Child/Early marriage refers to any marriage of a child younger than 18 years old, in accordance to Article 1 of the Convention on the Right of the Child. While child marriage affects both sexes, girls are disproportionately affected as they are the majority of the victims. Their overall development is compromised, leaving them socially isolated with little education, skills and opportunities for employment and self-realization. This leaves child brides more vulnerable to poverty, a consequence of child marriage as well as a cause.
Child marriage is now widely recognized as a violation of children’s rights, a direct form of discrimination against the girl child who, as a result of the practice, is often deprived of her basic rights to health, education, development, and equality. Tradition, religion, and poverty continue to fuel the practice of child marriage, despite its strong association with adverse reproductive health outcomes and the lack of education of girls.
A lack of education also means that young brides often lack knowledge about sexual relations, their bodies, and reproduction, a problem which is exacerbated by the cultural silence surrounding these subjects. This denies the girls the ability to make informed decisions about sexual relations, planning a family, and their health, yet another example of their lives in which they have no control.
When a child bride is married she is likely to be forced into sexual activity with her husband, and at an age where the bride is not physically and sexually mature this has severe health consequences.
It is a huge responsibility for a young girl to become a wife and mother and because girls are not adequately prepared for these roles this heavy burden has a serious impact on their psychological welfare, their perceptions of themselves and also their relationship.
Women who marry early are more likely to suffer abuse and violence, with inevitable psychological as well as physical consequences. Studies indicate that women who marry at young ages are more likely to believe that it is sometimes acceptable for a husband to beat his wife, and are therefore more likely to experience domestic violence themselves. Violent behaviour can take the form of physical harm, psychological attacks, threatening behaviour and forced sexual acts including rape. Abuse is sometimes perpetrated by the husband’s family as well as the husband himself, and girls that enter families as a bride often become domestic slaves for the in-laws.
16-year-old Nazia’s Story
“My family wedded me to Mumtaz [a 40-year-old man] some three months ago, in Pakistan. Soon after our marriage we moved to his house in Qalat where his relatives told me he had another wife who had died a year ago. In Qalat my husband was jobless and was always complaining about economic problems. Two weeks after we moved to our new home he beat me for no obvious reason.
“One day I asked him to let me go to a party at my in-laws. He agreed and said I should return home in the afternoon. That day, although I came home early, I found him very angry. He beat me again, worse than the first time, and warned that he would kill me if I stepped outside the home again. He also told his brother and nephews not to come to our house in his absence.
“Day-after-day Mumtaz’s suspicion increased. He was thinking other men were visiting me while he was not at home. He did not listen to my pleas and was always saying that all women are bad and unfaithful to men. During this time he often beat me with a stick.
“One night he hit me so much that I fainted. When I regained consciousness I found my head had been shaved. I cried so much, but he did not care.
“One week later he knocked me down, bound my hands, and then broke my teeth with a stone. He also poured boiling water on my feet. After this I could not walk and was in a lot of pain, but he said I was only pretending.
“No one was coming to our house so I could not tell anyone about my situation. I had nowhere else to go either. My family lives in Pakistan.
“One night I could not cook dinner for him because I could not stand on my feet. He got so upset when he found that there was nothing for him to eat. He started beating me. Again, he bound my hands with a piece of cloth. I felt a terrible pain in my left ear and then blood was flowing down my face. I thought that he wanted to kill me so I started screaming. Then I felt a similar pain in my right ear and more blood.
“I tasted a mixture of blood and tears in my mouth while my voice was fading. I felt the worst pain in my life only a few seconds later when my husband used his knife to cut off my nose. I fainted.
“Now I do not know where my husband has gone.”