Among the negative impacts of extreme weather events around the world is one that most people may not think of: an increase in child marriages.
A recent study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University has exposed a disturbing link between extreme weather events and a rise in child marriages. The research underscores how climate-related disasters exacerbate existing issues of gender inequality and poverty, ultimately leading to an increase in child, early, and forced marriages in low- and middle-income countries.
CLIMATE-RELATED DISASTERS WORSEN GENDER INEQUALITY
The study, which reviewed 20 research papers published between 1990 and 2022, delved into the connection between droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events and child marriages, primarily involving girls under the age of 18. While these disasters don’t directly cause child marriages, they amplify the gender disparities and economic challenges that prompt families to resort to child marriage as a coping mechanism.
Fiona Doherty, lead author of the study, said it is not that extreme weather has a direct effect on child marriages. “What these disasters do is exacerbate existing problems of gender inequality and poverty that lead families to child marriage as a coping mechanism,” she said.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACT
Child marriages have far-reaching economic and societal consequences. Globally, one in five girls is married before the age of 18, a number that increases to 40% in lower- and middle-income countries. Economic vulnerability and food insecurity often drive families to opt for child marriages as a means of reducing the burdens they face due to disasters. Additionally, in regions where customs such as bride price and dowry are practiced, these economic factors play a pivotal role in the link between child marriages and extreme weather.
PROTECTIVE ROLE OF EDUCATION HIGHLIGHTED
The study revealed a crucial protective factor against child marriages: education. Girls who received an education were less likely to be married off early. Furthermore, parental education played a significant role, with better-educated parents being less inclined to marry off their daughters.
CALLS FOR EMPOWERMENT AND LEGAL MEASURES
While education serves as a protective measure, the researchers stress that more must be done to combat such incidents. Legal measures against child marriage are essential, as is addressing the economic challenges that drive families to resort to this practice. However, the study underscores that the primary driver of such incidents is gender inequality. To combat this deeply rooted issue, empowering women and girls with education and financial independence is crucial, enabling them to make autonomous decisions about their futures.
Study co-author Smitha Rao said, “The complexities surrounding child marriage and extreme weather will worsen amid climate change.
The study focused on low- and middle-income countries, but the researchers suggest that similar dynamics could be at play in high-income countries, including the United States. Further research is needed to explore the link between extreme weather events and child marriage in diverse regions worldwide, emphasizing the urgency of addressing this complex issue on a global scale.