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Abstract

Child marriage is a human rights violation according to various international agreements and human rights conventions. In many countries the practice is outlawed, yet it persists with great incidence in both developed and developing societies. Governments must act to eliminate the practice which (1) results in physical and psychological individual harms for child brides; (2) perpetuates societal harms in the form of entrenched gender inequality and limited economic potential for women and for countries as a whole; (3) thrives on the exploitation of economic and agency vulnerabilities of a social class, namely young girls and women; and (4) threatens the agency and autonomy of market “participants,” thereby characterizing the market in child marriage as a “noxious market,” according to Debra Satz’s framework, in the strongest sense. To best respond to the harms and negative effects of the market, governments need to understand the reasons why the practice persists, even though it is illegal. Among the most cited motivators of child marriage are economic circumstance (i.e., poverty) and dated or unfounded beliefs relating to the economic potential of young girls and women. Governments can address these motivators, and thereby (begin to) eradicate the practice of child marriage, through improvements to and expansion of social welfare programs and through targeted educational initiatives which stress the economic opportunity available to and earnings potential of young girls.

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