of the urbanized population, in keeping with traditional patterns. In the Dominican Republic, the proportion of early marriages actually rose during the early 1990s from 30 per cent to 38 per cent. 4 North America, Europe, Oceania In industrialized countries, few women Timing of Marriage and Level of Education %15-19 married Sub-Saharan Africa Botswana (1988) Cameroon (1991) Mali (1987) Niger (1992) Uganda (1988/89) Latin America Guatemala (1987) Mexico (1987) Middle East Egypt (1992) Yemen (1991/92) Asia China (1987/88) Indonesia (1991) Pakistan (1990/91) 6 44 75 59 41 26 20 14 25 5 20 25 Av. age at 1st marriage 25 19 16 18 19 21 22 22 21 22 22 21 % of women with 7+ yrs school m. before 20 m. at 20 or older 55 27 6 1 20 9 32 25 6 28 18 8 71 77 19 17 43 34 72 60 21 60 58 25 Source: Sexual Relationships and Marriage Worldwide, Alan Guttmacher Institute 1995 arry before age 18; only 4 per cent do so in the USA and 1 per cent in Germany, for example. 35 But in some parts of Central and Eastern Europe, early marriage survives; notably among the Roma people36 and in Macedonia where 27 per cent of the women who married in 1994 were aged between 15 and 19. 37 In most of Eastern Europe and the CIS,38 average age at marriage is in the low to mid-20s, implying some proportion in the teens (in the Kyrgyz Republic, 11. 5 per cent). 39 Throughout Oceania, the average age of marriage for women is over 20. However, in Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, at least 18 per cent of women are married between 15 and 19. 0 Globally, it is important to note that early marriage, and early childbearing, have been more or less abandoned by the wealthiest sections of society, even in poor and highly traditional countries. Virtually everywhere, poor women in rural areas tend to marry younger than those in urban areas, and educational levels also play a critical role. An examination of the timing of marriage and the level of education, illustrated in the table above, shows consistently higher percentages of women with at least seven years of schooling marrying at age 20 or above. The striking feature of the figures for the 15-19 age group in this table is the very existence of such data – captured in existing collection exercises, with the caveat that the upper age limit for the data is 19 rather than 18.
While some commentators believe that the practice of early marriage is under-reported, this table shows that such data can be found. The data are extraordinarily thorough compared to those linked to many other areas of child rights violation. w EARLY MARRIAGE: THE CAUSES AND CONTEXT Customs surrounding marriage, including the desirable age and the way in which a spouse is selected, depend on a society’s view of the family – its role, structure, pattern of life, and the individual and collective responsibilities of its members. The idea and function of ‘family’ varies across the world and is in a state of constant evolution. 41 In Western Europe and North America, marriages have historically taken place later in life.
Average age at marriage for 16th century women in Europe (other than among a small landowning elite) was 24 years (26 for men), rising to 27 by the 18th century (30 for men). 42 At that time, the family was the unit of economic production, as it is in many agrarian societies today. But households were usually separate, not combined; the newly-weds needed a place of their own and had generally saved some resources to start family life. Later marriage in Europe has had an important impact on attitudes to consent. Because women and men marry as adults with experience of life, it is alien to accept unquestioningly a parental choice of spouse. The free consent of both partners to a marriage has been legally requisite since Roman times. 43 This consent, and Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage 5 Main issues he relative independence it gives to marriage partners, is absent from unions where the girl is absorbed into the household of her in-laws and takes on the role of the mother-in-law’s protege and helper. One important difference between marriage customs in many developing world societies and those in the industrialized world is that in the former, these customs tend to support high fertility even where overall fertility levels are falling. During the 1970s, concern about population growth, and perplexity about the widespread rejection of contraceptive technology by most couples in developing countries, led to efforts by social demographers to understand the reasons for what they saw as ‘odd’ behaviour. 44 These demographic studies extended into a historical examination of marriage and childbearing in Western Europe.
The basic difference in family patterns identified was between the traditional ‘familist’ system and the modern ‘individualist’ systems. The traditional system is characterized by extended families, communal households, plural mating, authoritarian exercise of power by the paterfamilias, young age at marriage, spouses chosen by elders, absorption of the newly-wed into an existing household, no non-household role or identity for women. In the ‘individualist’ system, which is the norm in industrialized countries, the opposites generally apply. 45 In the familist model, fertility is deliberately maximized by marrying girls immediately after puberty.
The family is the unit of economic production and is the only source of wealth, social status and security for its members. New children (especially boys) are needed to run the household and maintain the family’s status. The need to maximize reproduction is reinforced where infant mortality is high. family may receive cattle from the groom, or the groom’s family, as the brideprice for their daughter. 46 A recent study of five very poor villages in Egypt found young girls being married off to much older men from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries via brokers. 47 In Bangladesh, poverty-stricken parents are persuaded to part with daughters through promises of marriage, or by false marriages, which are used to lure the girls into prostitution abroad. 8 In Nigeria, which is currently facing economic difficulties and political instability, age at marriage has barely risen, and in the north of the country the average age has fallen since 1990. 49 In West Africa as a whole, a recent UNICEF study shows that economic hardship is encouraging a rise in early marriage, even among some population groups that do not normally practise it. 50 Men are postponing marriage because of lack of resources, and parents have become anxious about the danger of their daughters becoming pregnant outside marriage. Thus any early opportunity for marriage may be seized upon. There are also reports from HIV/AIDS researchers in Eastern Africa that marriage is seen as one option for orphaned girls by caregivers who find it hard to provide for them. 1 Some countries in the grip of on-going civil conflict show acute symptoms of child-related social stress: increasing child slavery and trafficking, rising numbers of children on the streets, very young prostitutes and labourers, and high levels of child neglect and abandonment. 52 Evidence suggests that in such situations, early marriage is on the rise. Families in refugee camps in Burundi, for example, protect their honour by marrying their daughters off as early as possible. 53 Reports from Iraq indicate that early marriage is rising there in response to poverty inflicted by the post-Gulf War sanctions,54 and in Afghanistan, war and militarization have led to an increased number of forced marriages of young girls. 55 Other pressures can promote early marriage in societies under stress.
Fear of HIV infection, for example, has encouraged men in some African countries to seek young virgin – and therefore uninfected – partners. 56 Wherever the incidence of rape, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual servitude and child abduction is rising, it seems reasonable to ask whether early marriage is also making a comeback. Protecting girls Early marriage is one way to ensure that a wife is ‘protected’, or placed firmly under male control; that she is submissive to her husband and works hard for her in-laws’ household; that the children she bears are ‘legitimate’; and that bonds of affection between couples do not undermine the family unit. 57 Parents may genuinely feel that their daughter will be better off and safer with a regular male guardian.
In conflict-torn Northern Uganda for example, some families marry their young daughters to militia members in order to defend family honour or secure ‘protection’ for themselves and the girl. 58 The same thing has happened to girls in Somalia in the course of that country’s conflicts. 59 One important impetus for marrying girls at an early age is that it helps prevent premarital sex. Many societies prize virginity before marriage and this can manifest itself in a number of practices designed to ‘protect’ a girl from unsanctioned sexual activity. In effect, they amount to strict controls imposed upon the girl herself. She may, for example, be secluded from social interaction outside the family. She may be told what she can and cannot wear.
In North-East Africa and parts of the Middle East in particular, control may also include the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) – surgically restricting entry to the vagina (infibulation) or removing the clitoris (excision), to restrict sexual pleasure and temptation. In some societies, parents withdraw their girls from school as soon as they begin to menstruate, fearing that exposure to male pupils or teachers puts them at risk. 60 These practices are all intended to shield the girl from male sexual attention, but in the eyes of concerned parents, marriage is seen to offer the ultimate ‘protection’ measure. Early marriage deprives a girl of her adolescence. In many traditional societies, the idea of an adolescent period between puberty and adulthood is alien. A girl who menstruates can bear a child, and is therefore ‘a woman’.
This sits awkwardly with the fact that the CRC covers everyone up to age 18 and regards childhood as a process of development – one that does not end with a definitive physical maturity marker. Early marriage as a strategy for economic survival Poverty is one of the major factors underpinning early marriage. Where poverty is acute, a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older – sometimes even elderly – man, a practice common in some Middle Eastern and South Asian societies, is a family survival strategy, and may even be seen as in her interests. In traditional societies in Sub-Saharan Africa, the bride’s Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage 6 Main issues In some societies, the independent sense of self that a girl may develop during adolescence is seen as undesirable.
While women may be revered in such societies, they are also required to be subservient to the wishes of fathers, husbands, and sons – for their own protective good. It follows that if they are not, they deserve retribution; in Kenya for example, violence against disobedient wives is widely sanctioned. 61 In many societies, a girl is raised to show the self-control and deference to men that will be expected of her throughout life. By the age of five, a girl in rural Pakistan has learnt to ‘go outside’ as little as possible, and adopt ‘an attitude of care and service towards men’. 62 Obviously, in Pakistan as elsewhere, the younger the bride, the more chance of conditioning her into the appropriate subservient behaviour. tion, while new circumstances make only gradual inroads into actual practice. 4 The resilience of traditional practices and customs is illustrated by the situation of British girls from families of South Asian and Middle Eastern origin sent on a visit ‘home’, only to discover that they are to be forcibly married to a stranger. 65 Since older women are more likely than men to be excluded from new ideas, they are often the last to abandon the ideas that framed their own lives. Marriage patterns – alongside other aspects of family formation – are subject to acute ‘development’ pressures such as declining incomes from the land, rapid urbanization, population mobility, and the volatility of global markets, all of which are currently causing profound social upheaval and economic marginalization.
The outcome for families is increasing fragmentation and the erosion of their extended structure. Families in the process of transition may, therefore, be caught between traditional and modern values. Men in search of work may join the individualist world in town; while the women they married in their teens, and their children, continue their traditional lives in the countryside. 66 This pattern is particularly common in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thus the impact of early marriage may be reinforced in the shorter term by the very process the world calls ‘development’. by their father, or in his absence by his older brother, or failing him, by the head of the family”. 7 In Suriname, the legal minimum age of marriage is 15 according to the Civil Code; but under the Asian Marriage Act, which codifies practice for a particular group, the minimum age for girls is 13. 68 Although most countries have laws that regulate marriage, both in terms of minimum age and consent, these laws may not be applied and few prosecutions are ever brought against lawbreakers – parents, officiators or spouses. Some laws do not prescribe sanctions; the only outcome of a case would be to declare the marriage invalid, leaving the wife without legal protection. Moreover, such laws usually do not apply to customary marriages. In some countries, the legal minimum age of marriage set for boys and girls is clearly aspirational.
Thus, the minimum age in two countries with a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS – Uganda, where 50 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are married, and Zambia, where the figure is 27 per cent – has been set at 21 for both males and females. 69 In most cases where a minimum age is set, it is 18 or above for both males and females. In 15 countries, it is 16. A number of countries nonetheless allow marriages to take place at much younger ages with parental consent. In cases where there is a discrepancy between the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls, it is consistently lower for girls. 70 However, at least 20 countries either do not have legislation to regulate marriage, or do not set any minimum age for either girls or boys. There is considerable discrepancy between the legal age of marriage and the actual age of marriage for many girls.
Indeed, in a number of countries, the average age at marriage is almost the same as, or even lower, than the legal age. In a few – Afghanistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Niger – the only reason that the average age is not lower than the legal age is because the latter is not set or is set very low. In DRC, for example, the average age at marriage is 16. 6 and the legal minimum age is 15. 71 The situation is exacerbated by the fact that birth registration is so irregular that age at marriage may not be known. In Contemporary pressures and early marriage The theory of ‘demographic transition’, which has governed population policies since the 1970s, assumes that societies eventually abandon the trategy of high fertility when mortality declines due to health improvements, and under the pressures of urbanization and modernization. 63 The extended family begins to break up into nuclear components, and some couples leave for the towns. Individual wage labour replaces family-based production and instead of being an economic necessity, children become a ‘cost’. Women may join the labour force, and receive an education beyond that needed for household management. In these circumstances, marriage and childbearing may be postponed. Many developing countries are part way through the ‘demographic transition’: witness recent declines in fertility.
Parts of any national population – better-educated and better-off urban dwellers – may adopt the norms of the industrialized world, including later marriage and child bearing. However, other groups may continue in the old patterns. Extended and nuclear families may exist side by side, even in the same generation. Where average age of marriage appears to be rising, this may disguise the fact that very large sub-populations are still marrying very young. Old beliefs, customs and moral codes tend to persist during demographic transi- Sanctions against early marriage: the legal context In many countries, early marriage falls into what amounts to a sanctions limbo.
It may be prohibited in the existing civil or common law, but be widely condoned by customary and religious laws and practice. This is common where marriages typically take place according to customary rites and remain unregistered. The situation is further complicated in countries where legislation was introduced by the colonizing power on the understanding that many customary practices would continue even if they were inconsistent with new laws. Some were even codified to make them legal. In Benin, for example, Article 68 of the 1931 ‘Coutumier du Dahomey’ regulating customary marriage states that: “A marriage is not settled by the interested parties, but 7
Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage Main issues addition, many marriages go unregistered; if there are problems in the marriage, the wife has no means of legal redress. Thus, the use of law as a means of regulating early marriage is in no way sufficient. This does not mean that legal reform should not be sought. The Indian Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 stemmed from a campaign that helped reposition women, family life, and childbearing within modern India. 72 While the Act did not declare child marriages invalid, it helped pave the way for change. In 1978 it was strengthened to inhibit marriage of girls until the age of 18 and boys until age 21.
However, the number of prosecutions under the Act did not exceed 89 in any year between 1994 and 1998. 73 Some governments have taken steps to unify their customary law and civil or common law, or have passed legislation designed to protect those in customary marriages: South Africa’s Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 sets 18 as the minimum age for such unions and requires their registration. In keeping with the spirit of the CRC, an increasing number of laws fix the minimum age at 18 years – the standard also set by the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and suggested by the CEDAW Committee in its general recommendation 21 and by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
This standard responds to the growing consensus that the period of adolescence needs special support and protection. The Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children states that early marriage is: “Any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl is physically, physiologically, and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing”. 74 The Forum on Marriage echoes this position. In their observations on States Parties’ reports, the CEDAW and CRC Committees have both consistently recommended that states adopt higher minimum ages of marriage and ensure that these are the same for boys and girls.
The CRC Committee also takes the view that, in cases where girls are considered adults before the law upon marriage, they would be deprived of the comprehensive protection of the CRC. 75 Consent: law and practice The second issue at the heart of a rights approach to early marriage is that of consent. The picture is similar to that concerning minimum age: in the vast majority of countries the law grants women the right to consent. Only in Cameroon, Jordan, Morocco, Uganda and Yemen are women specifically not granted by law the right to ‘full, free and informed consent’ to their marriage. 76 But in a large number of countries, these legal provisions are merely symbolic. The more important practical issue is, therefore, whether or not the idea of consent is socially rated.
Difficult questions arise around the age a child should be before he or she can ‘consent’ as a mature, cognisant and independent being to sexual relations or marriage, but where no clear consent has been given by one or other partner, the marriage is clearly forced. In the case of marriages under the age of 10, consent – other than to dress up and play a game – is not a consideration. Toddlers married at Akha Teej ceremonies in Rajasthan cannot ‘consent’. Nor is consent given in the cases of young girls from very poor homes in the Indian city of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, sold as wives to rich men in the Middle East. 77 In Gojam, Ethiopia, marriages may be imposed from birth, with the girl sent to her future husband’s home at around the age of seven to begin her integration into her marriage family. Here again, consent by the girl does not enter the picture. 8 Similarly, in marriages at or around puberty – from roughly ages 10 to 14 – ‘consent’ cannot be said to have been given since, at such an early age, a child cannot be expected to understand the implications of accepting a lifetime partner. The question of marital consent becomes more difficult at age 15 or 16, by which stage a girl may have reached the legal age of sexual consent. In the CEDAW Committee’s recommendation that the minimum age for marriage of both men and women should be 18, it commented that, “When men and women marry, they assume important responsibilities. Consequently, marriage should not be permitted before they have attained full maturity and capacity to act. 79 The Committee also observed that, “Some countries provide for different ages for marriage for men 8 and women. As such provisions assume incorrectly that women have a different rate of intellectual development from men, or that their stage of physical and intellectual development at marriage is immaterial, these provisions should be abolished. ”80 It could be argued that even older children cannot be said to give informed consent to such a potentially damaging practice as early marriage. Beyond the issues of maturity and non-discrimination, any argument for a child’s ability to consent to marriage is further undermined by the risk that marriage represents to his or her well-being.
Many international bodies81 consider early marriage to be one of the “traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children” cited in article 24(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indeed, one of the key messages contained in this Digest is that both the physical and psychological impacts of early marriage may have serious implications for the well-being of those married. Furthermore, while in many countries a girl or boy may have reached the legal age of sexual consent at the age of 15 or 16, this should not be taken to mean that they are ready to enter marriage. A lack of legislative clarity over the different implications of consent to sexual activity and consent to marriage can result in strange anomalies.
In Maryland, USA, the state law defines statutory rape as sex with a child younger than 14 by someone four or more years older. However, another law allows children under 16 (with no minimum) to marry with proof of pregnancy and parental permission, and this provision is sometimes used – in one notorious case to allow a 29-year-old man to marry a 13-year-old girl. 82 In 1997, the Committee on the Rights of the Child protested a similar situation in Algeria. 83 Here, as in other countries such as Chad, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Libya, Romania and Uruguay,84 the law allows a perpetrator of rape, including statutory rape of a minor, to be excused of his crime if he marries his victim; a judge simply legitimizes the union.
This has also happened in California in cases of underage pregnancies where the man is willing to ‘stand by’ the girl. In effect, the state welfare agency supports what is seen as a viable partnership as an alternative to costly state care for mother and child. 85 In a number of countries, it takes only the parents’ consent to override the legal Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage Main issues age of marriage – a judge is not required. In Colombia, the legal age is 18, but with parents’ permission girls of 12 and boys of 14 can be married. In the Dominican Republic there is no minimum age in exceptional circumstances and with parental consent. 6 The UK Home Office Report into forced marriages of British girls of South Asian parentage distinguishes between ‘forced’ and ‘arranged’ marriages. In arranged marriages, the initiative is taken by the parents of the couple, but consent is required from both partners and either has the right to withdraw. However, the pressures from parents may be very high, and the younger the bride or groom the less real chance there is to exercise this right. Both types of marriage indicate the degree to which many societies view marriage as a family affair in which the views of people other than the couple are given priority. Parents’ views will override children’s, and men’s will override women’s – even taking precedence over the law.
Cases of runaway brides highlight the issue of consent – or lack of it. In Pakistan, the Commission on the Status of Women reported in 1989: “Men are constantly fighting to retrieve their women because they have run away”. 87 There are reports of young wives being locked up by their husbands in India, and in Zimbabwe it is often forbidden for a young bride to visit her own family until she goes there to give birth to her first child. 88 In one tragic case in Nigeria, a 12-year-old girl unhappy with her new husband ran away so often that he cut off her legs to prevent her absconding. She subsequently died. 89 The CRC Committee has focused on laws and customs in its observations to a number of countries.
Its most common complaints are low minimum age for girls and disparate – therefore discriminatory – marriage ages for girls and boys. w THE IMPACT OF EARLY MARRIAGE ON CHILDREN AND ON SOCIETY Young girls may endure misery as a result of early marriage and the number of those who would seek help, if they thought it existed, is impossible to calculate. Until more is known about their situation there can be no reliable estimates of the scale of their predicament, or of the social damage that is carried forward in the upbringing they give to their own children. One thing is clear: the impact of early marriage on girls – and to a lesser extent on boys – is wide-ranging.
Within a rights perspective, three key concerns are the denial of childhood and adolescence, the curtailment of personal freedom and the lack of opportunity to develop a full sense of selfhood as well as the denial of psychosocial and emotional well-being, reproductive health and educational opportunity. Early marriage also has implications for the well-being of families, and for society as a whole. Where girls are uneducated and ill-prepared for their roles as mothers and contributors to society, there are costs to be borne at every level, from the individual household to the nation as a whole. as the effect of a girl’s loss of mobility and her confinement to the home and to household roles.
Obviously there is a marked lack of data in these areas, and social researchers have failed to examine the impacts of early marriage in this context. Most girls who are unhappy in an imposed marriage are very isolated. They have nobody to talk to as they are surrounded by people who endorse their situation. In Ethiopia, Inter-African Committee researchers were struck by the lack of interest from elders in the traumas suffered by young girls as a result of early marriages, premature sex and childbearing. These traumas were regarded as an “unavoidable part of life”. 90 Girls who run home to their parents may be beaten and sent back to their husbands.
Distress is generally endured in silence. Indian researchers on child marriage in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh state that girl spouses suffer more than boys: “Inadequate socialization, discontinuation of education, great physiological and emotional damage due to repeated pregnancies devastates these girls. ” If the husband dies, even before consummation, the girl is treated as a widow and given in nata to a widower in the family. Officially she is then his wife, but in fact under the practice of nata she becomes the common property of all the men in the family. 91 The child bride who is widowed very young can suffer additional discrimination.
Widows suffer loss of status and they, along with their children, are often denied property rights, and a range of other human rights. In parts of Africa, a widow is remarried to a brother-in-law, a custom known as levirate, originally intended, in part, to provide economic and social support. If the widow resists, she may be cast out by the family. Child widows with little education and no means of earning are especially powerless. At a 1994 Conference in Bangalore, India, participants told of being married at five and six years old, widowed a few years later, and rejected by their in-laws and their own families. 92 These widows are, quite simply, left with no resources and nowhere to go. Adolescent health and reproduction
The notion of good reproductive health covers all aspects of the reproduction process – including a satisfying and safe experience of sexual relations, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if and when to bear a child. 93 The right not to engage in sexual relations and the right to exercise control over reproduction may both be violated by early marriage. Sexual relations In the case of girls married before puberty, the normal understanding between families is that there will be no sexual intercourse until first menstruation. In Gojam, Psychosocial disadvantage The loss of adolescence, the forced sexual relations, and the denial of freedom and personal development attendant on early marriage have profound psychosocial and emotional consequences. The impact can be subtle and insidious and the damage hard to assess.
It includes such intangible factors 9 Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage Main issues Ethiopia, husband and wife may grow up playing together in the house of his parents. In this case, the mother-in-law must protect the girl from any advances by her son. 94 This is also true in West African countries. 95 However, this protection may fail, especially where the husband is much older than the girl. Cases of forced intercourse by much older and physically fully developed husbands with wives as young as eight have been reported. 96 For the vast majority of under-educated rural adolescent girls in the developing world, marriage remains the likely context for sexual intercourse. 7 And while an unmarried teenage girl may find it difficult to resist unwanted sexual advances, her married sister may find it impossible. Researchers have tended to focus on adolescent sexuality outside marriage, or have made no distinction between married and unmarried adolescents. This means that there are only limited data about sexual experience among married adolescents; the assumption prevails that sex within marriage is a priori consensual. A 1997 study among women in Calcutta found that half had been married at or below the age of 15, and that this group were highly vulnerable to sexual violence in marriage. In 80 per cent of cases where these young wives informed their husbands of their unwillingness to endure sexual violence, they were ignored. 8 Pain and trauma are enhanced where girls have undergone some form of FGM, especially where this has been undertaken recently, and especially in the case of infibulation which is designed to make penetration difficult. Problems may be exacerbated after childbirth. In many societies, and in many millions of individual cases, women have no choice but to resume sexual relations within two or three days of childbirth, even if there has been vaginal cutting during delivery, and regardless of the pain it causes. 99 Access to contraception and reproductive health advice Very few girls in early marriages in developing countries have access to contraception; nor would delayed pregnancy necessarily be acceptable to many husbands and in-laws. 00 Indeed, in many societies, childbearing soon after marriage is integral to a woman’s social status. In Yemen, 11 per cent of wives aged 15-29 stated that they did not use contraception because of their husbands’ opposition. 101 In almost all Asian countries the family exerts strong pressure on the newly-married couple to begin childbearing quickly. 102 In Cameroon, Mali and Nigeria, the modern contraceptive usage rates among married 15-19 year olds are only 1. 5, 2. 4 and 0. 6 per cent respectively. 103 The girls’ right to have any say over when and if they should become pregnant is unacknowledged, and their chances of early pregnancy are high.
Analysis of DHS data indicates that the first birth usually occurs within 14-26 months of marriage, although it may be slightly longer where age of marriage is very low, as in Bangladesh. 104 Teenage girls are also more susceptible than more mature women to sexuallytransmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. This is the result of both biological factors, such as hormonal fluctuations and the permeability of vaginal tissue, and social factors, such as skewed power relations between women and men that make it difficult for girls and young women to negotiate safe sex. STIs can lead to infertility, and in the case of HIV, the outcome is premature mortality and risks of transmission to the foetus.
In a recent study in Rwanda, 25 per cent of girls who became pregnant at 17 or younger were infected with HIV, although many reported having sex only with their husbands. According to the study, the younger the age at sexual inter- course and first pregnancy, the higher the incidence of HIV infection. 105 As far as preparation of both girls and boys for sexual and reproductive life is concerned, there has been deep resistance in many developing countries to sex education in the classroom for fear of promoting promiscuity. The threat of HIV/AIDS has reduced this opposition to some extent, but there is little prospect at present of girls receiving education on what to expect, or about their rights in terms of marriage or reproduction. Moreover, classroom education does not reach children who are not in school.
For example, according to data from Sri Lanka published in 1990, one-third of young adults between ages 16 and 24 did not know the duration of a normal pregnancy. Less than 5 per cent had discussed reproductive health with their parents. 106 There are still a number of countries where reproductive health services are barred to adolescents, or require them to have reached a certain age. 107 This excludes many married adolescents in countries such as Zambia or Bangladesh where age limits are in force – another of the anomalies surrounding early marriage. Pregnancy and childbirth The risks of early pregnancy and childbirth are well documented: increased risk of dying, increased risk of premature labour, complications during delivery, low Nepali Children’s Views on Early Marriage
During research commissioned by Save the Children Fund (UK), girls aged between 14 and 17 from different ethnic groups and castes in two villages in Surkhet District, Nepal, made the following observations on early marriage: “My sister was married at 14 years old. She appealed to the school to stop the marriage, but to no avail. ” 14 year old girl “My parents married me to a man in Lekh. I had to work very hard but my parentsin-law didn’t recognise this. My husband beat me, so I don’t like to go to his house even though he will come to take me. I want to go to school. ” 14 year old girl. “I married due to my father’s pressure. I gave birth to a son, yet my family members encouraged me to go to school. I study more than others do. So my husband’s family members respect me. ” 17 year old girl.
The girls were aware that early marriage was dangerous from a health perspective; that early pregnancy could threaten the health – even the lives – of mother and baby. Asked to give reasons for early marriage, the girls mentioned society’s refusal to accept unmarried pregnancies and sex outside marriage; failing school exams; neighbours’ gossip; the heavy workload in their parents’ home and the dream of love, good food, nice clothes and seeing new places after marriage. Many girls felt that marriage and motherhood would provide them with safety, a sense of security and better status. The girls felt that their value and status were low because they would belong to their husband’s family and because daughters do not inherit parental property.
They all said they had been happy until the age of 10 because they could play as they liked without any work or restrictions on their mobility. Now they wanted to continue their studies but found it hard to do so due to their heavy household workloads. From report of research conducted by Irada Gautam for Save the Children (UK) in Surkhet, Nepal, December 1998-January 1999. (www. savethechildren. org. uk/development/reg_pub/nepalgenderreport. htm) 10 Innocenti Digest 7 – Early Marriage Main issues birth-weight, and a higher chance that the newborn will not survive. 108 Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for 15-19 year-old girls (married and unmarried) worldwide.
Mothers in this age group face a 20 to 200 per cent greater chance of dying in pregnancy than women aged 20 to 24. Those under age 15 are five times as likely to die as women in their twenties. 109 The main causes are haemorrhage, sepsis, preeclampsia/eclampsia and obstructed labour. Unsafe abortion is the other major risk for teenage women – most of those affected are unmarried. 110 Some specific local studies show worse outcomes for the very young mother: in Zaria, Nigeria, maternal mortality among women younger than 16 was found to be six times higher than for women aged 20-24, and similar findings have been reported from Cameroon and Ethiopia. 11 For every woman who dies in childbirth, 30 more suffer injuries, infections and disabilities, which usually go untreated and some of which are lifelong. Part of this heavy toll has more to do with poor socio-economic status and lack of ante-natal and obstetric care than physical maturity alone. 112 However, physical immaturity is the key risk for the under 15s. High rates of Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) are clearly identified with marriage and childbearing in the 10-15 year-old age group; in one study in Niger, 88 per cent of women with fistula were in this age group at marriage. 113 Mothers whose pelvis and birth canal are not fully developed often endure very prolonged labour. 14 Unless the mother receives emergency obstetric care, relentless pressure from the baby’s skull can damage the birth canal, causing breakages in the wall, allowing uncontrollable leakage from the bladder into the vagina. The same problem may also occur in relation to the rectum, with leakage of faeces (rectovaginal fistulas, or RVF). Fistula conditions are permanent without surgical intervention to re-seal the tissues,115 such intervention may not be sought or may be hard to access. There is some evidence from Nigeria that FGM practices that damage the vagina may also increase the likelihood of VVF. 116 The prevalence of VVF/RVF is not fully known, but WHO estimates that there are two million women living with fistulas and an additional 50,000-100,000 new cases every year, many of which go untreated. 17 A girl with the condition is usually ostracized as unclean, and is often divorced. In Nigeria, where the condition affects around 150,000 women, 80-90 per cent of wives with VVF are divorced by their husbands;118 in Niger VVF is the reason for 63. 3 per cent of all divorces. 119 Infant and early childhood care The health problems linked to early marriage not only affect the pregnant mother and the foetus, but also continue after childbirth. Evidence shows that infant mortality among the children of very young mothers is higher – sometimes two times higher – than among those of older peers. 120 A stronger likelihood of low birth-weight in the infant has been recorded among adolescent mothers than among older peers.
This is mainly associated with poor maternal nutrition, reinforcing the point that adolescents are ‘unready’ for childbirth. Low birth-weight babies are 5-30 times more likely to die than babies of normal weight. 121 If a mother is under 18, her baby’s chance of dying in the first year of life is 60 per cent higher than that of a baby born to a mother older than 19. 122 A 1993 survey among women married young in Rajasthan found that 63 per cent of their children under four were severely malnourished. 123 The immaturity and lack of education of a young mother undermines her capacity for nurture. Even children are able to work this out: it was one reason given by Nepali children for avoiding early marriage, as shown by Save the Children research. 24 Future maternal health and childbearing Finally, early marriage extends a woman’s potential childbearing capacity, which itself represents a risk to mothers. 125 Not until the ‘demographic transition’ is relatively advanced, child survival adequately assured, and education valued, do families see the births of many children as a drain on resources rather than an asset. Until that time, women are under pressure to produce large numbers of children. Population and family planning policies since the 1970s have tried to reduce large family size, focusing on the social, economic and environmental costs to countries that lack the resources to ensure a good quality of life for their rapidly growing populations. In this light, early mar- iage can be said to have profound social and economic consequences for society as a whole. These consequences are reinforced by the fact that the children of young and illiterate mothers tend to face the same cycle of childhood deprivation and damage experienced by their mothers. The denial of education Early marriage inevitably denies children of school age their right to the education they need for their personal development, their preparation for adulthood, and their effective contribution to the future wellbeing of their family and society. Indeed, married girls who would like to continue schooling may be both practically and legally excluded from doing so.
The interaction between the number of years of a girl’s schooling and the postponement of marriage is firmly established by demographic and fertility