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Child marriage is a formal marriage or informal union entered into by an individual before reaching a certain age, specified by several global organizations such as UNICEF as minors under the age of 18. Child marriage violates the rights of children. It affects both boys and girls, but it usually disproportionately affects girls and increases their chances of dropping out of education, living in poverty and becoming victims of domestic violence. According to several UN agencies, comprehensive sexuality education can prevent such a phenomenon.
Today, child marriage is still fairly widespread, particularly in developing countries, such as parts of Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, West Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. However, even in developed countries such as the United States legal exceptions mean that 25 US states have no minimum age requirement.
Next week Swedish lawmakers would vote on a proposed crackdown on child marriage, a move echoing measures taken by a host of countries in the wake of Europe's refugee crisis. A current ban on marriages for people under 18 would be extended, if the bill is approved, to invalidate such unions of foreigners carried out abroad. Couples who wish to stay together will have to wait until 18 to remarry. Swedish lawmakers are due to vote on the proposal on Wednesday.
"We need to let children be children no matter if they are from Sweden or another country," said My Hellberg from the Young Women's Rights Society, which runs shelters and campaigns against domestic abuse perpetrated in the name of “honor” for bringing shame on families. NBC News reports:
Most European countries still allow marriage under the age of 18 in certain circumstances, such as with parental consent or the approval of a judicial or governmental authority.
But in the last three years, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway have either outlawed child marriage or extended their bans to include the marriages of young foreign nationals wed abroad. A British lawmaker has also introduced a bill to ban unions under the age of 18 in England and Wales.
Sara Mohammad, who fled her own child marriage and found a charity, has spoken of how her brother once held a Kalashnikov rifle to her head. She was 17 and he was trying to force her to marry a man she had never met.
On the day before her wedding, Mohammad fled Iraq. She would eventually claim asylum in Sweden where she now runs a charity (GAPF), which campaigns against honor-related violence.
More than 30 years later, she is hopeful her adoptive country will extend its ban on child marriage.
In 2016, Sweden's Migration Agency said it had identified 132 cases of children who said they were married on asylum applications, but acknowledged there were probably more. On the other side, more than 1,400 underage foreign children were listed as married in Germany in the same year, according to the country’s Central Register of Foreign Nationals.
“It would be a great thing for the Swedish government to show the world that we protect children from child marriage,” she said.