What is the prevalence rate in Uganda?
The child marriage statistics in Uganda shows that 34% of girls are married before their 18th birthday, and 7% are married before the age of 15.
6% of boys are married before their 18th birthday.
Uganda has the 14th highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world. Customary marriages or informal marriages, where a girl lives with an older man, are significantly more common than registered civil or religious marriages. In addition, 10.6% of currently married 15-19 years old girls are married to men with two or more wives.
A World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Uganda would generate USD 14.48 million in earnings for Ugandan women who married early.
What are the causes of child marriage in Uganda?
Child marriage is caused by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. In Uganda, child marriage is exacerbated by:
Poverty and lack of opportunities
Girls living in Uganda’s poorest households marry at a younger age than those living in the richest households. Some parents, especially in rural areas, see their daughter as a source of wealth as they can fetch the bride price from the husband’s family while relieving the financial burden on the family. In highly vulnerable households, some Ugandan girls seek marriage to cover basic needs, such as sanitary products.
Level of education
Early marriage and teenage pregnancy are linked to low levels of secondary school retention for girls. Some parents in Uganda feel that educating a girl wastes time and resources when she will ultimately marry and gain lifelong security.
Teenage pregnancy precipitates child marriage and is a consequence of it. Uganda has one the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world, which is the result of both consensual and forced sex. Girls who become pregnant while still in school are often forced to drop out.
Without education, and because pregnancy outside of marriage is stigmatized and associated with embarrassment or disgrace, they and their parents may see marriage as the only option – for both the girl and the boy or man who impregnates her.
Intergenerational and transactional relationships
These are relatively common in Uganda. For some girls, having a man, typically older, who is able to provide food, clothing, school fees, and other material goods is seen as desirable and an escape route out of poverty.
In many cases, these relationships are seen as consensual, but in reality, girls may find themselves vulnerable with regard to such relationships. Thus, leading girls to long-term arrangements, including child marriage and early motherhood.
Traditional harmful practices
Arranged marriages for girls are common, often as a way to consolidate powerful relations among families. Some families marry off their daughters to protect them from early sexual encounters and safeguard the family’s dignity.
Studies have also found that communities perceive girls to be ready for marriage when they develop breasts or when they have started menstruating. Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) is also considered a sign of readiness for marriage.
Child marriage is reportedly more prevalent among those internally displaced and refugees. A 2016 study among internally displaced Ugandans found that child marriage provides families with legal protection from defilement (sex with a girl under 18) which is a crime in Uganda. Within the camps, child marriages are organized in a hasty manner.
In Uganda, orphaned girls have greater odds of early marriage. 32% of households in Uganda have foster or orphaned children. Caregivers of orphaned or foster children who find it difficult to meet the needs of the family may resort to early marriage to relieve financial pressures.
Additionally, girls in households headed by children (below age 18) are more vulnerable to being married early than those in households headed by adults.
Why do we need to stop child marriage?
When girls have access to economic opportunities, they can plan a more prosperous future for themselves, their families and their communities. Girls from poor families are two and a half times more likely to marry before 18 years than girls from wealthier families.
Child brides are more likely to be poor and to stay poor, they and their children are more likely to be malnourished, and they usually suffer higher rates of malnutrition due to early and frequent pregnancies. Babies born to girls younger than 15 are more likely to die before their 5th birthday, suffer from malnutrition, and experience stunting.
Stopping child marriage is a strategic way of tackling gender inequality and shifting the discriminatory norms that perpetuate child marriage, empowering girls so they can choose if, when, and whom they marry. Child brides are less likely to live prosperous lives. They are less likely to participate in the workforce once they become adults. When they do, it’s usually in lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs.
When girls have the skills and opportunities to secure a job, they can support themselves and their families and break the cycle of poverty. Child marriage can lead to poor mental health, including feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Stopping child marriage will improve girls’ health and well-being throughout their lives. Marriage limits a girl’s ability to go to school, learn new skills, and put the ones she has to use, and being out of school puts girls at risk. Girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before 18 years than girls with secondary or higher education.
Child marriage affects the most vulnerable populations and disproportionately affects poor, rural and disadvantaged girls, creating cycles of poverty that reinforce inequalities. Child brides have little decision-making power in their homes or communities and are less likely to participate fully in society. Child brides are often marginalized and hard to reach. We will not end violence against children without ending child marriage.
Child marriage is a form of violence against girls and a violation of their fundamental human rights. Child brides often face violence at the hands of their partners or in-laws, especially if there is a large age difference. The violence of forced sexual initiation and early pregnancy have a lasting impact on married girls’ physical and mental health throughout their life, and ending violence against children needs to go hand in hand with ending child marriage.