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What is the impact of Child Marriage:

Human rights and justice

Key Information

“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)

Photo credit: Charity Chiutsi | IMs Bildarkiv

Key Information

“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)

Child marriage is a major violation of girls’ human rights

Child marriage harms girls’ rights to health, education, equality and a life free from violence and exploitation.

These rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and other international and regional human rights instruments.

Child marriage can sometimes be a form of slavery

Women and girls represent 71% of modern slavery victims, while children represent 25% of them [1].

According to Anti-Slavery International, child marriage can be a form of slavery when:

  • A child is forced to marry without full or informed consent.
  • Once in the marriage, a child is forced to do domestic chores and/or to engage in non-consensual sexual relations.
  • A child is controlled through abuse and threats.
  • A child cannot realistically leave the marriage.

The younger the child, the more vulnerable they are to slavery. However, child marriage isn’t always a form of slavery.

Child marriage can lead to exploitation and trafficking

  • In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, most victims of child commercial sexual exploitation child prostitution were married before the age of 15. The route to exploitation starts when they run away from abusive marriages. [2]
  • In the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, some families arrange their daughters’ marriages to older foreigners in exchange for money.
  • In the Solomon Islands, children are reportedly sold for marriage to foreign workers of logging and mining companies.
  • In Papua New Guinea and Afghanistan parents are allowed to sell or give away their daughters for marriage to settle debts.
  • In India, child marriage is used by traffickers to send girls from one place to another. They offer favourable conditions – no dowry or a cash reward – to poor families to arrange a marriage.
  • In Indonesia, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh, Mut’a marriages (“pleasure marriage”) are temporary marriages that leave girls alone at the term of the contract, making them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
  • In Indonesia, the practice of merarik involves kidnapping girls from poor families, which is increasingly used to submit girls to sexual slavery and trafficking.
  • In China, construction workers unable to afford high wedding costs are reportedly paying brokers to procure girls from Myanmar. [3]
  • There have also been reports of Vietnamese girls being kidnapped and sold into marriage in China. [4]

Related Sustainable Development Goals

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[1] UN International Labour Office, Walk Free Foundation, Forced labour and forced marriage, 2017.

[2] ECPAT International, “Overview: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Africa: Developments, progress, challenges and recommended strategies for civil society”, 2013.

[3] All examples from ECPAT, Thematic Report: Unrecognised sexual abuse and exploitation of children in child, early and forced marriage, October 2015.

[4] The Guardian, “I hope you’re ready to get married”: in search of Vietnam’s kidnapped brides, 26 August 2017; and CNN, Vietnamese girls smuggled into China and sold as child brides, 19 April 2016.