Child Marriages : Stigma for a civilized society

Prabhat Kishore
In most of the countries, marriage before 18 years is strictly prohibited as it violates the natural rights of the children. It is a malpractice, as it denies the children from attaining health, education and other opportunities exploring a dire consequence in their life. It exposes girls to violence throughout their lives and trap them in a cycle of poverty. Child marriages is actually a global problem, that cuts across countries, culture & civilization, religions and ethnicities.
The causes of child marriages are manifold. A sense of insecurity, poverty and marrying expenses such as dowry, food insecurity, traditional and religious practices, joblessness are some well-known reasons for child marriages.
Although the practice of child marriage affects both boys and girls; statistics reveal that in majority cases usually more girls are forced into child marriage than boys. Some parents think that girls’ education is wastage while boys’ education is an investment and such fogeythinking accelerates discriminatory attitudes causing negative impacts on the lives of girls.
Conservative outlook of the rural people and religious mystification usually contribute to worsening the situation. Misconception still prevails in the present age of  digitalization as many living in rural areas think that if their daughter gets older, it will be difficult to marry them. It is also found that many parents are looking for the younger brides for their sons. For some poor families, marrying off a young daughter means one less burden. Some religious sects encourage girls as young as ten years to marry much older men for spiritual guidance, while some families , to avoid shame, force girls to marry their boy-friends.
Child marriages directly hinder the achievement of at least six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), 2030. Its Goal-5 is concerned with “Gender Equality”, which is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Target 5.3 of the SDG aims  to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early or forced marriages by 2030.
Unicef report reveals that more than 650 million women and above 150 million men alive today in the world have already suffered the consequences of child marriage. The total marriages in childhood is nearly 12 million a year and there has been a decrease of  25 million of child marriages in last decade. Obviously, globally the rate of child marriages is slowly declining, but its progress is not happening fast enough. If current trend on child marriages continue, 150 million more girls will be married in childhood by 2030 with devasting consequences for the whole world.
Globally around 21% of young women were married before attaining age of 18 years. South Asia has the highest rate of child marriages in the world; as nearly 45% of all women aged 20-24 years has been reported being married before the age of 18 years. Almost one in five (17%) women are married before the age of 15 years.  BangalaDesh has the highest rate of child marriages in Asia and the fourth highest in the world.
India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world, which account for nearly one-third of global total. In India, there are 223 million brides, who have been married in childhood i.e. before attaining 18 years. In other words, approximately one in every four young women were married or in a union before their 18th birthday.
Child marriage explores a serious threat making girls more vulnerable. Early child birth has a large impact on health & nutrition of young mothers and their children. There is risk for teen-age pregnancy. Girls under the age of 15 years  are not physically developed to sustain a healthy pregnancy.
(To be contd)