There are problems nobody talks anymore. Not because they have been solved. Or because they only occur in far countries. Just because, in the face of problems that you can not solve, people prefer looking away.

One of these is the case of child marriages. According to a recent UNICEF report, the problem has reached terrible dimensions: all around the world there are at least 125 million child brides. About a third of them (over 40 million) have been granted in marriage when they were younger than 15. And, although the percentage is slightly decreasing, the increase of world population is making the problem worse: according to UNICEF, in 2050 there will be 300 million child marriages!
“The sheer number of girls involved, and what it represents in terms of lost childhoods and lives conditioned to always make it clear how urgent is banning the practice of child marriage,” said the executive director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake.

Girls, sometime babies, who instead playing with dolls, drop out of school and are locked in a house where they live submissive to their husbands and in-laws. Child brides rarely have the possibility to complete studies, for them is high the risk to become victims of violence and to contract HIV. And even when they survive, quite often it is impossible for them to acquire the skills needed to find a decent job. This generate a perverse circuit that damages economy of the poor countries and causes inter-generational cycles of poverty.

A problem that is difficult to reduce: many of these child brides live in the countryside and in extreme poverty conditions. Social and economic pressures often encourage early marriages. To try and find a justification someone even tried and resort non-existent traditions (like the one that says that parents who allow a child in marriage before the start of the menstrual cycle, will go to heaven). The result is that for a girl belonging to the poorest 20% of the population the probability of getting married when child has not changed in the last 25 years!
If the trend will not change, in 2050 half of all child brides will be in Africa. The problem relates more to the Africa (70 percent of cases): here often families look for in these marriages a source of salvation to deal with the absolute poverty.
But the situation is serious in Asia as well. Among Syrian refugees in Jordan the rate of early marriages has grown from 18% to 25% (data 2013). And situation is getting worse: before the war in Syria, the average of marriages involving girls under the age of 18 was only 13%.
In many countries, the problem is also the indifference of the authorities: in Nepal, despite a 1963 law prohibiting child marriage and requiring the 20 years as the minimum age for marriages, the police rarely intervene to enforce these rules. Even the goal of eradicating the phenomenon by 2020 is nuanced: now the new goal is 2030. The report “Our time to sing and play” of Human Rights Watch, denounces the social and economic pressures that girls are forced to live in Nepal, often with the consent of the families.
It seems there is a relationship between the level of wealth and the phenomenon of child brides. The best results were achieved in the “rich” countries; in poor countries there have shown no substantial improvements.

Even in “developed countries” like USA or Europe, child marriages are a social problem. There are many arranged marriages between adult immigrants in the US and young girls from the countries of origin. The numbers are frightening: early marriages are a problem in many of American States. In Virginia, where between 2004-2013, there were approximately at least 4,500 cases of marriages with minors (over 200 of them got married at age 15 or younger and about 90% of underage spouses are girls). In Maryland, where there have been over 3,000 cases of marriages with children. In Texas, where cases recorded between 2009-2013, there were over 700 (aged 15 to 17 years). In New Jersey were 3,499 cases of marriages with minors (most of them had 16 or 17 years, but 178 were aged between 10 and 15!). Similar data in other states. These data confirm that even in America laws fail protecting children. Most states require that the minimum legal age of consent for marriage is 18 years. But exemptions are permitted if parents of a minor give their consent or if a girl is pregnant. Even polygamy causes the number of child brides not decrease: often these marriages are religious only and are not recognized by the state. This does not prevent you from being equally celebrated in many communities.

In other countries (especially in Latin America), the percentage of girls spending did not show a significant drop in the last twenty years.

Europe is not immune to this disease. The UN Council for Human Rights adopted several resolutions concerning violence against women and gender discrimination (one focused specifically on early and forced marriages: they are considered violations of human rights and deny fundamental rights such as the right to ‘education and health – including sexual and reproductive health – as well as being among the causes of poverty among women and an obstacle to sustainable development). Italy has ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (better known as the Istanbul Convention). Quite often, however, authorities are unable to act. Sometime marriages of brides girls do not take place in Italy: the victims are taken by deception in other countries (such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Albania or Turkey) where occur arranged marriages.
In other European countries, early marriages are widespread in recent years. In Bosnia, for example: girls arrive at the age of 14-16 years and try to get married hoping to get out of families (often destroyed). The only difference is that in this case often weddings are among peers without prospects (alcohol consumption by men has shown a significant increase); consequently marriages do not last long and there are serious problems of coexistence. Again, however many times early marriage leads to early school leaving (a phenomenon that particularly affects girls).

Today there is no country in which there are no cases of child brides, and that, once again, the measures taken were unable to solve a major problem of the Millennium or at least stem it.

C.Alessandro Mauceri


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