Child, early, and forced marriages are still widespread. In 2017, the United Nations Children’s Fund estimated that there were 726,000 child brides around the world. At the root of the problem, many brides are victims of commercial sex and sex trafficking, especially in poor countries. The mail-order-bride industry is still very much real and present.
Many international conventions and agreements, like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, have tried to address this issue by legally specifying a minimum age for marriage.
The aim is that spouses, at least 18 years old, enter marriage only with free and full consent of intention. Otherwise, facilitation and solemnization should be considered public crimes. Forcing a child into marriage and sexual relations falls under child abuse and exploitation, and endangering the development of children. It causes hundreds of billions of dollars in losses, as World Bank research stated. Culturally sensitive comprehensive care and welfare programs should be coordinated globally.
Definitions to clarify these areas:
- Children — persons less than 18 years old, or those unable to fully take care of themselves or protect themselves from abuse, exploitation or discrimination because of a physical or mental disability
- Child abuse — an act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being; or any circumstance which gravely threatens or endangers the life, survival, safety and normal development of children.
- Child marriage —a union wherein one or both parties are younger than 18 years of age, or unable to fully take care or protect themselves because of a physical or mental disability or condition, solemnized in a civil, church or in any recognized traditional, cultural or customary manner.
- Solemnizing Officer — any person authorized by law or recognized by reason of religion, tradition, culture or customs, to unite two people in marriage.
- Parents and Guardians—refer to biological parents or legally adoptive parents. Guardians refers to relatives taking custody of the child or minor in the absence of the parents; or anyone to whom a child or minor was given to or left in the care or custody of.
- Facilitation of child marriage—the person who caused, fixed, facilitated or arranged the child marriage shall be considered to have committed abuse of the child.
- Solemnization of child marriage—the person who officiated and performed the formal rites of child marriage shall be considered to have committed abuse of the child.