When an individual hears the term “child marriage”, there is a high probability that the stereotypical image of the Indian, Middle Eastern or East Asian fifteen year old being married off to a much older man comes to mind. While the rates of child marriage do tend to be higher in African, Asian, and Latin American countries, many ignore that child marriage also occurs in nations including Albania, Serbia, and even the United States.
One of the most difficult parts of drawing conclusions regarding the dynamics and magnitude of child marriage in the following countries is the lack of data and the limited studies on the topic. Most studies, academic journals, and documentaries involving child marriage practices do not focus on its presence in North American or European nations even though the extent to which it happens in these areas is higher than what many assume. Among women in Serbia who belong to the Roma demographic, child marriage rates exceeds over half of the population as a study published by UNICEF in 2010 reports, “According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, 50.5 % of Roma women 20 to 24 years of age in 2010 reported marrying before age 18 (down from 54.1 % 2005–06).” Since this study was from roughly seven years ago, it is possible that the rate has declined. However, taking the fact that such limited information is available and that there may be several unreported scenarios, it is hard to obtain a precise measurement of how often child marriages take place.
It is significant to note that child marriage does not only occur among those who practice certain religions or come from certain cultural identities.
However, one common circumstance among child brides and grooms was highlighted in the UNICEF study as the results reported, “The practice of child marriage among the Roma was found to be most common among girls who lived in poorer households, who had less education, and who lived in rural locations.” A lot of the times, child marriages are a product of poverty as families across the globe resort to the practice in order to ensure a secure and stable future for their children. At the same time, this common circumstance is not always the driving force that pushes child marriage into action. Sometimes, strongly encouraging one to get married at a young age can come down to one’s family values as Washington Post writer, Fraidy Reiss describes a teenager from Colorado, in her article , “She was 16 and pregnant. Her Christian community in Green Mountain Falls was pressuring her family to marry her off to her 19-year-old boyfriend.” An interesting yet alarming aspect of marriage laws in the United States compared to many Asian and African countries is the fact that individuals can get married at such a young age with parental consent. For example, in Colorado, if teenagers as young as 16 have permission from their parents, they can legally get married. Thus, the 16 year old that Reiss illustrated in her article may have potentially been left with few options if her own parents wanted her to get married and could legally obtain the right to allow her to do so.
Altogether, child marriages occur among all different types of people from all different backgrounds. More American and European reporters must examine child marriages in their own land. Along with tackling and minimizing child marriage abroad, American and European activists must also work to address and improve conditions for victims of child marriage on the local level.