Child-marriage is the term used both for marriage of minor to minor, and for marriage of a minor to an older person by agreement between the parents and the future spouse, or between both sets of parents. Child marriage becomes forced marriage if the child has not given their full consent to marry, if they are controlled through abuse and threats, and if they are unable to leave the marriage safely.
According to the World Bank and the International Centre for Research on Women, child marriage accelerates population growth because women marrying before the age of 18 are prone to having more children than women marrying at a later age. Child marriage also discourages women from pursuing higher education; in many cases, girls marrying at an early age are left with no other option than to drop out of school. This then impedes the prospects for achieving economic empowerment owing to the social marginalization of girls and of women.
Puberty is the state of physical development requisite for generation. The age of puberty varies with the individual and the climate; the legal presumption of the Roman law fixed it at twelve years for girls and fourteen for boys. The Catholic Church has followed this rule or presumption, but it has not made want of a fixed age an impediment properly so-called which would render the marriage void under every hypothesis. It is presumed that young people reach the age of puberty at twelve and fourteen; it is presumed that they do not reach it before this time; but if as a matter of fact they have reached it, and a marriage be necessitated by the circumstances of the case, the marriage is valid without dispensation.
Child marriage continues as a means of forming unity between two families in Africa and India. Child marriage as a form of slavery, where girls are sold in marriage to older men, exists in Africa. Child marriage may be forbidden by law but accepted in social custom. Child marriage without consent of the girl was still legal in Gabon in 1964, but a Presidential decree was issued that year abolishing it.
The charity “Girls not Brides“ estimates (2017) that 1 out of 3 girls in the developed world are married before the age of 18. It also estimates that approximately 700 million women alive today were married when they were children.
Niger has the highest rate of child marriage in the world where 59.8% of girls are married as children. In Niger, the Civil Code sets the legal age of marriage at 18 years for boys and 15 years for girls.
In Lebanon (2018), nearly 40% of young Syrian refugee girls are being married off by impoverished families who erroneously believe that they are protecting their daughters against sexual assault. Often they are wedded off to much older men who rape and beat them if they refuse to sleep with them. There is no minimum age for marriage in the country as the government allows religious parties to decide. On top of this, martial rape is not criminalized. Lebanon has also created a rule that Syrians can only work in temporary, low-paying sectors including agriculture, construction and cleaning. With families unable to provide for their children, many parents see marriage as a ticket out of poverty.