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International Women’s Day: A Reason to Celebrate and to Reflect

International Women’s Day.

The past five decades have brought meaningful legal improvements into the lives of many women in the world. At our office, we have been discussing how fortunate we are to live in Canada and enjoy the constitutional entrenchment of gender equality and the rule of law.  Gender equality before the law is enforced in many societies and we are grateful for the advancement in this critical area of human rights.

As we celebrate our success, we can also contemplate that our lives, whilst blessed, are facile in comparison to the reality of many women and girls in other countries.  We are reminded of the widespread prevalence of child brides in 2013. In parts of the Middle East, for example, the marriage of girls as young as 9 has been justified by clerics and such marriages have received approval from the judiciary.  We live in a world where laws exist that allow for the marriage of girls as young as 8 years old (i.e. Saudi Arabia). In India, almost half of girls between the ages of 20 and 24 have been married before the legal age of 18.

Below is a list of countries setting out the percentage of women aged 20–24, who were married/in union before the age of 18:

Rank Country % girls married
before 18
1 Niger 74.5
2 Chad 71.5
3 Mali 70.6
4 Bangladesh 66.2
5 Guinea 63.1
6 Central African Republic 57.0
7 Mozambique 55.9
8 Burkina Faso 51.9
9 Nepal 51.4
10 Ethiopia 49.2
11 Malawi 48.9
12 Madagascar 48.2
13 Sierra Leone 47.9
14 Cameroon 47.2
15 Eritrea 47.0
16 Uganda 46.3
17 India 44.5
18 Nicaragua 43.3
19 Zambia 41.6
20 Tanzania 41.1

According to a 2012 UNICEF Report, one third of women worldwide aged 20-24 were married before turning 18.

In addition to the physical sexual violence, human rights abuses and medical problems suffered by child brides, there are also sound practical reasons why child marriage (or marriage of 16-18 year old teenagers) is not beneficial for the girls, teenagers or society. An unmarried child can complete school, join the work force, enroll in higher learning, support herself and help the family, community and society. In addition, the higher the rate of violence, war, conflict and natural disaster in a society, the higher the level of child and teenage marriage. The above list clearly demonstrates this trend.

On International Women’s Day, we will continue to lobby our Canadian Government to advocate against child marriage and work with international and NGO bodies to raise the legal age of marriage to 16.