While it may have been something our parents or grandparents frequently did, getting married under the age of 20 these days is not quite as common.
Lovestruck teenagers excitedly tying the knot is one thing. But being coerced against your will into such a union by your family is quite another.
Child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.
It is common practice amongst many communities, especially in the developing world, to be pushed into making the very serious and life-altering commitment of marriage at a very young and vulnerable age.
Young girls, especially, suffer the painful consequences of such arrangements. The prevalence of child marriage among boys is one sixth than that amongst girls, as it is the result of entrenched gender inequality.
There has been a marked increase in underage marriage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This can be attributed to many affecting factors such as financial stability, the physical and mental health of the children and the operating of schools. The disruption of “non-essential” services such as reproductive health services has also directly affected the rate of teenage pregnancy and, in turn, marriage.
The roots of this practice vary across countries and different cultures. But economic hardship, limited educational opportunities and minimal health care access exacerbates the problem. For some families, marrying off their daughters seems to be the only solution to lessen the financial stress they are under. Others believe that it’s the best way to secure a better future for their daughter and possibly even themselves.
But the reality is that when girls marry so young they aren’t allowed to be children and this puts their lives and developmental health under threat, now and in the future. They are often subjected to domestic violence and often don’t continue their education. This gets passed down to their children which perpetuates the cycle, leading to more strain on the health and education systems of these countries.
Pregnancy and childbirth at such a young age is also more complicated and risky for themselves and their children.
All of these factors together can result in the girls becoming isolated from their friends and family which puts further strain on their physical and mental well-being.
But there is hope on the horizon.
Hope in the Law
At the moment the legal minimum age of marriage in England and Wales is 16 but this could be raised to 18 under backbench legislation.
Former chancellor Sajid Javid said that this is to protect vulnerable teenagers from religious and cultural pressures to get married too young.
With the law as it is currently, 16 year olds only need the consent of their parents to be able to marry, which Mr Javid calls a legal ‘loophole’ as it opens young people up to being forced into marriage.
He is positive that he will receive Government support in this initiative to end this destructive cycle of what he says can only be described as ‘child abuse’.