When you hear “child marriage,” what appears in your mind? You visualise an underage girl wearing a red sari, right? Of course, it is normal to imagine the face of a little girl when you hear about child marriage, as it is the prevailing scenario in our society. But isn’t it interesting that a boy’s face generally does not appear in our minds in discussing this topic?
When you search “child marriage” online, you’ll get much information, statistics, discussion, research, and policies regarding child marriage as they pertain to girls and their problems, concerns, and impacts, but hardly ever through the perspective of boys.
This is largely reflected through different development initiatives throughout the world, while millions of boys below the legal age who are getting married every year are under-represented.
You may argue that focusing on girls reduces the number of boys getting married, but saying this is discriminatory and unequal, especially so because we are supposed to give emphasis on the child rather than the child’s gender.
According to UNICEF, child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18, is a reality for both boys and girls, although girls are disproportionately affected.
Thus, it is very normal that girls are talked about more, but it is abnormal when we ignore the boys only because the affected number is less than the girls.
Even though UNICEF has reported child marriage affects girls in far greater numbers than boys and with more intensity, data on the number of boys affected by child marriage is limited, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions on its status and progress.
Nevertheless, available data confirms that boys are far less likely than girls in the same region to marry before age 18. UNICEF also states that 730 million girls were married before the age of 18 while 156 million boys were married before reaching adulthood. But is 156 million really that small a number?
Several health surveys in different states of India have revealed that more boys than girls are getting married before the legal age of 21 years, and surveys in different parts of Pakistan and Nepal reveal child marriage amongst boys is greater than girls.
A study in 2004 found that in 44 countries, girls were, by law, allowed to marry earlier than boys. Especially in South Asian countries, it has been seen that society’s general practice is to keep the groom older than the bride. Thus, generally, an underage boy marries a girl who is younger than him.
It is not about a few. It is about millions of boys worldwide, whose potential, aspirations, dreams, opportunities, and future are snatched away.
It has tremendous negative psychological, physical, and spiritual effects, which hinder the personal growth of a boy. Studies show that there are additional problems encountered by the girl if the boy she marries is also underage.
He is often not able to protect her, which makes the girl doubly vulnerable to violence, abuse, and indignity.
In many cases, the boys who are forced into early marriage are also forced to take economic responsibilities after marriage. It causes both physical and mental suffering, and that has drastic consequences.
Robiul Islam, a 19-year-old boy, says: “I got married when I was only 15 years old. I had to work instead of study. If I didn’t have to marry early, I would study more, and might someday have become a doctor or engineer.”
While talking with Jaman, a 20-year-old, he said: “After getting married, I was asked to maintain my family and I left school. I had very little knowledge about family planning and I became a father of three children at an early age. Now, I have to work much, but I can hardly maintain my family.”
There are thousands of stories like these, and the significance of these stories needs to be represented.
It is important to conduct research to find out the impact of child marriage on both boys and girls. It seems the concept of child marriage has become a myth of sorts, one in which only girls are the victims. There is no denying that child marriage happens to girls in a greater number than boys, but it does not justify our poor efforts and attention towards ending child marriage for boys.
If we would like to create a world where child marriage is a thing of the past, we must not neglect boys, and we must create a more conducive atmosphere through collaborative efforts worldwide.