According to the Girls Not Brides global campaign, 15 million girls are married every year. These are marriages that involve at least one party, usually the girl, who is under eighteen. This happens everywhere around the world, including the US. While underage marriages are illegal in most countries, there are many exceptions that allow underage marriage to be sanctioned. These include religious beliefs and parental permission. Especially in unstable situations, girls are at risk of early marriage. For example, among Syrian refugees, the child marriage rates have gone up considerably since their displacement. Before their conflict, about 12% of marriages were child marriages; by 2014, it was up to 32%.
There are a variety of reasons as to why child marriages occur, and not all of them are forced. However, most young brides have little choice in their marriage. Especially in desperate situations, parents may marry off their young daughters as a form of protection. They may not be able to provide adequate food for their family and they realize that marrying off a daughter will lower their burden while hopefully helping her prospects. Parents may also be afraid of their daughter getting sexually assaulted, and they believe that a husband will protect her. In some societies, such as in the Syrian refugee community, premarital sex is absolutely forbidden. In some cases, girls are married to their rapist because they believe it will restore the family’s honor. Until recently, rapists would receive minimal or no sentencing if they agreed to marry their victim in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. In other instances, men would pay families for their daughters, essentially buying young brides.
Aside from the very disturbing fact that girls are being used as objects, child marriages are incredibly harmful for girls. Young wives frequently get pregnant, and are at a much higher risk of complications because their bodies are not fully developed yet. Additionally, children of young mothers are at a much higher risk of death. Young girls are then forced to take care of small children when they are only children themselves. This means that these girls have to stop going to school, and they don’t have a positive future to look forward to. They are also more likely to be abused by their husbands, and they have limited freedom. They are robbed of their childhoods and forced to grow up way too quickly.
It is incredibly important to protect girls from being married as children, and there are many groups that are fighting to end child marriage. Some of these organizations include UNICEF, Breakthrough Global, CARE International, Girls Not Brides, and Save the Children.
Hi, my name is Kathryn Kuhar and I am a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard College studying Government. A fun fact about me is that I’ve lived in Hawaii, California, Belgium, and Turkey.