Image courtesy of Plan UK

Recently the United Nations Population Fund announced that by 2020 there will be more than 50 million wives under the age of fifteen. If the global trends in child marriage continue as projected that figure would then double in just ten years. Sadly, it’s all too easy to see this as simply a problem in the developing world, when the truth is very different.

There is no doubt that the prevalence of early and child marriages is highest in the developing world, with rates estimated at 60 per cent or more in some African nations. But it may shock you to know that in Britain nearly 10 per cent of marriages occur before a girl reaches eighteen. With a recent exposé by two Sunday Times journalists revealing that a British Imam was prepared to marry a girl of twelve to an older man, the reality of child marriage in Britain is starting to hit home. However, such incidents need to be seen as more than one-off sensationalism.

The British Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is tasked with assisting the victims of child marriage in the UK. In 2011 alone the FMU handled close to 1500 cases of forced marriage, and a recent study by Farhat Bokhari revealed that 30 per cent of the FMU’s annual case load involves minors. If that statistic isn’t strong enough for you then consider this: the youngest victim was just five years old.

Bokhari’s study also indicated that the practice of child marriage in Britain was not simply one of Asian communities, as so often portrayed in the media. There were cases in the Jewish and Roma communities, as well as a substantial percentage of cases where the victim’s ethnicity was not disclosed. Like many crimes against the vulnerable it is feared that cases of child marriage are vastly under-reported.

On top of the illegal marriages that occur in Britain there is also a disturbing trend in the trafficking of children from the UK to foreign countries for the express purposes of child marriage. Many victims are taken abroad under the illusion of a holiday only to find themselves married off against their will.

The study ‘Breaking Vows‘ reports that girls forced into early marriage are more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse, isolation and psychological trauma and also suffer from a lack of education. These consequences hold true if the victim is from Bangladesh or Barnsley.

Child marriage is a modern form of slavery that has harrowing consequences for individual victims and future generations. Only by seeing it as a problem of and for all societies can this practice be eradicated.

This blog post was contributed by guest blogger Jason Tucker of Organic Development.  GJI welcomes guest blogs on topics salient to our work and mission.