UK & World News
Child Marriage 'Legitimises Lifetime Of Abuse'
Child marriage often leads to a lifetime of abuse for girls, according to a new report.
Campaign group Equality Now says such underage unions, often when the children involved are too young to understand even the concept of marriage, are part of a "continuum of abuse" often linked to genital mutilation, rape, violence and sex trafficking.
It says ending child marriage should be a priority internationally - and suggests that it should be tackled not as a single incident of abuse, but in relation to other example of discrimination and violence against women and girls.
Jacqui Hunt, the London director of Equality Now, said "Child marriage directly affects approximately 14 million girls a year. It legitimises human rights violations and the abuse of girls under the guise of culture, honour, tradition, and religion.
"It is part of a sequence of discrimination that begins at a girl's birth and continues throughout her entire life.
"Furthermore, when a child bride gives birth, the vicious cycle of poverty, poor health, curtailed education, violence, instability, disregard for rule of law and legal and other discrimination often continues into the next generation, especially for any daughters she may have."
Drawing together evidence from both the developed and developing world, the report concludes that without a comprehensive, joined up approach to tackling child marriage, linking together healthcare, education, a properly enforced legal framework and community and political leaders, girls will "remain vulnerable, not only to being married off at a young age, but to a lifetime of abuse".
Unicef estimates that between 2011 and 2021, 100 million girls will have become child brides - which equates to 25,000 a day.
Sky News spoke with one child bride who now campaigns against underage marriage.
Alematsahye Gebrekidan, the founder of the Former Child Wives Foundation, was married aged 10 in Ethiopia, to a boy himself only 16 years old.
"I was married when I was a little girl. The decision was taken by the parents, we [she and her husband] did not know. I was playing outside and they called me in and told me I was going to be married.
"I was scared, and ashamed, and embarrassed."
Alem's wedding day was, for her, no happy occasion.
"I was crying, I was very upset and angry because I was scared. I didn't know what was happening to me.
"It is the culture [there]. If you are 15 years old they say you are old, too old, so you should be married.
She gave birth to a child at age 13. One month later, her husband was killed in the war. Forced to grow up at such a young age, she deeply regrets the loss of her childhood.
"I feel shamed. I feel empty inside, empty.
"When I see a child playing with a doll ... I miss those things."
And she has a simple message for others who have similar experiences: "Don't be ashamed, come out and get support.
"It's not your fault. It's not your choice."
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