Girls who are forced to marry are committed to being in slavery like marriages for the rest of their lives. Girls who are victims of servile marriages experience domestic servitude, sexual slavery and suffer from violations to their right to health, education, non-discrimination and freedom from physical, psychological and sexual violence.
Every year an estimate of 10 million girls are married before they reach 18. In the most appalling of these cases, little girls as young as eight years old are being married off to men who may be three or four times their age.
Child marriage cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities; 46% of girls under 18 are married in South Asia; 38% in sub-Saharan Africa; 29% in Latin America and the Caribbean; 18% in the Middle East and North Africa; and in some communities in Europe and North America too.
Child marriage is a violation of all the rights of the child. It forces children, particularly girls, to assume responsibilities for which they are often physically and psychologically not prepared for.
Girls who are forced to marry face a life of violence in the home where they are physically and sexually abused, suffer from inhuman and degrading treatment and ultimately slavery.
Early marriages also impacts on girls’ right to education, health, and participate in the decisions that affect them. Girls who marry early often drop out of school, significantly reducing their ability to gain skills and knowledge to make informed decisions and to earn an income. An obstacle to girls’ and women’s empowerment, it also hinders their ability to lift themselves out of poverty.
Child brides are more likely to get pregnant at an early age and, as a result, face higher risk of maternal death and injury due to early sexual activity and childbearing.
A vast array of international instruments recognizes the right to free and full consent to marriage. In particular, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states that the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, requires States parties to take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing practices that are harmful to children.
Today, on the first United Nations International Day on the Girl Child, we call on States to increase the age of marriage to 18 years of age for girls and boys without exception and adopt urgent measures to prevent child marriage. As with all forms of slavery, forced early marriages should be criminalized. They cannot be justified on traditional, religious, cultural or economic grounds.
However, an approach which only focuses on criminalization cannot succeed in effectively combating forced early marriages. This should go hand in hand with public awareness raising campaigns to highlight the nature and harm caused by forced and early marriages and community programmes to help detect, provide advice, rehabilitation and shelter where necessary. In addition, birth registration should be made universal to support proof of age and prevent forced early marriage.
On this International Day of the Girl Child, we remind States of their obligation to promote and protect the rights of girls and that harmful practices against girls, including early and forced marriage should be put to an end, in accordance with international law.
No girl should be forced to marry. No girl should be committed to servile marriage, domestic servitude and sexual slavery. No girl should suffer from violations to their right to health, education, non-discrimination and freedom from physical, psychological and sexual violence. Not a single one.
This joint statement was issued by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, the UN Special Rapporteur on Sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children and the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice.