On the International Day of the Girl Child, the German NGO “Deutscher Frauenring e.V.”, member of the International Alliance of Women (IAW), having adopted a resolution on ending child marriage in 2013, again draws attention to this grave disrespect of children’s rights. Mainly in less developed countries, girls suffer from the lack of respect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other UN human rights instruments. Child marriage concerns almost exclusively the female part of the population. According to the CRC, which has been ratified by nearly all states, childhood ends at the age of 18 years. Therefore, child marriage includes not only very early marriages, but every marriage concluded before majority i.e. prior to a person’s legal capacity to consent.
In reality, nearly two-thirds of all marriages in countries of the so-called “global south”, where four out of five adolescents live, are arranged by family members. Refusal or resistance from the girl is not accepted. As numerous cases prove, the only way for a woman married against her will to escape her plight is to run away, with an uncertain outcome. Often she already has a child by that time, since early marriage implies early pregnancy, often by forced sexual intercourse, and the end of schooling.
Child marriage is rooted in tradition. Its reasons are multiple: Safeguarding the family honour, which does not accept extramarital relations of girls and women; having fewer mouths to feed; receiving a dowry; and, in some societies, selling a female labourer under conditions close to modern slavery. The background of child marriage is often poverty and statistics show that girls from poorer families are more frequently affected than girls from wealthier ones.
Only by ongoing action at the UN level and on the level of non-state actors such as Plan International and the German Foundation for World Population (Stiftung Weltbevölkerung, DSW) can rapid progress to end child marriage be made. This would prevent the following scenario: The number of 700 million girls and women alive today that, according to UNICEF have been married in childhood – hereof one out of three before the age of 15 – will climb to 950 million by 2030 and 1.2 billion by 2050. These high increases are a consequence of the rapid population growth in countries with a high rate of child marriages. Although the number of teenage pregnancies globally decreases, annually over 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 are giving birth. The majority of these pregnancies are marital. The younger the pregnant girl is the more she is at risk of dying during pregnancy or birth. The same is valid for the risk of irreversible maternal morbidity.
The NGO Deutscher Frauenring e.V. demands: There can be neither justification nor impunity for child marriage and violence against girls. The legal age of marriage should generally be 18 years and existing legislation must be implemented. Thus, girls and young women get a chance to lead a life in physical and mental health, to be educated and have social contacts beyond the level of elementary school. This message needs to get through to the population.