What if child marriage campaigns mask the real problems young women face?

Picture (cropped): Jessica Lea/Department for International Development/Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Apr 2018

In this talk Nicola Ansell (Professor of Human Geography at Brunel University London) questions whether child marriage campaigns take account of the contexts, or the complexity, of young women's lives. She argues that calls for a universal age limit of 18 for marriage are missing the point.

She explains that as marriage is not a ‘universal concept’, it does not justify a universal response. It differs widely from location to location across the world and holds diverse social, cultural and economic meanings in different places. To insist on a universality that does not exist is to ignore the complexity of the pressures, and processes, that lead to early marriages for young women.

Rather than a blanket response, Nicola says that a nuanced response to child marriage is required – one that needs to take into account differences in the concept of ‘marriage’ and ‘adulthood’ across the globe, as well as the lack of opportunities that young women and girls face – lack of opportunities which may, in some many circumstances, make early marriage an economically prudent option for young women. For example, where young women have no access to independent income, where parents have younger, dependent offspring and cannot afford older siblings to remain single, or where schooling provides few opportunities for the future.

As Nicola Ansell states:

"The problem that these young women face isn't the age at which they are allowed to be married, it's the poverty and the limited prospects that they face. The setting in which marriage occurs is a crucial part of the story, a crucial part of what determines whether it's harmful or not. Marriage may be much safer than other livelihood options that are available to young women with minimal education..."

Nicola Ansell draws on a wide range of research experience, including research funded by the ESRC-DFID's Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research.


Child marriage campaigns are missing the point

Talk by Nicola Ansell, Brunel University London

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