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The Legal Loopholes That Perpetuate Child Marriage

Part 3 of a four-part Huffington Post series by Fielding School Dean Jody Heymann and the WORLD Policy Analysis Center on the legacy of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
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Date: 
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
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By Dr. Jody Heymann, Dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Co-authored by Aleta Sprague and Megan Arthur, WORLD Policy Analysis Center.

Between today and this time next year, around 15 million girls under the age of 18 will be married -- joining the ranks of another 700 million former child brides around the world, including 250 million who were married before the age of 15. In some countries, the ratio of married girls to married boys can be as extreme as 72:1. Even within the United States, there are eight married girls for every married boy.

Child marriage turns the economic and family advantages we associate with marriage on their head, and has devastating and intergenerational impacts for girls and their children: it commonly interrupts or ends girls' education, lowers their chances of success in the job market and financial independence, increases their risk of marital violence and abuse and jeopardizes their health through limiting their control over their own bodies and exposing them to early pregnancy and childbearing.

While eliminating child marriage will require action on many fronts, enacting national legislation to ban the practice is a critical first step. Yet among the 190 UN member states that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 12 percent do not set a general legal minimum age of marriage that protects girls below 18 from marriage. Additionally, many countries allow for girls to be married at younger ages with parental consent, providing no protection for the majority of cases where early marriage is instigated by adult family members. Among a smaller group, early marriage is permitted under customary and religious legal systems that exist alongside civil law, undermining the legal protections put in place by states. Once these two loopholes are considered, 30 percent of countries do not protect 15-year-old girls from early marriage.

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