Every year, an estimated 14 million girls aged under 18 are married worldwide with little or no say in the matter. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday and some child brides are as young as eight or nine.
Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.
Child marriage directly hinders the achievement of 6 of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. Simply put, the international community will not fulfil its commitments to reduce global poverty unless it tackles child marriage.
While boys are sometimes subjected to early marriage, girls are disproportionately affected and form the vast majority of the victims of child marriage. A comparison of the proportion of young women aged 15-19 who were married in 2003 to young men aged 15-19 who were married in the same year found the ratio to be 72 to 1 in Mali, 8 to 1 in the US, and 6 to 1 in El Salvador.
The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) prohibits child marriage.
Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), governments have committed to ensure the overall protection of children and young people aged under 18, however, child marriage and the range of rights implications it has, substantially infringe these protections.
To find out the minimum age of marriage laws in countries around the world visit Equality Now’s website or our ‘Where does child marriage happen?’ page.