“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousefzai
Over 700 million women alive today were married before they were 18. Most girls that get married as children are married to men that are up to twice their age – or maybe even more. Child marriage is a human rights violation, and it also leads problems like lack of education, poverty, and child death.
There are countries where child marriage is still LEGAL, and there are countries where it being illegal does not stop people from practicing it. For example, getting married before the age of 18 is illegal in India, but people in villages still practice it. It acts as a secret the village holds; no one outside the village is supposed to know it happens.
Majority of the countries do have a minimum age to get married. However, the minimum age is almost always different for men and for women. The minimum age for marriage is typically more for a man than for a woman. (Bangladesh: A girl has to be 18 to get married, and a man has to be 21. Sudan: A girl has to be 10 to get married, and a man has to be 15. Afghanistan: A girl has to be 16 to legally get married, and a man has to be 18.)
When a girl gets married as a child, she’s being held back from education. She’s more likely to get HIV/AIDS. She’s more likely to face domestic violence, and most of all, she’s most likely to die because of childbirth/pregnancy. Here are some of the girls that have shared their experience with child marriage – there are many more, but I would run out of time and space if I wrote about all:
- Nujood Ali
Nujood Ali is a Yemeni girl who got married when she was 11. A man in his thirties “bought” Nujood for marriage. They were married for a while, and Nujood faced abuse while she was married. After a few months, Nujood filed for divorce. Nujood now wants to be a lawyer and change Yemen’s gender equality laws.
Malak’s story is a little different from the others. Malak wasn’t married young because of social pressure, but because of DAESH, better known as ISIS or ISIL. DAESH had told Malak’s family that she would have to marry one of DAESH’s soldiers, and in fear of the news being true, Malak’s family got her married before the DAESH soldiers could arrive. The day after the wedding, DAESH came to her house and beat her father up.
- Fatima Mangre
Fatima is an Indian girl who got married when she was four – yeah, FOUR YEARS OLD. What’s even worse is that the boy she was married to was also being forced to marry her – he was only ten years old himself. At the age of eight, Fatima got divorced. She’s still the youngest girl to have ever been divorced.
Younis is a Kenyan girl. She was 13 when she got married to a 78 year old man. Younis went to his house and stayed with him for one week, and then had to run away. She then attended boarding school, and now has a nursing degree.
Ilham’s case was a case of “swap marriage” (in Urdu, known as Vatta-Satta.) Swap marriage is when the sister/brother of the bride also marries the brother/sister of the groom. Ilham was a Yemeni girl who got married at the age of 13, to someone almost twice her age. Because her body could not take the internal injuries, she died four days after her marriage.
Girls like these are always told they are not ‘old enough’ when they speak up, until one day they get sent off to their husbands. Child marriage has not only physical, but also emotional and psychological detrimental effects. It holds girls back from opportunities in life, and most importantly from education. 41,000 girls are married every day before they turn 18. Over 26 million girls in India have gotten married before they turned 18. 1 in 9 girls are married before the age of 15.
Here are some of the rates of the percentage of girls that get married before the age of 18 in various countries:
South Sudan: 52%
Ending child marriage will involve the change of laws and policies across the world, but most importantly the change of mindset. We have to stop equating a woman’s worth to her “household” abilities. We have to stop believing that women are only good for raising children and doing the dishes. The way girls are perceived around the world has to be changed – or there will be no change.