Monday, 28 January 2008

Child marriage

"It should be noted that children's games are not merely games. One should regard them as their most serious activities. "
~~Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

And yet so many children miss large parts of their childhood as a result of child marriages, child labour, child soldiers, child trafficking, and child abuse which covers all of these plus sexual abuse.

young Pakistani girl with her child

Photo Kamila Hyat/IRIN

The girl pictured above is 13 years old. Her daughter 8 months old.

There are several reasons for early/premature marriage, which happens primarily but not exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia:

  • Poverty: a girl can be considered a financial burden to the family and so the sooner she is married off the better. Alternatively where a dowry is expected, a younger girl would not be expected to have as large a dowry as an adult.
  • Social ties: a girl can be offered to reinforce ties between families, or to settle a feud (so-called compensation marriages).
  • Social status: girls and women are defined solely as wives and mothers.
  • Control over sexuality: girls are married to protect their sexual purity and to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy - protecting the family honour.
  • Fear of HIV: some men in African countries seek young virgin wives to ensure they are HIV free.

There are many reasons why this is a violation of fundamental rights, apart from the very important one of losing their childhood. Girls in particular suffer greatly from the consequences.

  • For both boys and girls, early marriage stops their education and reduces their chances to develop personally.
  • Girls become pregnant and give birth before their bodies are sufficiently mature. This can lead to complications or death.
  • They rarely have any knowledge of birth control or issues such as sexually transmitted diseases/HIV.
  • Girls are often married to much older men which leads to a power imbalance, frequently resulting in violence towards the young wife.

Some stories of child marriage can be seen in the photo essay from the ICRW, Too Young to Wed.

A good overview on the subject can be found on the Forward website.

1 comment:

  1. It is so easy to forget that this sort of thing still goes on. It is a form of slavery due to the power imbalance.

    Thirteen year old girls should be playing with dolls, not babies.

    It is so sad, and you feel so powerless about trying to make the enormous cultural changes to prevent this happening.


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