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Unveiling Child Marriage: A Form of Coercive Control

Child marriage is not merely a cultural relic or a tradition to be preserved; it is a manifestation of coercive control, perpetuating a cycle of oppression and harm that robs children of their autonomy and agency.

In this blog, I will explore how child marriage functions as a form of coercive control and why it must be recognised and addressed as such.

At its core, coercive control is a pattern of behaviour used by one person to dominate, manipulate, and exert power over another.

Child marriage fits squarely within this definition, as it involves one party, often an adult, exerting control over a child to force them into a marriage against their will.

This control can take various forms, including emotional manipulation, physical violence, financial exploitation, and social isolation.

Emotional manipulation plays a central role in the perpetuation of child marriage. Children are often groomed from a young age to believe that marriage is their only option or that it is in their best interest, despite their own desires or aspirations.

They may be told that marriage will bring them love, security, or social status, leading them to internalise these beliefs and comply with the wishes of their parents or guardians, even if it goes against their own instincts or desires.

Furthermore, physical violence or the threat thereof is frequently used to coerce children into marriage.

This can take the form of direct physical abuse or the threat of abandonment or harm if the child refuses to comply with the marriage.

The fear of reprisal or harm can be enough to compel children to acquiesce to the demands of their abusers, leaving them feeling trapped and powerless to escape.

Financial exploitation is another common tactic used to coerce children into marriage.

In some cases, child brides and grooms come from backgrounds, where they may be seen as a burden or financial liability to their families.

Marrying them off at a young age is seen as a way to alleviate this burden and secure financial stability for the family, regardless of the wishes or well-being of the child.

Moreover, social isolation is often employed to maintain control over child brides and grooms. They may be cut off from friends, family, and support networks, leaving them feeling isolated and dependent on their abusers for companionship and validation.

This isolation makes it difficult for children to seek help or escape from the marriage, further entrenching their sense of powerlessness and helplessness.

In addition to the immediate harm caused to the individuals involved, child marriage perpetuates a cycle of intergenerational trauma and oppression.

Children who are forced into marriage are more likely to experience a range of negative outcomes, including poor physical and mental health, limited educational and economic opportunities, and increased risk of violence and abuse within the marriage.

Child marriage is a form of coercive control that robs children of their autonomy, agency, and basic human rights.

It perpetuates a cycle of oppression and harm that has far-reaching consequences for individuals, families, and communities.

It is imperative that we recognise child marriage for what it is: a violation of human rights and a form of abuse that must be addressed and eradicated through education, advocacy, and legal reform.

In England and Wales we stopped child marriages on 27th February 2023 when the implementation of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act came into power. This legislation bans marriage for 16 and 17-year-olds, who are no longer allowed to marry or enter a civil partnership, even if they have parental consent, as the legal age of marriage rises to 18. It is an illegal and a criminal offence to exploit vulnerable children by arranging for them to marry, under any circumstances whether or not force is used.

Yes one year ago.

Karma Nirvana have written a report looking at what has changed 1 year on. Key findings were:

  1. There’s been 173 cases reported since the law came in. This marks a 15% increase in the 11 months since the new legislation in February 2023.
  2. All professionals contacting the Karma Nirvana helpline regarding a victim at risk of Child Marriage reported not receiving any training on the new law.
  3. The government has no way to track the number of Child Marriage cases in England and Wales.

Without national By and For services, Barristers , MPs and advocates/ survivors like Payzee Malika speaking out against child marriage and campaigning for over 10 years child marriage may still have been legal in my country.

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