Child Marriage is a form of child abuse and it is a human rights issue, as recognised by the UN Human Rights Council, which adopted their first resolution on the matter on 27th September 2013.
Child Marriage is the marriage of anyone under the age of 18. Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is signed by the UK and came into force in this country on 15 January 1992, defines a child as ‘every human being below the age of 18 years’.
According to the Forced Marriage Unit, who in 2012 gave advice or support in 1485 cases related to a possible Forced Marriage, 35% of the victims were under 18 years old. This figure, over 500 cases, is just the tip of the iceberg as many cases go unreported, often because the victims are threatened not to disclose the marriage to anyone.
Reasons that a family might want their daughter to marry whilst still a child include:
- trying to protect their perceived “honour” before their daughter “opens their eyes” and becomes interested in boys, loses their virginity or has any sexual activity
- to ensure that their daughter marries a “suitable” husband including in terms of religion/ race/ community
- to keep wealth within the family
- to strengthen family/ tribal ties
- to secure a carer for an elderly/ disabled person
Child Marriage has devastating lifelong impacts. It denies childhood and can subject the victim to a lifetime of rape and other forms of sexual abuse and physical violence, as well as emotional, financial and physical control. It often restricts access to education which curtails financial independence and can result in lower living standards, child pregnancy and associated and other health problems. According to UNICEF a mother under the age of eighteen is 60% more likely to die in its first year of life than one born to a mother over the age of nineteen. Research from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) found that girls married before the age of 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and depression than those who marry later.
To end Child Marriage in the UK we must take a holistic approach through; community work, addressing the issue on the national curriculum, tackling unregistered religious Child Marriages including those under Sharia law and ensuring that all relevant frontline professionals receive comprehensive training. We must also ensure that our legal framework prohibits Child Marriage.
As one of our clients – a 17 year old girl at risk of Forced Marriage – put it:
‘I think that the law should protect children and that child marriage should be illegal. If child marriage was illegal it would help people like me. It would automatically be clear to my parents that if they made me marry they would get in trouble’
Unlike several European countries including Belgium, Finland, France, Germany and Ireland, UK law currently permits Child Marriage. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a 16 and 17 year old can marry with parental consent and in Scotland the minimum marriageable age is 16.
To protect children, the minimum marriageable age must be raised to 18 in Scotland and parental consent in England Wales and Northern Ireland must be abolished; if an individual is not considered to be old enough to make their own decision to marry, then they should not enter a marriage until they are an adult and are able to independently give informed consent.
We must also ensure that the law being drafted to criminalise Forced Marriage specifically protects children from Child Marriage by stating that no child can consent to marriage meaning that any Child Marriage is a Forced Marriage offence.
See our open Letter to David Cameron here.
IKWRO are proud to be members of the Girls Not Brides Network.