Children who marry often do not marry voluntarily. They are most likely forced into an arranged marriage on the grounds of tradition or custom, or because of the poverty of their parents.
This is a violation of the rights of children, because in many cases their marriage means that they have to give up their education. They may also suffer from the health consequences of premature pregnancy. When a child marries an adult – in practice, it is almost always a young girl marrying an adult man – there’s also the likelihood of marital rape, slavery or bonded labor and the lack of social contact with peers.
Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized. No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
The practice has gradually diminished over the years, but is still widespread in many parts of the world. 36 per cent of women aged 20-24 were married or in union before they reached 18 years of age.
Here are some graphs:
Percentage of women aged 20-24 who were married or in union before age 18 (1987-2006):
More than 60% of women were married before they reached the age of 18 in five countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and in Bangladesh.
Percentage of women aged 20-24 who were married or in union before age 18, by wealth index quintile (1987-2006):
Child marriage is more likely in poor families.
Number of women aged 20-24 who were married or in union before age 18, by region (2006):
More on children’s rights.