Child marriages and poverty
30-Jul-2017


In Saudi Arabia, the Shura Council has called for a ban on the marriage of girls below the age of 15 and strict conditions for girls marrying under the age of 18. The Council remarked on the phenomenon of girls dropping out of school and the economic burden child marriage places on girls and also on the health and social welfare sectors of the country.  Indeed, while the discussion on child marriage is a delicate one where culture and tradition are concerned, the cycle of poverty to which girl brides are often condemned is easier to address. 

Worldwide there are more than 700 million girls and women who were married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage occurs everywhere, including wealthy nations like the United States. However, the rate of underage marriage spikes considerably in the poorest of countries: according to UNICEF, 41% of girls in the least developed countries are married before age 18. Almost half live in Southeast Asia; the majority live in rural areas. 

Children, especially girls, are often married young to alleviate the burden of poverty on their families. In war-torn nations, marriage can be seen as a solution for large, poor families, or for young girls who have lost their families and need protection. For example, there has been an increase in the marriage of Syrian girls, especially refugees, since the start of the Syrian war. Yet while child marriage may prove a short-term solution for their families, it does not necessarily end poverty for the girls involved.

When girl children from poor families marry, they often do not get the chance to continue their education. As they now have the responsibility of taking care of a home, including raising children, they usually have no choice but to abandon their studies. This puts them at an economic disadvantage, as they may have difficulty finding a job and thus will not be able to contribute to their family or have money of their own. This can become a pressing issue if they are later widowed or divorced. They may be less prepared mentally to care for and educate their own children, and may marry off their daughters at an early age as well, perpetuating the cycle.

Poverty and the child marriages that result from it are not easy issues to address or solve. Going forward, more can be done, however, to educate and empower girls who are married young so they can break the cycle of poverty, take better care of their children and participate in society. 


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