A Child Becomes Victim Of Child Marriage Every Two Seconds

This year, our country went into a frenzy when a 41-year-old man from Kelantan was exposed for marrying an underage girl, age 11, from Thailand. The child’s biological parents basically “sold” her to this man with the reason “to help her family” — and the nation was outraged.

However, this isn’t technically a new occurrence and she’s definitely not the only victim in child marriages. In Malaysia alone, there are about 9,000 cases of child marriage between of 2010 and 2015, averaging to about five cases a day.

The thing is, these cases happen everywhere in the world across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicity, with Nigeria having the highest rate of child marriage in the world. Globally each year, 12 million girls are married off before the age of 18, which is about 23 girls every minute and nearly 1 in every 2 seconds.

The 11-year-old Thai child bride who was married to the Kelantanese man said that she willingly did it out of love but this statement is pretty absurd, considering that her brain is still developing. Also, what does a child know about “love” anyway? Was she groomed since she was 7?

On another note, there was also a case in Afghanistan where a 6-year-old child was given to a 60-year-old man as a gift in a religious offering. Darn.

Why does it happen?

There are a few factors as to why child marriages are still legal and practiced around the world. One of the main factor is gender inequality with the belief that girls and women are inferior to boys and men. In many communities, girls are seen as burdens to their families and are not valued as much as boys. Hence, marrying them off at a young age is one way to ease the family’s economic hardships to the husband’s family instead.

Another main factor is poverty. Statistics shows that more than half of child brides come from the poorest families in the developing world, with many who believe that marriage is a solution to secure their future. Unfortunately in some cases, giving up daughters is a way to repay debts, solve disputes and settle social, economic as well as political alliances.

Other factors include lack of education, traditions or cultural practices and insecurities.

What is the impact?

It does not only limit their freedom but also deprive their fundamental rights to health, education and safety. They are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers — incapable of taking care of the house, let alone understand what sex is and the outcomes of it.

Underage brides also face more risks of dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV/AIDS and becoming a potential victim in domestic violence.

Ending the battle of child brides

Child marriage is a violation of rights that needs to end. While numbers of child marriages are slowly declining, the numbers are still relatively big. Education and the power of government plays a huge a role in putting an end to this battle.

Education

With education, we can empower the young on their human rights and protect them from the act of grooming by paedophiles. A child that drops out of school will become more vulnerable to child marriage, as they might be led to believe that it is the ultimate life goal for women. Data shows that girls who has no education background are three times more likely to marry by the age of 18 and below, as compared to girls with secondary or higher education.

Educated children can have the skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions like when and whom to marry. It also supports the perception that girls are still children and therefore at an unsuitable to marry.

Government

Meanwhile, we honestly think that the government should play a role strengthen the legal system in protecting the rights of young girls and boys. Malaysia’s civil law states that the legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years of age, similar to the standard set by other countries including Singapore.

However, the Islamic law permits girls to be wed at the age of 16 (as long as they have consent from parents) and allows girls at younger ages to be married with the permission of the Shariah court.

That shouldn’t be the case and governments all around the world should do its part in protecting children from losing their innocence and one of it is to raise the minimum age of marriage. Guatemala and the Republic of Chad have both raised the legal age to marry. Meanwhile, Tanzania announced that a man who marries or impregnates a girl of school-going age, will face 30 years in prison.

Gambia took one step further by imposing a strict ban on child marriage that sentences not a man who man who marries a child to 20 years in prison but also the child’s parents. While 10 years in sentence for people with knowledge of the plans and marriage but did not report to authorities.

With that said, since we’re talking about government playing a role in the child bride situation, perhaps it would be a good idea if they could provide financial aid to families in need, to prevent them from opting for these kinds of “way out”.

Child marriage is not right and young girls should be allowed to experience their youth life. Let’s do our part in educating and empowering girls to be free from abuse of any kind.

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