Jordan is considered one of the low-to-middle countries in terms of child marriage rates. However, the Syrian refugee crisis led to an increase in child marriage rates between the years 2010 to 2015, as the percentage reached about 18% in 2015 but decreased by the year 2019 to 10.6%. The decrease could be attributed to the efforts made by government institutions and civil society institutions in limiting this type of marriage including the Supreme Judge Department’s approval of instructions for granting permission to marry for those under 16 years of age and the organization of public awareness programs on the consequences of early marriage.
The decline in underage marriage cases also coincided with the launch of the national plan of action to implement the recommendations of a study on underage marriage conducted in 2019 to limit the marriage of those under the age of 18 in Jordan. The plan of action aimed to: provide an operational framework that includes guidelines to facilitate the transition from theory to practice with regard to limiting marriage for those under the age of 18 in Jordan; activatee partnership and cooperation among NGOs, international organizations and government agencies to define their respective roles in this field; adopt the pillars of the plan to inform the evaluation and review process according to quantitative and qualitative indicators; facilitate the process of M&E of the activities and efforts made; and mobilize international and local funding to implement the activities and programs emanating from the plan.
However, the Corona pandemic has cast a shadow over all efforts carried out in this regard, as the percentage has risen again in the year 2020 to 11.8%, which may be a reflection of the worsening conditions of families and their subsequent adoption of negative coping mechanism, including resorting to marrying their minor daughters. On another level, the impact of school closures and the difficulty of accessing online education for the most vulnerable groups of children was another contributing factor in encouraging early marriage.
Early marriage is often correlated with social and economic reasons. In terms of customs and traditions, some parents form the wrong belief that early marriage is a protection for their daughters, while other families resort to early marriage in response to social pressures surrounding the family. Adverse economic conditions, poverty and school dropout also pushes some families into marrying off their daughters at an early age.
Early marriage is a flagrant violation of girls’ rights due to its negative consequences, including: deprivation of their right to self-determination and educational attainment; an increased risk of violence by their spouses; exposure to psychological and social pressures; complications and health problems that result from pregnancy, childbearing and exposure to psychological trauma; and poor realization of the importance of family planning.
The Higher Population Council and UNICEF have conducted a national mixed-method study on the drivers of child marriage. Three strategic priorities were set to limit the spread of the phenomenon.
Social norms and traditions were the most frequently prioritised drivers of child marriage by focus group respondents and also a key theme from within the in-depth interviews. When asked about the motives for these customs and traditions, three reasons were identified and explored including: (1) unquestioned inherited beliefs and behaviour, (2) a culture of shame / community expectations and (3) tribal culture (and family-based marriages).
In terms of statistics, the secondary analysis of the demographic and health survey highlighted the high prevalence of children in kinship marriages and that this percentage has remained consistently high over time. In the latest Jordan Population and Family Health Survey in 2017, data showed that 9.5% of women who were married before the age of 15 reported that they were related to their husbands. The difference increases among those married before the age of 18, with 28.09% reporting that they are related to their husbands.
Additionally, social norms were also identified as the root causes of other drivers of child marriages across all groups including poverty –where attitudinal barriers to education among both parents (especially for girl’s education) and young people was identified as a root cause.
Ensuring “Sutra” for the girl (protecting her reputation as reported by participants) was one of the five top drivers of child marriage that emerged from analysis of the data. However, interviewed individuals did not necessarily agree that Sutra was a sufficient reason for a girl to be married. Yet, respondents from within the Dom community however were more likely to consider Sutra to be THE most important reason for child marriage.
Education remains a strong protective factor against child marriages, particularly for girls. From a secondary analysis of demographic household surveys (DHS) datasets of the prevalence of child marriage by educational attainment of the child, a strong trend can be seen showing a correlation between increased levels of educational attainment and decreased levels of child marriage for those married under 18 and those married under 15 years of age for both men and women. However, qualitative data highlighted the significant attitudinal barriers to education that exist among both parents/caregivers and young people themselves. The analysis showed negative trends towards the education of girls specifically; for example, some respondents noted that: ‘education brings shame to the girl’. Some adults suggested that the attitude of the individual child to education might be a barrier to completion. Both male and female young people suggested the ‘lack of interest in education’ and ‘not being suited to educational streams’ as barriers to completing education as well. Other respondents suggested that some young people might not recognise the value of education and that ‘other people who work without any qualification set the example that education might be a waste of money’.
Family violence in the form of intimate partner violence and spousal conflict is both a risk factor and a consequence of child marriage. In order to reduce child marriage, we need to focus on family support, reducing intimate partner violence and addressing the root causes of family disintegration.
Children who marry are at an increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence within those relationships as compared to adults. DHS trend analysis for the years 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2017 indicates that those who married under the age of 18 years were more likely to suffer injuries as a result of violence from their husband; 29.9% of those married before 18 are experiencing it as opposed to 20.5% for those who are not. As for the less severe forms of violence, 24.8% of those married before 18 are experiencing it as opposed to 20.1% for those who are not (DHS, 2017). Children experience a higher prevalence of the following injuries as a result of intimate partner violence than married adults do: (1) Ever had bruises because of husband’s actions, (2) Ever had eye injuries, sprains, dislocations or burns because of husband’s actions, (3) Ever went to health facility because of husband’s actions, and (4) Ever had wounds or broken bones.