Many of the babies are born with complications, far from the nearest hospital, and the mortality rate for mother and infant is sky-high.
Nor does the future look rosy. The daughters of these child brides are born into a cycle of systemic abuse, violence and poverty.
“I thought I’d have a better life, but at the end, it didn’t turn out that way,” says Aracely, who was married to a 34-year-old when she was 11. When she was four months’ pregnant, her husband left, declaring the child wasn’t his. Now 15, she is raising her son on her own.
“During the time I was pregnant, he didn’t give me any money,” she says. “He hasn’t even come to see the boy now that he’s a year old.”
Aracely is one of the girls who feature in photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair’s Too Young To Wed project on Guatemala, where it’s legal for a girl to marry as young as 14 — though many are married far younger than that.
The UNFPA says one in nine girls in developing nations will marry before 15, with 50 million likely to marry before their 15th birthday in this decade. They are usually poor, less educated and living in rural areas — and their early marriages make life even worse.
Puberty is a death sentence for many girls, and a stunted life sentence for a whole lot more. It’s tragic.
“Sadly, child marriage directly affects approximately 14 million girls a year, and in the process legitimises human rights violations and the abuse of girls under the guise of culture, honour, tradition, and religion. It is part of a sequence of discrimination that begins at a girl’s birth and continues throughout her entire life.”
This weekend, the group launched a global report on sex discriminatory laws around the world, using the hashtag #unsexylaws.
It shows in shocking clarity that these discriminatory laws are not simply relics of the past. Just last year, Kenya adopted a marriage act that permits polygamy without consent of the first wife, while Iran’s 2013 penal code maintains that a woman’s testimony is worth less than a man’s.
An Indian Act from 2013 states: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape”.
There’s more, lots more. There’s Equality Now’s 2014 report, Protecting the Girl Child.