Child Marriage in Southern Asia – Policy Options for Action
Child Marriage in Southern Asia: Context, Evidence and Policy Options for Action
Child marriage is not only a violation of a girl’s rights; it also seriously compromises efforts to reduce genderbased violence, advance education, overcome poverty and improve health indicators for girls and women. Child brides in Southern Asia are often forced into early sexual activity and therefore early childbearing. Because their bodies are not yet fully developed, these young adolescents are at risk of suffering lifethreatening or debilitating conditions as a result of childbirth like obstetric fistula and hemorrhaging, or even death. Countless child brides all over the region are in danger of such a fate: Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die of pregnancy and childbirth complications as women between ages of 20 and 24 according to UNICEF figures on child marriage in the region. Also, girls are more vulnerable to contracting life-threatening diseases as they are often given away in marriage to much older men who have an elevated chance of being HIV positive or having other sexually-transmitted infections because of prior sexual experience.
When a girl is pulled from school and forced to marry young, her personal development is stunted. She is left with few – if any – negotiation skills and therefore has limited decision-making power in her new household. Often uneducated and unskilled, many child brides are completely dependent on their husbands and in-laws to survive. Girls are often not yet mature or skilled enough to properly perform household tasks or care for their husbands and children. Child marriage also deprives a girl of the valuable and necessary skills required to enter the labour market, therefore denying her the opportunity to help lift herself – and her family – out of poverty. In short, pulling girls out of school and forcing them into early marriage ensures that poverty will be handed down from a mother to her daughter, and family to family, for generations to come.
The country briefs on child marriage included in this advocacy kit show that most national governments in the region are aware of the seriousness of the issue, and have taken some steps to prevent child marriage from occurring. For example, all countries have adopted laws designed to regulate its proliferation and prevalence. Laws in India, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan reflect international standards, with legal age limits for girls set at 18. On the other hand, in Afghanistan and Pakistan where Sharia law bears a greater influence, girls can legally marry at age 15 and 16, respectively. And in Sri Lanka, a dual legal system prevails, with non-Muslim girls allowed to legally marry at 18, while Muslim girls are allowed by law to wed at 15.