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Child Marriage – A Practice Driven By Poverty

child marriage

What were you doing on your 18th birthday? Planning a party with friends or a getaway perhaps?

For a majority of girls around the world, their 18th birthday is a significant milestone of stepping into adulthood and a chapter closer to independent living. 

Sadly, this isn’t the case for a whopping 650 million girls worldwide [1] who end up being married even before they turn 18 years old.  

According to Unicef, this number increases by 12 million every year [1], as more and more children get married across the globe.

Nearly 30% of global child marriages happen in the South Asian region.[1]

Global child marriages

Source: Unicef (2020). Child Marriage Around the World.

In Malaysia, child marriages have always been a hot topic laced with both religious and cultural debate. Needless to say, it is not a small issue. Applications for child marriages came from both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. 

Between 2013-2018 alone there were over 9,500 cases compromising of over 5,000 from the Muslim community [2] and over 3,000 cases from the non-Muslim families [3]

These categorisations are important to note as typically child marriages are seen as an act strongly connected to religious beliefs, however cultures and traditions are also strong influencers to this practice. 

Child Brides Are More Likely To Be Poor

Child bride

There has been extensive research over the past decade on the factors behind the occurrence of child marriage.  Barring social and cultural norms, one of the main drivers of child marriage is poverty.  In many instances where a family marries off their child early, there are often social or economic factors influencing the decision.

The World Bank identified that globally,  girls with poorer economic backgrounds were more likely to marry early [4]. Those faced with economic difficulties find that marrying their child off as one burden lifted;  one less mouth to feed. 

Child bride
Source: Global Village Space (2020)

In situations where a dowry is involved, the age of the bride is directly proportional to the amount of dowry paid. The younger she is, the higher the dowry [5]. Some families struggling in absolute poverty marry off their children in hopes that their new family is able to provide them with a better life.

A study by UNICEF  found that poverty was a driver of child marriage for participants of every ethnicity [6]. Unable to continue paying for their children’s education, parents from low-income households choose for their children to be married.

To get the latest snapshot of Child Marriage in Malaysia, read this article. And for a more in-depth look at Child Marriage, its implications and the list of changemakers working to combat this issue, read our whitepaper. These articles were last updated in March 2021.

Explore our sources:

  1. UNICEF. (2020, April). Child marriage. Link.
  2. Hakim, A. (2019). How Msia’s Complex Laws Put Child Marriage Ban At A Standstill. The Rakyat Post. Link.
  3. Tang, A. (2019, July 15). Non-Muslim child marriages on the rise. The Star. Link.  
  4. Wodon, Q. et al. (2017). Economic Impacts Of Child Marriage: Global Synthesis Report. Link.
  5. Parsons, J. et al. (2015). Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: A Review of the Literature. Link.
  6. Mohd Awal, N. A. et al. (2018). Child Marriage in Malaysia. Link.

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