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       Throughout the world, marriage is regarded as a moment of joy and celebration but the practice of early marriage gives no such cause for celebration. Early marriage refers to the marriage of the children aged below 18 years. Early marriage is often a forced marriage as it takes place without the consent of both the bride and bridegroom (Child marriage and Forced marriage). The imposition of a marriage partner upon a child means that a girl’s or boy’s childhood is cut short and their fundamental rights are compromised. Young girls are robbed of their youth and are required to take on roles for which they are not psychologically or physically prepared (UNICEF). Although early marriages affect both the sexes but girls have been a major victim. Its practise has inflicted harmful effects on the parties involved and also the overall society. Early marriage is everywhere considered a violation of the Human Rights and efforts are being made to beware people of its adverse effects. This research paper is intended to reveal the history of early marriages, its different causes and effects on the parties involved and in turn recommend ways to restrict, or rather eliminate, such practices. “read more”

Historically, early marriages can be traced back to the time of kings, when the size of armies determined the result of wars. The kings of the army motivated its army men to marry as soon as possible and also provided them with the young girls (prisoners of war) of age 15 to 19 to marry (Hassan). It was in these times that the concept of early marriages gained momentum as an attempt to provide as much offspring as possible to enlist in the kings’ armies that would help the king to retain the control of the area already captured and to further conquer other areas. Today, this notion remains the same in the rural areas where the strength of the family is determined by the number of male members of the family and is achieved by marrying the members of the family at an early age.

Nowadays, the practice of early marriage is most common in the rural areas of Africa and Southern Asia. The top 10 “Hot Spot” countries for early marriage are as following:
Ranking Country Percent Married Younger than 18
1 Niger 76.6
2 Chad 71.5
3 Bangladesh 68.7
4 Mali 65.4
5 Guinea 64.5
6 Central African Republic 57.0
7 Nepal 56.1
8 Mozambique 55.9
9 Uganda 54.1
10 Burkina Faso 51.9

(Demographic Health Survey Data) These countries are economically and socially the most backward areas of the world and most of their population live below the poverty line.
In context to the data given above which comprises the poorest nations of the world, it is revealed that poverty is the main causes for the early marriages. In families with acute poverty, girls are thought to be an economic burden and their marriage to an old man is believed to benefit them and their family both financially and socially. In communities where child marriage is practiced, marriage is regarded as a transaction in which the parents of the girl receive money in return of their daughter. So, the poor people wish to marry off their daughters as soon as possible so that their personal financial needs are satisfied (Child marriage). In West Africa as a whole, a recent UNICEF study shows that economic hardship is encouraging a rise in early marriage of the girls, even among some population groups that do not normally practise it (Assani).

Secondly, the religious sentiments have also contributed towards the early marriages. The religious scholars often consider early marriage as an act to control the next generation from immodesty and indecency (Khan). In Islam there are many ahadith which direct followers towards the early marriages. For example, Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: `O young people! Whoever among you can support a wife should marry, for that is more modest for the gaze and safer for your private parts.' (Marriage quotes from Sahih Muslim, Sahih Bukhari). A study by UNICEF in Pakistan, conducted in 2001, found out that in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, 66.73 percent of the early marriages are practised by the people driven by the motives to follow the ahadith of the Holy Prophet (UNICEF).

Furthermore, the notion of honour and morality is an important factor for the early marriages. It is often considered a shame for the family if the daughter is not a virgin before the marriage. So in order to ensure that the virtue of the girl remains intact, girls are often married earlier, to ensure virginity. The parents often feel that their daughter will be better off and safe with a regular male guardian and so they marry them in an early age (Child marriage). In conflict-torn Northern Uganda, for example, some families marry their young daughters to militia members in order to defend family honour or secure ‘protection’ for themselves and the girl. The same thing had happened to girls in Somalia in the course of that country’s conflicts. (UNICEF)

The studies show that the early marriage has inflicted dangerous and devastating effects on young children who are compelled to tie the knot in most cases. According to survey, “One of the main reasons for child labour, unemployment, low literacy rate and poor health standards in Pakistan is the early marriage” (Early marriages in Pakistan). These dangerous effects of early marriages are not only in Pakistan but in all the areas of the world where early marriages are practised. Early marriage deprives the child of their basic education and learning. For example, in Karachi a girl named Sassi was forcefully married to a 70 year-old man by her father when she was just 11 and was a school student in the government school. After the marriage, she was forced to quit her school and was several times sexually abused by her husband. Luckily she escaped from the custody of her husband and is now working with an NGO (Latif). This is not the only case; there are thousands of cases where girls have to give up their studies for their households that leave them with little ability to earn their own living. Similarly married boys have to give up their education in order to earn for their families. (Bayisenge)

Moreover, one of the main effects of early marriage is the increase in the number of children. An early married couple is usually expected to have more children than a relatively late married couple (Early marriage).The study, by UNICEF, show that there is always a negative correlation between the time of marriage and the number of children, the early the marriage is larger will be the size of the family. This causes an increase in the size of the overall population which worsens the social life of the common people and increase unemployment, child labour and poverty in the society. In Pakistan, for example, early marriages are mostly practised in the rural areas where the average children per couple are 7.49 and these rural areas are economically and socially the most backward areas of the country. (Early marriages in Pakistan)

In case of early marriage, the risks of early pregnancy and childbirth are well documented: increased risk of dying, increased risk of premature labour, complications during delivery, low birth-weight, and a higher chance that the newborn will not survive (UNICEF). Pregnancy-related deaths are the main reason for mortality in 15 to 19 year-old girls. According to the studies, mothers in this age group have 20 to 200 percent more chances of deaths during pregnancy than 20 to 24 year-old mothers. The health problems linked to early marriage not only affect the pregnant mother and the foetus, but also continue after childbirth. Evidence shows that infant mortality among the children of very young mothers is higher – sometimes two times higher – than among those of older peers (Early Marriage).

Early marriages also have great psychological effects on the life of the girls. Indian researchers on child marriage in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh state that girl spouses suffer more than boys: “Inadequate socialization, discontinuation of education, great physiological and emotional damage due to repeated pregnancies devastates these girls.”(Khan) It is a huge responsibility for the girl to become wife and mother and because young girls are often not prepared for these roles, this heavy burden leaves a serious impact on their psychological welfare, their perceptions of themselves and also their relationship. Also the mental and emotional stress in girl brides is high because they are not old enough to cope with maternal, marital or in law issues. Very often, the only option for girls and women in situations of extreme marital stress is to run away. In countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Kenya, many runaways end up in poor urban communities, including brothel communities. Some local NGOs working in this field have begun to assist such girls and women, but their efforts are generally confined to towns and cities (ICRW).

Also, the UK working group found that most of the victims of early marriage, although, suffer from prolonged violence, cannot leave the marriage because of the economic pressures, lack of family support and other social circumstances. A study in Jordan, published in 2000 found that 26 percent of reported cases of domestic violence were committed against wives under 18(Assani). India, with 67 percent, has one of the highest rates of early marriages and out of which 45 percent women suffer from domestic violence on a regular basis (Admin). Early marriage has also been linked to wife abandonment and increased level of divorce and separation. Child brides also face the risk of being widowed by their elderly husbands. While divorce plunges an early married woman into poverty, young brides who lose their husband face the high probability of not being taken in to marriage again, in these societies (Child marriage).

Finally, these harmful effects caused by the practice of early marriages calls for attention of the United Nations to come up with the laws discouraging the early marriages. Early marriages should be regarded as a violation of the Human Rights and the parties involved in this crime should be charged heavily. Furthermore, the government in each country should make efforts to eliminate poverty and provide education to its population which will result in the decrease in the child marriages (ICRW). The governments should also encourage NGOs which provide girls with a job to increase their economic standards and beware people of the dangerous effects of early marriages. The government must also negotiate with the religious scholars and should seek for their help in eliminating the early marriages (Admin). These actions, if implemented, will surely eliminate the practice of early marriages and will provide an end to its harmful effects.

This research paper has drawn attention towards a social evil of early marriage that has prevailed in the world for a very long time. The paper has revealed poverty, religious sentiments and notion of honour as the important causes for the early marriages and has discussed the negative consequences like maternal deaths, unemployment, increase in population, abandonment of wives caused by its practice. In the end, it has come up with recommendations for United Nations and government of the countries that will help them get rid of the practice of the early marriage.

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