Early and Forced Marriages: Part One

Who is a child?
The Children’s Act (Act 560) defines a child as one below the age of 18 years. According to the Act, the best interest of the Child shall be paramount in any matter concerning the child. Thus, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration by any court, person, institution or other body in any matter concerned with the child. This provision is further enhanced by Article 28 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana and forms the fulcrum of this study.
What then is early and forced marriage?
Early and forced marriage is an international practice found throughout the world, wherein one or more parties within a marriage is below the age of 18. This is particularly prevalent in Africa and Southeast Asia. Child marriage, in itself, is mutli-dimensional, and therefore, transcends various cultures, religions, and peoples, which contributes to its pervasiveness around the globe. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) stresses the use of the term “child” marriage when denoting to this practice as opposed to the term “early” marriage, as the word “early” may unintentionally downplay the severity of such a union and may blind those who take part in this practice at the detriment of the child’s rights and violations that are associated with it. Early and forced marriage can also be characterized by cohabitation, in which the child lives with their partner in a “union” as if married.
What is Marriage?
Marriage, matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, their children and their in-laws. There are three types of valid marriage recognized under Ghanaian law: customary marriage/ marriage under marriage ordinance and Islamic marriage under the marriage of Mohammedans marriage.

By 2050, it is estimated that 1.2 billion women would have been married as a child under 18 years old or before the eighteenth birthday. Child marriage is most prevalent in the developing world, amounting to 1 in 3 girls falling victim to the practice.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering 40% of girls were married before age 18. African countries, in general, account for 15 of the 20 countries that have the highest rates of child marriage. Africa is soon to surpass South Asia as the region where child marriage is most endemic. Nearly half of the female population in South Asia are married before 18, and 1 in 6 children are married before they turn 15 years old. This is then followed by West and Central Africa, where 37-42% of women between ages 20-24 were married in their childhood. Niger is the country with the highest rates of child marriage, with a rate of 77%

In Ghana, although the legal age of marriage is 18, one can marry at 16 years old, with the consent of their parents. Annually, 34,000 girls are married in Ghana. This means that 1 in 4 women, or 27% of all Ghanaian females, are married before 18 years, despite the criminalization of the practice. This practice has increased nationwide from 25.9% in 2006 to 27% in 2011. The Upper East region has the highest rate at 50% whilst the lowest rate of child marriage is in the Greater Accra region and stood at 11% as of 2011.

Although child or forced marriage can affect both boys and girls, it is more common to affect girls and this situation further entrenching gender inequality. Among men aged 15-49 years old, only 5% are married before 18, compared to 27% for girls.

How do these marriages come about? (Causes)
The causes of child marriage include but not limited to
• Adolescent/ Teenage pregnancy
• Poverty
• traditional and customary beliefs
• fear of stigmatization
• lack of education
• gaps in law enforcement
• Insecurity in the face of conflict.

These reasons however do not justify child marriage in anyway.


It is deduced from our previous discussions that there are various social, economic, and political factors that act as motivators for the practice of early and forced marriage.
Teenage pregnancy is a common factor that leads to child marriage, and is often a consequence of such union. It has been found that 14% of Ghanaian girls aged 15-19 years old, have already had children. Similarly, in Bangladesh, 1 in 3 adolescent girls already have children.
Poverty is seen to be one of the most common factors that lead to child marriage, as it is seen as a strategy for economic survival. Families marry their children off to have one less mouth to feed. Moreover, they will no longer have to worry about cost of education and other basic necessities that would otherwise need to be provided. The timing of the marriage can also serve as extra incentive for families to marry their daughters early, as child brides may be considered more valuable. For example, in some sub-Saharan cultures, higher bride prices are paid for females who are married near puberty. On the other hand, in countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Nepal, parents feel that their burden of paying a dowry at their daughter’s marriage will be lower if she is married at a young age. Financial stability is thus sought by most families engaged in the practice.

Children who resist marriage are made to feel guilty for depriving the family of the livelihood when they dissent.
Statistically, 41.2% of girls coming from poor families are married before they attain the age of 18 years, whereas only 11.5% of girls from rich background are forced into child marriage. There is also a regional disparity in Ghana in relation to child marriage, as a girl in a rural area in Ghana is likely to get married twice as much as one in an urban area. This is a rate of 36% against 19%. While child marriage is common in Ghana, prevalence is highest in the Upper East (50%), followed by Upper West (39.2%), Northern (36%), Volta (33%), Brong-Ahafo (33%), Central (28%), Ashanti (23%), Western (18%), Eastern (18%), and Greater Accra (11%).
Child marriage often emerges due to traditional gender norms that are often discriminatory in nature. In Ghana, for example, in certain parts of the Ashanti Region, a man with interest in a young girl may express such interest to the Parents and cater for the girl and parents. The man can demand for the hand of the girl in marriage whenever he feels she is ‘ripe’. Even babies can be betrothed. Parents of such victims offer their children as reward or appreciation for some good deed done them. This custom is known as “Asiwaa” in the Ashanti language. The teenagers become pregnant and give birth to children who in turn, suffer the same seclusion. This constitutes grave human right violations as they are denied their rights to, education, clothing, good shelter, health, and proper food. It is important to note that a variety of religious reasons are also associated with the prevalence of global child marriage, therefore, increasing the diversity of countries throughout the world that fall victim to this practice.

Another factor linked to gender disparity and discrimination, is the fear of stigmatization that would arise from the expression of female sexuality on the part of the daughters, and the subsequent tarnishing of familial honour. Parents are particularly keen to protect their reputation and social standing, which could be threatened by unorthodox activities such as premarital sex. Thus, families are pushed to marry their daughters off early in line with social expectations and tradition, regardless of the child rights violations involved. Otherwise, they risk not being able to marry the daughter at all.
Education or staying in school has been found as an antidote to child marriage. Statistics have shown that 41.6% of women with no education married before 18 years old, whereas only 4.7% of women with a secondary education married before 18 years. Having higher degrees of education is found to safeguard girls from becoming child brides. Once a girl is to become a child-bride, her chances of going to school, pursuing her education, or taking on a job are very slim, as she is expected to embrace her new role as a wife, mother, and homemaker.
Let’s all help our girls to stay in school … to be continued

This article is written by Public Education Department, CHRAJ

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