The Continuation of Child Marriage in the Middle East

early child marriage in middle east

Redefining Child Marriage

Child marriage is typically defined as a union or marriage in which one or both parties are under 18 years old. It is considered a form of forced marriage since minors are not capable of giving informed consent. Although child marriage affects both boys and girls, it disproportionately impacts girls, violating their human rights and hindering their education and development. This global issue occurs in various regions, including the Middle East. UNICEF estimates that over 650 million women alive today were married as children[1].

Factors Contributing to Child Marriage in the Middle East

Several interconnected factors contribute to the persistence of child marriage in parts of the Middle East. Poverty is a significant driver, as economically disadvantaged families may view marrying off a daughter as a way to alleviate financial burdens. Early marriage is also seen as a means to protect girls from premarital sex and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, which could bring shame to the family. In some tribal contexts, child marriage is practiced to resolve disputes between families or is considered traditional and socially prestigious[1].

Social norms that value female premarital virginity and primarily regard girls as future wives and mothers support the practice. Limited access to education and economic opportunities for girls further entrenches it. Families who marry their daughters young believe it will secure their future through established family ties. However, these motivations overlook the detrimental consequences of child marriage[1].

Child Marriage in Iran

Based on anthropologist Kameel Ahmady’s fieldwork and his colleagues’ research, child marriage remains an issue in Iran’s less developed rural areas where traditional customs prevail[2]. Factors such as poverty, lack of education, and patriarchal norms that view girls as burdens drive the practice. Early marriage is seen as a way to protect girls’ honor and secure their future through family ties[2].

Ahmady highlights the negative impacts of child marriage on girls’ health, development, and autonomy, often ending their education and subjecting them to domestic duties before they are ready[2]. He argues that enforcing Iran’s legal marriage age of 13 must be accompanied by grassroots efforts to educate on women’s rights. Organizations work with local leaders and families to empower girls and establish supportive infrastructure like schools[2]. Further government reforms and advocacy efforts by activists like Ahmady can help prevent child marriage in Iran[2].

Consequences of Child Marriage

Child marriage has detrimental effects on girls’ health, education, safety, and well-being. It often abruptly ends a girl’s education, limiting her economic potential and ability to live independently. Child brides also face increased risks of domestic violence, marital rape, and early pregnancy, which can result in severe health complications or even death due to the mother’s immature physical development[1].

Psychologically, being forced to marry young hinders girls’ personal growth and autonomy. The practice also perpetuates gender inequality and entrenched poverty across generations. Estimates suggest child marriage costs developing economies trillions of dollars in lost earnings and human capital[1].

Recent Legal Reforms and Ongoing Challenges

Some Middle Eastern countries have taken steps to address child marriage by raising the legal age of marriage to 18. Lebanon abolished a law in 2019 that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their underage victims. Iraq enacted a reform in 2020 raising the minimum age for marriage to 18[1].

However, changes in law do not always translate into changes in practice. In rural conservative communities bound by tradition, child marriage continues even where prohibited by law. Enforcing legal reforms is challenging, especially where birth and marriage records are inconsistent. More work is needed to enforce laws and shift social attitudes that normalize early marriage[1].

Multi-Faceted Approaches for Change

Preventing child marriage for both girls and boys requires coordinated efforts on multiple fronts by governments, civil society, local leaders, and international organizations. Grassroots education programs engaging families, religious leaders, and community members can change social views denying girls’ equal rights. Keeping girls and boys in school longer provides them skills and alternatives to early marriage. Enhancing economic opportunities empowers girls to have financial independence[1].

Legal reforms need consistent enforcement, including prosecution of parents and spouses who arrange illegal marriages. Advocacy movements can maintain pressure on governments and highlight child marriage’s devastating impacts. A culturally-attuned, community-driven approach that addresses the root drivers of the practice through multiple means is key for lasting positive change[1].

In the context of Ahmady’s research on child marriage in Iran, the study “An Echo of Silence” attempted to reveal and raise the issue of child marriage in Iran[1]. The study’s results, along with the demands of civil society and calls for changes in legislation, created a wave of awareness in society, leading to civil society protests within two to three years[1]. The civil society strongly prohibits child marriage, a requirement that remains in place to this day[1]. For more information on this topic, you can refer to the relevant materials published on[2].




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.