Which countries practiced arranged marriages in 2014

What does early marriage mean - and what does that have to do with education?

In many countries around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, it is customary to marry girls very early, often as children, or at least before their 18th birthday. The terms early and child marriage have established themselves internationally for this phenomenon. These early marriages are a form of forced marriage, because children are not yet able to defend themselves adequately, or they cannot assess the consequences of marriage. For young girls, a big celebration in a beautiful dress with lots of gifts can be tempting so that they agree to a marriage. But what a marriage actually means for them - dropping out of school, household work, sexual violence, early pregnancy, the end of childhood - they often do not even begin to guess. As a rule, they remain (economically) dependent on their husbands for their entire life and thus “pass on” poverty and poor educational opportunities to their children.

Education protects and is a human right

To prevent early marriages and the consequences that come with it, education is vital. Education protects against violence and promotes self-determination and the (economic) independence of girls. Girls and women who go to or have gone to school are less likely to experience domestic violence or sexual harassment. Going to school reduces the risk of girls being forced into marriage and having children at an early age. Even completing elementary school means that girls do not marry too early and that they deal more consciously with issues such as pregnancy, contraception and family planning. Education also enables girls to expand their scope of action and to question restrictive gender roles and thus also to change them.

The right to education is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26). In addition, 189 states that have ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women have committed to eliminating gender discrimination in education.

Set (age) limits

All over the world there are very different ideas about when the age of majority will be reached and childhood will end. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a person under the age of 18, but makes the admission that individual countries can legally regulate the age of majority differently. In Iran, for example, girls are considered to be of legal age when they are nine and boys are considered to be 15. Strictly speaking, the marriage of a 10-year-old girl in Iran cannot be considered a child marriage.

It is therefore important to set a minimum age at marriage that protects girls and gives them the opportunity to get an education, worldwide. The experts agree: The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and Women, UNICEF, UNFPA (World Population Fund), Human Rights Watch and TERRE DES FEMMES all say that the minimum age at marriage must be 18 years, with no exceptions.

“Leave no one behind” - the global community is setting itself ambitious goals by 2030

Early marriages are a big problem. There are currently more than 700 million (700,000,000) women worldwide who were married before their 18th birthday. Of these, around 250 million were not even 15 years old. UNICEF published these figures in July 2014. And they had an effect: after a long process based on the maxim of “leaving no one behind”, the abolition of child, early and forced marriages became a target in 2030 -Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations added.

The 2030 Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the follow-up project to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were defined in 2001 and should be achieved by 2015. In addition to combating poverty and HIV / AIDS, reducing child mortality and primary education for all, gender equality / empowering women was also mentioned as a goal. However, the abolition of early and child marriage was not explicitly mentioned.

In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which continue the MDGs and are to be achieved by 2030. Among the 17 main goals, goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and promote the potential of all women and girls” includes sub-goal 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage as well as female genital mutilation.

In contrast to the MDGs, the SDGs are designed with the intention of general applicability. This means that ALL countries (i.e. the countries of the south AND the north) are called upon to achieve these goals, including Germany.

Are minors (forcibly) married in Germany too?

In Germany, too, it is possible to get married at the age of 16, provided that the future spouse is of legal age and the family court grants an exemption from the legal age requirement. We take a very critical view of this, especially with regard to the figures that were published in the study by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs on the scope and extent of forced marriage in Germany in 2011: One third of the 3,443 people affected who fell victim to threats or committed marriages in 2008 Forced marriage to counseling centers was a minor. It is true that 53% of those affected by minors were forcibly married in a religious or social ceremony or should be forcibly married in such a ceremony. However, at least 10.5% of those affected stated that the forced marriage had or should take place in front of a registry office, with 36.5% of those affected both religious and civil marriage (under duress) were planned or had taken place.

Another result of the study: 41% of those affected had German citizenship.

If one looks at the statistics of the Federal Office on the age of marriage of those entering into marriage in 2012 (132 underage women) and 2013 (107) and compares it with the findings of the study, one has to assume that a not inconsiderable number of marriages of minors took place under duress to have.

In addition, Germany is called upon to use its (political and economic) weight to push through an end to early marriages worldwide. However, it cannot do this credibly as long as there is still the possibility in this country of getting married 18 years ago. In Europe, too, Germany must not fall behind, where only Sweden and Switzerland have so far introduced a minimum marriage age of 18 years without exceptions.

What is the situation like in countries with a high prevalence of early marriages?

Of course, the situation is different in every country and in every region. However, there are certain factors, at least one of which always plays a role in the marriage of girls: poverty, tradition, patriarchal structures, lack of education.

Girls from poor regions are a financial burden for their families. If the daughters are married young and virginal, the families in some countries get a high bride price. Where traditions and patriarchal values ​​play a major role, girls have to go into marriage as a virgin, otherwise they damage the family's reputation. In order to keep this risk as low as possible, the girls are married early, and in many countries their genitals are also mutilated. There is also an interaction between education and early marriages: the lower the education, the higher the probability of being married by the age of 18.

To get a better idea of ​​the problem, here are two examples:

For example Nicaragua

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America: 42.5% of the people live on a maximum of $ 2 a day. The neoliberal political orientation from 1980-1996 has left its mark to this day. In 1992, public education was privatized. Further structural measures in accordance with the requirements of the International Monetary Fund resulted in schools charging school fees and parents no longer sending their children to school in order to save money. School capacities are still inadequate, especially in rural regions, the equipment is generally poor and there is a lack of qualified teaching staff. Even if 91.5% of the children attend primary school (6 years), just 43% achieve a qualification. In 2006, 23% of people over the age of 15 were illiterate. The Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program (an indicator of prosperity that includes the dimensions of education index, standard of living and expectation) places Nicaragua in 132nd place out of 187.

Violence against women is a big problem in Nicaragua. 67% of women have experienced violence. This ranges from psychological, physical and sexual violence to murder. But structural and institutional violence based on the patriarchal system of machismo also discriminates against women in Nicaragua as in all of Latin America. The woman has to subordinate herself to the man, the men try again and again through violence to confirm their power.

This triad of machismo, poverty and a lack of education favors the early marriage of girls in Nicaragua. 41% of girls get married before their 18th birthday, 10% before they are 15 years old. According to the family law, women and men are entitled to marry at the age of 18. There is, however, the exception that, with the consent of their parents or a legal representative, girls can marry at the age of 16. This regulation represents, as paradoxical as it sounds, an “improvement”, because until April 2015 girls with said consent could even marry at the age of 14. Our partner organization MIRIAM has been campaigning for the right to a life free from violence and the right to education for over 25 years and thus also contributes to the fight against early marriage. However, machismo is so deeply rooted in Nicaragua that a lot of education and sensitization is still needed to create an awareness of injustice, also among parents, for this form of violence and to bring about a change in the law. To this end, MIRIAM also networks with other local organizations.

For example Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. 70% of the population live below the poverty line, i.e. on less than $ 1 a day. This extreme poverty is still the result of the civil war that raged in Sierra Leone between 1999-2002 and devastated almost the entire country. 59% of the people in Sierra Leone are illiterate and the unemployment rate is 80%. The Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program (an indicator of prosperity that includes the dimensions of education index, standard of living and living expectancy) places Sierra Leone 177th out of 187.

Because of customary rights and patriarchal structures, most women in Sierra Leone are treated like second-class citizens. They are regularly denied access to education, medical care and employment. In addition, around 90% of girls and women in Sierra Leone are genitally mutilated. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced in almost all ethnic groups and is part of rituals organized by women's associations. With this, girls are accepted into the adult world and are thus "ready" for marriage.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the world. 44% of the girls get married before their 18th birthday, 18% even before their 15th birthday. Marriages entered into under FGM have usually been arranged by the girls' parents. Men who are sometimes twice the age of the girls, or even their fathers, hold out for their hands and then become their husbands.

In these marriages, the girls not only experience domestic violence, they also get pregnant (too) early and are completely dependent on their husbands. Women can neither emancipate themselves nor realize their full potential, which ultimately undermines the social and economic growth of Sierra Leone.

In Sierra Leone, the minimum age to marry under the Child Rights Act (2007) is 18 years, but this law is overridden by the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act, 2007. Although the minimum marriage age is also set at 18 in this legislation, the exception in the second section allows girls to be married off earlier with the consent of a legal representative. Due to the widespread practice of parents forcing their children into arranged marriages, this exception, customary law, must be abolished! Our partner organization AIM (Amazonian Initiative Movement) is committed to this by collecting signatures on site and providing educational work on the consequences of FGM and early marriages.

What does TERRE DES FEMMES require?

  • TERRE DES FEMMES demands that paragraphs 2-4 are deleted from the German Civil Code (BGB) under Section 1303 (marriage). Thus, the exemptions that allow a marriage with the consent of the family court from the age of 16 no longer exist, and it would remain as the sole legal regulation: "A marriage should not be entered into before the age of majority."
  • We call for more financial resources to be made available for prevention and awareness-raising measures. Our experience shows that many girls and young women do not even know what rights they have in Germany, what is allowed in this country and what is criminalized. It is therefore important, on the one hand, to address and inform those potentially affected directly. TERRE DES FEMMES, for example, conducts workshops in schools and offers an interactive play on the subject of forced marriage for schools. To support the teachers, we have also developed a lesson folder with suggestions for structuring lessons on the subject of forced marriage.
    On the other hand, third parties such as teachers and school social workers, but also specialists from authorities, must be sensitized and trained in order to be able to support those affected who turn to them. TERRE DES FEMMES has already carried out several workshops for government employees as well as advanced training for teachers and has noticed a great need for such preventive measures. These must be carried out regularly and nationwide.
  • We demand that the federal government campaigns for girls' rights internationally and promotes measures to abolish early marriage. In the context of gender equitable development finance, the impact of policies on girls' lives must be taken into account. Without equal participation in society, poverty and hunger cannot be overcome. In addition to development cooperation, Germany is an important international discussion partner due to its political and economic size. Germany must use its influence and call for early marriages to be stopped in all bilateral talks.