Child marriage is a serious human rights crisis and one of the most pressing development concerns in the world today. Defined as marriage under the age of 18 (UN 2000), child marriage disproportionately and negatively affects girls who are more likely to be married as children than boys (Mathur et al 2003; UNICEF 2005; Save the Children 2004). Currently over 60 million girls and women are affected by child marriage globally (ICRW 2011). Child marriage is particularly pervasive across South Asia and Africa, where 50-70 percent of girls in some countries are married before the age of 18 (UNICEF, 2009). Child marriage, a form of early and forced alliance, is steeped in harmful traditional norms and practices passed across generations, which has a debilitating impact on the lives of girls, their families and society at large. It is a harmful practice that significantly undermines the best interests of the girl child. The occurrence of child marriage is greater in poorer families and those with lower levels of education, and is also high in fragile states hit by natural catastrophe and conflict (World Vision, 2013).
Apart from being a human rights violation child marriage has grave consequences for girls’ reproductive and sexual health, impeding their overall development and wellbeing. Child marriage denies girls their childhood, as well as crucial education and employment opportunities. It makes them vulnerable to sexual and other forms of physical violence and abuse. Despite these adverse consequences, child marriages continue unabated. This is indeed a matter of grave concern and it requires serious deliberation and action. There are initiatives on child marriage prevention undertaken by state and development organizations in South Asia. However, high rates of child marriage in the region requires an in-depth review of the problem, and more meaningful efforts for its elimination including through appropriate law reform and legal accountability. Therefore child marriage should be part of South Asian countries’ priority agenda for mobilizing adequate resources, energy and commitment toward ending the practice.
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