Child Marriage: The Causes and The Effects

Child Marriage: The Causes and The Effects

Every day, 41,000 girls marry before they are 18 years old, according to the World Bank. That’s 15 million girls every year. Even though child marriage can happen to both boys and girls, in most places around the world, the practice mostly affects girls. Child marriage denies girls the right to choose whom and when to marry – one of life’s most important decisions. Choosing one’s partner is a major decision, one that should be made freely and without fear or coercion. On this, virtually all countries agree.

Child marriage is the marriage of a child less than 18 years of age, and it’s common in the developing world.  It is especially common in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where young girls below 18 are forced into marriage. In Nigeria, about 42% of girls are married before the age of 18.  The practice of this malady can deny educational opportunities, lead to poverty, and can have a deeply negative impact on the health of young girls. It is a major violation of the human rights of the girl child.

What are the Factors behind Child Marriage?

Three major factors that influence the marriages of children are:

1) Poverty. Many poor parents secure their daughters’ future by ensuring that another family will be responsible for their care. Also, some parents see their daughters as burdens or commodities, and dowries complicate the issue. In areas where the bride’s family pays a dowry to the groom’s family, younger brides typically command smaller dowries, creating an incentive for parents to marry their daughters off early. In places where the groom’s family pays a bride price, parents in difficult circumstances marry off their daughters as a source of income.

2) Tradition and the need to reinforce and establish social ties. For some parents, their reason for early marriage is the desire to maintain the family’s good name and social standing.  Often, the social success of children is a measurable status, and a daughter’s success lies in a good marriage to another family. Very rarely is pregnancy outside wedlock a reason for early marriage.

3) The erroneous belief that it offers protection and security.  Many parents wrongly believe that once married, their daughters will be safe from rape, premarital sex, and sexually transmitted infections.

child marriage

Credit: World Bank

The Effects of Early Marriages

The negative implications of child marriages are as many as they are far reaching. Early marriages have economic implications and educational implications. They also have implications on child mortality and maternal health. This is the case not only for child brides, but also for their children and for societies overall.

The Effects of Child Marriage on Maternal Health

Child marriage and maternal health are deeply connected. Without the one, the other wouldn’t exist. According to the United Nations, girls who marry before they are 18 are more likely to experience unwanted pregnancies. They are also more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. They face a higher risk of sexual and reproductive health morbidity, and maternal mortality.

Early marriage also leads to a high risk of maternal death, because girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Young girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years are 5 to 7 times more likely to die in childbirth. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years face double the risk of death via childbirth.

Apart from high death rates there is the risk of  eclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, sepsis, and HIV infection. There is also the risk of obstructed labour. This is because girls aged 10 to 15 years have small pelvises and are not ready for childbearing. Their risk for obstetric fistula is 88%.

These risks increase the likelihood of poor infant and child health outcomes. This is because early motherhood is linked to poor maternal health outcomes. Young girls are more likely to have children with low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anemia.  Child marriage is significantly associated with increased likelihood of neonatal death and stillbirth as well as child and infant morbidity and mortality.

The Social and Economic Effects of Child Marriages

Early marriages lead teenage girls to have children more and more children in their lifetime. It then reduces the household’s ability to cater for them. Ultimately this leads to poverty.

Every year that a girl marries early, the statistics of completing secondary school drop even lower.If she cannot complete her education, she will have low earnings as an adult. This is because a lack of education will prevent her from getting good jobs. In addition, child marriage also reduces education prospects for the children of child brides by curtailing their mother’s education.

Child marriage not only puts a stop to girls’ hopes and dreams. It also hampers efforts to end poverty and achieve economic growth and equity.


Resources: UNFPA and World Bank

Also read: Female Malawian chief breaks up 850 child marriages



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