Child marriage isn’t too common in the United States, but in places like South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, young girls are often married off to much older men. According to Reuters, a girl under 18 is married off every three seconds somewhere in the world. The practice is often illegal but not enforced, and so underage girls find themselves bartered off without their consent. A critical part of this epidemic, however, is that it perpetuates the ideology that girls have nothing to contribute to their families.
Reuters reports on what is called the “ripple effect” of child marriage, describing how marriage prohibits an underage daughter from becoming anything other than someone’s wife:
Girls forced into early marriage rarely continue their education, denying them any hope of independence, the ability to earn a livelihood or of making an economic contribution to their households.
The practice also reinforces the concept of girls as worthless burdens on their families to be jettisoned as soon as possible.
Girls who complete secondary school are six times less likely to become child brides than contemporaries with less or no education, according to the ICRW, a Washington-based think tank.
But distance from schools and a lack of school fees often preclude education for the poorest girls, who are twice as likely to marry young as those from wealthier homes.
Without education, or even means to procure an education, many families are simply doing what they can to make sure that their daughter is provided for. But even though many parents are well-intentioned, they unknowingly put their young daughters at risk for maternal deaths, domestic abuse, and rape. Child marriage preserves a deeply-rooted mentality that girls cannot be resourceful, and that they drain their parents’ pockets merely by existing. Education for girls and women has traditionally played a pivotal role in securing women their own future with their own happiness. For these girls in developing countries, such access could also keep them safe and healthy in the long run.