By MELISSA WELLHAM
Note: This post may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
Imagine if the very first wedding you attended was your own.
For young girls living in the Arab nation of Yemen, in West Asia, the threat of being married off against their will is one that they live with daily. They live in fear of what might happen if they are sold by their families as a child bride, to men who are often twice their age. Or more.
This was the story of an 8-year-old girl in Yemen, named Raman. Her death last week from horrific internal injuries, that were inflicted on the first night of her forced marriage, has made headlines around the world.
Her husband – and the man who killed her – was more than five times her age. Reports indicate that Raman suffered a tear to her genitals, followed by severe bleeding that resulted in her death.
Activists in Yemen are up in arms, and demanding that the “beastly groom”, as well as the family who sold their daughter into a forced marriage, should be arrested.
And tragically, this is not the first case of its kind to be brought to the attention of the international media. In 2010, a 13-year-old child bride in Yemen, named Ilham Mahdi al Assi, died from internal injuries only four days after her family arranged a forced marriage to a man twice her age.
And wedding nights are not the only times these young brides are at risk of death. Many child brides die while giving birth; their young, undeveloped and often malnourished bodies are not equipped to carry a baby to full term.
The forced marriages of young girls usually happen because families find it hard to resist the prices being offered for the daughters’ hands. These people often live in extreme poverty, with the mouths of many children to feed. Girls, in particular, may be seen as a burden because they are unable to go to work and provide an income for the family.
But while the price for a daughter may bring temporary relief to many of these parents, they are often condemning their children to a life of poverty. Many child brides are denied the right to go to school, and most fall pregnant soon after hitting puberty.
They will bear many children for their ageing husbands; their rapists.
They will be trapped. They will be sentenced to a life of poverty and injustice.
Culture also plays a role in this tradition. A commonly held belief is that the younger a bride is, the more likely she is to grow up to be the ‘perfect wife.
A wife who will bear many children without complaining. A wife who will be obedient, and not rely on relationships outside of marriage. A wife who doesn’t talk back – or fight back.
According to a report from the Social Affairs Ministry in Yemen, more than 25 percent of Yemen’s women are married before the age of 15.
The forced marriages of girls to middle-aged men are not only common in Yemen, but also other countries like India and Ethiopia (South-Asia and sub-Saharan Africa more broadly).
Girls who marry young – as well as missing out on education – are more likely to suffer poverty, domestic violence, malnutrition, maternal and infant death, obstetric fistula and HIV infection.
Raman was just a little girl. She probably enjoyed playing outside with her siblings. She probably loved her parents – and did not understand why they sold her into marriage. A marriage that turned out to be her death, and at best would have still meant the end of her life as she knew it.
Almost 39,000 girls around the world face the same possible fate as Raman every single day.
That’s 39,000 tragic weddings that are far from a fairytale.
That’s 39,000 lives.
To commemorate International Day of the Girl Child last year, photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair teamed up with National Geographic to create a series of photos depicting girls as young as five years old being married off to middle-aged men in countries like India, Yemen and Ethiopia. Take a look. All images from the Daily Mail.
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If you want to help end the forced marriage of children, CARE is working to help stop this practice – and provides support to millions of women and girls living in developing nations around the world. You can find out more information about their campaign to end child marriage here.