By: Alexandra Kinias
Caption: A Child Bride In Afghanistan. By: Stephanie Sinclair,winner of UNICEF photo of the year 2007
While most eight years old girls go to bed dreaming of doll houses, ballet classes, crayons and scrapbooks, princesses in sequence dresses and tiaras, nightmares keep others awake in fear that the sunlight of the new day will rob them of their childhood; in one of the most heinous crimes that are still committed to humanity: Underage Marriages. Unfortunately in regions where it is practiced, communities keep a blind eye on these illegal marriages, which in reality legalize pedophilia, prostitution, rape and human trafficking.
Children forced into marriages is not a new phenomenon and neither is it an exclusive practice to one religion, culture or region. Though child weddings are illegal (almost) everywhere, none the less they are spread throughout the globe in most of the Sub-Saharan African countries, from North Africa to South Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent to the Middle East and across the ocean to North America.
This practice that is still embedded in a lot of cultures was a politically motivated practice thousands of years ago to secure ties between regions and tribes and resolve family feuds, but there is no excuse for it to be practiced today other than selfishness, greed and ignorance. Today Child Marriages are sparked by poverty, ignited by sexually sick societies and protected by religious scholars and tribal leaders. And in such regions where social customs and traditions are still powerful, law is never enforced to stop these marriages that steal away these unfortunate girls’ childhoods and leave them as human wreckage. No one is spared and no one is rescued to describe this horrific experience.
Poverty is the main reason that young girls are forced into marriage. They are regarded as financial burden. Their only use is to be traded off like a commodity than stay in the family and expect to be fed. With the money the family receives, it is able to sustain its living until another daughter is sold. The older the girl gets, her price decreases and thus marrying the daughters before puberty is more profitable.
In April 2008, the ten years old Yemeni girl Nujood Ali became famous when she obtained a divorce and her book became a bestseller. Her story flashed headlines worldwide and prompted calls to raise the legal marriage age in Yemen to 18 years old. Unlike India and Egypt where the laws restricting underage marriage are often ignored, countries like Yemen and Saudi Arabia have no minimum age for marriage.
Nujood’s was also sold into marriage because of her family’s poverty. After she ran away and wrote her book, her brothers criticized her for shaming the family, but after her book started generating income, the shame was forgotten and she is treated like a queen, by the same brothers.
Girls as young as eight years old are snatched from the safety of their family home and forced to quit schools. In many cases their groom’s house is located in other villages and they are uprooted from their community and live in isolation. Once they are married, they become a domestic aid to their in-laws where they spend their days cooking and cleaning, often subjected to abuse and violence. Those who don’t expire because of sexual intercourse at this young age are traumatized by the experience. If they refuse, they are raped by their husbands. As they reach puberty and before their bodies are fully developed, they would go through a cycle of repeated pregnancies, as contraceptives are uncommon in their communities. Early pregnancies and child birth are the main cause of fatalities of young mothers and their babies in underdeveloped countries. The babies who make it into the world are malnourished and underdeveloped. By the age of twenty, most of these girls have severe feminine problems that often lead to hysterectomies, and their bodies eventually give up. Unable to fulfill their martial obligations, their husbands simply discard them like old rags and seek new wives, and the cycle starts over again.
These abandoned girls who are forced into marriages are victims of illiteracy, slavery, sexual abuse and domestic violence. They are left alone to face the perils of their disgusting cultures. Yet with all the social damage they experience, on their shoulders lay the burden of upbringing the future generation of children who were breast fed their misery, agony and exploitation.
Child brides are yet another aspect of how degrading women are looked upon in certain societies where they are viewed only as sex objects and breeding machines. It is not a coincidence that such illegal marriages thrive in societies with low respect for women. These societies that are still struggling to survive are unaware that they will never advance while their women are deprived from their rights and their daughters’ rights are being violated.
Someone has to be held accountable for these stolen lives. The road to combating this crime is long and paved with thousands of years’ old traditions that will not be easily eradicated. But we can no longer sit in the bleachers and watch in silence as more virgins are sacrificed and their innocent blood is spilled on the matrimonial alter.