Kids often provide the comedic relief at weddings. They walk crookedly down the aisle, make faces when the bride and groom kiss, and don’t bother keeping their clothes clean—but when they are actually standing at the altar, it's not so funny.
Child marriage, in which at least one of the two is under the age of 18, is a detrimental facet of making ends meet in the developing world.
More than 14 million girls worldwide are subjugated by family members, poverty, or a societal norm to marry long before they are adults. Human Rights Watch reports that one in seven girls is married in the developing world—mainly, South Asia and Central and West Africa—before reaching her 15th birthday.
These areas view girls as their most valuable possessions, financial assets equivalent to other family properties. Many marry off their daughters in exchange for a dowry.
“Over 50 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 in rural areas,” HRW researcher Belkis Wille said in a video. “One even sees girls getting married at the age of eight.”
Because of their prepubescent age, detrimental and sometimes fatal health complications are a common consequence of child marriage, stemming from alarmingly common human rights violations including domestic abuse, marital rape, and restrictions on education.
“There is a perception that somehow marriage protects girls. But that is not the case; it simply means that child brides fall off our radar and that the sexual, emotional, and physical burdens they face are ignored,” according to Lakshmi Sundaram, global coordinator of Girls Not Brides. “It’s not easy to talk about girls being child wives and all that marriage entails for them, but we can’t shy away from an issue when it has such an impact on the health of so many girls and women.”
It is a form of gender-based discrimination that often perpetuates violence and inequality.
"They have very high hopes for the future. They dream of being doctors. They dream of being pilots," said Agnes Odhiambo, a researcher at HRW's Women's Rights Division, "but the environment in which they live in does not always enable those dreams to come true."
Hussein Younis Ali, 14, walks with his bride, Nada Ali Hussein, 17, during the wedding party at his home in Tikrit, north of Baghdad. Boys and girls are married at an early age in Iraq's rural areas by local clerics who ignore Iraq's law forbidding marriage by individuals under the age of 16. (Bakr al-Azzawi/Reuters)