"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.
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.