In all countries around the world, the time of marriage is celebrated as an unforgettable moment that sees two people crowning their love forever.
Unfortunately for many girls, this moment of joy turns into a tragedy, since the forced arrival at the altar marks the beginning of their life as a child bride, which means a life full of abuses and suffering.
Nowadays Child marriage is well considered by the International Community as one of the most serious violations of human rights that afflict women and girls. This phenomenon has been declared by the General Assembly on several occasions as a deplorable and discriminatory practice for women, though it violates many important principles prescribed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for instance, the absolute rights for all children to express their opinion and will, the rights to be protected from any form of violence and exploitation, as well as many norms provided by the CEDAW convention, in which article 16 expressly prohibits the celebration of marriages with individuals under 18 years of age.
Recent statistics from Save the children have shown that a total of 700 million girls have contracted marriage before reaching 18 years old. And the main causes derive from poverty, culture and the presence of wars.
South Asia in particular, has the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Almost half (45%) of all women aged 20-24 years reported being married before the age of 18. Almost one in five girls (17%) are married before the age of 15.
India has the largest number of brides in the world, one-third of the global total, followed by Bangladesh which has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia (the fourth-highest rate in the world). Nepal has also one of the highest rates of child marriage in Asia for both boys and girls.
Due to the extreme poverty, and the local culture, in many Asian countries, families choose to grant their daughters in marriage when they are too young, without considering their opinion. In the region of Rajasthan in India, girls are promised marriage when they are only 3 years old, that is why parents can enjoy a cheap dowry from the future husband. Furthermore, marriage is seen as an important instrument that allow girls to be protected from sex and maintain their pureness.
Due to the illegality of this deplorable practice, Governments in South Asia have a legal obligation to abolish child marriage. The serious repercussions on girls violate the international and constitutional obligations of states to protect children’s rights and discriminatorily interfere with women’s and girls’ ability to enjoy a broad range of human rights.
Child marriage triggers a continuum of violations that continues throughout a girl’s life since it exposes children to forced sex and ongoing sexual violence, as well as to early, and frequent pregnancies. In addition, women and girls married as children are often denied educational opportunities, are isolated from society and face a lifetime of economic dependence.
Even though the considerable reduction of this practice, due to the strict action of many local and international NGO (such as Girls Not Brides), who are fighting to abolish it and allow girls to return to live their adolescence, the current situation is getting worse as a result of Covid pandemic.
It is unquestionable that the virus has caused the impoverishment of millions of Asian families, who are forcing their daughters to marry adult men just in order to obtain money and survive misery, in addiction UNICEF has declared that the drastic increase of school dropout of many children in South-Asia because of the closure of the school, is causing the rise of domestic sexual abuses and cases of pregnancy.
This climate of insecurity could annihilate the progress that has been made in recent years. The NGO Girls Not Brides explains: “South Asia is home to the largest population of young people and adolescents in the world.” The pandemic has provoked an unprecedented economic crisis and exacerbated inequalities. The impact is particularly serious for women and girls, who face greater risks of gender violence, unwanted pregnancies and early marriages».
Even in 2021, the rights of women and children in these contexts are trampled by the existence of discriminatory phenomena rooted in a patriarchal culture.
Among the 17 new objectives of the UN Agenda, appears the importance of “gender equality and the emancipation of women and girls. States are called to eliminate all forms of violence against women and children, including forced marriage and the practice of female genital mutilation or FGM that is often associated with the celebration of wedding rites, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
These promises resound in the choirs of the young women victims of this atrocity who hope for a better destiny for the future generation.