Looking deaper into child marriage

Posted on | mei 26, 2011 | No Comments

"Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him," Tahani (in pink) recalls of the early days of her marriage to Majed, when she was 6 and he was 25. The young wife posed for this portrait with former classmate Ghada, also a child bride, outside their mountain home in Hajjah. Photograph by Stephanie Sinclair for National Geographic

Everyday across the globe 25,000 girls are married according to World Vision’s report, Before She’s Ready. Despite these shocking statistics the topic of child marriage has become somewhat taboo, to many it is nothingness than unimaginable, but this unspeakable practice while outdated is alive and well in many cultures across the globe.

Why are childhood marriages so common and desired? There are a multitude of reasons that societies continue to practice early marriage and feel the benefits out way any undesirable consequences. For example if a girl is married young her virginity is more likely to be guarantee, but the main reason is that with early marriage come increased economic and social benefits. A wedding in a rural community is a great source of joy and pride for a family, especially the family of the bride, for they can now see that their child is cared for and has a future. Marriage is also of social importance, as the family receives a great standing in the community, based on the family of the groom or bride. Economically the families of the bride additionally benefit with the increase in social status and having one less mouth to feed, and often benefit from a dowry. In rural agricultural societies once families are joined they often pull their resources together to increase their output and probabilities.

Child marriage spans continents, language, religion, caste.Child marriages cover the globe, and are most common in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, including Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. However child marriages continue in other parts of the world, including South America and among the Roma of Europe.

In India the girls will typically be attached to boys four or five years older; in Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries with high early marriage rates, the husbands may be young men or middle-aged widowers or abductors who rape first and claim their victims as wives afterward, as is the practice in certain regions of Ethiopia. Some of these marriages are business transactions, barely adorned with additional rationale: a debt cleared in exchange for an 8-year-old bride; a family feud resolved by the delivery of a virginal 12-year-old cousin.

The quote above is from a recently published National Geographic article and photo essay documenting how child marriage is practiced globally, particularly in Northern India and Yemen.  According to UNICEF some 60 million children are forced to enter into marriages before they are of legal age, half of which are in South Asia. The problem of child brides is the greatest in Rajasthan, India, where 15% of girls are under 10 years old when they married. Child marriages lead to higher instances of domestic violence and early pregnancies, which leave girls at high risk for death in childbirth, complications, and low birth weights.

While child marriage is outlawed in many states, it still continues to thrive in the dark of night or in the rural villages often forgotten by modern culture and the rule of law.  In India, where child marriage is illegal, ceremonies continue to take are frequently conducted in the darkness of night.  In India, Parliament passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1978, setting the minimum age for women to get married as 18 and 21 for men. Despite the law child marriages still continue, especially in populous northern states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, and many believe Child Marriage, is a Curse That Still Prevailing in India.

Although many countries have now set minimum legal ages for marriage, the laws are often ignored, or even unheard. In many countries the minimum legal age for marriage is 16-18, however it is widely ignored in the rural areas, where illiteracy remains high, and it is therefore increasingly difficult to end this archaic practice. For example the minimum legal age for marriage in Ethiopia is 18, however children as young as 8 are already being promised in marriage, and though the marriages may still not occur for a few years, girls remain under the legal age at the time of marriage (Rural Ethiopia Ignores Law Against Child Brides).  The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states in Article 1, that a child is anyone under 18 years of age, and in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it states that persons must be at “full age” at the time of marriage, which must be entered into “freely” and with “full consent.” The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, requires minimum ages for marriage to be specified by states, and declares child marriages as illegal, under Article 16.

In Yemen the battle against child marriage has been thrust into the global spotlight over the last few years as following growing support to pass laws to ban child marriage following the stories of two child brides made international headlines in 2008 after seeking to divorce their husbands. Nujood Ali, who was 10 years-old, was one of the child brides who was granted a divorce from her husband after walking herself into court and relentlessly stating her case, continued to make international news headlines long after her story broke. Continuing her activism, she became a voice for child brides across the country, last year Ali co-authored, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, a story of her short yet trying life and battle to escape and advocate against child marriage.  According to a study by Sana University, researchers found the average age of marriage in rural Yemen to be 12 to 13. According to a report issued in 2007 by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), 48.4% of Yemeni women under the age of 18 were married.

A girl who is married young is at a greater risk of abuse, regardless of ethnicity or religion. In extreme instances abuse can result in death, or honor killings, if a girl attempts to flee an abusive husband. In many countries the myth of using sex with a virgin to cure sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, remains widely common place. Girls who marry young, consequently give birth young, and therefore have an increased risk for complications or even death in childbirth. Child brides are also more likely to be voiceless in their marriage, regarding most, if not all major decisions. Child brides are also less likely to compete their education, maintain social circles, In the developing world it is estimated that 1/3 of girls are married as children.

Child marriages violate the rights of the child in many ways, but the most concerning violation is a girls right to consent, and this right is continually violated through the life of the marriage for most girls. How do we end this outdated practice, that continues to violate the rights of girls across the globe? The causes and implications of child marriage, are complex and interconnected, thus their is no simple solution in eradicating child marriage. In order to end child marriage for good we must look at all the source reasons that people continue to practice child marriage; poverty, marginalization of girls, illiteracy, lack of education, poor health. To find an end to child marriage, States and the International Community, must ensure that families are educated about the true effects of child marriage, and see that sustainable solutions are put in place. Making education available for girls, seeing families have alternatives to paying debts, eliminating poverty, providing health education on HIV/AIDS and other diseases, are all needed to end the suffering of girls across the globe, and put child marriage in the past, where it belongs.  While support is growing to ban child marriage the fight is far from easy.

AUTHOR: Cassandra Clifford
URL: www.bridgetofreedomfoundation.org and http://children.foreignpolicyblogs.com
E-MAIL: Cassandra [at] btff.org


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