Saturday, September 12, 2009

Early Marriage is a Harmful Traditional Practice

Early marriage refers to any marriage of a child younger than 18 years old, in accordance to Article 1 of the Convention on the Right of the Child. While child marriage affects both sexes, girls are disproportionately affected as they are the majority of the victims. Their overall development is compromised, leaving them socially isolated with little education, skills and opportunities for employment and self-realization. This leaves child brides more vulnerable to poverty, a consequence of child marriage as well as a cause.

Child marriage is now widely recognized as a violation of children's rights, a direct form of discrimination against the girl child who as a result of the practice is often deprived of her basic rights to health, education, development and equality. Tradition, religion and poverty continue to fuel the practice of child marriage, despite its strong association with adverse reproductive health outcomes and the lack of education of girls.

Early/Child marriage is a violation of human rights, compromising the development of girls and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation. Young married girls face onerous domestic burdens, constrained decision-making and reduced life choices. There are numerous detrimental consequences associated with Child marriage, with physical, developmental, psychological and social implications.

When a young teenager is married she is likely to be forced into sexual activity with her husband, and at an age where she is not physically and sexually mature this has severe health consequences. they are likely to become pregnant at an early age and there is a strong correlation between the age of a mother and maternal mortality. Young mothers face higher risks during pregnancies including complications such as heavy bleeding, fistula, infection, anaemia, and eclampsia which contribute to higher mortality rates of both mother and child. At a young age a girl has not developed fully and her body may strain under the effort of child birth, which can result in obstructed labour and obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula can also be caused by the early sexual relations associated with child marriage, which take place sometimes even before menarche.

Being young and female in Africa is a major risk factor for infection and young girls are being infected at a considerably disproportional rate to that of boys. Whilst early marriages are sometimes seen by parents as a mechanism for protecting their daughters from HIV/AIDS, future husbands may already be infected from previous sexual encounters; a risk which is particularly acute for girls with older husbands.

It also has considerable implications for the social development of the girl child , in terms of low levels of education, poor health and lack of agency and personal autonomy.Whilst girls in our communities are already less likely to go to attend school than boys, particularly in poorer households, the non-education of the girl child is a problem compounded by early marriage. Large numbers of the girls who drop out of school do so because of early marriage, leaving many women who married early illiterate. lack of education also means that young brides often lack knowledge about sexual relations, their bodies and reproduction, exacerbated by the cultural silence surrounding these subjects.This denies the girl the ability to make informed decisions about sexual relations, planning a family, and her health, yet another example of their lives in which they have no control.The cyclical nature of early marriage results in a likely low level of education and life skills, increased vulnerability to abuse and poor health, and therefore acute poverty.

Women who marry early are more likely to suffer abuse and violence, with inevitable psychological as well as physical consequences. women who marry at young ages are more likely to believe that it is sometimes acceptable for a husband to beat his wife, and are therefore more likely to experience domestic violence themselves. Abuse is sometimes perpetrated by the husband's family as well as the husband himself, and girls that enter families as a bride often become domestic slaves for the in-laws

We need to outline strategies to help those who have been married at an early age, and for the prevention of early marriage through education, advocacy and alliance-building.

Most early marriages are considered to be forced which is true but children entering into an early marriage out of choice should also be warned of various personal and health issues that can complicate their lives forever.

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Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.