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Dads too soon: The Central African Republic has highest prevalence of child grooms

A UNICEF report has found that an estimated 115 million boys and men worldwide were married as children. Of these, one in five (23 million) became child grooms before the age of 15. Of the 82 countries analysed, the Central African Republic was found to have the highest prevalence of this practice.

Few studies have been done to track the prevalence of child grooms. The practice of child marriage has been well studied among girls, but there has been little information to date about child marriage among boys. While the practice is more common among girls than boys, it remains a violation of rights, regardless of the gender of the child involved.

In fact, reports indicate that many similar factors converge to place any boy or girl at risk of marriage. These factors include poverty, the perception that marriage will provide “protection”, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system.

The Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies: An International Interdisciplinary Journal for Research, Policy and Care states that in the countries with data, on average 4.5% of young men aged 20 to 24 were first married or in a union before the age of 18, with a range of values from less than 1% to nearly 30%. It also details that the countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage among boys are geographically diverse and differ from the countries where the practice is most common among girls.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF has analysed marriage and population data across 82 countries and found the Central African Republic to have the highest prevalence of child grooms, at 28%, followed by Nicaragua at 19% and Madagascar at 13%. There are now 765 million married boys and girls among the 2.2 billion children globally.

The report states, “While boys and girls who marry in childhood do not face the same risks and consequences due to biological and social differences, the practice is nonetheless a rights violation for children of both sexes.”

Read: Three Nigerian teenagers are fighting to end child marriage

However, “similar to child brides, child grooms are forced to take on adult responsibilities, for which they may not be prepared. The union may bring early fatherhood and result in additional economic pressure in the form of providing for the household. It may also constrain the boy’s access to education and opportunities for career advancement.”

Ironically, the issue of child marriage is addressed in a number of international conventions and agreements. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, for example, covers the right to protection from child marriage in article 16. The right to “free and full” consent to marriage is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although marriage is not mentioned directly in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, child marriage is linked to other rights – such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to protection from all forms of abuse, and the right to be protected from harmful traditional practices – and is frequently addressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Other international agreements related to child marriage are the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

The United Nations has also stipulated that all countries should end child marriage by 2030, as was agreed in the global development goals in 2015.

Speaking on the issue, UNICEF’s executive director, Henrietta Fore, said, “As we mark the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we need to remember that marrying boys and girls off while they are still children runs counter to the rights enshrined in the Convention.”

“Through further research, investment and empowerment, we can end this violation,” Fore added on a hopeful note.

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