Protecting girls from child marriage
27 May 2013- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - UNICEF welcomes the decisions by the Attorney-General of Malaysia and the Sabah Welfare Department to protect the best interest of the 13-year-old girl who was wed by a 40 year old man after the alleged statutory rape. The government’s quick actions, coupled with the strong concerns expressed by various NGOs and Datuk Yasmeen Shariff, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child will help to protect this child from further harm and prevent her from joining the growing number of child brides globally.
According to the United Nations, some 37,000 underage girls somewhere in the world are married every day. If present trends continue, close to 150 million girls will be married by their eighteenth birthday within the next decade.
Being married young not only curbs a girl’s right to education, but also endangers her health: complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide, accounting for some 50,000 deaths each year. Moreover, girls between 10 and 14 years of age are five times more likely than women aged 20 to 24 to die in pregnancy and childbirth. Child brides are also more likely to experience discrimination and violence. Too often, they have little or no ability to leave abusive partners and secure the social and legal support they need to improve their situation.
Parents may consent to child marriages out of economic necessity. Marriage may also be seen as a way to provide male guardianship for their daughters, protect them from sexual assault or avoid pregnancy outside marriage.
Whether it happens to a girl or a boy, child marriage is a practice that robs children of their childhood, their rights and their dignity. Child marriage, which frequently inhibits a child’s basic rights to health, education and security, is condemned in international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Malaysia signed and ratified in 1995.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child emphasises that the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent be set to 18 years, both for boys and girls. The Committee also expressed concerns about discriminatory situations in which different laws may provide different marriage ages within any given country.
Globally, UNICEF calls on governments, civil society organisations, the private sectors and faith-based groups to:
Working together, we can and must end child marriage.