Impact of Early Marriage :Sexuality and Domestic Violence

UNICEF defines child marriage as “a formal marriage or union before 18 years of age.” While the legal age limit for boys and girls in Cameroon and some countries in Africa are 21 and 18 years respectively, there are many parts of the world where early marriages take place.

Traditionally the culture of early marriages had started during the medieval period. The young were married off for various reasons – protecting the females from being raped by foreign rulers, preventing conversion of religion, to strengthen military and political alliances between kingdoms and cast system.

There are International Human Rights instruments that have been put in place in relation to the problem of early marriage. The key ones are Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and practices Similar to Slavery; Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

(CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Early marriages are a big threat to the human rights and well-being of children. It denies the young an opportunity to grow and empower themselves. It challenges the basic right of these children to education, health, protection and development. The girls are forced into it a lot more in comparison to their male counterparts and impacts girls with more intensity. Girls from poor households are twice as likely to be married early than the girls from higher income groups. Daughters are seen as a burden and are married off to avoid cost of caring for them. The role of women is looked down upon and degraded to merely taking care of the household chores, procreation and being subservient to the husband and in-laws.

At an age where a child should be basking in innocent games and gaining education, young girls are married off before they are mentally, physically and psychologically prepared for the responsibilities that a marriage brings. At times they are married to, and even sold off to men who are a lot older than these young girls. The young girls are neither capable of handling themselves nor the burden of marital responsibilities. Young girls are forced for merely serve their husbands and in-laws and do not have a right to make any decisions or to have a normal social life.

Early marriages have serious negative consequences on several levels:

Education and economy:

Because they are married early, little or no focus is given to their education, going grossly against the adage, “educate a woman and you educate a family, educate a family and you educate a nation.” Pulling out of the future generations from schools perpetuates the cycle of poverty and thereby, curtails the overall economic growth of the nation. Women with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry early.

Sexuality and violence:

Young girls with low levels of education are more likely to experience violence by an intimate partner. A young girl who is still struggling to understand her own anatomy is forced to make conjugal relations and often show signs of post-traumatic stress and depression owing to sexual abuse by her older partner. Neither their bodies are prepared nor their innocent little minds. Forced sexual encounters lead to irreversible physical damage. The psychological damage cannot even be comprehended.


By Rosaline Obah

Obah Rose

Obah Rose

Rosaline Obah is a graduate from the University of Buea with a Bsc. In Journalism and Mass Communication, and women and Gender Studies. Presently Communication Secretary for the PCC in the Northwest Region, she has taken a profound interest in gender issues and presently writes a column on (Feminine line). She has also been contributing similar articles to The Eden Newspaper. Obah is currently the PRO of the Northwest Chapter of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ).

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