Consequences and Effects of Forced and Child Marriage

Forced and child marriages have severe psychological, emotional, medical, financial, and legal consequences. Victims tend to be isolated from their peers and friends. They rarely have access to social services that could assist them. Early marriages often interrupt a victim’s education. This deprives them of their right to education, as well as limits any possibility of economic independence from their spouse, making it more difficult to escape from an unwanted marriage.

The unofficial nature of many of these marriages means that they often go unregistered, leaving a woman with no legal protections in cases of separation. InTajikistan, although the minimum legal age for entry into marriage is 17, many people circumvent the law by entering into traditional Muslim nikoh marriages. Because these marriages are purely religious, they are not registered or recognized by the state. In the event of a divorce, the couple’s assets are not divided, and the woman often ends up homeless and with little or no money.

Forced and child marriages are also more likely to become violent because the relationship is based on the power of one spouse over the other. Rape occurs frequently in forced and child marriages and has severe consequences, especially for young brides. Young married women are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. In general, younger women enter into marriages with partners who are significantly older and more sexually experienced. A lack of education concerning STDs, social norms preventing young girls’ from asking questions about their partners’ sexual history, and a limited amount of power in their marriage make these young women more susceptible to STDs. For example, although more than 90 percent of girls in Amhara had their first sexual encounter within marriage, it has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Complications during childbirth are much more common among young mothers.  They can result in severe disabilities, such as obstetric fistula—a tearing of the vagina which can leave women incontinent and isolated from society. Maternal mortality rates (MMR) are significantly higher among younger women. For example, in Ethiopia the MMR is over 1200 per 100,000 live births among girls aged 15 to19 and only slightly over 400 per 100,000 live births in women ages 20 to 34. InYemen, where 52.1 percent of women are victims of child marriage, the maternal mortality rate among girls aged 15 to 19 is 19 percent.

Honor killings may also be a consequence in cases where a forced marriage is refused. For more information, please see our webpage on honor killings.