Marriage involving children under 18-years-old remains a widely culturally accepted practice in many corners of the globe. UNICEF estimates that 11% of women worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15. Although boys can be affected by the practice, it is mostly girls who suffer slavery as a consequence of child marriage.
There has been growing awareness about the negative consequences of child marriage, especially for girls, including the impact of marriage on children’s education and risks to their physical and psychological health.
It should be noted that many marriages involving children will not amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years. However, child marriage can also obscure what are actually cases of slavery or slavery-like practices.
Child marriage can be referred to as slavery, if one or more of the following elements are present:
Children are in a weaker position to give free, full and informed consent to marriage than adults, even if they appear to ‘agree’ or don’t express refusal.
Many children have little or no control over their movements or person within marriage, including over sexual relations. Girls in particular are commonly controlled through violence, threats and humiliation, as well as experiencing isolation and loneliness.
Children may not realistically be able to leave their marriage. For example, they may not be able to support themselves financially or may fear repercussions from in-laws and the wider community, as well as their own families.
Girls who leave their marriages without support are often vulnerable to other forms of slavery and exploitation.