Despite many countries enacting marriageable age laws to limit marriage to a minimum age of 16 to 18, depending on jurisdiction, traditional marriages of girls of younger ages are widespread. Poverty, religion, tradition, and conflict make the rate of child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa similar to that in South Asia.
In many ethnic systems, a man pays a bride price to the girl's family in order to marry her. In many parts of Africa, this payment, in cash, cattle, or other valuables, decreases, as a girl gets older. Even before a girl reaches puberty, it is common for a married girl to leave her parents to be with her husband. Many marriages are related to poverty, with parents needing the bride price of a daughter to feed, clothe, educate, and house the rest of the family. Meanwhile, a male child in these countries is more likely to gain a full education, gain employment and pursue a working life, thus tending to marry later. In Mali, the female/male ratio of marriage before age 18 is 72:1; and in Kenya it is 21:1.
|Young bride with no bright future|
The various UN-commissioned reports indicate that in many Sub-Saharan countries, there is a high incidence of marriage among girls younger than 15. Many governments have tended to overlook the particular problems resulting from child marriage, including obstetric fistulae, premature births, stillbirth, sexually transmitted diseases (including cervical cancer), and malaria.
In parts of Ethiopia and Nigeria, numerous girls are married before the age of 15, and some girls are married as young as the age of 7. In parts of Mali, 39% of girls are married before the age of 15. In Niger and Chad, over 70% of girls are married before the age of 18. In South Africa, the law provides for respecting the marriage practices of traditional marriages, whereby a person might be married as young as 12 for females and 14 for males.
Early marriage is cited as "a barrier to continuing education for girls (and boys)". This includes absuma (arranged marriages set up between cousins at birth), bride kidnapping, and elopement decided on by the children.