When most people think about child marriage, they often focus on girls, and this is usually because girls are most affected. However, boys also do marry in childhood, and a recent study has shown that the rate at which young men are being married off as children is rising.
Around 115 million boys and men around the world were married before they turned 18, with one in five wed before they turned 15, the first United Nations study to track the prevalence of child grooms said.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, analyzed marriage and population data across 82 countries and found that one in 21 young men and boys had been married as children. It also discovered that countries, where child marriage among boys was most prevalent, did not necessarily have the highest rates of child marriage among girls.
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Globally, girls who marry as children are often not able to achieve their full potential, as they leave school early, suffer domestic violence and do not get access to proper healthcare. Some even die during pregnancy and childbirth as a result of complications because their bodies are not ready.
Over the years, child marriage has been widely studied among girls, but few data exist as to child marriage among boys.
“Ultimately there is also a cultural element that comes into play,” said Claudia Cappa, senior statistics adviser for Unicef, and one of the report’s authors.
“It is the same for other topics as well – think about sexual violence, for instance. For a time it was believed men are not affected or the impact was not as significant – this is not true.”
UNICEF said that while boys and girls who marry in childhood do not face the same risks and consequences due to biological and social differences, the practice is nonetheless a rights violation for children of both sexes.
“Similar to child brides, child grooms are forced to take on adult responsibilities for which they may not be prepared. The union may bring early fatherhood and result in additional economic pressure in the form of providing for the household; it may also constrain the boy’s access to education and opportunities for career advancement,” UNICEF said.
It further indicated that the countries in which child marriage among boys is most common are geographically diverse and differ from the countries in which the practice is most common among girls.
“While child grooms are less numerous than child brides, they similarly have experienced a rights violation that cuts short their childhood.”
The study added that much like girls, boys most at risk of child marriage do often come from poor homes, live in rural areas with little or no education.
In sub-Saharan Africa, even though child marriage among girls is most common, cases among boys are becoming rampant, as a country in the region had the highest prevalence of the practice in the world.
Here are the African countries with the worst cases of child grooms: