Child Marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Social, Psychological, and Health Impacts


Child marriage: a devious act and a human rights violation.

Sub-Saharan Africa is yet another place where girls struggle for their survival. It has one the lowest ages of marriage in the world; men marry girls as young as 9-years-old. Certainly, rates have been slowly declining overall; however, they remain high in countries such as Ethiopia, where 41% of women were first married before the age of 18.

Social Impacts

1. Education & Poverty

Being victims of backward ideologies, numerous girls lose their opportunity to prosper within their community, one that is continually oppressing them. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) stated that most child brides are forced to end their education under their husbands’ commands. Why? It’s because men believe that a girl’s sole purpose is to wed and reproduce. This was explained in 1949 by Simone de Beauvoir, a philosopher, a feminist and a social theorist, who wrote in her book The Other Sex: men unite a woman’s value and worth with her womb, overlooking her value in production, making them worthless outside of childbearing.

A girl’s “disobedience” is also blamed on educationMahammadu Saidu, a child bride’s former husband stated that she was rebellious because “she had too much ABCD.” He continued to say:

“If she is educated, she will be looking down on me … she will be the husband and I will be the wife.”

Gender and knowledge are mutually exclusive? These words display the terrifying gender-discriminating social construction of this region. Without education, children are stuck in a helpless loop; they are powerless against their fathers and will become powerless against their husbands’ decisions to marry off their daughters in the future.

(Where Poverty Comes In)

When poverty plays a role, people turn a blind eye to the effects child marriage has on girls. There are families who don’t necessarily want to give away their daughters but the bride money they’re offered in return is more than the money they make annually. When Maimuna, a former child-bride, begged her father to keep her in school rather than marry her off, he turned her down saying “it’s what is good for the family and the community.”

This is nothing more than a misconception because, in reality, child marriage traps these girls in poverty that they might have been able to overcome if they were kept in school.


Psychological Impacts

1. Virginity & Self-worth

In a place that doesn’t view females beyond their bodies, it’s ordinary that they develop toxic concepts of self-worth. It destroys their self- esteem and constructs destructive ideals for them.

Public Virginity tests in Swaziland

A girl’s sex is seen as her family’s honor that can be preserved through early marriage, avoiding the risk of premarital pregnancy and bringing shame to their name. Since a girl’s sex is important, virginity tests are normally practiced, despite being discredited by The World Health Organization (WHO) and recognized as an “abusive practice.” For instance, in Zimbabwe, these tests consist of inserting two fingers into girls’ vaginas, who are as young as 12-years-old. Then, virgins get marked on their foreheads to be “claimed” by men.

Allow me to repeat myself.

Men claim little girls as their wives after being marked as “fresh virgins.”

This heart-wrecking illustration of how women are viewed as a property generates a disheartening feeling among young girls. They start seeing themselves as nothing more than products: sold and bought.

(The Religious Factor)

There’s a high correlation between religiousness and early child marriage. Who would’ve guessed?

Religion sets social and cultural ideologies that justify early child marriage. It also frames the idea that a family’s honor is in a girl’s sex. The United Nations (UN) found that Christians and Muslims are more likely to marry off their daughters than others. In Nigeria “1 in 5 girls are married before the age of 15.” This increases to 1 in 2 girls in Northern Nigeria, where child marriage is accepted under Islamic Sharia Law.

In Muslim concentrated area, girls “as young as 5 now hide their heads and shoulders in hijabs” and “some girls become wives as early as age 9.”

2. Domestic Abuse & Suicide

Let’s cut to the chase.

  • Married girls aged 10–17, and those who are promised marriage are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who are not.
  • Girls who receive marriage requests are twice as likely to attempt suicide than girls living in protective communities.
  • Child brides are more likely to face domestic violence than mature women.
  • I know, this is outside Sub-Saharan Africa, but in Egypt, 29% of child brides are abused by their husbands and left with physical, emotional and mental scars.

And these are only the ones that have been reported.

Domestic abuse often ends a girl’s life.

They lose their willingness to live. They fear being hurt again.

The abuse is unimaginable.

Maimuna was brutally beaten by her husband to the point that “the doctors feared he dislocated her jaw.” When she ran away to her father’s house, seeking his sympathy and begging him to take her back, he hit her.

“Her back and arms bristled with angry welts where her father had whipped her for fleeing to him.”

Here, we are faced by a father who is willing to hurt his daughter and send her back to a hostile environment where she is frequently abused and degraded in order to preserve his family’s well-being rather than preserve his daughter’s health and sanity. But, isn’t she part of the family?

These gender-related ideologies are so powerful that a man is willing to dig his daughter’s own grave in order to please another man.

Health and Fatality

1. Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF)

Vesico-Vaginal Fistula

VVF is a medical condition in girls, where a hole forms between the bladder and the vagina. It develops due to pre-teen childbirth when the girl’s body is not fully matured. Consequently, after childbirth, child brides “are left incontinent, dribbling urine down their legs, soaking their clothing.” In Nigeria, most child brides suffer from VVF and the only help they can get is from 1 of the 4 VVF clinics, which don’t provide them with food nor shelter as they heal from surgery.

You’d think that a reoccurring condition in child-brides would have some great impact on the community…

You’re wrong.

This condition is so common that each center performs about 10 surgeries per day, yet there doesn’t seem to be enough acquired knowledge among the people in order to prevent it.

You know what happens to girls who develop VVF? They get rejected by their husbands and their entire village. They become homeless and turn to prostitution in order to feed themselves and their babies. (Yes, the newborns get thrown out too).

2. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Another fatal consequence of child marriage is AIDS; a syndrome that occurs after Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) damages the immune system and reduces the amount of T cells in the body. According to UNAIDS, “HIV prevalence is almost twice as high among women and girls ages 15 to 24 as among men and boys of the same age.” Young girls are more likely to contract AIDS than mature women because of a man-made belief that claims that sleeping with a virgin will magically cure men from AIDS. In Zimbabwe, 15% of the population is infected with HIV, and it has “the sixth-highest number of annual adolescent AIDS-related deaths in the world.”

(Lack of Education)

Along with being uninformed about the health hazards, people in Sub-Saharan Africa have limited access to “reproductive information and services,” which makes it challenging for them to disapprove of this practice. Consequently, the leading cause of death for girls under 19 is early childbearing, which increases the rates of maternal mortality globally.

HRW documented that girls lacked basic sex education prior to marriage and pregnancy. In addition, The Health and Child Welfare Ministry found, “young people, especially those ages 10 to 14, lacked basic knowledge of reproductive health” This is because school curriculums in this region do not include “comprehensive sex education programs” as it is seen as taboo, because most people believe that it might cause young people to become immoral.

6 thoughts on “Child Marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Social, Psychological, and Health Impacts

  1. Such terrible, disturbing stuff, and that it’s actually happening in the world – gross indeed.
    Thank you for shedding light on this evil.


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