Child Marriage – Devastating Consequences

The United States Department of State was not exaggerating when it declared in March 2016 that child marriage, or marriage in which one or both parties is under age 18, is a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood.”

The impacts of child marriage, or marriage before age 18, are devastating – particularly for girls, who are much more likely to be married as children:

CHILDREN CAN EASILY BE FORCED INTO AND/OR TRAPPED IN A MARRIAGE

Before they reach the age of majority (usually 18), children cannot easily access the legal and other resources they need to protect themselves from being forced into marriage or to escape from an abusive marriage. Often they cannot easily access domestic violence shelters, retain an attorney (because contracts with children typically are voidable) or file a legal action such as a divorce. Right now, in some states, children can get married but cannot file for divorce.

Remember that most children who marry in the US are minor girls wed to adult men. Think of the outrageous imbalance of power the current marriage-age laws create: The girls must grapple with all these legal and practical handicaps if they try to avoid or leave a marriage, their adult husbands face no such barriers.

CHILD MARRIAGE UNDERMINES GIRLS’ HEALTH

Women who married at 18 or younger have a 23 percent greater risk of disease onset, including heart attack, diabetes, cancer and stroke.

Child marriage is associated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) and early pregnancies, because child brides are often unable to negotiate access to safe sex and medical care.

Child marriage is associated with higher rates of death resulting from childbirth, unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy termination and malnutrition in the offspring.

Child marriage increases the risk of psychiatric disorders. A 2011 study showed child marriage in the US was significantly associated with all mental disorders except pathological gambling and histrionic and dependent personality disorders. Women who married as children have nearly three times as high a risk of developing antisocial personality disorder than women who married as adults; other prevalent disorders among women who married as children include major depressive disorder, nicotine dependence and specific phobias.

CHILD MARRIAGE UNDERMINES GIRLS’ EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

Women who marry before 19 are 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school than are their unmarried counterparts, and four times less likely to complete college.

Young women who married in their teens are often unable to access education and work opportunities, in part because they tend to have more children, earlier and more closely spaced.

Women who marry early are more likely to earn low wages and significantly more likely to live in poverty.

For teenage mothers, marriage is particularly dangerous. Teenage mothers who marry before childbirth are less likely to return to school than teenage mothers who do not marry; overall, teenage mothers who marry and then divorce are more likely to end up living in poverty, while teenage mothers who stay single have better long-term financial outcomes.

CHILD MARRIAGE INCREASES GIRLS’ RISK OF EXPERIENCING VIOLENCE

Women who married before 18 are three times more likely to have been beaten by their spouses than women who married at 21 or older.

CHILD MARRIAGE ALMOST ALWAYS ENDS IN FAILURE

Age at marriage has long been the single most accurate predictor of marital failure. Those who marry before 18 have a stunning 70 to 80% chance of getting divorced.

Divorce can be difficult for an adult, but the challenges a child faces when trying to divorce are often insurmountable.