Child Brides in Caribbean
By Tony Best
Child brides, some as young as 15 years old, may not pose a problem for the Bahamas, Grenada, Barbados or Antigua but they certainly present several of their neighbors with an eye-popping headache.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, most English-speaking Caribbean nation either don’t have much data on child marriage or what figures they have compiled are “insufficient to indicate a trend.” But that’s certainly not the case in Haiti, Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
“Child marriage” is considered by UNICEF to be such a global problem in developing countries that the agency has amassed data on it in more than 100 countries. The agency described the phenomenon as “the product of gender discrimination that values the survival, development, protection and participation of boys more highly than girls” and defines it a legally binding marriage or an ongoing sexual relationship, “union” between couples before the woman has reached the age of 18 years old.
UNICEF figures show that between 2000-2008, 20 per cent or one of every five women in Guyana between the ages of 20-24 were married or in a sexual “union” with a man before their 18th birthday. That was the highest in the English-speaking Caribbean and it was particularly prevalent in Guyana’s rural area, where 22 percent of the young women were in a “marriage” while 15 percent of the 20-24 year olds were in intimate partnerships.
Haiti’s picture was even worse. Thirty per cent of the young women in that age group were married or in a “union,” with one in every three in the rural areas of the country and 27 percent in the urban communities. Next door in the Dominican Republic, the child bride problem was affecting even more young women. Forty per cent of the 20-24 year olds were married and 50 percent of them could be found in rural communities and 36 percent in major cities and town. Suriname, the lone Dutch-speaking member of Caricom, wasn’t far behind Guyana with 19 percent.
The incidence of child brides was much lower in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
For example, Jamaica’s rate was almost 10 percent, nine to be exact, while in Trinidad and Tobago it was eight percent and as in the case of the other places around the world, it was greater in rural areas than in the major towns and cities.
“The social and economic factors that perpetuate child marriages are inter-connected,” explained UNICEF. “Economic hardship may encourage families to marry off their daughters early rather than send them to school, and social norms may support the view that education is less important to boys than girls. Girls who marry early may be caught up in a negative cycle that involves premature child-bearing, high rates of maternal mortality high rates of child malnutrition.”
Several Caribbean nations ranging from Cuba, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Grenada to St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent didn’t keep track of child marriages or if they did, the data was insignificant. The same can be said of the world’s developed nations. France, Germany, Canada, the United States, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom and Australia were also in that grouping.
Here then was the global picture of child brides:
*In the Caribbean and Latin America sub-region of the Western Hemisphere, 21 per cent of the young women were in child marriages.
*In Asia, excluding China, 40 per cent of those in the 20-24 years age- group were married or in a union before their 18th birthday.
*While in sub-Sahara Africa the figure was 28 percent and 35 per cent in Eastern and Southern Africa, in West Africa and the Middle East it was much higher, over 40 percent.
*In developing countries, Barbados and its Caricom partners among them, the average was 34 percent.
*The world’s poorest states had the largest share of child brides with 48 percent.
*Mali with 71 percent had the highest in the world, followed by Bangladesh 66 percent; Guinea 63; Central African Republic 61; and Malawi 50 percent.
*The global prevalence of child brides has fallen in recent years but 45-49 percent of women between the ages of 45-49 were married before 18 years.
*Some girls in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa were getting married as young as 15 years.
Interestingly, wealthy and well educated women were side-stepping marriages before their 18th birthday.
“In developing countries, girls from the poorest households are three times as likely to get married before age 18 as girls in the richest households,” UNICEF explained.