LAST YEAR, SUMIT was preparing for his marriage to a girl from his village.
However, before the day arrived, he decided marriage wasn’t for him… just yet.
Sumit was 13 years old.
In his small village in Nepal, child marriage is the norm.
“I used to like a girl from my school and we decided to get married because we thought that was what should happen next in our lives,” the now 14-year-old explains.
“Getting married at our age is considered very normal in my community so we didn’t see anything wrong with planning our marriage like this.”
His change of heart came after a visit from the Kopila Child Club, which is funded by ActionAid Child Sponsors. During the workshop, the children discussed their rights and child marriage.
They were told about other young couples who faced difficulties because they married during their early teens.
“ I also learnt that it could ruin my education and therefore my future,” adds Sumit.
The teenager describes how he became so passionate about the issue that he called a community meeting and ran a street theatre performance against the idea of child marriage.
“This year there was not even one single marriage of children my age,” he says triumphantly.
About 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthdays. If the trend continues, this number will have risen to 1.2 billion by 2050.
A number of charities are working globally to end the practice, with concurrent aims to ensure more girls receive an education and protect them from domestic violence and forced sexual initiation.
According to ActionAid, girls who marry as children are more likely to be beaten or threatened by their husbands than girls who marry later.
The greater the age difference between girls and their husbands, the more likely they are to also experience intimate partner violence, the charity added.
Child brides often marry much older men, and are more likely to believe that he is sometimes justified in beating her. Worldwide surveys show that 44% of girls aged 15-19 think a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife or partner in certain circumstances. In Africa and the Middle East this figure is above half.
The risk of HIV and other STIs is also much greater for child brides in some areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.
In Kenya and Zambia, HIV infection rates were found to be higher among married girls than among their unmarried, sexually active counterparts. Similarly, in Uganda the HIV prevalence rate for girls 15–19 years was higher for married girls (89%) than for unmarried girls (66%).
Despite the known problems, parents often feel it is in their daughter’s best interests to marry young, reasoning that she will be protected from physical or sexual assaults.