Child marriage is defined as the marriage union that takes place before the age of 18. This involves the marriage of a boy or a girl under the age of 18 living with a partner who is also under or above 18. Child marriage could be both formal and informal in nature that has an effect on both boys and girls, but greatly impacts the lives of girls.
According to (UNICEF 2016), South Asia accounts for the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
- (45%) of all women aged 20-24 years are reported being married before the age of 18.
- (17%) are married before the age of 15.
- Even though there is a decline in the marriages of children under 15, marriages between the ages of 15- 18 remains common place.
Child marriage violates the fundamental rights of the child to freedom, the right to education, protection etc. It further exposes the child into violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination. According to the common law of Sri Lanka, under-aged marriages are illegal, and the legal age for marriage is 18. The Department of Census and Statistics of 2012 in Sri Lanka (on the percentage of the married population) reports the following.
- Married citizens between the ages of 15-19 are recorded as 104,176, out of which 85, 392 are females (82%) and 18,784 are males (18%).
- A number of 3530 are of married females below the age of 15, whilst there are no males being reported under this category.
The social, cultural, racial, political, economic and religious practices have been root causes for most of these child marriages in Sri Lanka. This records both registered and customary marriages of the 4 major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.
- Sinhalese registered marriages between the ages of (15- 19) – 62, 630 & under (15) -2,200
Customary marriages between the ages of (15-19) – 11, 446 & under (15) – 216
- Tamil registered marriages between the ages of (15- 19) – 9396 & under (15) – 372
Customary marriages between the ages of (15-19) – 3566 and under (15) – 58
- Muslim registered marriages between the ages of (15- 19) – 11, 916 & under (15) – 471
Customary marriages between the ages of (15-19) – 544 & under (15) – 23
MAIN DRIVERS OF CHILD MARRIAGE IN SRI LANKA
Poverty – The poor economic circumstances and living conditions have traumatized many children. Most mothers in poor rural families migrate to the Middle-east for domestic labour to earn a living. This compels the girl child at home into marriage, owing to the lack of security, neglect or pressure from the patriarchy of their families.
Lack of Education – Limited knowledge and awareness of sexual and reproductive health and the minimum exposure to education and vocational training for young girls and boys have created space for early marriages.
Traditions/Laws – The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act does not mention a minimum age for marriage. However, where a marriage involves a girl below 12 years of age, the act requires consent of the Quazi, Islamic judicial officer, to register the marriage.
Civil War – The armed conflict in Sri Lanka enforced parents who lived in the North and East to give away their children in early marriage for protection. This was mainly to avoid forced recruitment by the LTTE.
Pre- Marital Sex – There is a tendency that parents would marry off their daughters to the offender to avoid any kind of shame or discrimination it would bring upon their families. There is a lot of social pressure that comes along with such situations. Elders concentrate on family prestige despite the consent of their daughters in instances where the relationship has become public.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF CHILD MARRIAGE
- Early pregnancy
- Girls are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS
- Exposed to force, sexual abuse and violence
- Girls are very unlikely to attend school or receive education
- Physically and psychologically traumatized the rest of their lives, with the burden of a child upon them.