Causes and Risk Factors
                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                                            Created June 2010

Forced/Child Marriage
Forced marriage and child marriage are widely followed practices in certain cultures. However, within those cultures there are certain risk factors which increase the likelihood that a girl child will be forced into marriage. Child marriage prevalence is closely tied to poverty; child marriage rates are highest among the poorest 20% of households globally. A girl from the poorest household in Senegal is four times more likely to marry before the age of 18 than a girl from the richest household. The statistic for Nigeria is similarly stark: 80% of the poorest girls are married before the age of 18. Poor families often pressure their daughters into marriage in order to alleviate the economic burden of providing for them, or to obtain dowry money. In cultures where the family of the groom receives a dowry, grooms may force a girl to marry before she is 18. Girl children who are able to earn money are less likely to be forced into child marriage. In Bangladesh, 31% of girls who left rural communities to work in factories were married by age 18, whereas 71% of girls who remained in rural communities were married by age 18. From: New Insights on Preventing Child Marriage: A Global Analysis of Factors and Programs, International Center for Research on Women (April 2007) (PDF, 60 pages).
 
There is also a strong correlation between low education levels and child marriage. Girls with more than eight years of formal education are less likely to marry before the age of majority than those with only a few years of education. Women with a secondary education are less likely to marry before the age of 18 than women without a secondary education. In Tanzania, women with a secondary school education were 92% less likely to be married before the age of 18 than those with only a primary school education. In many cases, the parents’ desire for their children to be educated pushes them to postpone their daughters’ marriages. Education can also foster a girl’s autonomous decision-making, encouraging her to choose a marriage partner or to pursue aspirations outside of marriage. From: New Insights on Preventing Child Marriage: A Global Analysis of Factors and Programs, International Center for Research on Women (April 2007) (PDF, 60 pages).
 
 
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is caused by a combination of cultural, religious, and social factors. According to the World Health Organization, "FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage." From: Female Genital Mutilation: Fact Sheet No. 241, World Health Organization (February 2010). In some societies, the practice is considered part of a coming-of-age ritual, sometimes for entry into women’s secret societies, which are considered necessary for girls to become responsible members of the society. These societies reward girls who have the procedure with public recognition, gifts, and celebrations. From: Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: an Interagency Statement, World Health Organization (2008) (PDF, 47 pages).
 
Female genital mutilation is conducted in some communities because it is believed that the practice ensures and preserves a girl’s virginity. It is also thought that the practice reduces a woman’s libido and helps the girl resist “illicit” sexual acts. Female genital mutilation is frequently associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which includes the belief that female genital mutilation makes girls “clean” and “beautiful” by eliminating “masculine” parts of their bodies. There is often a cultural expectation that men will only marry women who have undergone the practice. From: Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: an Interagency Statement, World Health Organization (2008) (PDF, 47 pages).
 
Female genital mutilation has no health benefits, and it harms girls in many ways. According to the World Health Organization, immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus or sepis, urine retention, open sores in the genital region, and injury to nearby genital tissue. From: Female Genital Mutilation: Key Facts, World Health Organization (February 2010). Long term consequences include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, and the need for later surgeries, as well as lasting psychological scars. From: Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: an Interagency Statement, World Health Organization (2008) (PDF, 47 pages).
 
 
Sexual Exploitation, Prostitution and Trafficking
Greed and perversion are the primary underlying causes of trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls. Traffickers make large sums of money by exploiting girls for involuntary work or selling them to others for similar purposes. Exploiters often purchase or rent trafficked children because it is cheap to do so, or because such practices are culturally accepted in their countries. From: Trafficking of Women and Children for Sexual Exploitation in the Americas, Pan-American Health Organization (2001) (PDF, 11 pages). In recent years, organized crime has increasingly played a role in trafficking girls. In many cases of inter-country trafficking, the exploiter uses the girl’s undocumented status in the country as a means of intimidation, threatening to have the girl arrested and deported if she does not cooperate. In some Muslim countries, women are coerced with threats of returning them to their homes, where male relatives practicing certain sects of Islam will kill them for failing to remain a virgin until marriage. From: Trafficking in Persons Report, United States Department of State (2009) (PDF, 324 pages).  
 
The most prevalent risk factors for trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls are poverty and domestic violence. Parents living in poverty are vulnerable to scams by traffickers promising jobs and opportunities for their daughters in other countries. From: Trafficking in Persons Report, United States State Department (June 2009) (PDF, 324 pages). As one expert has stated, the world will have better luck cutting off the demand for trafficked persons than cutting off the supply, because reducing the supply of trafficked persons would require addressing the underlying and deep-seated economic and cultural issues. From: Child Protection from Violence, Exploitation, and Violence, UNICEF (15 September 2009).
 
 
Prenatal Sex Selection
The most common causes of prenatal sex selection are cultural traditions, declining fertility, and increased access to sex determination technology and abortions. Religious and traditional considerations in India and East Asia have strongly contributed to “son preference.” For instance, countries with high Confucian populations are strongly patriarchal, and only sons are allowed to perform last rite ceremonies for their parents. From: New “Common Sense”: Family-Planning Policy and Sex Ratio in Viet Nam, United Nations Population Fund (29 October 2007) (PDF, 28 pages).
 
Governmental policies designed to control population are also contributing to increased use of prenatal sex selection.  Families with even a minor preference for a male child may turn to prenatal sex selection in order to limit family size. Several of the countries experiencing increases in SRBs (Sex Ratio at Birth) are those with national fertility policies. Vietnam has had a one- or two-child policy since the late 1980s, and China’s population limiting laws have been criticized for their harmful effects on girl children. From: Are Sex Ratios at Birth Increasing in Vietnam?, Daniele Bélanger (2003) (PDF, 19 pages). In India, sex selective abortions have been promoted as a method of population control. From: Gender Discrimination Fuels Sex Selective Abortion: The Impact of the Indian Supreme Court on the Implementation and Enforcement of the PNDT Act, Kristi Lemoine and John Tanagho (2008) (PDF, 7 pages).
 
Many of these countries have also seen an increase in SRB as access to abortions and inexpensive sex-detection measures, primarily ultrasound technology, increases. In India, where the number of ultrasound machines produced domestically jumped from 1,000 in 1994 to 20,000 in 2003, much of the research points to increased availability of ultrasound technology as the most plausible explanation for increases in SRB. From: Gender Discrimination Fuels Sex Selective Abortion: The Impact of the Indian Supreme Court on the Implementation and Enforcement of the PNDT Act, Kristi Lemoine and John Tanagho (2008) (PDF, 7 pages). Increased prenatal sex selection in rural areas of South Korea has also been attributed to the availability of cheap ultrasound equipment. From: Preference for Sons Causing Global Shortage of Women, Joan Delaney, The Epoch Times (16 March 2007).
 
 
Sexual Harassment
General cultural attitudes that girls are inferior contribute to sexual harassment in the workplace and schools by suggesting that girls may be harassed with impunity. It is an unfortunate fact that girl children are devalued and marginalized in many cultures. The prejudices and injustices faced by girls inevitably place them in situations of high risk of harassment and abuse. Girls in domestic service are particularly vulnerable to abuse. From: Helping Hands or Shackled Lives: Understanding Child Domestic Labor and Responses to It, International Labour Office (2004) (PDF, 122 pages).
 
As the Commission of the European Union states, "Sexual harassment pollutes the working environment and can have a devastating effect upon the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it. The anxiety and stress produced by sexual harassment commonly leads to those subjected to it taking time off work due to sickness, being less efficient at work, or leaving their job to seek work elsewhere. Employees often suffer the adverse consequences of the harassment itself and short- and long-term damage to their employment prospects if they are forced to change jobs. Sexual harassment may also have a damaging impact on employees not themselves the object of unwanted behavior but who are witness to it or have a knowledge of the unwanted behavior… In general terms, sexual harassment is an obstacle to the proper integration of women into the labour market." From: Protection of the Dignity of Women and Men at Work, Commission of the European Union (27 November 1991).
 
Almost all people suffering sexual harassment reported negative consequences both in their private lives and relating to their job. As regards the former, psychosomatic symptoms, loss of self-esteem, and interference with private life are the most commonly reported consequences. As regards the latter, it appears that harassed employees experience a negative impact on their career more often than the harassers. From:Sexual harassment in the workplace in the European Union, European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs (1998) (PDF, 243 pages).
 
 
Crimes Committed in the Name of "Honor"
A 1999 Amnesty International report on "honor" killings in Pakistan states, “The concept of women as a commodity, not human beings endowed with dignity and rights equal to those of men, is deeply rooted in tribal culture…[women] are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic or religious group.” From: Pakistan: Honour Killings of Women and Girls, Amnesty International (August 1999) (PDF, 16 pages).
 
There are few escapes for girl children at risk for becoming the victim of an "honor" killing. In Turkey, as of May 2008, there were only 38 women’s shelters despite administrative law stipulating to the creation of shelters in all municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants. FromGood Practices in Legislation on Violence against Women in Turkey and Problems of Implementation, Pinar Ilkkaracan and Liz Ercevik Amado, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (23 May 2008) (PDF, 15 pages). In Jordan, a woman seeking protection can “check herself into the local prison” but only a male relative can check her out. From: Thousands of Women Killed for Family “Honor,” Hillary Mayell, National Geographic (12 February 2002). A fleeing girl child risks being abused by police or caught by pursuing relatives. With escape posing so many dangers, some girls acquiesce to “honor suicide” and take their own lives. From: How to Avoid Honor Killing in Turkey? Honor Suicide, Dan Bilefsky, New York Times (16 July 2006).
 
Moreover, the legal systems in countries where "honor" killings are most prevalent often fail to protect the girl child. In Egypt, judges can reduce murder sentences to as little as six months. A man who admittedly killed his ex-fiancé received only a seven-year sentence after the court noted that the victim had married without permission. From: Honour Killing in Egypt, Fatma Khafagy, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (17 May 2005) (PDF, 9 pages). Even where such loopholes have been eliminated, application of the law is challenging. Police and judges, who in many countries are still predominantly male, often hold the same beliefs as those who commit "honor" killings.
 
Because perpetrators of "honor" killings face lesser punishment, other crimes may be disguised as "honor" killings. A study of "honor" killings in Egypt between 1998 and 2001 found that 6% of alleged "honor" killings during that period were committed to hide incest and another 6% were murders that were made to look like "honor" killings. FromHonour Killing in Egypt, Fatma Khafagy, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (17 May 2005) (PDF, 9 pages).
 
 
Conflict and Humanitarian Situations
The nature of war is changing in ways that increasingly endanger women and girls. An estimated 40% of child soldiers are girls, forcibly conscripted, with duties ranging from carrying equipment, cooking, and laundry, to engaging in combat, to providing obligatory sexual services to their superiors and fellow soldiers. War and other disasters often result in girl children losing the protection of male relatives. In cultures where girl children have been raised to have male relatives make their decisions, girl children become particularly vulnerable if the conflict situation causes disrupts the social structures around them. From: Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in War and its Aftermath: Realities, Responses, and Required Resources, Jeanne Ward and Mendy Marsh, United Nations Population Fund (21 June 2006) (PDF, 34 pages).
 
Often women become victims of sexual assault and violence during armed conflict. This sexual violence is often considered to be a systematic weapon for the explicit purpose of decimating populations, destroying bonds within the family and community, or forcing displacement to gain property. In this instance, rape is a public act designed to maximize humiliation and shame upon the male protector as well as on the women or children raped. Sexual violence is also a plan to quell resistance by instilling fear between local communities or between opposing forces. In conflicts defined by racial, tribal, religious, or ethnic divisions, it is a method of ethnic cleansing, and includes acts such as public rapes, forced impregnation, mutilation of genitals, and intentional transmission of HIV. From: Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in War and its Aftermath: Realities, Responses, and Required Resources, Jeanne Ward and Mendy Marsh, United Nations Population Fund (21 June 2006) (PDF, 34 pages).
 
Sexual violence against the girl child is an effective weapon of war for various reasons. She is particularly vulnerable due to her sex and youthful inexperience. She has generally been taught to stay within the protection of her male relatives, to do what they say, and expect them to make all the decisions; she is an easy target when she no longer has this structure and protection. As a teen or pre-teen in many war-torn areas, she has all the self-esteem and self-confidence issues of every child her age, in addition to reinforced notions of sexual inferiority and ingrained subservience. If she survives the sexual assault, she’s unlikely to admit to being raped because of the stigma involved – she would bring shame on her family and anger male relatives due to their inability to protect her. Because she is no longer a virgin, she may ruin her chance to marry; her husband may divorce her; she may lose her home and children. As a result of such losses, she may be forced into survival prostitution.
 
Male peacetime attitudes towards women in many societies are tantamount to commodification – women, and especially girls, are to be used and bartered as needed. Women are not treated as though they have inherent worthiness or are due any respect, which makes sexual violence against them much easier to commit. “State failure to uphold women’s rights as full and equal citizens sends an unmistakably clear message to the broader community that women’s lives matter less, and that violence and discrimination against them is acceptable. … In both law and practice, women are subordinate and unequal to men.” Combatants know that sexual violence against women and girls harms the individual and “symbolically assaults the larger community (or ethnic group or nationality).” From: In War as in Peace: Sexual Violence and Women’s Status, Human Rights Watch (2004).
 
The U.N. Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the total number of people displaced by armed conflict in 2008 at 42 million worldwide, including 15.2 million refugees in neighboring states and 26 million internally displaced individuals in their own country. 44% of refugees are children. From: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, UNHCR (16 June 2009) As refugees flee conflict zones, women and girls are often forced to flee without male relatives or community members, money, or resources, and they are at continued high risk for sexual violence committed by bandits, insurgency groups, military, and border guards. Their flight to humanitarian camps often requires travel through war zones and into neighboring countries where they are not welcome. Once they arrive at camps, the danger is still high. Girls and women must often leave the camp for water or firewood, where they are sexually preyed upon by armed bandits. Rape is rampant within some camps due to overpopulation, insufficient lighting at night, close proximity of male and female latrines and bathhouses, and poor and unequal access to limited resources. Orphaned girl children without male relatives will generally be placed with a guardian family, but this doesn’t necessarily ensure her safety as a guardian’s commitment can waiver with his desperation to acquire food, travel passes, and resources. Some guardians have assaulted or abducted their charges or sold them for needed supplies. Traffickers also use the camps as sources for prostitution, and occasionally guards and humanitarian aid workers abuse or sell women and children. From: In War as in Peace: Sexual Violence and Women’s Status, Human Rights Watch (2004).
 
 
 
Compiled from: New Insights on Preventing Child Marriage: A Global Analysis of Factors and Programs, International Center for Research on Women (April 2007); Female Genital Mutilation: Fact Sheet No. 241, World Health Organization (February 2010); Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: an Interagency Statement, World Health Organization (2008) (PDF, 47 pages); Female Genital Mutilation: Key Facts, World Health Organization (February 2010); Trafficking of Women and Children for Sexual Exploitation in the Americas, Pan-American Health Organization (2001); Trafficking in Persons Report, United States Department of State (2009); Trafficking, United States State Department (June 2009) (PDF, 324 pages); Child Protection from Violence, Exploitation, and Violence, UNICEF (15 September 2009); New “Common Sense”: Family-Planning Policy and Sex Ratio in Viet Nam, United Nations Population Fund (29 October 2007); Are Sex Ratios at Birth Increasing in Vietnam?, Daniele Bélanger (2003); Gender Discrimination Fuels Sex Selective Abortion: The Impact of the Indian Supreme Court on the Implementation and Enforcement of the PNDT Act, Kristi Lemoine and John Tanagho (2008); Gender Discrimination Fuels Sex Selective Abortion: The Impact of the Indian Supreme Court on the Implementation and Enforcement of the PNDT Act, Kristi Lemoine and John Tanagho (2008); Preference for Sons Causing Global Shortage of Women, The Epoch Times (16 March 2007); Helping Hands or Shackled Lives: Understanding Child Domestic Labor and Responses to It, International Labour Office (2004); Sexual harassment in the workplace in the European Union, European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs (1998); Pakistan: Honour Killings of Women and Girls, Amnesty International (August 1999); Good Practices in Legislation on Violence against Women in Turkey and Problems of Implementation, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (23 May 2008); Thousands of Women Killed for Family “Honor,” National Geographic (12 February 2002); How to Avoid Honor Killing in Turkey? Honor Suicide, New York Times (16 July 2006); Honour Killing in Egypt, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (17 May 2005); Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in War and its Aftermath: Realities, Responses, and Required Resources, United Nations Population Fund (21 June 2006); In War as in Peace: Sexual Violence and Women’s Status, Human Rights Watch (2004); Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, UNHCR (16 June 2009).