By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 June, 2020
At least four million more child brides will be ‘married’ in the next two years and up to 13 million extra child marriages will occur in the years immediately following the Covid-19 crisis, the United Nations Population Fund has predicted.
Ahead of World Refugee Day (20 June), World Vision Ireland is highlighting the growing number of child marriages across the world.
The agency has warned that increased poverty leads to an erosion of children’s rights in the developing world.
Over a third of girls in the developing world are married before their 18th birthday, oftentimes as a means for their impoverished family to make money.
In Afghanistan, child marriage is a widely accepted as a cultural tradition. It is one of the main reasons why 2.2 million Afghani girls are out of school.
Fiona O’Malley, Director of Communications and Fundraising at World Vision Ireland, has highlighted that CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) covers the right to protection from child marriage.
Article 16.2 states, “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises that consent cannot be “free and full” when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.
According to Fiona O’Malley, legislation is an important step to ending child marriage, but “it needs to be reinforced with community outreach programmes and keeping girls in school for as long as possible, to broaden their horizons.”
World Vision Ireland has highlighted the plight of a 14-year-old child bride who was ‘married’ at the age of 11 after her father sold her for USD$3,000 to her ‘husband’.
Benesh is living in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Badghis province in Afghanistan.
“If I saw my family again today,” Benesh told World Vision Ireland, “I would tell them that they shouldn’t have married me off. Girls my age should not be married. We should we encouraged to stay in school and get a good education. I am illiterate. I don’t want this life for my children. It’s not fair.”
She is receiving anti-natal care at a World Vision mobile health unit and learning about the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
At just 11 years of age, Benesh didn’t know what it meant to be married.
“I thought I was going to a fun picnic,” she recalls. “That’s when I was told, ‘you are married now, and this is your husband. You won’t be seeing your family anymore’. I was terrified and filled with anguish. I kept crying and crying. Other children in my new family kept trying to play games with me to try to distract me and, I think, to try to make me feel more comfortable.”
Though still a child, Benesh had to adapt to a life of making food, mending and doing other chores – her education was over.
She became pregnant at 12, but she didn’t know what it meant to be pregnant and having morning sickness. “I was never told how you become pregnant. I was scared. I didn’t know what was happening to me, I didn’t know why I was feeling so sick all the time.”
She now has an 18-month old son named Besmelah and is pregnant with her second child. “I see other girls my age playing, but now I have my own child to play with and take care of.” she said.
Benesh has spoken about the difficulties in seeing how different her life could have been, if she stayed in school.
“I often see other girls my age still going to school, but I can only watch, I wish I could go to school too. I miss my friends. I miss learning new things, doing maths, becoming better at different subjects, and playing at the lunch-break. Now, that part of my life is over.”
Benesh visited World Vision’s mobile health unit for maternal care. Mobile health teams are the only providers of health services in her community. Through the clinic she is receiving anti-natal care and is learning about nutrition.
Benesh hasn’t had any contact with her family for three years. She has said that if gives birth to a girl, she wants her daughter to be educated and have a chance for a better life than she has had.
“Benesh’s heart-breaking story is one we’ve heard again and again from the developing world.” Fiona O’Malley, Director of Communications and Fundraising at World Vision Ireland, said.
“Children shouldn’t be forced to raise children. It creates poverty traps, severely restricts their future, and has serious health risks.”
Describing child marriage as a blight on any community, World Vision Ireland said it is linked to maternal and infant mortality – usually because child brides who become pregnant are not physically ready to give birth. If they do survive, children of child brides are less healthy and less likely to receive an education.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 35 percent of young women are married before the age of 18. In South Asia, nearly 30 percent of girls are married before the age of 18.
“We need a united global effort to end child marriage,” Niall McLoughlin, CEO of World Vision Ireland, said.
“World Vision firmly believes that when you educate a girl, you educate an entire family. 11 pecent of women worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15. Together, we can reduce and someday end the horrific practice of child marriage through education, community engagement and outreach programmes.”
World Vision Ireland is calling on the public to donate whatever they can to help the world’s most vulnerable children on – https://www.worldvision.ie/transaction/where-the-need-is-greatest