Remember when you were eight years old? You had such few worries in your world and and even those were more often than not forgotten when something easily distracted you.
You would play ‘dress up’ with your friends, put on your Mum’s heels and weigh yourself down in jewellery and awfully applied makeup. This is how you saw adults and you wanted to pretend to be just like them. You might pretend you were a princess or a Queen, or maybe it was your wedding day. At such a young age, this whimsical Disney-like dream was just a game…to us.
Tragically though, this ‘game’ is a reality for millions of children around the world today. At an age when they still, essentially, do not even understand how to look after themselves fully, they are taken from the familiarity of their home and married off to someone, who is typically at
least three or four times their own age. They are expected to be a ‘wife’ when really it is their husband who is having to raise this child bride in his own home. There is absolutely no denial that every single case of child marriage is quite simply child abuse and rape. They are completely robbed of the ordinary life experiences other youngsters take for granted. Once married, these brides, more often than not, are no longer allowed to continue with their education, for fear the education will make them realise the position they have been forced into. They can not build innocent friendships or play with other children. Responsibilities are expected of them and if they don’t produce the expected results they are very unfairly punished.
Statistically, according to a UNICEF study, one in three women globally currently between the ages of 20-24 were married before they were 18 years old, with a third of those being forced into marriage before they were 15. This figure is due to rise dramatically in the next 10 years.
By marrying children off so young, the negative health implications are phenomenal, often tragically fatal. Girls are forced to take on responsibilities they are often not psychologically or physically ready for. Pregnancy in adolescents is the leading case of death.
Whilst laws are constantly being updated on the age of marriage, in developing countries, the illegal act is still
being carried out, with authorities seeming to just look the other way. Even raising the legal age of marriage does not help. Last month saw the first ‘Day of the Girl Child’ (October 11th), and just one day later, as quoted in The Hindu, ‘Mr Chautala [Indian National Lok Dal chief] gave his support to Khap panchyat proposals for lowering the age of marriage, saying it would help (curb) such crimes [abuse] against women.”
This is the organisation that believes that ‘boys and girls should be married by the time they are 16, so they do not stray’. It feels like we are fighting a constant battle with those in ‘authority’ on such issues, and yet surely there is so much that can be done to stop this heinous crime. The fact that in so many of these countries it is an illegal act doesn’t mean that we are offending a tribal tradition? But even in societies where it is a tradition, does that make it right?
Now is the time to take action, girls are suffering not only through the process alone, but in trying to help defend their fellow global ‘sisters’. Look at Malala Yousafzai, who was recently shot down by the Taliban for developing ‘Western ideas’ on the need for education for girls. If children as young as 15 are taking bullets for something they fight so strongly for, we have no excuse to sit back and continue to watch this happen.
In 10 years time, the number of child brides globally will have risen to approximately 142 million. Now is the time to make this change, before the numbers are out of control.