Too Young To Wed?
November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
Child marriage is not uncommon throughout Africa, Asia and South America. It is a part of culture and religion, yes, but it’s also a form of gender discrimination. An estimated 10 million young girls (or 1 out of 7 in developing countries) are married off each year before the age of 18–often to men much older than themselves. These young brides are usually forced to abandon their formal education upon marriage–which, in the long run, is a huge impediment to breaking the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty. This is to say nothing of the physical and psychological violence that many such young girls experience as a result of the perilously unequal balance of power in underage marriages.
In 2010 The Elders (which refers neither to Mormons nor to Lord of the Rings) started Girls Not Brides, which brings together NGOs from all over the world to end child marriage by 2030. As their website notes, child marriage contributes to the congestion of progress toward a whole cadre of Millennium Development Goals. In particular, however, are the goals for child and maternal health :
Neither physically or emotionally ready to give birth, child brides face higher risk of death in childbirth and are particularly vulnerable to pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula. Unable to assert their wishes and negotiate safe sexual relations with their often older husbands, child brides are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than unmarried girls of the same age.
When a girl marries as a child, the health of her children suffers too. The children of child brides are more likely to be born with a low birth weight and are 60% more likely to die in their first year of life than those married to mothers older than 19.
Many organizations have recently come together to alter the injustice of child marriage by donating millions to the cause, but it is important to recognize that the existence of child marriage has many causes, and will therefore require many–culturally sensitive–solutions. In some instances children are married for the sake of tradition (virgins are honored in many societies–so the younger the better) or to form family alliances; in other cases it is a mere manifestation of poverty (in communities where girls are given to their husband’s families, marriage proves to be a means by which there is one less mouth to feed in the daughters’s father’s home). Whatever the case, interventions to stop child marriage must be culturally sensitive so as not to deter and exclude the very communities in which they hope to take root.
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