Before trying to identify causes of early marriage in Africa, let’s try to find out what exactly is the term “early marriage.” Early marriage, or child marriage, is an official or unofficial union of two persons, at least one of whom has not reached 18 years of age. It is believed that due to their age, underage spouses are not able to give full consent to marriage, and therefore early marriages are often recognized as a violation of human rights and the rights of a child.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (among other charters and conventions) almost directly points to a prohibition against humiliating and honoring the little girls who are found in most child marriages.
However, one way or another, child marriage is widespread throughout the world, and in particular in Africa. Often the result of early marriage in Nigeria are:
- high mortality
- physical injuries
- complications during pregnancy and childbirth
Basic facts about early marriage in Africa
According to data provided by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), in the next ten years, about 10 million girls under the age of 18 will get married. Most of these marriages will be in Africa, as well as in Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
According to data released by UNICEF, about 36% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18. Often it was, of course, a forced marriage, but there were some few cases of love marriage.
UNICEF data also indicate that more than 14 million girls annually become mothers between the ages of 10 and 14 years. The mortality rate among such young women is almost several times higher than that of women aged 20 years.
Early marriage causes
The causes of child marriage in Africa can be different. However, the most common reasons are as follows:
It should be understood that, regardless of the reasons for early marriage, such marriages are very often initiated by the parents and rarely by mutual consent.
Often, low-income families sell their daughters for marriage, in order to cover their debts and avoid absolute poverty. However, it is the fact that girls are not educated and adequately trained, and is one of the main causes of poverty in future families.
"Protecting" the girl's dignity
Sometimes the cause of early marriage is described as an attempt to protect the girl's dignity by the parents. Such marriages are considered a kind of cultural rule that residents of certain communities follow.
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However, the girl is simply deprived of her choice, disposing of her innocence at her discretion. The primary purpose of such marriages is to control the choice of a girl.
Gender discrimination is also one of the causes of early marriage. In such cultures, society devalues women and girls and discriminates them. According to UNICEF report, child marriage entails a whole range of problems, including:
- domestic violence
- marital abuse and food deprivation
- lack of access to information, education, health care, and other social guarantees
Statistics of early marriage in Africa
The world practice of early marriages shows that about 75 million marriages, among women aged 20 to 24 years were under 18 years. Nearly 25% of were taken in sub-Saharan Africa. Among all countries in which the percentage of early marriages is typically high, Africa ranks 18th place out of 20. Despite prolonged attempts to limit or completely ban such marriages, early marriage is still taking place, in many communities.
According to statistics proven by UNICEF, the number of child marriages in Africa will only increase compared to global trends. In fact, since 1990, the number of early marriages continues to grow annually.
It is also worth mentioning the fact that girls who marry before the age of 18 are often less likely to receive adequate medical care during the gestation period and, accordingly, will be more prone to various complications. Complications are the reason for such a high mortality rate for girls who entered into early marriage in the world.
The motive and cause of such marriages is the lack of understanding of the importance of education and the importance of the future social role of girls, which should not be limited to domestic work and raising children.
Multiplied by social exclusion, “traditions,” poverty and other factors, including geographic isolation and the presence of armed conflict, early marriage of underage girls embody and perpetuate the vicious circle of gender discrimination and the marginalization of women.
Early marriage is a gendered phenomenon that has a multifaceted impact on children of both sexes. The number of male children who entered into early marriages is significantly lower than the number of female children who come into such unions. During the marriage, girls are also subjected to other forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.
Besides, they often face difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth, because their bodies are not yet ready to bear children. The right of girls to protection from early marriage is enshrined in various international agreements, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).