In developing countries such as Ethiopia, 1 in 3 girls will be married before the age of 18 (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/themes/education/). Soon, child brides as young as 14 years old become mothers who are unprepared to care for themselves let alone take on the responsibility of raising a family. Child marriage not only deprives young girls of their childhood, it takes away their right to an education.
Effects on Education and Health
More often than not, child marriage marks the end of girls’ education. In countries with, “harmful social attitudes and behaviors,” towards women, schools are not, “supportive places of learning,” nor are they seen as necessary (https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/educating-worlds...). In communities such as Malda, India, girls are married off at young ages for financial reasons. Here, women do not provide a source of income; therefore, higher levels of education are viewed as irrelevant. For many families living in poverty, marrying off a daughter can mean one less mouth to feed (http://www.fordfoundation.org/library/multimedia/b...). Societal norms and attitudes overlook the value of girls, denying them a better future.
Adolescent pregnancies and the responsibility for a family that come with child marriage is a huge barrier in the way of receiving an adequate education. In fact, 75% of child brides in Nigeria cannot read or write (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/themes/education/). With a lack of education, child brides’ personal development hinders, as does their, “ability to contribute to their family and community” (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/themes/education/).
This structural violence takes away girls’ right to decide their future and often leads to different forms of domestic abuse. Ashley Judd, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), puts it simply, “sex within forced marriage is not sex, it is rape” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/03/1...). Child brides are often forced into early pregnancies for which their bodies are not ready, as they have not yet reached maturity. Child marriage results in, “…harmful consequences [for] both the [girls’] health and that of their future babies” (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/themes/education/). With little to no education, girls lack skills they need for a better future.
Solutions – Educating Girls and Communities
Education is crucial in ending child marriage. According to a study by UNICEF, girls with secondary schooling are six times less likely to marry as children than girls with little to no education (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/themes/education/)). Additionally, each year of delayed marriage increases the likelihood of literacy by 5.6% (http://www.ungei.org/files/Child_Marriage_Edu_Note...). That’s huge. Education continues to prove successful in improving girls’ chances at a better future with the help of programs such as TESFA (Towards Economic and Sexual Reproductive Health Outcomes for Adolescent Girls). By educating girls in an Ethiopian community on sexual and reproductive health and providing economic empowerment information and guidance, TESFA was able to prevent more than 70 marriages and get child brides back in school (http://www.icrw.org/media/news/new-icrw-report-gro...).
There are many reasons behind child marriage: economic, traditional, religious, etc. Though laws against child marriage have been passed in several countries, “they are not enforced due to countervailing norms, or because there are widespread exceptions” (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/155702...). Educating a community is just as important as educating girls and victims of child marriage. In order to change attitudes towards girls and child marriage and communities, the adults and leaders of such societies must be educated as well. The ADA (Amhara Development Association) and the ICRW (International Center for Research on Women) have worked to educate teachers and schools to encourage and support girls to achieve and succeed in the classroom. By working with parents and other community representatives to raise awareness around girls’ education and providing information on reproductive health the rate of childhood marriage has reduced (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/girls-education-prev...).
Educated women are more likely to delay marriage and childbirth. Further levels of education will encourage girls to set and accomplish goals (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/girls-education-prev...). “If child marriage and early pregnancies could be eliminated, this could potentially reduce the gender gap in education by about half” (http://www.ungei.org/files/Child_Marriage_Edu_Note...). Through education, child brides and girls susceptible to child marriage can build the confidence and assertiveness they need to help ensure them with a better future along with the support of their communities.