Two case studies for situating early and child marriage globally

China and the US are, respectively, the largest and the second largest economies in the world today. These are hardly nations associated with the evils of child marriage. Yet, as this section will show, there are good reasons to bring unexpected accounts of the persistence of child marriage - located in the margins of these superpowers - into our frame. Rather than focus only on the large numbers and proportions in countries like India (and other Third World nations), we ought to consider the present-day significance of early marriage among certain groups in countries like the US and China.

I therefore wish to contribute to the task of providing a different “international frame” by taking up two examples that are not to be found in the contemporary literature on child marriage but that we could learn from nonetheless. The US is for many the most advanced nation in the world today and still the most powerful geopolitically. This might seem like a strange country to choose, especially from an Indian standpoint, given that the US has become the dream destination of India’s aspiring citizenry. However, as very recent research has established, child marriage in the US does continue to exist within its “native” (i.e., old immigrant) white population and such a presence calls for better understanding. My second choice is China, economically resurgent, the largest country in Asia, and poised to becoming the world’s newest superpower. Comparisons in India are often made with China, sometimes in relation to its strongly patriarchal family traditions and more recently for having the world’s most adverse child sex ratios and consequent imbalances in the number of women relative to men. Little is heard about early marriage in China today. Instead, contemporary media coverage on gender in China seems to be dominated by the term “leftover”, as in leftover men who are unable to find wives because of the effects of the demographic gender imbalance but also - more unexpectedly perhaps - so-called leftover women (i.e., women in their late twenties or thirties who remain unmarried). Does this mean that Chinese society does not have the phenomenon of early marriage?

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