5 myths about child marriage

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Test your knowledge of child marriage
Emma Hamilton-Clark

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Child, early and forced marriage is a harmful practice that disproportionately affects girls. Every year, 12 million girls are forced into early marriage. Imagine: that’s nearly 1 every 2 seconds.

Early marriage denies girls their childhood, limits their access to education and increases their chance of teen pregnancy.

Yet child marriage is still a new topic to many, and there are some common misconceptions surrounding it – such as where it happens, in what context and who is involved.

By deconstructing what we think we may know about the issue, we can better understand how to address it and ultimately #endchildmarriage once and for all!

Here are 5 common myths you may have heard about child marriage:

MYTH #1: Child marriage only happens in certain developing countries

Truth: Child marriage is truly a global issue that is practiced in all parts of the world. Although rates of child marriage are highest in developing countries, child marriage still continues to happen in some parts of North America and Europe.

The highest rates of child marriage are found in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In the 4 countries where child marriage is most common – Niger, Chad, Bangladesh and Central African Republic – more than 60% of girls are married by 18.

Other areas with high prevalence include Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa.

MYTH #2: Child marriage is a religious issue

Truth: Child marriage does not lend itself to one religion and is practiced across various faiths and ethnicities. Child marriage continues to be a cultural tradition, one that is reinforced by deeply-rooted traditional beliefs and social norms.

Research conducted by Plan International in West, Southern and East Africa shows that social norms and beliefs often determine marriage and childbearing as the main life path for girls.

Changing these types of social norms must come from within the community. Engaging boys, girls, mothers, fathers and community leaders is essential to creating lasting change!

MYTH #3: Child marriage doesn’t affect boys

Truth: Although the rate of child marriage is lower for boys, there are circumstances where they are forced into the early role of husband. According to UNICEF, 156 million men alive today were married as children.

Just like girls, boys under the age of 18 are also physiologically, socially and cognitively too young for marriage. However, the consequences are often far graver for girls.

Child marriage, no matter the gender, robs children of their childhood.

MYTH #4: Child marriage only happens between young girls and old men

Truth: Child marriage is exactly that – when a child is married before they’re 18. While unions between girls and older men do occur, it is not always the case. The age difference varies depending on country and region.

In some cases – like in the case of 16-year-old Punam and her young groom in Nepal – male youth are also being forced into early marriage.

Boy and girl sit on the floor looking down

MYTH #5: We can’t do anything about child marriage

Truth: Progress has already been made towards ending child marriage. We’ve seen the power of involving youth and community members in the fight against early marriage. Recently, youth in Malawi campaigned to change the laws on child marriage and won!

Through our research and experience we know that education is the key to giving girls choices and opportunities. When a girl is educated, she will marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn a higher income. In fact, girls with secondary schooling are up to 6x less likely to marry as children compared to girls who have little or no education.

Investing in girls’ education can help end child marriage.

Two girls presenting large placard to woman

Together, we can end child marriage

Change IS possible if we work together to end what is considered ‘normal’ for millions around the world. That’s why Plan International Canada is calling on Canadians like you to stand with youth around the world to Defy Normal and help end child marriage.

Together, we can support girls in becoming empowered, confident women who decide their own futures.