A couple of weeks ago I was leafing through some of the old journals I used to scrawl every event and thought of my day in when I was younger, and you can bet it was an hour of nostalgic laughter.
Two things were apparent as I was reading through entries; one, my handwriting hasn’t changed since I was nine and two, I swore up and down I was going to marry my childhood crush.
It was sweet to read the carefree and innocent words of a love-struck eight-year-old girl. Writing of how when she reaches 20, my current age, she will be ready to marry this boy, finish school, and work as veterinarian.
[Note: Sorry girlfriend, you’re nowhere near marriage and still in undergrad, not for pre-vet either!]
As I read my childhood predictions, it hurt my heart to think about the millions of young girls around the world that I advocate for, much like the one I was remembering, who will never get to keep journals of the dreams they have for themselves. These girls have their futures and rights stolen by thousands of years of cultural norms, by poverty, by the ancient idea that women were created to adhere to the men in their communities.
This is a reality for young girls across the globe, but more prominently in the developing world. Girls as young as eight are at risk of marrying too young, sometimes to men over five times their age. You read that right, girls as young as eight marrying men who are forty!
Poverty is a prominent catalyst for early marriage, families facing economic hardships trade their daughters’ hand (unwillingly) in marriage for a dowry or resources to support the family as well as alleviate the “economic burden” the girls have on the households. Unfortunately, much of the time these parents believe that arranging a marriage is helping their daughters lead a better life. Traditional ideas concerning gender roles also play a large part in this crisis. Culturally and religiously, girls are not valued as highly as having sons. In communities where boys are prided upon, a woman/girl’s life is restricted to the home where her role is to tend to her husband and eventually children.
Countries with the highest rates of child marriage: Percentage of women married by age of 18 – IBT
According to the World Heath Organization, of the 140 million girls who will marry before they are 18 (between 2011-2020) 50 million will be under the age of 15. These girls are more likely to suffer abuse, sexually and otherwise. Forced sex can easily damage the pelvic area of a young girl’s body and traumatize her psychologically. As for those who have experienced puberty, pregnancy is commonly a matter of life and death for mother and child. Fistulas, which results in a life of discomfort and pain if not surgically fixed, also pose a huge threat to women and girls in countries of poverty and is only heightened by giving birth at a younger age.
Aside from the physical and mental strain, child marriage cuts the education of these young girls short. Insufficient money to send girls to school paired with parents not seeing value in educating girls leads to either very little or no education. Education is no longer seen as necessary once the girls have a husband, and is the reason many slip into a dependent position.Wouldn’t an educated girl who can work and provide a smarter household make more sense, you ask? Absolutely. This traditional method plays a crucial role in the generational poverty that exists within some of these developing countries. Children are married off young in hopes of helping a family’s financial situation, but in reality it tends to just create a vicious cycle. Little education results in a lack of economic opportunities and their own children are more likely to endure the same fate.
Ending child marriage and furthering education would not only give a voice and confidence back to young girls around the world but it would mean restoring their human rights and ability to dream of brighter futures. Elimination of this harmful cultural practice would mean gender equality and empowering these countries to rise above poverty and develop as an educated and healthy whole.
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