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Why don't child brides have rights? Ask the ICRW

Louise Allain, 16th December 2013,

"Child marriage - the practice of primarily marrying girls younger than 18, often to much older men - is a violation of girls' human rights." Sarah Degnan Kambou of International Centre for Research on Women

To mark this year's Human Rights Day, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) wrote to Cherie Blair, who is on the charity's global advisory board, and herself an world renown ambassador for women's rights, asking for space on her website to air a taboo subject: Child Marriage.

"Child marriage - the practice of primarily marrying girls younger than 18, often to much older men - is a violation of girls' human rights.", writes Sarah Degnan Kambou, ICRW President, in her recent newsletter, in which she outlines the facts. There are close to 67 million child brides in the world today says Sarah, and outlines the case of 'Yeshi-Alem' who became a child bride in Ethiopia at the age of 10 years.

Although Yeshi-Alem has 2 children, she has been part of a programme put in place by ICRW to help adolescent girls at risk from child marriage by providing support and the opportunity to carry on with education and enhance her chances of self-sufficiency.

The United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights , article 1, is meant to recognize 'the equal and inalienable rights of the human family', sadly the fact is that 14 million girls under 18 are denied those rights each year.

What are the facts about child brides? If a young girl is married off at the age of 15, or younger, she will be denied the opportunity to finish her education, she is more than likely to be living in poverty, she is still pubescent and so her body is not physically mature enough to deal with child birth, so complications or even death may result. There are also the psychological implications of being forced into a sexual relationship with a man at such an immature age. Physical abuse, the prevalence of HIV and other diseases that a child may contract are also factors that a child bride is subjected to.

Care is another charity who are trying to heighten awareness of the misery caused by forced marriage for under age girls and have launched a campaign on twitter using #StealTheseStats to reach out and alter cultural inertia about accepting the idea of child brides.

A United Nations Human Rights Council against the practice of child, early and forced marriages was introduced early this year and put into practice in September in New York, it recognizes child marriage as a human rights violation and pledges to eliminate the practice as part of the UN's post 2015 global development agenda. Though many countries across continents have co-sponsored the proposal, India has refused. The reasons for this are unclear, reportedly the definition of 'early marriage' is not legally defined anywhere and so the Indian government can use this as a reason for rejecting the measure.

One of the biggest causes of child marriage is poverty; the primary reason in countries like Nepal for parents allowing their daughters of Primary school age to marry is because the younger the child the lower the dowry. With charities such as ICRW and CARE, there is some progress being made in such places to turn the tide on this inhumane practise.

Though a predominantly third world problem, there is some evidence that child marriage goes on in Britain too. An article by Mehdi Hasan in the Huffington Post describes how a recent edition of the ITV documentary Exposure shed light on the fact that when a couple posed as parents wanting to arrange a marriage for their 14 year old daughter, quite a number of imams in mosques across the UK agreed to carry out the ceremony. Comfortingly a large number also rejected the request as 'abhorrent'.

Education too, plays such an important role in mitigating the likelihood of girls marrying, the higher the level of schooling a girl achieves the more empowered she is to reject her parents' decisions with rationale and logic.

"In Mozambique, some 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18, compared to 10 percent of girls with secondary schooling and less than one percent of girls with higher education." (ICRW)

If child marriage is to become a part of history the only way to achieve that is to support and promote those charities like ICRW who are physically getting out in to the communities and educating both men and women that this accepted form of child abuse has to be stopped. So please do remember their efforts.