Table of contents
Causes of child marriage
Study of views on child marriage
In our western culture, a wedding is meant to be the best day of your life. It is a celebration of love between two people who want to spend their lives together happily ever after. In most cases, girls dream of their wedding day from a very young age. However, this is a western view of a wedding. It is not like this all around the world. There are countries, where marriage is arranged by the parents and often times even forced. Moreover there are cases where parents even force their children to marry. Phrases like “Too young to wed” or “Girls not brides” are heart breaking, but present.
Child marriage is very common today and it undeniably has a lot of negative affects. Of course, in most of these countries the practise of child marriage is prohibited. Unfortunately, these laws often do not have a big impact. In India for example, child marriage has been illegal for three decades. However most girls still marry before they reach the age of 18. (Nguyen, Minh Cong; Wodon, Quentin, 2015: 6) The lack of impact of these laws are highly related to cultural and religious traditions. Globally the occurrence of child marriage is at 40.3%. It is mostly common in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, East Asia and the Pacific, and finally Europe and Central Asia. (Nguyen, Minh Cong; Wodon, Quentin, 2015: 8) Out of all of these regions, Bangladesh with 65%, has the second highest rate of child marriage after Niger. (Kamal, S. M.Mostafa, 2012: w/p)
In this paper I want to take a closer look at Bangladesh in particular, and look at the laws that are made considering child marriage, the causes and consequences of child marriage. I want to get a better understanding of the cultural reasons and the problems of the country that lead to this. Furthermore I will look at the views and attitude of the people affected by this, and look at all the possibilities as to what needs to be changed, how we can help and how it is important for social work. Lastly I will conclude and state my own opinion and questions that were raised.
Child marriage is any marriage in which at least one of the parties is a child - a person under the age of 18. It is also a marriage in which there is not a full consent of one or both of the parties, and where one or both are unable to end or leave the marriage, as a result of threats or social and family pressure. (WHO, 2016) Forced marriage is a violation against human rights. Furthermore, it is also a form of gender violence (Legistify.com, 2017) and therefore reinforces gender inequality. It affects both girls and boys, but girls are the main victims. In Bangladesh three out of four marriages involve child marriage. (Bappy, 2017:14) These young girls lose their childhood and face violence, and slavery. They are transformed into women while they are still a little girl.
There are certain rituals that are performed for these weddings. The girls are transformed into brides and they make her look nice. But no one really cares about the bride. She has no idea what is going on. She is scared and has no control. Family members bless her with oil and water, but child marriage is the complete opposite of a blessing. Young girls are under great pressure from their families. Once they get married, they have to leave their home. They cannot come back and see their friends or family. No one wants to leave their parents house, but they are being forced. They know what awaits them. They are scared of violence and doing housework properly in their new home. The bride has to uphold everyone's honour but no one in the family thinks about her honour and respect.
“I was married when I was 7 years old. I always say God is punishing me for something.” (Child marriage victim)
There is a long tradition of early marriage and motherhood in Bangladesh. The Muslim Family Ordinance 1961 of the Bangladesh Government has set the minimum age of marriage for males to be 21 and females 18. However this law is being ignored a lot. (Kamal, 2012: 318) Moreover, the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 includes a loophole where a court can allow child marriage in “special cases”. The act does not explicitly define what those “special cases” might be.
This issue is addressed in a few international conventions and agreements. Child marriage is not mentioned in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the governments are still required to abolish any traditional practices that are harmful to the health of children, and they should protect children from “all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse” (Art 4, Convention on the Rights of the Child) (WHO, 2016: 6) The right to “free and full” consent to marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that this consent cannot be free and full if one of the parties is not mature enough to make a decision about a life partner.
Bangladesh is one of the countries that is a party of the UN treaties and has made a commitment to protect and assist children. (WHO, 2016: 6)
Unfortunately, the government is not enforcing its own law on the minimum age of marriage. Registration of age at birth and even age at marriage is not followed and maintained properly. (Kamal, 2012: 329)
Consequences of child marriage
The impact of child marriage on the lives of the children is devastating. The health of the child is extremely affected. Not only their physical health, but also their psychological, emotional, sexual and reproductive health. In Bangladesh married girls are expected to become pregnant as soon as possible. This means they have to give birth at a very young age, where they are not physically mature enough. This is a major problem, because young women who give birth are at a higher risk, and stillbirths and newborn deaths are very common among young mothers. (WHO, 2016: 9) A study in India shows that the risk of infants dying within the first year of life is 50 per cent higher if the mother is under 18, than if the mother was older than 19. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common reason of death for girls aged 15 – 19 years in developing countries are complications from pregnancy and childbirth. WHO estimates that around 50,000 such girls die from these complications every year, almost all of them in low- and middle-income countries.
Additionally, women married at a young age have a more likely chance of becoming victims of intimate partner violence than those who marry later. (WHO, 2016: 2) They are also more prone to believing that beating is justifiable. Because they are forced into sexual relations, they are less able to practice safe sex and therefore are more prone to sexually transmitted infections. (WHO, 2016: 9)
Child marriage is not just a violation against human rights, but also a barrier to individual and social development. Girls already attending school are forced to stop. There is no chance for education and empowerment. These girls tend to get more frequent and unplanned pregnancies, because of lack of contraceptive use. (Kamal, 2012: 318)
Causes of child marriage
There are quite a few reasons as to why child marriage is still prevalent. There are social and economic circumstances, not to mention the importance of cultural context. Besides these, there is also gender inequality and poverty that drive further existence of child marriage. In addition, even natural disasters and climate change are some of the conditions.
Culture and gender roles
In most societies where Child Marriage is present, women and girls traditionally have a lower status than men and boys. The responsibility of women and girls is to take care of the household, to care for her husband and children. A good wife is expected to be respectful of the grooms family, because she is now going to live with them. A woman is not called beautiful by her looks, but by how nicely she takes care of her house and her husband. It is because of the patriarchal structure of families and the influence of traditional norms and customs. Because of these gender roles, marriage is seen as the only way to ensure a girl's future. (WHO, 2016: 8)
One of the reasons that child marriage continues to prevail is the husbands family think that when they bring a girl into the family when she is so young, they can mould her into someone they want her to be. There is this sense that the man is raising this child as his wife. In some cultures there is this myth that by marrying young virgins, aids will be cured. Many times the man will want to start having sex immediately.
“He was trying to have sex with me and I was crying and I kept struggling to free myself from him. He mocked me saying where are you going to go. Then he used me.” (child marriage victim)
The husband is the one who rules. A daughter, wife and mother are first seen as the property of her father and then of her husband. Girls are seen as family burdens and men as kings.
You maintain family honour by marrying young, even though the marriage is against the law. One of the strong cultural beliefs is that if a child does not get married at an early age, something is wrong with her. People will talk about her. For a man this is less of an issue, he can remain single. (Bappy, 2017: 14) Not just marriage is a social issue, but also childbirth. Women hurry to have childbirth to prove their fertility. Especially in rural areas, if a woman does not get pregnant right away, again people will talk about her and blame her of infertility. (Kamal, 2012: 328)
Another reason is to protect the child from premarital sex. Parents will force a young daughter into marriage, to protect her virginity and so she would not be seen with any other boys, for this is seen as immoral and inappropriate before marriage. They do not want their daughter to dishonour the family. (WHO, 2016: 8)
In an interview a father of a child bride was asked if he thought child marriage was right.
“It is not right. It will do harm to her. How could I say it is right? Young boys and girls keep meeting each other. We hear of many eloping and bringing dishonour to the family. If we marry them young the problem is solved. The family honour remains intact. It is the main reason we do it.”
Some parents may think that if their daughters get married off, they will be protected, provided for and they will be in better hands, than if they stay with the parents. They also believe, they are protecting them from men. These are parents who think they are doing the best for their daughter. (Futurist, 2012: 11)
However, the real question here is, are they wanting to protect the child or the family honour? If they were thinking of the child's protection, they would not be forcing her into a violent marriage.
One of the main reasons to child marriage is poverty. Children, especially girls are seen as a financial burden, therefore early marriage seems to be the best solution. (WHO, 2016: 8) Parents view marrying their daughters off as a way to ease economic hardship by getting rid of this burden and transferring it to her husband's family. They have one less person to feed, clothe and educate.
There are also customary requirements, such as dowries, that play a big role in the decision of child marriage. The family of the bride has to give the groom a dowry. The younger the bride is, the smaller the dowry. (WHO, 2016: 8) Even though dowry was outlawed in the 80s people still continue this tradition. Out of desperation to marry their daughters, many families commit to dowry even though they are unable to pay. If a dowry is not fully paid, or there are further requests by the groom, the wife will be beaten and sometimes even thrown out. (Alston, 2014: 141) Negotiations to reduce dowry are seldom successful.
There may be a higher demand in dowries, as poverty is becoming bigger due to climate change. Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to sea level rises in the world. This leads to many climate change challenges which especially affect the rural areas. (Alston, 2014: 139) People are losing their homes, property and belongings, so girls become an even bigger burden. They cannot feed them themselves. They believe they have no other choice but to marry their daughters off.
Unfortunately, even in this case we see the affects of gender roles in Bangladesh. Women are being blamed for the climate change. In religious meetings, it is being said that women do not listen to their husbands, do wrong things and therefore the weather is changing. In their opinion, women are responsible for the disasters. It's the curse of Allah. (Alston, 2014: 142)
Childhood is not for having babies and household. It is for playing, growing and education. That is another problem - the cycle of illiteracy. No thought is given towards the education of the children. Young girls have dreams about their future and a career. They often think they can continue their studies after they get married. But this never happens. Girls are promised to be able to continue their education in marriage, even by parents.
The Bangladesh Supreme Court believes that lack of education is a major reason to child marriage. It creates a vicious cycle of poverty. The girls who are deprived of education become targets of early marriage, and as illiterate mothers have illiterate children, which again ensure the continuing of the poverty cycle” (37 countries, p. 24)
Studies reveal that the higher the educational level the lower the probability of child marriage. Higher education means longer schooling. Moreover, women who have a higher education tend to want to have a good job than getting married early. (Kamal, 2012: 328) Early marriage also marks a woman's status. If a woman has education and has been employed, she will have a higher chance of having a more equal relationship with her husband. (Kamal, 2012: 327)