Throughout history and until the 20th Century, child marriages were the norm. These unions were made a ‘norm’ for many reasons, chief among them are economic. When most people think of child marriages, they often focus on girls. This is usually because girls are most affected. However, boys also marry in childhood, and a recent study has shown that the rate at which young men are being married off as children is rising.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 4 in 10 women are married before age 18. The rate of child marriages in this region is 10% higher than any other region in the world. In South Asia, 30% of women are married before age 18, Latin America and the Caribbean has a combined rate of 25%, 17% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 11% in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Within Sub-Saharan Africa, child marriage occurs most frequently, where 41% of young women are married before their 18th birthday.
Child marriages, generally thought to affect girls more than boys, limits educational attainment and work options, as well as increases the risk of domestic violence. While a majority of these marriages are between the ages of 15-18, there remain many which occur before age 15.
The data for boys is limited, but it is still recognized as a significant problem in some countries. The Central African Republic has one of the highest rates of child marriage for boys in the world, with 28% of young men married by age 18-13% in Madagascar and 12% in Comoros.
The U.N. estimates that 115 million boys and men around the world are married as children with 23 million before age 15. UNICEF estimated that 156 million men were married before age 18, and slightly fewer numbers before age 15.
Boys also suffer from the certain trauma of child marriage, and similar to girls, boys grow up too soon. Many before puberty.
Adhering to traditional gender roles, boys are viewed as the breadwinner and girls, the homemaker and domestic. These narrow gender expectations also help perpetuate the high rates of childhood marriages. Both boys and girls understand their gender roles very young, at times too soon for them to begin to dream of their future life and career goals. They are given their roles, with adult responsibilities and expectations. Play is lost due to new responsibilities of having a wife and a family.
Living in an agriculturally-based society, where lifestyles are akin to rural life, farming drives the economy. Gender roles remain stringent and narrow, and child marriages become a tradition. It is conceivable that a 12 year old boy can marry a 10 year old girl. For unions such as these, both young men and women will also have limited economic mobility.
When a society fails to modernize, the inhabitants are afforded much less opportunities for pursuing education and careers aligned with the increased options present in an information and tech-rich society. This increases the living styles and traditions already in place. Societal practices, child marriages become such the norm that it becomes embedded in the collective mindset as productive, natural and then expected.
The young man who marries at age 14, is given the access to travel other parts of the world. He gains the opportunity to experience society from a different perspective. He may even acquire insights into the troubling practice of child marriage. Learning this practice will tend to do more harm to youth, and stifle the natural progression of childhood development, and he understands the risks. Yet, away from his home environment, his mindset is altered, but not quite enough. He will have a son, and he will still have his son marry as a child. An embedded and ingrained mindset.
Central to the continuation of these practices, which become tradition, is that location and proximity to progress are remote. Occurring in remote, isolated and technologically deprived locations around the world, changing this tradition becomes equally remote. But it’s not impossible.
We live in a global society, connecting to one another in real time. Information spreads, progress is made and people’s worldviews can change on a significant level. But, there needs to be viable avenues to connect with the people.
There needs to be growth, modernization, education opportunities, not silence, propaganda or ‘fake’ news. More devastating than this is turning a blind eye to these practices, which become tradition due to lack of information-sharing.
This country spends billions of taxpayer dollars each year on investing in areas deemed ‘strategic’ to holding global advantages. Meanwhile, we must understand that the ways to gain that advantage are by our humanitarian efforts, which don’t necessarily require billions.
Education is a great place to start. Going into the locations where these child marriages are traditions, it takes changes in mindsets to discourage the generational perpetuation of these practices.
Besides infrastructural improvements, are real discussions. It can begin by gathering children and parents into organized discussion groups on a local level. They can be held on a weekly basis and talks can center around topics such as children’s rights, education, reproductive health, and the consequences of early marriage. But, talk without actions is frustrating to those seeking change.
These youngsters are psychologically unprepared to become mothers and fathers, unequipped to take on the responsibility of parenthood. We understand this because we lodge public campaigns against teen pregnancy and promote abstinence among our youth. Child marriage goes far beyond simply promoting the use of birth control and contraceptives.
Child marriage exposes youth, girls and boys, to violence, rape, forcing them out off childhood into premature adulthood and continues to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. If marriages were delayed, girls and boys would be able to complete their education, delay parenthood and establish careers, thus they may potentially generate many more dollars throughout their lifetime. Delayed parenthood and psychological maturity will precede and preempt early adult responsibility.
Adultification refers to children assuming adult responsibilities at early ages, while there is usually an adult in the home. This also goes far beyond that, because the children in these marriages are indeed completely immersed in the adult role without any adult presence, guidance or protection.
Real solutions include increased economic opportunity for parents and adults. Child marriages continue solely due to economics, and we need to do more to ensure that families can provide for their children and themselves.
We build factories and warehouses in the most poor nations, and corporations and businesses pay low wages to those outsourced workers. In this instance, low wages are better than no wages and limited employment opportunities. Why not invest in these regions? The Return On Investment[ROI] will surely prove worthwhile.
Why not bring schools into the remote villages? Just one place where children[and adults] can gain knowledge and acquire marketable skills is progress. Each one teach one!! Save the children from trauma and a life of poverty. Let marriage be an option not a necessity, and surely not for children. And, where is UNICEF, Save The Children and the other humanitarian organizations in the midst of this?
Save boys and girls from child marriage, certain trauma and the abandonment of their childhood!