Skip to main content

Fear, instability driving early marriage around the world, report says

By Hazel Pfeifer, CNN
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 1717 GMT (0117 HKT)
Humaiya Akhter (R) works with young girls in Bangladesh to raise awareness about the damaging effects of child marriage.
Humaiya Akhter (R) works with young girls in Bangladesh to raise awareness about the damaging effects of child marriage.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Report: More than 13.5 million girls under 18 marry each year across the world
  • Expert: Poverty, gender inequality and social norms are big factors in early marriage
  • Laws against early marriage exist in most countries but are often unenforced

(CNN) -- Humaiya Akhter is 16 years old and already six of her friends are married. Some have children.

She is from the village of Tajpur in the Joypurat district of Bangladesh, a country where 66% of girls are married before 18 years of age, according to children's charity World Vision.

Her grandmother was married at the age of nine and her mother at the age of 16, and Humaiya is determined to break the cycle. She now campaigns locally against child marriage and has helped girls in her community to avoid early marriage.

READ: Dreaming of more than just a wedding

"In our country, the girls are not allowed to give their opinion. When their marriage is fixed, their fathers don't let them know what will happen, they may be married after two or three days," she told CNN.

"Parents think that the girls are a burden and they can't contribute to the family income so they don't have right to say anything or give any opinion to the family."

Melinda Gates: Why we celebrate International Women's Day

The issue is not limited to Bangladesh. More than 13.5 million girls under 18 are married each year across the world -- and the figure is rising according to Erica Hall, Child Rights Policy Director at World Vision.

"There are a lot of different factors that impact early marriage. Poverty, gender inequality and social norms are big factors," Hall told CNN, adding that crises like war and displacement also have a big impact.

According to "Untying the Knot," a new report from World Vision, child marriage increases in times of conflict and disaster, when fear pushes parents to marry their daughters early in order to ensure their safety and security.

MORE: Girl married at 13 to a septuagenarian

But this can actually have devastating effects on young girls' lives -- limiting their access to education and increasing their chances of poverty and health problems, including complications during child-birth.

Countries like Niger, Somalia and Bangladesh -- destabilized by drought and food shortages -- have some of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, according to the report, and Halls says climate change will only make matters worse.

Child marriage rates are also higher in refugee and IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps, where girls are encouraged to marry early to safeguard their virginity. In times of insecurity, the comfort of tradition outweighs legislation -- and while many countries have laws in place to prevent child marriage, Hall says enforcement is weak or non-existent.

"In Bangladesh, the legal age for marriage is 18 for girls and 21 for boys, so there's nothing wrong with the law, it's in the implementation," says Hall. "That's something that we are advocating for, to make sure that legislation is in place and that it is enforced. There is no reason that a girl that's born today should be forced to marry before the age of 18."

MORE: Syria's women fighting war on two fronts

Hall says access to education and law enforcement, in addition to greater community cooperation, are key to changing attitudes to child marriage.

"You can't just convince individuals that it is better for girls to be in school and not be married. You have to have a whole community response that says 'we will not marry our girls' so that no one feels that they are at risk of defying cultural norms."

As part of World Vision's Child Forum, this is what Humaiya aims to do in her community. "I don't know when I will get married but I think after eight years maybe, after completing my education and being established in the society," she says. Unlike generations of women before her, she has a choice.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0626 GMT (1426 HKT)
A year ago, 1,000 garment workers died in the collapse of Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. Here's a look at what has changed since then.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0453 GMT (1253 HKT)
Focus is on the fish as U.S. President starts tour with visit to legendary Tokyo restaurant.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Fireworks are fantastic and human endeavor has its place, but sometimes Mother Nature outshines any performance we can produce.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0306 GMT (1106 HKT)
In 1987, China sent its very first email. Here's what it said,
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
The world's new fastest elevator will fling you from earth to the 95th floor before you're done reading this article.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
In one U.S. state, a new bill will allow ordinary citizens to carry guns in all sorts of places. Does it make you feel safer?
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
In South Korea, volunteer divers are risking their lives to rescue victims of the sunken ferry.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT)
Park Jee Young, 22, helped passengers escape as the Sewol ferry sank -- giving out life jackets while refusing to wear one herself.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
What did outgoing manager David Moyes get wrong in his six months with English Premier League football team Manchester United?
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1736 GMT (0136 HKT)
In honor of Shakespeare's birthday, here are 15 of the world's most amazing theaters.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
CNN exclusive: Australian officials are hammering out a new agreement for widening the Flight 370 search area.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
Malaysian officials sent to brief Chinese families are armed with little to no information.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1545 GMT (2345 HKT)
When a team of Indian surgeons opened up the stomach of a 63-year-old man, they had no idea they'd extract a fortune.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 0701 GMT (1501 HKT)
Do these photos CNN of gun-toting men wearing green uniforms prove Russian forces are in eastern Ukraine?
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1711 GMT (0111 HKT)
If the Duchess wears it, then your fashion career is sorted for life.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1120 GMT (1920 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT