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Arch Dis Child 95:931-935 doi:10.1136/adc.2009.178707
  • Global child health

When the mother is a child: the impact of child marriage on the health and human rights of girls

  1. Anita Raj1,2
  1. 1Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Anita Raj, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, 801 Mass Avenue, 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02118, USA; anitaraj{at}bu.edu
  • Accepted 6 July 2010
  • Published Online First 7 October 2010

Child marriage (marriage before age 18 years) is an internationally recognised health and human rights violation disproportionately affecting girls, globally. Although the practice of girl child marriage has decreased substantially over the past 20 years,1,,3 it remains strikingly pervasive in some world regions, particularly South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where up to 50–70% of girls in some countries are married prior to age 18 years2. However, the practice is not limited to these areas of the world. Parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe report rates of child marriage greater than 10–20% among females,2 and even high development nations see some cases of child marriage.4 Currently, over 60 million women and girls worldwide are affected by child marriage.1 2

Social and contextual vulnerabilities to girl child marriage

Although girl child marriage is a global concern, a review of the literature on this phenomenon (see online appendix for methods) documents clear social vulnerabilities that heighten risk for child marriage at national and individual levels. Studies consistently show that marriage of minor aged girls is more likely to occur in rural and impoverished areas with low access to healthcare1,,3 5,,15; regional conflict and instability further exacerbate these vulnerabilities.16 17 However, the primary contextual factor heightening risk for girl child marriage is gender inequity, often characterised, at least in part, by lower access to education and employment opportunities for females relative to males.1 4 5 17 Across national contexts, it is the poorest and least educated girls who are most vulnerable to early marriage,1,,3 5,,15 18 and even among girls receiving an education, early marriage appears to impede continuation of that education.19

Expanding on this issue of gender inequity …