Disturbingly high rates of child marriage, particularly of girls, prevail in rural areas of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia. The research finds that child marriage, including of girls aged 12-14 years old, endures with widespread support among members of the community, parents, and children themselves.
Getting the Evidence: Asia Child Marriage Initiative, was commissioned by international child rights organisation Plan International and UK-based research firm Coram International. Based on thousands of surveys and interviews with parents, community leaders, and children in communities in all 3 countries*, the report details the underlying causes of child marriage alongside a suite of recommendations for countering the endurance of early marriage.
The primary reasons for the endurance of such high rates of child marriage were found to be lack of access to education, economic opportunity, and health services, particularly for girls, alongside severe poverty and weak legal and enforcement mechanism. Most disturbingly, the normalisation and justification of male sexual violence, and extreme gender inequity prevail in survey areas.
According to a 17-year old girl who participated in the research in Bangladesh, “if a girl doesn’t get married people will start to gossip about her. She will lose her reputation, and people will think she is having affairs. For a man it is less of an issue. He can remain single.”
Extraordinarily high rates of child marriage were found among females surveyed in Bangladesh, with 73 per cent being married before they turned 18 years old. 27 per cent of girls were married between the ages of 12 and 14. This compares to 2.8 per cent of males in survey areas in Bangladesh.In Indonesia, 38 per cent of married females in survey areas were married under 18 years of age. The percentage of men married before they turned 18 was 3.7.
Pakistan had the lowest rate of child marriage of girls surveyed in the three countries, at 34.8 per cent, with 15.2 per cent under age 15. However, the rate of child marriage for boys was substantially higher, at 13 per cent.A 17-year old boy in Bangladesh explained to researchers why he believed it was important to marry a young girl, saying “I must choose a bride who is younger than me so I can control her. Moreover, she will be able to satisfy my demands… if I marry an older woman, she will try to have authority over me, and might not satisfy me sexually.”
Mark Pierce, Regional Director of Plan International in Asia says: “Ultimately, the endurance of child marriage lies in deeply ingrained gender discrimination, but economic factors, girls economic dependence, and tradition all play strong roles.”
“However, our research shows that changing communities’ attitudes and acceptance of child marriage is not a remote or insurmountable challenge; a combination of education, economic opportunity, access to health services, and more strict, enforced legal frameworks make a substantial difference to the levels of acceptance and prevalence of child marriage.”
Kara Apland Socio-legal Researcher at Coram International added: "Whilst a lot of emphasis is often placed on 'culture', the research demonstrates how early marriage practices are ultimately driven by a range of structural and environmental factors which must be addressed in order to effect sustainable change."
Research found a direct link between levels of education (for both children and parents), income, access to economic opportunity, and access to sexual and reproductive health services and levels of support for child marriage in a community. Improved access to each of these met with a corresponding decline in levels of acceptance of child marriage.
The report concludes that consistent and long term intervention by NGOs, community groups, governments, and institutional, individual, community and family-level actions would have a substantial impact on the rate and acceptance of child marriage in all three countries. A suite of 40 practical, concrete recommendations concludes the report.
The report and its recommendations will guide Plan International’s programming and advocacy regarding child marriage in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia, as well as inform interventions in other countries.
Plan International believes that the minimum age of marriage is 18, as declared in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.