Sherry Johnson who lives in Florida was forced to marry a 20-year-old minister who raped her. She was raped at the age of 8 and pregnant at 10. In Florida marriage laws, children under the age of 16 are allowed to get married if they’re pregnant or have their parent’s consent. For years, Sherry kept silent and kept the abuse secret. It’s not just Florida. In every state or country, young people are forced into marriages without their consent. In fact, about half of the United States doesn’t even bother to set a legal minimum marriage age (Kristof). This illustrates why it’s important to prevent and end forced child marriage. A forced marriage may be a traditional practice that happens in many places, but the idea of forcing a child to marry against their will is wrong and harmful. The victims are at serious risk for suicide, sexual abuse, and health problems within the marriage. Forced marriage is a worldwide major issue that endangers the happiness and safety of its victims.
Child forced marriage takes place when the groom, bride, or both are forced to get married against their will or without their approval. It involves coercion and duress. Coercion can include physical, psychological, financial, harassment, sexual, and emotional pressure from relatives or family who consider a refusal to marry the person of their choice as a disgrace on the family’s honor (Responding to Forced Marriage: Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines). While forced marriage is more typical among girls than boys, in some regions, the practice mostly influences girls. Forced marriage is different from an arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage, the family takes the lead to find a spouse for their offspring but both individuals are allowed to decide whether or not to marry the person recommended by their families. However, in a forced marriage, the arrangement between the two individuals is not as important as it is in an arranged marriage and their marriage is oftentimes planned by their families.
Child forced marriage is a complex issue that can be planned by relatives, parents, or community leaders in secret. It can be found in every region in the world because of a variety of factors. These include lack of education, gender inequality, cultural practices, poverty, and strengthen the practice. Poverty is one of the main causes of child forced marriage. For numerous poor parents, giving their daughters in marriage is a way to lower their expenses. It’s one less mouth to feed, clothe, and educate (Malhotra 3-4). In some cases, girls are married off to pay debts to a man who is better off and to avoid more expensive dowries. According to a report by UNICEF, children from rural regions and poor households with lower education are most at risk of child marriage and they are more likely to become child brides. In certain places where forced marriages occur, women are not appreciated as much as men and are often viewed as a burden on the household. Children from poor neighborhoods who have less access to education are more likely to marry early or leave school to get married. In poor areas, when a girl starts menstruating, she becomes a woman in the eyes of her parents and the communities – ready for marriage and motherhood. Therefore, parents will decide to take their kids out of school to get married after their menstruation start.
Forced marriage is a global problem that occurs across countries and still a reality around the world. It is practiced across religions, cultures, and ethnicities. Every year, millions and thousands of girls are married against their will before they turn 18 in various parts of the world. A recent report by Girls Not Brides reveals that globally, more than 500 million women alive today are already wedded as children and experience the consequences of child marriage. Each year about twelve million young women enter into marriage before they become adults. This is 27 girls every minute. Countless more are pushed into marriage as naive teenagers. Forced marriage can happen across cultures, regions, and countries. One in every 5 young girls is said to be married before they reach 18. The global issues of child marriage are extremely common among young girls, but more than thousands of underage boys are also married as children. An approximate 126 million boys were married before their 15th birthday. The most common child marriage is in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. “Females in the poorest quintile are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood than those living in the wealthiest quintile,” UNICEF’s child protection Executive Director has said. “If there is no reduction in the practice of child marriage, up to 280 million girls alive today are at risk of becoming brides by the time they turn 18.” In every country, the poor are at a substantially greater risk of early marriage.
Several causes can lead to a society that allows and supports early forced marriages. In some communities, women and girls are forced to marry their own cousins because it allows two families to strengthen bonds and unanimity between groups. When families live in dangerous regions, parents may see child marriage as the best way to protect their daughters in an unsafe environment. When a mother in Bangladesh was asked why she married her daughter off, she explained, “she described not feeling comfortable to let her walk to the corner store because she would be harassed by men and boys … marriage is seen as a cover of respect and protection by women. By not going to school, it reduces the risk of being sexually active outside the house or being harassed while commuting.” Mothers are worried about their daughter’s safety. Parents assume that if a girl is married and has the protection of a man, then they are less likely to be raped and sexually assaulted (Kirkpatrick).
People who are being forced into marriage may face many problems such as depression, sadness, loneliness, self-harm, etc. Child forced marriage completely ends girls’ childhood. When a child is wedded off, they may leave their family and friends behind and be separated from them. As a result, they may feel terrified and lonely. Girls who are forced into marriages are expected to become wives who keep the house and take care of the family, instead of playing with friends and dreaming about a career or worrying about a school exam. Furthermore, they are most likely to give birth or have babies while still young and immature. teenagers who marry young are 5 times greater likely to die while giving birth than females in their 20s. They are also at greater risk of experiencing childbirth complications including hemorrhaging and obstetric fistula. Their infants have a lowered chance of surviving too, according to the World Health Organization.
A forced marriage may drive girls to suicide. A victim of a child forced marriage often results in teenage girls and young women trying to escape and attempt suicide to avoid marriage. “Parents know their daughter committed suicide, but in small communities in Syria, they hide the issue,” Arfeh said. “They feel ashamed of the community around them. They do not offer the body to the forensic doctor, claiming it is the body of a girl and they have the right not to show it (Syrian Child Brides Increasingly Contemplate Suicide).” Young girls are usually married off to far older guys who abuse or attack them if they decline to sleep with them. They can suffer domestic abuse at the hands of their husbands or in-laws and experience a lack of family support.
Early marriage is a dangerous custom that harms girls and women throughout the world, stopping them from living their lives free from all kinds of abuse. Ending and preventing forced child marriage can be one way to give the victims the freedom to decide for themselves and make their own choices. Forced marriage can be prevented by keeping girls in school. The longer they stay in school, the less likely they are to be wedded off before they turn 15 and have babies during their teenage years. Women and girls should be informed about their rights and realize that forced marriage will hurt them. Some governments are against the idea of forced marriage and consider it to be a human rights violation. According to U.S Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), if a child is being forced to marry, it will be considered child abuse and they can be charged with breaking state laws, such as domestic abuse, child violence, and sexual assault. Forcing a person to marry without their consent is also considered a criminal offense and the maximum sentence is 7 years imprisonment.
All countries should end child forced marriage and set an example for the world. Child forced marriage is still a reality in the United States and other countries. Every three seconds, a child gets sold to husbands who use and often abuse them as domestics. Forced marriage steals girls of a chance to explore, discover, grow and fully recognize their ability. These girls are not receiving the respect they deserve and they are treated like property. Women’s rights must not be ignored, including the rights of girls and women to be free from child and forced marriages and other forms of prejudice. Every girl around the world has a right to experience childhood, go to school, make friends, feel loved, and pursue their dreams.