Conflict not cultural pressure behind child brides
06th March 2013 04:41 PM
13.5 million girls around the world married before their 18th birthday in 2012.
New research released today suggests that parents in the developing world marry off their juvenile daughters out of financial desperation rather than cultural pressure.
A report by World Vision identified a link between conflict and natural disasters and child marriage.
"Early marriage is a brutal curtailment of childhood and a violation of children's rights, yet many parents around the world believe it is the best possible way to ensure their daughters are looked after," said Hannah Stevenson, a policy advisor and co-author of the report.
She continued: "The public perception in the West is that these types of marriages are down to convention, but our research found that in most cases parents fear the child will starve or have no money, especially when have lost everything through war.
"They think the only way for their child to have a decent life is to marry her off at a young age. They do it with a heavy heart, they don't really want to marry them off at all."
The report will be launched in London at Parliament today, with World Vision urging the Government to use its global influence to lobby against child marriage and set a goal of ending the practice by 2030.
Last year, 13.5 million girls around the world married before their 18th birthday. Half of all girls living in least developed countries marry before then, while one in nine girls marry before they turn 15. Most of the world's child spouses live in South Asia (46 per cent) and in West and Central Africa (41 per cent).
World Vision's detailed research in Somaliland, Bangladesh and Niger found that early marriage is often perceived by families as a "protective measure and often in response to a crisis", said Ms Stevenson.
Of the 25 countries with the highest rates of early marriage, the majority are affected by conflict, fragility or natural disasters, the report found. Girls trapped in early marriage tend to be poor, under-educated and living in rural areas where birth and death rates are high and where conflict is common.
The report, Untying the Knot, cited the case of a mother called Amira facing the prospect of marrying off her 12-year-old daughter due to the conflict in Syria.
Her family are refugees in Lebanon where they are forced to rent a home for £65 a month, an exorbitant amount.
Amira, a mother of five, told researchers that 12-year-old Sheereen "would be our survival". Amira is seven months pregnant and with another mouth to soon feed, she is running out of options.
The report says that when Sheereen was asked for her thoughts at being married at 12, she could not answer.
Does Sheereen dream about her future? Her mother answers for her: "She doesn't answer you because no one has ever asked her this before."
Alem Gebrekidan, 36, an Ethiopian who founded the 'The Former Child Wives Foundation', was married at the age of ten, widowed at 13 with a one-year-old child
"At the same time lots of my friends were being married too," she said. "None of us were happy but we had no choice. The decision was made by our parents.
"When my son was one month old, my husband was killed in the conflict in northern Ethiopia. I was widowed but I still had a baby to care for. I was very afraid that I would not know how to care for my son.
Leaving after her husband died, she found her way on her own to Britain. "I had never spoken English and could not read or write because I had stopped going to school after I got married.
"I learnt English and to read and write in England and settled here. My son stayed with my mother in Ethiopia. He is now 25 years old. I feel overwhelmed with sadness when I think of him."