While there exists a legal minimum age of marriage throughout most of the region, girls in some countries may be getting married very early, likely a major contributing factor to adolescent pregnancies in the region. Child marriages are most widespread in South Asia: 54% of young girls are forced into early marriages in Afghanistan, while in Bangladesh one in three adolescents have already begun child-bearing. In the Pacific, Kiribati’s data shows that 5% of married women aged 20-49 years were married by the age of 15, and 26% were married before age 18.
Although early marriage and child marriage are being gradually transitioned out of their cultural context, they are still important issues in some parts of the world, especially in the Global South. Child marriage is a violation of many aspects of rights, including sexual rights. Early marriage often leads to early pregnancies, which could deprive girls of educational and other opportunities and jeopardize their health and their children’s health.
It should be noted that raising the legal age of marriage will give women more time to educate themselves and to work, which can also result in women becoming more empowered and improving their sexual and reproductive health. While not all arranged marriages are forced marriages, they both indicate the lack of control women and young girls have over their sexual rights and lives, from choosing their partners to consensual relationships.