by LAURA HILL
As a girl I dreamed of moving to the city, going to university, travelling the world, landing the perfect job and marrying Mr Right at a fairytale wedding. I had a scrapbook filled with cut-out wedding dresses from the newspaper and my best friend and I would spend hours flicking through second-hand bridal magazines from the hairdressers, while discussing who would be our bridesmaids.
While I was dreaming about arriving at the church in a Rolls Royce, millions of girls my age had little or no choice about when and who they would marry.
That was 15 years ago, and tragically the unjust practice of child marriage still happens today. In fact, every year 10 million girls are forced into marriage before their 18th birthday and in the time that it takes you to read this post 110 girls will have become child brides – often to men twice their age – condemning them to a life of poverty and injustice.
[To commemorate International Day of the Girl Child this 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.]
Aid agencies warn that child marriage is, without exception, the biggest challenge to girls’ development and it’s not only girls who suffer. Child marriage perpetuates poverty by cutting short a girl’s education and livelihood opportunities, keeping her poor. Alarmingly, if nothing is done to stop child marriage, 100 million girls will become child brides in the next decade.
The reasons for child marriage are complex and varied: poverty, cultural norms, lack of education and political will all play a part. In many families, girls are viewed as an economic burden, and marrying them is seen as a way to alleviate household financial stress and provide for their daughter’s future. Community customs around the role of women, the appropriate age of marriage and family honour can also put pressure on families to marry their young daughters.
Fifteen-year-old Nitu from Nepal was in sixth grade when one afternoon her father came home smiling from ear to ear and announced that she would be married in one month. Ignoring the devastated look on Nitu’s face he went on to add how good the groom’s family was to demand very little dowry. Poverty is a curse for many people living in the southern plains of Nepal. It is also one of the reasons families give their daughters to be married at an early age. Earlier marriages, mean lower dowries.
Boys are married young, too, but a far greater number of girls are affected and it has a more devastating impact on their lives. By forcing a girl into premature adulthood, early marriage thwarts her chances at education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development.
Girls who marry young have an increased chance of being poor and remaining poor. They are more likely to suffer domestic violence and they face a host of health risks such as higher rates of maternal and infant death, obstetric fistula, malnutrition and HIV infection.