|Photograph by Stephanie Sinclair, National Geographic|
Many young girls in the developed world dream of their future weddings. They imagine themselves as beautiful brides in white, all done up for the big day, a la Princess Kate. They imagine themselves as adults (but of course, as young adults and not too old). After all, that’s what Disney princess movies taught us.
But what if marriage isn’t a choice? For many young girls in the developing world, imaging their future wedding is a nightmare, not a dream. They do not imagine being twenty-five and mutually deciding to get engaged, get married, and start a family with their perfect match. They imagine being sold, being under the complete control of their husbands, and possibly dying in child birth. They imagine it because they’ve seen it in their communities – their sisters, friends, and mothers are living it. But as Cynthia Gorney, a reporter with National Geographic, explains, it’s not always that simple: “The people who work full-time trying to prevent child marriage, and to improve women's lives in societies of rigid tradition, are the first to smack down the impertinent notion that anything about this endeavor is simple.”
For many of these young girls, forced marriage is a death sentence, not a dream. Husbands dozens of years older than prepubescent wives buy the girls, promising to not “defile” the virgins until they begin menstruating. But who’s to stop them? The girl is property and possibly one among several other wives. And only rarely, ever so rarely, young girls stand up against the oppressive forces of patriarchy in their communities and countries and write books like I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced.
“Among Yemenis the great surprise in the Nujood story was not that Nujood’s father had forced her to marry a man three times her age; nor that the man forced himself upon her the first night, despite supposed promises to wait until she was older, so that in the morning Nujood's new mother- and sister-in-law examined the bloodied sheet approvingly before lifting her from bed to give her a bath. No. Nothing in those details was especially remarkable. The surprise was that Nujood fought back.”
Recent estimates report that 25,000 girls around the world are married before age 18 every day. While most of the child brides are in the 13- to 17-year-old age range rather than prepubescent ages, the health, emotional, economic, and social ramifications remain the same: the odds are stacked up against these girls. Why is this happening? One child bride explains: “Because we live in a male-centered country.”
|from TrustLaw, Thomson Reuters. Click for more infographics.|
- Q + A: Why does child marriage happen?
- International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act
- CARE: Child Marriage
- UNFPA Child Marriage Fact Sheet
- What do you think about child marriage/forced marriage?
- What are some solutions to the problem?
- How do you respond to critics who say this is a cultural practice?