Child marriage is a marriage or similar union, formal or informal, between an adult and a child under a certain age, typically age eighteen. The child can be a girl or a boy, but the large majority of child marriages are between a girl and a man,and are rooted in gender inequality.
Child marriage violates the rights of children and has widespread and long-term consequences for child brides and child grooms. For girls, in addition to mental health issues and a lack of access to education and career opportunities, this includes adverse health effects as a result of early pregnancy (including teenage pregnancy) and childbirth. There is little research on boys in child marriages, but effects on boys include being ill-prepared for certain responsibilities such as providing for the family, early fatherhood, and a lack of access to education and career opportunities. Child marriage is related to child betrothal, and it includes civil cohabitation and court approved early marriages after teenage pregnancy.Causes of child marriages include poverty, bride price, dowry, cultural traditions, religious and social pressures, regional customs, fear of the child remaining unmarried into adulthood, illiteracy, and perceived inability of women to work for money.Research indicates that comprehensive sex education can help to prevent child marriage.
Child marriage is a crime.
Before the industrial revolution, in many parts of the world, including India, China and Eastern Europe, women tended to marry immediately after reaching puberty, in their mid-teens. Societies where most of the population lived in small agricultural communities were characterized by these marriage practices well into the 19th century. Men tended to marry later in societies where a married couple was expected to establish a household of their own. That usually meant that men remained unmarried until they accumulated sufficient wealth to support a new home, and were married in their mature age to adolescent girls, who contributed a dowry to the family finances.
In the Hindu holy book, the Vedas, marriage is shown to be between two adult persons after the Brahmacharya stage.The Vedas, specifically the Rigveda and Atharvaveda, have verses that clearly indicate that during the Vedic Period, girls married well after attaining puberty and were of a mature age. The early Dharmaśāstra (Dharmasutras) also state that girls should be married after they have attained puberty while some texts extend the marriageable age to before puberty. In the Manusmriti, which was not implemented as law, a father is considered to have wronged his daughter if he fails to marry her before puberty and if the girl is not married in less than three years after reaching puberty, she can search for the husband herself.
Child marriage has lasting consequences on girls, from their health (mental and physical), education and social development perspectives. These consequences last well beyond adolescence. One of the most common causes of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries was pregnancy and childbirth.In Niger, which is estimated as having the highest rate of child marriage in the world, about 3 in 4 girls marry before their 18th birthday.
Boys are sometimes married as children; UNICEF states that "girls [are] disproportionately affected by the practice. Globally, the prevalence of child marriage among boys is just one sixth that among girls." Research on the effects of child marriage on underage boys is scant, which researchers state is likely because child marriage involving boys is less common and girls being at risk for adverse health effects as a result of early pregnancy and childbirth. The effects of child marriage on boys include being ill-prepared for certain responsibilities such as providing for the family, early fatherhood, and a lack of access to education and career opportunities. As of September 2014, 156 million living men were married as underage boys.