Malaysia - Earlier this month, a 14 year old girl married a 23 year old teacher in a public ceremony in Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur. Considered legal under Islamic law, the case prompted women’s rights groups to call on the government to increase the minimum age of marriage from 16 to the age of 18.
Ethiopia - Instead of going to school, Dhaki, a 13 year old girl from Ethiopia was married off to a man 11 years older. Her nightly cries as he forced himself on her were ignored by her neighbours, and she was shunned by her community for not respecting her husband’s wishes.
Yemen - When she was just 10 years old, Reem from Yemen was playing in the street in her neighbourhood when a relative three times her age took her to her grandfather’s house and immediately married her. Though her mother objected to the union, her father consented.
When she tried to get a divorce they said she couldn’t as she was too young, she said, ‘How come you didn’t say I was too young to get married?”.
Cruelty and archaic practice
These are just a few of the stories of child brides, girls getting married far below the legal age of consent.
Sadly, millions of girls worldwide are in a similar situation, have little or no choice about when and whom they marry. The numbers are high, with one in three girls in the developing world married before she is 18, and one in seven girls before she is 15.
It is heartbreaking to know why parents give consent to child marriages. Are customs, religion and in majority of the cases, economic necessities valid enough reasons to give your daughters away to paedophiles?
A violation of human rights
Impoverished parents need to be taught that giving their daughters up at such a young age for whatever reasons are all very wrong.
Some of parents’ rationality for child marriages is that they think it will provide guardianship for their daughters, protect them from sexual assaults and in hopes that the marriage will benefit the children both financially, socially and relieve financial burdens on the family.
In actuality, child marriages are a violation of human rights, compromising girls’ development and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, with little or any education and poor vocational training.
Child brides are also more likely to experience domestic violence and to live in poverty than women who marry later. In majority of the cases, girls married off at a young age are often mistreated by their in-laws, physically abused by their husbands and sometimes raped by the father-in-law.
Reproductive health problems
Because they are young, child brides are relatively powerless in their families and often lack access to health information. This makes them more vulnerable to serious injury and death in childbirth - the leading cause of death in girls in the developing world between the ages 15 to 19.
Additionally, from having babies too young, child brides are at an extremely high risk of fistula diseases and have a higher risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
Worst still, majority of babies from child brides are sicker and weaker and many do not survive childhood.
Need for change
We need to enforce change in Governments and in people’s mindsets of child marriages. Communities, aid organizations and women’s rights groups need to come together to pressure Governments to ban and discourage this cruel and archaic practice.
On the ground level, empowering girls with education is the most effective way to improve the health and prosperity of societies. Child marriages perpetuates poverty by keeping girls, their children and their communities poor.
Educating parents is just as important as educating the children. Parents need to be taught that education will broaden their childrens’ horizons and of the benefits in having their children educated.
Make an impact
We know that these efforts can make a real impact and change is taking place on a small scale, very slowly.
Dhaki received support from a local development program that enabled her to leave her husband and continue her education. She now teaches others about the risks of early marriages and the benefits of going to school.
Reem was granted a divorce at the age of 14 after a well publicized trial. She has been stigmatized by her divorce and now lives the life of an outcast. Without a husband or father to support her, she cannot attend school.
The young Malaysian girl and million others that we do not know about are not so lucky having to grow up as wives and mothers during their teenage years. As of today, women’s rights groups are still campaigning for the ban of child marriages in Malaysia.
We need to affect public opinion and prevent child marriages as every child has the right to live her childhood and not be forced to get married.