Today 3500 girls became child brides. Today 3500 girls lost their innocence too early. Today 3500 girls were denied the chance of a full education and the opportunity of ever becoming fully empowered within their community.
A similar number endure this experience every single day.
Worldwide there are an estimated 51 million child brides. Across Eastern and Western Africa, 60% of girls are less than 18 years old when they marry. In Nigeria, 79% of girls aged between 9 and 15 are married. Girls as young as 7 years old have been identified as child brides. If this pattern continues, around 100 million children will become child brides in the next decade.
Childhood, and its inherent innocence, is essential for development. It is in this period of play and discovery that we all begin to develop a sense of who we are through a process of trial and error, and sub-conscious self-reflection. Not only is childhood a necessary component in all lives but it is also one of the irrefutable rights of a child. Indeed, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly states that all children have a right to a childhood, as well as the right to an education, the right to be healthy, the right to be treated fairly, and the right to be heard. Child marriage negates many of these and can seriously undermine a girl’s development, self-confidence, and self-identity. That key relationship of any person’s life, friendship is also undermined. One girl interviewed for “The Child Within”, a film produced by See Change Films for Camfed, lamented that, ‘When i see my friends at school, I feel pain in my heart’.
There are serious physical dangers associated with child marriage also. In many child marriages, the husband is often older and not a virgin. The risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS, and other STDs is greatly increased as a result of this, but one must not forget that there is also physical trauma associated with unprotected sex, especially where it takes place in a relationship that is devoid of emotional connection and, at times, forced. Furthermore, the risks associated with pregnancy and child birth are heightened in young mothers. Girls aged 10 – 15 are extremely vulnerable to obstetric fistulas due to the underdevelopment of their pelvic bones, which can lead to incontinence and infertility. Moreover, 15 – 19 year olds are twice as likely to die in childbirth, with girls under 15 five times more likely, compared with women in their twenties. Indeed, Ndaziona, 15, who was also interviewed for “The Child Within”, complained of ‘aches and pains’ that made her ‘upset and angry’. ‘I have fear’, she states simply, ‘because I have never given birth before’.
Child marriage quickly and permanently takes young girls’ childhoods away, as a result of poverty, lack of education, and certain cultural norms. The loss of innocence associated with it is more visceral and far more enduring than the simple exposure to potentially defiling influences in advertising and on the internet that are often blamed for the apparently increasingly premature loss of innocence in the youth of our own society. Child marriage exposes young girls to intense physical and emotional damage and ensures that breaking out of the cycle of poverty becomes even more difficult.
Essentially, child marriage strips girls of their basic human rights. It means, not only, that these young girls are robbed of their right to an education and the chance to pursue their dreams and realize their potential but also that the world is robbed of their talents, their skills, and their latent ability to change the world. 3500 times every single day.