Millions of young girls worldwide are forced to marry when they are still children, and as a result are denied the ordinary experiences that young people elsewhere take for granted: schooling, good health, economic opportunities, and friendship with peers. Globally, the countries with the highest forced marriage prevalence rates are Niger (75%), Chad (72%), Mali (71%), Bangladesh (66%), Guinea (63%), Central African Republic (65%), Mozambique (52%), Nepal (51%), Malawi (50%), Ethiopia (49%), Sierra Leone (48%), India (47%), and Uganda (46%).95
There are numerous detrimental consequences associated with early marriage which involve physical, developmental, psychological and social implications. When a child bride is married she is likely to be expected to engage immediately in sexual activity with her husband, and forced to do so if she does not comply. At an age when the bride is not physically and sexually mature, this has serious health consequences. Child brides are likely to become pregnant and begin child-bearing at an early age.
Due to limited knowledge, access to information and freedom of movement, young wives are often not able to navigate access to health care.96 They may be unable to access health services because of distance, fear, expense or the need for permission from a spouse or in-law. These barriers magnify the risks of maternal complications and mortality for pregnant adolescents.
Child brides also may suffer vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Whilst early marriages are sometimes seen by parents as a mechanism for protecting their daughters from HIV/AIDS, future husbands may already be infected – a risk that is particularly acute for girls with older husbands. The age disparity between a child bride and her husband, in addition to her low economic independence, exacerbates her inability to negotiate sexual decisions, including whether or not to engage in sexual activity, issues related to the use of contraception and condoms, and her ability to demand fidelity from her husband.97
A lack of education means that young brides often lack knowledge about sexual relations, their bodies and reproduction, and is worsened by the cultural silence surrounding these subjects. Young, married girls therefore lack the ability to make informed decisions about sexual relations, family planning and health.98
Sport programmes can educate girls on their rights to education and their childhood before the age of 18 and can help them advocate in the community against forced or early marriage. Programmes that provide girls with skills or economic opportunities may help families fill an economic need that would have otherwise been met by marrying off their daughter early to receive a bride price, or to be free of the economic responsibility of the daughter.
As we know, girls are rarely the decision makers when it comes to early marriage. Working with communities and parents is key for creating social change in this area. For example, a five-year project implemented by EngenderHealth and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in Nepal found that involving the community in efforts to improve opportunities for unmarried girls contributed to changing traditional attitudes about early marriage among parents and communities. The project provided information and services for adolescents using peer education, youth clubs, street theatre and skills-building workshops.99
Useful Example – Tournaments as Awareness Platforms
The Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI) is a grassroots NGO using, among other tools, sport to increase livelihood support, community cohesion, education and advocacy in Northern Kenya. HODI organised its first-ever girls’ football championship in January 2012. The event brought together more than 200 girls between the ages of 10-14, from different villages and tribes throughout Marsabit County. HODI used the tournament as a platform to raise awareness on the rising incidences of child marriages, breaking the silence with the girls’ own voices.
Adolescent Girl Life Skills: