One in five girls are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Many of them were also a victim of psychological, physical, or sexual violence before their marriage. Similarly, 115 million boys and men were forced to marry when they were children, 23 million of them before the age of 15. That is one in five boys. The total number of underage children forced to marry is 765 million. Girls are still disproportionately affected (six times more likely than boys). UNICEF investigated child marriages in 82 countries (figures are from 2019). This was the first time that boys and men were included in this study. 

Top 10 countries with the most child marriages in the world

In 2020, Girls Not Brides presented the figures of the countries with the highest child marriages. These figures also come from UNICEF. These are the latest figures. The figures for 2022 have not yet been published.

1) 76% Niger2) 68% Central African Republic3) 67% Chad4) 59% Bangladesh5) 54% Mali
6) 53% Mozambique7) 52% Burkina Faso8) 52% South Sudan9) 47% Guinea10) 45% Somalia

Girls Not Brides is a global network of more than 1,600 civil organizations from over 100 countries working to end child marriages and ensure that girls can reach their full potential. It was founded in September 2011 by The Elders, a group of independent world leaders working together for peace and human rights. These forced marriages have enormous consequences. The girls are often married to an older man, no longer attending school, become pregnant, and are financially dependent. 

Lack of evidence hinders combating violence

There is a lack of data on domestic violence in countries with high rates of child marriage. Cultural barriers (where male dominance is paramount) along with a weak political will, make it difficult to combat this violence. There are no laws criminalizing it nor sanctions against the perpetrators. The violence is fueled by the women’s financial dependence on their husbands. The fear of reprisal limits women’s independence. Moreover, this violence can occur or worsen during times of vulnerability, particularly during pregnancy, illness, or war. However, health crises such as the pandemic also lead to a huge increase in domestic violence and child marriage.

Child marriage deprives children of their youth

UNICEF wants young people to be able to grow into their full potential. “We advocate against child marriages,” says Henon of UNICEF Belgium. “We want even more research to be done and even better figures around the issue. We also want to eliminate the causes of these child marriages. One of the main causes is poverty, which also has an effect on the level of education of a lot of those children. We actually advocate for an integrated approach, so that each child can decide for himself how to organize his life.”

Female Genital Mutilation

Another form of violence against girls is female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is primarily performed on girls during childhood or around the age of 15. Female circumcision is a non-medical necessity operation on the external female genitalia. There are several ways in which the female’s genitals are circumcised; which parts of the genitals are mutilated and to what extent depends on local custom, the wishes of the parent(s), and the circumciser. It is estimated that today about 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM. The psychological and health consequences are dramatic and include severe pain, bleeding, infection, or shock that can result in death. Over time, female circumcision can lead to pelvic infections, infertility, menstrual problems, and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. FGM occurs mainly in about 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East. It also occurs in some Asian countries and in Latin America, and in other communities originating from these regions. It is still difficult to combat FGM effectively today, despite many awareness-raising campaigns. The customs are often well entrenched in communities and the punishment of perpetrators is not a strong enough deterrent. 

Gender equality and the corona crisis

Gender equality is further away than ever due to the corona crisis. The impact of the corona crisis on girls and women is huge, they were hit extra hard. The pandemic’s restrictive measures often result in gender-based violence. In addition, the crisis limits girls’ access to quality education. For example, girls are now primarily going into household work. In addition, the economic impact of the corona crisis, such as loss of income, can lead to an increase in sexual violence, exploitation, child marriage, and teenage pregnancy. 

Sources

Aggravation des violences envers les filles dans le monde: https://www.50-50magazine.fr/2022/07/22/aggravation-des-violences-envers-les-filles/

Learning series on what works to end child marriage: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/

Alles over kindhuwelijken: https://www.planinternational.nl/kindhuwelijken

Unicef trekt aan alarmbel: verrassend hoog aantal kinderbruidegoms: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2019/06/06/unicef-verrassend-hoog-aantal-kinderbruidegoms/

Meisjesbesnijdenis – algemene informatie en terminologie: https://www.pharos.nl/infosheets/algemene-informatie-over-meisjesbesnijdenis/

Vrouwelijke genitale verminking waar waarom wat zijn de gevolgen: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/nl/headlines/society/20200206STO72031/vrouwelijke-genitale-verminking-waar-waarom-wat-zijn-de-gevolgen

Sturen op gender geen moetje maar must: https://www.rvo.nl/onderwerpen/mvo/sturen-op-gender-geen-moetje-maar-een-must

De gevolgen van de coronacrises voor tienermeisjes: https://www.unicef.nl/blogs-en-vlogs/noor-gatsonides-de-gevolgen-van-de-coronacrisis-voor-tienermeisjes