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Human Rights

Daughters of a Lesser God (I) 800 Million Girls Forced to Be Mothers

Child Marriage - Globally around 21% of young women were married before their 18th birthday - 650,000,000 girls and women alive today were married as children. Credit: United Nations.

Globally around 21% of young women were married before their 18th birthday - 650,000,000 girls and women alive today were married as children. Credit: United Nations.

MADRID, Nov 3 2021 (IPS) - Imagine your child, your daughter, being genitally mutilated and, further on, sold or even handed over for free to an older man who will force her to become a child mother, when her body is still far from being formed and thus able to bear with a so early pregnancy.

Well, it has been happening and it still happens right now. The victims are as many as a conservative 800 million child-girls.

And this is happening while rich societies are holding intensive debates about the right of adolescents and youngsters to enjoy their freedom of gathering in thousands and get drunk in massive parties in streets and squares without observing any of the most basic measures to prevent COVID19 contagion.

Across the globe, levels of child marriage are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, where around 4 in 10 young women were married before age 18, followed by South Asia, where 3 in 10 were married before age 18.

Lower levels of child marriage are found in Latin America and Caribbean (25%), the Middle East and North Africa (17%), and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (11%)

Such a brutal violence is widely practiced both in poor Muslim majority societies, and also among Muslim minorities particularly in Africa and several Asian states.

And it is carried out in the name of religious or cultural traditions.

These millions of girls under the age of 18 who fall victim to these harmful practices come mostly from impoverished families, which find themselves forced to sell their children and often also to ‘give’ them for free in the hope of keeping them alive in exchange for shelter and food.

UNICEF reports that many factors interact to place a girl at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, and an inadequate legislative framework.

That said, “child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence. Child marriage also affects boys, but to a lesser degree than girls.”

The case of the so-called co-habitation –when a couple lives ‘in union’, as if married– also raises the same human rights concerns as marriage, UNICEF explains, adding that when a girl lives with a man and takes on the role of his caregiver, the assumption is often that she has become an adult, even if she has not yet reached the age of 18.

Additional concerns due to the informality of the relationship –in terms of inheritance, citizenship and social recognition, for example– may make girls in informal unions vulnerable in different ways than girls who are married.

 

Stark inequality

The two world bodies also warn that child marriage is often the result of entrenched gender inequality, making girls disproportionately affected by the practice. Globally, the prevalence of child marriage among boys is just one-fifth of that among girls.

Moreover, child marriage robs girls of their childhood and threatens their lives and health.

And girls who marry before 18 have worse economic and health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which are eventually passed down to their own children, further straining a country’s capacity to provide quality health and education services.

Child brides often become pregnant during adolescence, when the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth increases – for themselves and their infants.

The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends and exclude them from participating in their communities, taking a heavy toll on their physical and psychological well-being, continue UNICEF and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

 

The facts…

The following facts and figures, which have been compiled by the two main world specialised bodies -UNICEF and UN Population Fund (UNFPA), should suffice to unveil such a flagrant human rights violation.

— Child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.

While the prevalence of child marriage has decreased worldwide – from one in four girls married a decade ago to approximately one in five today – the practice remains widespread.

— Child marriage can lead to a lifetime of suffering. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence.

— Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s, and their children are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.

— Infants born to teenage mothers are also more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.

— Wherever they occur, harmful practices rob girls of their childhood, deny them the chance to determine their own future and threaten the well-being of individuals, families and societies.

 

… And the figures

— Globally around 21% (over 1 in 5) of young women were married before their 18th birthday.

— 650,000,000 girls and women alive today were married as children.

— 12,000,000 girls under 18 are married each year. And more than 150 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.

 

Where most?

UNICEF and UNFPA also report that, across the globe, levels of child marriage are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, where around 4 in 10 young women were married before age 18, followed by South Asia, where 3 in 10 were married before age 18.

Lower levels of child marriage are found in Latin America and Caribbean (25%), the Middle East and North Africa (17%), and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (11%).

Back in 2016, UNICEF and UNFPA, launched a global programme to tackle child marriage in 12 of the most high-prevalence or high-burden countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia. (See UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage).

Just add to all the above the bloodcurdling story of over 300,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who are just a small part of millions of children that are innocent, easy prey for smugglers and human traffickers worldwide.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, a UN report has just found that children account for around 28 percent of trafficking victims globally. And that Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims, at the rates of 64 and 62 percent, respectively.

Let alone that girls are forced by traffickers and smugglers to sexual exploitation. “Sexual tourism has a child face. No country is untouched and no child is immune.”

In view of all the above, until when such violence will continue to be committed against millions and millions of child girls who are born-equals to yours, with two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs and the same biological system. And they are the mothers of the coming generations.

 

 
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