Very few young women are able to find a happy ending following a child marriage. While girls who marry under the age of 18 are suddenly at risk for a host of mental disorders, the union statistically subjects them to higher rates of rape, physical abuse, and pregnancy complications. Not to mention being completely powerless in marriages that deem them no more than domestic slaves. But all parents can perhaps sleep a little better tonight as apparently less girls are being married off in South Asia than in previous years.
Reuters reports that the child marriage decline in Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan is “sizable,” with fewer girls under the age of 14 being married off:
In Bangladesh, for example, about 34 percent of women reported being married by age 14 in 1991 and 1994. By 2005 and 2007 that number fell to about 19 percent…For girls younger than 14 years old, the falls in girl marriage ranged from about 35 percent in India to 61 percent in Pakistan. In India, the rate for that age group dropped from about 10 percent between 1991 and 1994 to about six percent between 2005 and 2007.
Researchers aren’t quite able to parse out though what exactly has caused this decrease over the last two decades. Although awareness about the devastation of child marriage has grown what with organizations like Girls Not Brides, Anita Raj, the study’s lead author and a professor, says that girls are delaying marriage through educational opportunities. Generally, these girls tend to graduate around 15 or 16 years of age, which presents concerned parties with a new dilemma: marriage rates for girls aged 16 or 17 have stayed more or less the same.
Although marriage under the age of 18 is banned in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, Raj maintains that these regulations are largely ignored. These declining numbers however, demonstrate that opportunities for girls — not just laws — are key to their independence. That and chipping away at the notion that girls are “worthless burdens on their families” ultimately serves to protect many a child.