Child brides unintended victims of conflict, says study

  • More than 13.5 million girls are married under the age of 18 around the world, every year
  • Fear pushes parents to marry off their daughters in areas of conflict or disaster, says new World Vision report
  • On the eve of International Women’s Day, aid agency says governments must acknowledge the impact conflict and disasters have on girls

Wednesday, 6 March, UN – New research released today shines a light on the link between conflict, disasters and early child marriage.

Early marriage is a brutal curtailment of childhood and a violation of children’s rights, yet many parents around the world believe it is the best way to ensure their daughters are looked after,” said World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello. 

“We’ve found that early marriage is often perceived by families as a protective measure and is used by communities as a way to respond to crisis.”

According to the report, one in three girls living in the developing world will marry before their 18th birthday and one in nine will marry before they turn 15.

Of the 25 countries with the highest rates of early marriage, the majority are affected by conflict, fragility or natural disasters, the report finds. And girls trapped in early marriage tend to be poor, under-educated and living in rural areas where birth and death rates are high and where conflict is common.

Girls who live in countries facing humanitarian crises, such as West Africa, are left especially vulnerable as the families, teachers, friends, leaders and networks they could usually rely on for protection are disrupted, leaving them more exposed to abuse. In extreme cases, during conflict such as Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo for example, support for the protection of children may be non-existent.

“Our research found that parents and girls resort to early marriage as a protection against both real and perceived risks, because they believe they have no alternatives,” said Mr Costello. “However, girls who marry young are more at risk of violence, malnutrition and devastating complications in childbirth. In seeking to protect their children, parents can end up exposing them to the very situations they were aiming to protect them from.”

The report highlights the need for humanitarian interventions to address the risks of child marriage and other forms of violence against women and girls. The impact of early marriage can be catastrophic, ranging from severe sexual and reproductive health complications and an increase in child mortality, to domestic violence, social isolation and extreme poverty. Despite the risks and the widespread condemnation of the practice, early marriage continues to flourish.

“Every year another 13.5 million children are married under the age of 18, and current trends show this is increasing to more than 14 million each year,” said Mr Costello. “But we know from our work with families and communities around the world that change is possible. We’re asking people to join with us in committing to ending early marriage by 2030. We need to see that the cycle of poverty and inequality created by early marriage is broken for future generations of girls. We owe it to them.” 

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Notes to editors

  • For interviews with Tim Costello or a 16-year-old anti-early marriage advocate from Bangladesh, in New York for the UN Commission on the Status of Women this week, please contact Chloe Adams on +61 427 413 816.
  • World Vision is launching the report Untying the Knot: Exploring Early Marriage in Fragile States at the UN in New York, and at the House of Commons, London, today, Wednesday, 6 March.
  • The Untying the Knot report can be viewed in full here and a 6-page overview here

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