Every year, an estimated 15 million girls aged under 18 are married worldwide with little or no say in the matter. In the developing world, one in nine girls is married before her 15th birthday and some child brides are as young as eight or nine. These girls are often denied their rights to health, education, and robbed of their childhood. It is estimated that by 2030 an estimated 15.4 million girls a year will marry as children.
Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Many become infected with HIV/AIDS and become victims of domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.
Child Marriage and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Child marriage directly hinders the achievement of 6 of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. Simply put, the international community will not fulfill its commitments to reduce global poverty unless it tackles the issue of forced child marriage.
Girls are disproportionately affected by child marriage
While boys are sometimes subjected to early marriage, girls are disproportionately affected and form the vast majority of the victims of child marriage. In 2013, it was reported that the marriage ratio of girls aged 15-19 compared to boys aged 15-19 was 72 to 1 in Mali, 8 to 1 in the US, and 6 to 1 in El Salvador.
Child marriage: What does international law say?
The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) prohibits child marriage.
Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), governments have committed to ensure the overall protection of children and young people aged under 18. However, cultural practices often infringe on these protections.
25% of all Kenyan girls younger than 15 years old are married. The Maasai community has one of the highest rates of child marriage – 90% of young girls are married.
Maasai girls are not taught to speak up for themselves, to cultivate dreams for the future, or to develop leadership skills. Rather, they are instructed from a young age by their parents and elders that their future is to become a wife and mother upon reaching puberty.
Education for girls is not valued as a priority for family or community investment. Girls do not receive the attention from the community that boys do, and they are expected to spend their evenings doing chores rather than studying. Thus, they tend to perform at a lower level than their male peers and are unable to continue education beyond the primary level.
Although FGM and early marriage are illegal in Kenya, 90% of Maasai girls are still subject to these traditional practices at puberty. Currently, the biggest challenge for young Maasai girls is to stay in school despite pressure to drop out for early marriage which is escalated by poverty levels in the community and lack of funds to pay for their education educational needs. Therefore, education is treated as a luxury and privilege instead of a right for all children. This is a cultural trend that Keep Girls Safe Foundation seeks to end.
Early child birth
In all Maasai villages, women and girls remain severely marginalized by cultural traditions. Girls regularly stop going to school and are married off at the tender age of 15 after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful and dangerous practice that is considered a rite of passage to adulthood in traditional African cultures. While this brutal practice is on a decline, young teen pregnancy is increasing at devastating rates.
Pregancy rates and childbirth complications rates are high among young girls in Maasai communities. Pregnancy and childbirth are extremely dangerous to these young girls as their bodies are not sufficiently developed for healthy pregnancies and there are greatly increased rates of delivery complications such as obstetric fistula. Survivors may suffer severe health consequences for the rest of their lives.
Early child birth is also a main contributor to high school dropout rates. An estimated 50% of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas.
Lack of Health Education
Girls know very little about their bodies, their health and have no opportunity for sex education before they are circumcised in preparation for marriage in Maasai communities. In addition to lacking basic resources, the day schools do not have gender sensitive facilities and are equally unprepared to deal with gender specific needs. Without running water or proper toilet facilities, girls who have reached puberty are often unable to attend school during menstruation. Missing this much school puts girls at a severe disadvantage and greatly reduces their chances of continuing their education beyond the primary level.