In America, marrying at the age of 14 is permissible. A Reuters report informs that between 2000 and 2010, about 1,70,000 children were married within the country – which was the data shared by anti-child marriage group, Unchained at Last. Within the state of New York itself, 3,800 children were wedded during that period.
On Tuesday, the New York state made a historical move, declaring a ban on child marriages within the state. Underage marriages are allowed across the United States, provided there is parental consent. But the new state law has raised the legal age to marry from 14 years to 17 years, where adolescents can marry with the will of their parents and the court.
The law has been passed by New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who told Reuters that the move was a progressive decision that would improve their “efforts to protect children and prevent forced marriages,” adding that the law will now provide “minors with the rights and protections that they deserve and ensure that women are empowered to have control over their own lives.”
Poverty is considered to be one of the major reasons for child marriages, along with child pregnancy. Reports suggest that 50 per cent of the child brides are likely to abandon their schooling in the United States after marriage. Girls wedded at a young age, are more likely to experience domestic abuse, according to research. “Child brides are 31 percent more likely to live in poverty when they are older and three times more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than women who get married later,” reported Reuters.
While the universal legal age of marriage is 18 years for women and 21 for men, child marriages continue to take place across the globe. According to Girls Not Brides (an international body of civil society organisations), 15 million girls are child brides every year.
In April 2017, in the aftermath of the deluge of refugees in Germany, the Angela Merkel’s government was forced to place a nation-wide ban on child marriages by drafting a new law. It was passed to protect non-German children who were forced into marriage. In 2016, reports began surfacing that there were about 1,500 registered marriages of minors belonging to non-German backgrounds. The new law established the minimum age of marriage for women to be 18 years, calling to nullify all pre-existing marriages where the woman was below 16 years of age at the time of marriage.
In India, the legal age is 18 for women. However, a United Nations report published in 2005 stated that the child marriage rate in the country was 30 per cent. In 2012, Times of India reported that there was a drop in the percentage of child marriages by 46 per cent between 2005-2009. It went on to state, “nearly seven in 100 women are still getting married before they turn 18.”
Child marriages although illegal in India, continue to take place. In certain states where the rate is alarmingly high, state governments have established incentives for parents so that they don’t marry off their daughter early. In 1994, ICRW (International Center for Research on Women) introduced the Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (My daughter, my wealth) in Haryana, where the government promised to transfer a sum of Rs. 25,000 to the parents’ bank account if their daughter remained unmarried until her 18th birthday.
In 2016, Pakistani government tried to ban child marriage in the country, but it’s move was immediately shot down by religious authorities, calling the legislation “unIslamic”. It sparked a considerable outrage, where the Pakistani lawmakers were forced to withdraw the bill that aimed to ban the tradition of child marriage. The bill had proposed to raise the age of marriage for women from 16 years to 18 years, and had declared that there would be stricter ramifications for those who married their daughters off at a younger age.
Girls Not Brides report that in Afghanistan, the legal age for women to get married is 16 years and 18 years for men under the Afghan Civil Code. It claims that “poverty, strong patriarchal values and poor access to education” are the reasons for high child marriage rates.
In China, there is societal pressure to marry off young girls. Those who are not married until the age of 25 years, are labeled as “leftover women” and are the talk of the town. Although the country defines the legal age for a woman to marry as 20 years, rural China has several cases of under-aged marriages.