In 2015, Hala Yousef, the Minister of Population in Egypt, reported that out of all marriages in Egypt, 15% are child marriages.
Ramita married when she was 12 years old and her husband was 15. She describes it as a “love marriage” – she chose her husband and decided to marry him. But it’s not a simple romance.
Ramita’s choice is a reflection of how marriage-related decisions are changing in South Asia. Although arranged matches are still the norm for many, young adults are increasingly likely to choose their own spouse. For some, this is a welcome break with tradition. Research shows that as women gain more education, their control over their choice of husband also increases – and more girls are going to school across the region.
But in the villages of Nepal, where I investigated early marriage for a new Human Rights Watch report, increasing numbers of children are choosing to wed. Arranged child marriages may be declining, but this achievement is threatened by a rise in “love marriages” by children. Though in these cases a girl may be choosing to get married, these child marriages can still come with their own devastating consequences, including leaving school early, poverty, health risks and an elevated threat of domestic violence.
In a Victory for Girls’ Rights, Marrying Age Raised to 18
As of today, it is illegal for girls or boys who are younger than 18 to marry in Tanzania.
In a landmark decision, the Tanzanian High Court ruled in favor of protecting girls from the harms of early marriage. The court ruled unconstitutional sections 13 and 17 of the Tanzania Law of Marriage Act, which allow girls to marry at age 15 with parental permission and at age 14 with the permission of a court. The decision represents a critical step forward in the struggle to end child marriage in Tanzania, which has one of the highest rates in the world.
Tent vendors in the western Indian state of Rajasthan are taking a stand against child marriage. More than 47,000 of them have declared that they will not supply tents for ceremonies where children figure as the bride or groom and will ask for birth certificates to ensure ages. If they find out that a child marriage is taking place, they say they will inform local police.
As in other parts of the world, child marriage is a grave problem in India. The Child Marriage Act of 2006 bans the practice, fixing the legal age of marriage to 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Despite this, India ranks 13 in the Child Marriage Hot Spots report by the International Centre For Research On Women. The 2011 census revealed that nearly 17 million Indian children between the ages of 10 and 19 — representing 6% of that age group — are married.
This month, Malaysia’s lower house amended the country’s Child Act 2001 without banning all marriage by girls and boys under the age of 18, as called for by several members of parliament and rights groups.
Absent from the debate was any appreciation of the core problem with child marriage – the real and lasting damage that early marriage causes to girls.