Too Young To Wed: Addressing the Challenge of Forced Early Marriage

Posted by Irene Marr
July 23, 2010
Afghan Girl Refugee

About the Author: Irene Marr serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues.

I remember first seeing the striking, heartrending images of young Afghan child brides -- girls living in poverty who were forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers -- when the photos appeared in a 2006 Sunday New York Times Magazine essay on the topic of forced early marriage. One of these iconic photos was on display in the U.S. Congress at a briefing on child marriage held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on July 15. Such pictures serve as a sobering reminder that the practice of early marriage is still far too common in many parts of the world -- particularly in developing countries where opportunity is lacking and in societies where women and girls are not valued. The briefing put a spotlight on the extent of the problem and its consequences, and underscored the need for an integrated, strategic, and sustained approach to bring an end to this harmful practice.

A panel of experts on women's and children's issues, including Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, and representatives from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), CARE International, and UNICEF, provided various perspectives on the phenomenon of child marriage and called for scaling up successful holistic and community-based approaches that have produced positive results. To address the scourge of early marriage, the United States has focused efforts on girls' education, health, and economic empowerment, and has implemented community-based, grassroots programs to encourage families to abandon the practice and keep their girls in school. As Ambassador Verveer noted, "The involvement of fathers, mothers, and religious leaders, as well as building girls' agency through formal education and livelihood training, is crucial to these efforts.”

Some of the most successful programs have enlisted traditional and religious leaders -- trusted members of society whose role is to protect the well-being of children. They are often best positioned to raise awareness, influence parents, and pave the way for change. USAID's extensive basic education program provides one of the surest ways of delaying child marriage by keeping girls in school. In FY 2009, for example, more than 23 million girls benefited from USAID programs in primary and secondary education. With an education, a girl's income potential increases and she is better prepared to contribute to the social, political, and economic life of her community. The panelists agreed that the programs with proven results need to be replicated and expanded in areas where the practice is most prevalent in order to accelerate sustainable change.

Every day, approximately 25,000 girls become child brides. It is estimated that one in seven girls in the developing world is married before she turns 15. Being forced to marry too young, increases a girl's chance that she will become pregnant before she is physically and psychologically ready. Problems associated with pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide. Girls forced into marriage inevitably must leave school -- their childhoods robbed, their education shortchanged, and their dreams for a future shattered. Beyond the obvious human rights concerns and health consequences of early marriage -- exposing girls to marital rape, domestic violence, high risk pregnancies, HIV/AIDS infection, and the risk of maternal mortality or obstetric fistula, the practice also poses serious implications for development. It is an issue that is inextricably linked to the cycle of poverty. Child marriage is the manifestation of the low status of women and girls in many societies, where the parents see no reason to educate or invest in their daughters, and where females are treated like commodities or chattel.

The briefing ended on a hopeful note, with the personal story of Kakenya Ntaiya, whose courage and inspiration is helping other girls and families choose education and girls' empowerment over early marriage. Growing up in the Masai Village in Kenya, her victory over child marriage is proof positive the social norms that enable the practice to flourish can and must be broken, and that education is key to making this change. Engaged at the age of five to be married upon reaching puberty, she spent her childhood being reminded that her husband “was waiting” for her. With the help of her mother, who wanted a better life for her daughter, Kakenya persevered, negotiated with her father to stay in school, and convinced her community elders that she should go to college. She not only became the first girl from her village to attend college, she is now, at the age of 32, working on her Ph.D., and has opened a school for girls in her home village. “I knew I would overcome,” she said. Indeed, with the Kakenya's School for Excellence, she is living her own dream of building a better future and is helping other girls “become what they dream to become.”

Comments

Comments

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 23, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

Schools can play a major role in this area especially by including the mother in daily school activities. Schools can serve a dual purpose of training mothers and children. Most mothers enjoy watching their children learn so getting mothers involved in ancilliary businesses that help the school produce an income makes sense. Mothers learn a profitable business while remaining in close proximity to their children. Schools should become very dynamic places, like one stop shopping where a families needs can be met. Like wrap around care that can see a child through college. When women are allowed to live up to their highest potential, they are seen as valuable assets by their father. This is a good selling point for schools. They can constantly delay marriage by telling the father that his daughter must take this important exam or that important exam and before the father realizes it his beautiful girl is all grown up headed on a plane to some graduate school in Europe....Brilliant!

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 23, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

One way to stop early forced marriages might be giving financial incentives to fathers. If your daughter stays in school until 18 then Karzai will pay into the father's retirement fund and a bonus if his daughter goes to college. I'm sure he can afford it with all the drug profit. Keeping girls in school will benefit his own government as these students will fill the ranks of his society. Karzai gets highly skilled workers to run his government and fathers have a nest egg retirement and incentive to keep their daughters in school. The retirement funds can be invested in Afghanistan's Wall street or better, Walid street. It's a win-win.

palgye
|
South Korea
July 23, 2010

Palgye in South Korea writes:

The problem of the married women in the photos is being forced against his own decision based on social customs and wrong misdirected the confines of history and old traditions of the society, without criticism award reflects the attitude of unconditional obedience, I think. I forgot one. Poverty. Perhaps the bride side, intended to lighten the weight of poverty have a think. Must also recognize and promote the conversion of livestock or agricultural sufficiency, but they lend money, or better way I think.

P.S Now fed up abandoned theme and in the media, I try to talk to who would publish the story becoming more we need to talk I do not think, but some time ago in Korea loudly the local elections, she will not run to much or tried to prosecutors by the prosecution by becoming honorary recovery Is said to run to. However, the prosecution did not have information about the people inside, I thought, was passed by the prosecution. For ordinary citizens rather than a strong rival in the ruling party, unknown people out of their own and hoped the world recognized thought. (Or, the risk of thinking than it is to detect and block, but I personally do not think.) And, when she ran to win by a narrow margin was thought. So, the election went to the scene several times, she ran to the blast caused considerable thought to. (Parrots, such as the media, except in Korea) Contributed to the election, but then she was interested in a lot of people think you have to move away from. Many people in the media and everyday you guys are tired of the ordinary citizen. After that prosecutors have begun revenge will think.

They lost to the election, but my extreme concern for her that she thought she was out of use because individually. With her politics (?, She and those who are faithful to their political beliefs rather than their own little community with a common South Korea to create a new world, you guys are trying to influence.) Depending on the political will of those who did not want to I said, the conclusion that they exploited a little bit more pathetic in the world to think she was using her, I'm looking forward to show interest.

Among them are a lot of people, but unlike her, she deserves to be protected but gradually interest in South Korea to get away from, again, are exploited by the media in, she had the presence of the people who have the power to think . Than prescribed by law to determine everything from a dark chamber for Korea was the one that you think politicians are clean. (Politics, money and organization, I think. An endless passion of great people, including) By the prosecution of judicial discretion, we are not currently needed to make the next generation try to write down personal thoughts.

Anna
|
District Of Columbia, USA
July 23, 2010

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

I agree with O.C. -- there has to be financial incentives for the families to stop this practice. It is truly heartbreaking.

Dee I.
|
New York, USA
July 23, 2010

Dee F. in New York writes:

Maybe we should have the head of NASA make this part of his mission.

molly a.
August 4, 2010

Molly A. writes:

i love pie
that was pretty mean what they do

molly a.
|
Australia
August 4, 2010

Molly A. writes:

it is really sad what is happening at the moment, girls shouldn't be forced into such things. It is unfair!
everyone has their right to freedom!
they are still so young and they do not have anything to look forward to in life! only hard labour

Dee
|
United States
August 9, 2010

Dee in the U.S.A. writes:

Men who marry young girls should be arrested as pedophiles and put in prison! It shouldn't matter where they live, what religion they are, or what religious laws they live under (i.e., islamic sharia law). These men are perverts and they should be treated as such. In the U.S., they would go to jail for this behavior.

It's not about educating the girls since, in most of these countries, females not permitted to get an education. It's about locking up the men who hide behind the laws of their religion / country to have relations with underage girls. In my opinion, it's no different from the illegal sex trade.

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