Child marriage can have negative impacts on the child, but also the child’s family and community. Despite the numerous international treaties that address the minimum age of marriage, child marriage is still prevalent in many countries, including the United States.
The abolition of child marriage, which mostly affects girls, is a target for the gender empowerment goal made by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The growing commitment to ending child marriage is advanced by civil society groups (CSGs). CSGs use social norm-based strategies to advocate for the end of child marriage. This article by Noah Shawki (paywall) discusses the momentum created by the CSGs to bring about changes in policy for child marriage at local, national, and global levels.
Effects of Child Marriage
Child marriage can affect all children; however, the impact on girls much stronger. While child marriage mostly affects rural or poor girls from developing countries, it continues to exist in communities in the U.S. as well.
Child marriage is driven by a number of socio-economic and cultural conditions such as poverty, culturally-rooted gender norms, social status, and a lack of education. 142 million girls will be married before the age of 18, and they will be forced to face the negative consequences of child marriage. Child marriage is responsible for early pregnancy and childbirth which can cause significant health problems and even death for young mothers and their newborns.
Child marriage can also cause emotional distress and physical abuse. Early marriage causes the reinforcement of low education and poverty. Most importantly, child marriage is a violation of human rights.
Norm-based Strategies for Change
On a global scale, CSGs have called for action at the United Nations to end child marriage. As a result, child marriage is seen as a human rights issue. CSGs are providing capacity-building and technical assistance programs to countries working to end child marriage. They are also supporting the research and data collection on the causes and consequences of child marriage. CSGs also put effort into emergency protection for children in life-threatening situations and guarantee that girls will be able to complete secondary education.
CSGs use normative reframing to link child marriage to other issues that have become important global goals and policy priorities. At the national and community levels, CSGs have been raising awareness of the impacts of girls forced into child marriage. They are educating local communities as a way of advocating to end child marriage, as well as change social norms on female genital mutilation. One of their most common strategies is to empower girls through education, skills, and support systems. Girls are also taught leadership skills which will help shift community norms on gender roles, thus curbing child marriage.
National Efforts to End Child Marriage
Students Against Child Marriage is proud to join the CSGs abroad and at home that work to end child marriage. The fight to end child marriage in the United States is led by numerous organizations and survivors. Our goal at SACM is to energize student activism around this issue to change the legal loopholes that continue to perpetuate child marriage in the United States.