The Relationship between FGM/C & Child Marriage

In Western Cultures, the preparation of marriage is usually an exciting and joyous time for the prospective bride and groom.  She goes shopping for her trousseau and wedding attire with the female elders in her family.  Her heart skips a beat each time she sees her fiancé.  In some other parts of the world, prospective brides have no say in their future husbands.  Most of their husbands expected husbands could be more than half their ages.  Their marriages are arranged by their parents, with nothing having to do with love.  In most cases, the girl might not even know anything about the man with whom she is expected to spend the rest of her life.

The preparation of the traditional child marriage in certain parts of the world includes the rite of passage to womanhood.  In most of those societies, the rite of passage involves undergoing female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C). Millions of girls are forced into marriage while they are still under 18 years of age.  The practice of child marriage is widespread throughout parts of the developing world.  One child bride tells how she underwent FGM/C at the age of 9 and two years later at 11 years old, she was married off to a 60-year old man.  She was a mother of 4 by age 16.

More than half of the girls in Bangladesh, Mali, Mozambique and Niger are married off before the age of 18.  In these same countries, more than 75 percent of the people live on less than $2.00 a day.

According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15.  The report states that if that trend continues, more than 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday within more than ten years.  While countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage are concentrated in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa, due to population size, the largest numbers of child brides are known to be found in South Asia.  Fifteen million girls around the world are married before they celebrate their 18th birthday.  UNICEF estimates that 720 million women alive today were married when they were children.  So often, child marriage means the end of a girl’s education.  Once married off, she becomes an instrument of reproduction, whether or not she approves.

Studies continue to show that girls with higher levels of education are less likely to be subjected to child marriage. In Mozambique, 60 percent of girls with no education are married before 18, compared to 10 percent of girls with at least secondary schooling and less than one percent of girls with higher education.  Educating adolescent girls is a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in a number of developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.  In most FGM/C practicing societies, the mother and grandmother are responsible for arranging the FGM/C rite of passage.  However it is the father who arranges the marriage of his young daughter, in exchange for a high-priced dowry.  The dowry can include from a number of cattle, precious gems, money and even farmland.  Education is the key to ending the practices of both FGM/C and child marriage.

The Top 20 Countries with Highest Percentage Rates of Child Marriage are:

Niger (76.6%)

Chad (71.5%)

Bangladesh (68.7%)

Mali (65.4%)

Guinea (64.5%)

Central African Republic (57.0%)

Nepal (56.1%)

Mozambique (55.9%)

Uganda (54.1%)

Burkina Faso (51.9%)

India (50.0%)

A Child Bride in India

Ethiopia (49.1%)

Liberia (48.4%)

Yemen (48.4%)

Cameroon (47.12%)

Eritrea (47.0%)

Malawi (46.9%)

Nicaragua (43.3%)

A Child Bride in Nicaragua

Nigeria (43.3%)

A Child Bride in Nigeria

Zambia (42.1)

Although Kenya is not included in the list above, research shows that only 23.2% of girls in Kenya complete secondary (high school) education.  Only 16.9% of Kenyan girls complete higher than secondary education.  In most cases, upon completion of secondary school in Kenya, the girl is married off.  In recent years, Kenyan girls have been known to desperately pursue higher education after secondary school to avoid being married off at age 16 or 17.  The more educated girls that come out of those FGM/C and child marriage practicing countries, the sooner both of such practices can be eliminated.  Educated young women will not have their daughters genitally cut or mutilated, and neither will they have their daughters married off at an early age.

Facts and Statistics of Which to Be Aware:

  • Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is consistently among the leading causes of death for girls that are 15 to 19 years old worldwide
  • Child brides face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience. Girls ages 15 – 19 are 2 to 6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys of the same age in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later. A study conducted by ICRW in two states in India found that girls, who were married before 18 were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands than girls who married later.
  • Child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.

Source: Analysis of Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data


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