Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Forced Marriage and Child Brides

CHILD MARRIAGE- whereby child are given in matrimony before marriageable age. Girls as young as 8 are married to men, often much older, for a variety of reasons. If present trends continue, 142 million girls will marry over the next decade.

  • One in three girls in developing countries will probably be married before they are 18
  • One out of nine girls will be married before their 15th birthday
  • Over 67 million women 20-24 years old in 2010 had been married as girls
  • Half of these marriages occurred in Asia

Where does this happen? Today such customs are fairly widespread in parts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America. This blog will focus on the marriages that occur in Asia.

  1. Mali 55%
  2. Niger 75%
  3. Chad 72%
  4. Bangladesh 66%
  5. Guinea 63%
  6. C.A.R. 61%
  7. Mozambique 52%
  8. Malawi 50%
  9. Madagascar 48%
  10. Sierra Leone 48%
  11. Burkina Faso 48%
  12. India 47%

Why? Child marriage happens for a variety of reasons. Often it is due to the cultural history of the area, where importance is placed upon female virginity, the perceived inability of women to work for money, and to women's shorter reproductive life relative to men's. Further, parents are often poor and use the marriage as a way to make her future better, especially in areas with little economic opportunities. They also will gain considerable property for her bride price, such as cattle or other goods. 

Consequences? Girls who marry earlier in life are less likely to be informed about reproductive issues, and therefore pregnancy related deaths are known to be the leading cause of mortality among married girls between 15 and 19 years of age. These girls are twice more likely to die in childbirth than girls between 20-24. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth. Infants born to mothers under the age of 18 are 60% more likely to die in their first year than to mothers over the age of 19.

Young girls in a child marriage are more likely to experience domestic violence in their marriages as opposed to older women. The International Centre for Research on Women conducted a study that demonstrated that girls married before 18 are twice as likely to be beaten, slapped, or threatened by their husbands and three times more likely to experience sexual violence. Young brides often show symptoms of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress.

Child Marriage perpetuates a further cycle of gender inequality and sickness. Young girls who lack status, power, and maturity are often subjected to domestic violence, sexual abuse, and social isolation. Early marriage almost always deprives girls of their education and ability to learn job skills, therefore perpetuating poverty and leaving them vulnerable if their husband dies or leaves them.

And there are stories of the abuse that child brides suffer. A 13 year old Yemeni girl, Ilham Mahdi al Assi, died in April 2010 from internal injuries four days after a family-arranged marriage to a man almost twice her age. In September 2009, a 12 year old Yemeni child-bride died after struggling for three days in labor to give birth.

Child Marriage in Asia

Child marriage is particularly prevalent in India, where more than one third of all child brides live. According to a report published by UNICEF, 47% of girls are married by 18, and 18% are married by 15. Indian Law has made child marriage illegal, however it is still widely practiced.

In Bangladesh  in 2005 45% of women then between 25 and 29 were married by the age of 15; According to the "State of the World's Children-2009" report, 63% of all women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18

In Yemen, roughly half of the girls are married before 18, some by the age of eight, even though Yemeni law set the minimum age for marriage at 15. However, tribal customs often ignore the law, and in 1999 the minimum marriage age of fifteen was abolished, and the onset of puberty was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage. However, conservatives have interpreted that age to be 9 in some cases.

In Saudi Arabia, Saudi cleric have justified the marriage of girls as young as 9, with sanctions from the judiciary

HOWEVER, the girls are fighting back

Nada al-Ahdal is an 11 year old girl from Yemen, who posted a a powerful appeal against child marriage on YouTube. Nada ran away from home in order to avoid being married to a much older man.

Humaiya, a 16 year old form Bangladesh, was saved from being a child-bride by her mother, who refused to let her father marry her as a child bride. Her mother and a group of advocates intervened to prevent the marriage. Humayiya became an advocate against child brides and for child rights issues through World Vision.

Sally as-Sabahi, who was married at age 10 to a 25 year old cousin, managed to win a divorce from her cousin. Her story made headlines in local media and polarized the country.

Sally as-Sabahi and her Family
What is being done about this?
The UN and NGO's have initiated efforts to combat child marriages. Steps taken are
  • framing laws against child marriages
  • increasing access to girls' education
  • changing harmful cultural norms
  • supporting community programs
  • maximizing foreign assistance
  • providing young women with economic opportunities
  • addressing the unique needs of child brides
  • evaluating programs to determine what works
Further, there does exist legislation to combat child marriage. However, why does child marriage still happen? Part of it is the majority of these laws are International Convention; meaning there is very little way to concretely enforce these provision unless brought before the ICJ. Second is domestic legislators are fighting against thousands of years of cultural tradition, therefore making laws harder to enforce. And since often parents are the ones marrying off their daughters, it is hard for officials to identify cases of child bride and prevent them. Existing legislation:
  • India's Child Marriage Restraint Act
  • India's National Plan of Action for Children 2005
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • the Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
  • The Convention on the Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage
  • International Convention on Civil and political Rights
  • International Convention on Economic and Cultural Rights
  • The Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices
  • The WHO Constitution

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