Early marriage is the marriage of children and adolescents below the age of 18.
According to UNICEF's Innocenti Research Centre, the "practice of marrying girls at a young age is most common in Sub-Saharan African and South Asia". There are specific parts of West Africa and East Africa and of South Asia where marriages before puberty are not unusual. However, the Centre also notes that marriage shortly after puberty is common among those living traditional lifestyles in the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of Asia. Marriages of female adolescents between sixteen and eighteen are common in parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe. Some are forced into this union, others are simply too young to make an informed decision. Consent is made by somebody else on the child's behalf. The child does not have the opportunity to exercise her right to choose. For this reason, early marriages are also referred to as forced marriages. In its most extreme form, forced marriages are the result of abductions. In Uganda, young girls are abducted and forced to marry senior leaders in the guerrilla movement known as the Lord's Resistance Army. The marriages are used as a reward and incentive for male soldiers. There are a number of reasons why tradition of child marriages continues. Fear of HIV infection has encouraged men in many countries to seek younger 'partners'. Early marriages is one way to ensure that young girls are 'protected'. Families in rural Albania encourage their daughters to marry early to avoid the threat of kidnapping. In conflict torn Somalia, families married their daughters to militia members in exchange for protection for the girl, as well as for themselves. Where poverty is acute, early marriage is also seen as a strategy for economic survival. In Iraq, early marriages are on the increase in response to poverty inflicted by the economic sanctions that have been imposed on the country. In situations such as this, the risk of exploitation...
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