Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 1:11 pm on 14th February 2013.

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Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Conservative, South Derbyshire 1:11 pm, 14th February 2013

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I appreciate being called now, because—unfortunately—I have to go to the Westminster Hall debate at 1.25 pm. I want to talk about protecting future generations of women and girls from violence and forced marriage.

Worldwide, 10 million girls are married each year before they are 18, which is equivalent to more than 27,000 girls per day, or 19 every minute. In the developing world, one in three girls will be married before they are 18. In October last year on the first international day of the girl, the United Nations population fund released new data that predict that, by 2020, if child marriage prevalence trends continue, 142 million girls will be married before they are adults and, because of the rising global population, that means an increase in child marriage to around 14 million girls per year.

In most cases, laws and international conventions are in place to protect children from being forced into marriage, yet Governments fail to implement those protections. We do not know exactly how many British girls face forced marriage, but evidence shows that they are being taken out of the country to be married against their will. Here in the UK, families are also getting children married off in the community or in religious ceremonies. Some take advantage of the fact that the law in Britain allows the marriage of 16 and 17-year-olds with parental consent.

Understanding the causes and consequences of early and forced marriage is paramount in preventing girls from losing their childhood, their dreams and the opportunities to make their own choices about their lives and relationships. Causes and practices vary according to context, yet there are common themes. In some areas, child marriage has been practised for many centuries, while in others it emerges as a response to conditions of crisis, including political instability, natural disaster and civil unrest.

Poverty and gender inequality are common drivers of child marriage. Many parents marry their daughters off young to protect them from poverty, sexual harassment, the stigma of extramarital sex, and sexually transmitted infections. They also marry daughters off to reduce their own economic burdens, and yet child marriage entrenches those problems and does little to protect girls or boys.

In the developing world, a lack of access to education is both a symptom and a cause of child marriage, especially for girls, many of whom get very little formal education because they are valued more for their future roles as wives and mothers. As a result, they miss out on opportunities to learn, to build financial independence and to make autonomous decisions about their futures. Those effects are passed on to successive generations.

Child marriage is a shocking infringement of human rights and the rights of the child. It has many significant and worrying consequences. It leads to higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidities; it contributes to infant mortality and poor child development; it is associated with violence, rape and sexual abuse, resulting in emotional and psychological problems, desertion and divorce; and it increases population growth and hinders sustainable development.