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February 18, 2019

UNited nations acts to end early child marriage

Article 45 of the constitution of Kenya provides for the right to marry and start a family. The Marriage Act sets out the procedure and the statutory structure that regulate matrimonial affairs.

A marriage is by nature a contractual relationship between the parties to the marriage. It comes with a host of interrelated rights and responsibilities. It’s no wonder the parties to a marriage are supposed to be adults.

However, there has been an upsurge in child marriages. Most of these early marriages have been informed by cultural beliefs and practices, which are outdated and repugnant.In many cases, young girls end up being married off to older men.

On July 2, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution co-sponsored by more than 85 states to strengthen efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage, a practice that affects 15 million girls every year. The resolution is the first-ever substantive resolution on child marriage adopted by the council.

It recognises child marriage as a violation of human rights “that prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence” and that has “wide ranging and adverse consequences on the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to education, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health”. It also recognises child marriage as a “barrier to sustainable development” that “helps to perpetuate the cycle of poverty”.

Although it does not call for comprehensive sex education as a key component to prevent and end child marriage, which was a priority for many advocates, it goes further than last year’s General Assembly resolution by urging governments to promote and protect the human rights of all women and girls, including their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality.

It also advances on previous resolutions by taking into consideration child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian and fragile situations.

The resolution recognises the need for national action plans on child marriage, and encourages states to work with civil society to develop and implement a holistic, comprehensive and co-ordinated response to address child marriage and support married girls, which will be critical to the successful implementation of the sustainable development goals and target 5.3.


At a glance

Child, early and forced marriage is a global problem which cuts across countries, cultures, religious and ethnicities and affects approximately 15 million girls every year.

It disempowers girls for life, depriving them of their agency, their right to health, education and a life free from violence.

Child brides have little or no say in if, when and whom they marry. Once married, it is extremely difficult for girls to assert their needs to their usually older husbands.

The young brides are often pressured into motherhood, putting them at risk of death or injury during childbirth. Girls who give birth before 18 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women aged 20-24.

After marriage, the girls usually drop out of school, if they were in school at all. Over 60 per cent of child brides in developing countries have had no formal education.

A girl who married before 18 is more likely to experience physical, sexual and psychological violence throughout her life.


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