Justice is coming! As I continue growing old I keep asking myself, why child marriage? Is it really necessary? And if not, what do I or we have to do about it? I understand that child marriage is a result of male dominance at large. I think it’s best if we bring men on board first. Working with men can be very effective in reducing child marriage if not ending it. It will help to change ideas and behaviors, especially dealing with patriarchal attitudes. Once men are on board, they can use their influence to pave the way for positive change.
Adults have groups where they get to share what they are going through. Children also need safe spaces in schools. This will help them build their confidence and trust amongst themselves and also with their teachers. I’m sure there are girls who wouldn’t have gone through early marriage if they had a chance to escape. But they didn’t. Simply they didn’t have anyone to tell regarding what their parents were planning for them. This is why they need that space, it’s the window to their success.
Corruption has deep roots in my country, Kenya. For example, I would like to know where funds meant for educating less fortunate girls go. Culture is not the only reason for early marriage, but also poverty. There are girls who sacrifice themselves to go get married in an effort to reduce a burden on their parents. It has come to my notice that the leaders or people responsible for the education funds tend to accuse these girls of bad behaviour, but they are trying their level best to do what is right. Can’t the funds holders use the funds to educate the girls instead of them using the funds for their own benefits?
Not all problems are solved through fighting. Why shouldn’t we mingle? As they explain why early marriage we have a chance to convince them how early marriage is harmful and the advantages of not doing it. At some point there will be some girls listening, them knowing the advantages of not being married off, they will always want to go for their success and thus they will always report whatever harmful plan is made for them.
I don’t know who is with me! I consider myself as the second doubting Thomas. If am not sure of what am told I will ask for a success story if not stories. The girls who escaped the scandal of early marriage should be advised to go back to their communities and villages. The parents will be so proud until they will shout for the whole community to hear and come and see. Other parents would want their daughters to come home successful and hence they may change their attitudes towards early marriage. On the other hand there will be role models for little girls and the whole society.
Most people dream of choosing their life partner. Their marriage would be one of independent and happy life. This is not the reality for many young girls who become child brides. Early and/or forced marriage is most practiced in Sab-Saharan Africa; it is also common in the Maasai community. The Maasai, despite their poverty, have proudly maintained their traditional lifestyle and cultural identity without giving to the pressures of the modern world. The community is under a patriarchal leadership which denies young girls an opportunity to go to school. Education is withheld from girls because it is believed that educating a girl child is not a wise investment because the girl will marry into another family. Therefore, the father of the girl will opt to educate a boy.
Maasai girls are circumcised between 11 and 13. In time, she will marry a man chosen by her father in exchange for cattle and money. A Maasai woman will never be allowed to marry again. As a young girl, she will have her personal autonomy denied. If her husband is an old man who dies when she is still in her teens, she will become the property of one of her husbands’ brothers. She will be one of the multiple wives and will have many children, regardless of her health or ability to provide for them. She will rise early every day to complete her tasks including milking the cows, walking miles to water holes to wash clothes and get water, and gathering heavy loads of firewood to carry back home. If she is lucky, she will have a donkey to share her burden. She will live a life of few comforts, dependent on a husband and a family she did not choose. In between her burdensome chores of the day, the Maasai girl is also a beader – such intangible high skills built into her cultural knowledge and practices. Most of her struggles are shaped by circumstances and the challenges of her time including deep-seated patriarchal attitude.
There are several reasons for forced marriage among the Maasai. First, a desire to ‘eliminate’ the familial poverty. For impoverished families giving a daughter in marriage is a way to reduce expenses particularly if a son’s education and expenses are prioritized. Second, early pregnancies drive toward early marriage as it is seen as a safeguard against immoral behavior. Parents in the Maasai community marry off pregnant girls to protect their family status and name and to receive both dowry and ‘penalty’ payment from the man responsible for the pregnancy. Third, many early marriages occur out of desperation as a young girl seeks ‘refuge’ from neglect or orphanhood. Some girls are taken advantaged by older men who give them false promises of a better life. Girls face a lot of problems and challenges if/when she does not meet the expectations, thus creating a journey towards poverty and gender-based violence begins.
The struggle to end the practice of early marriage in Kenya, particularly among the Maasai, has slowly progressed. There are NGOs that have come seeking to eradicate early child marriages. They work together with the government to help the young girls get out of the retrogressive cultural practices by empowering the girls and enlightening the parents on matters about the education of their girls. The NGOs try to educate the girl child on her rights.
By understanding her personal rights, the goal is self-confidence and independence, and a willingness to advocate and fight for herself and for others. She will be able to choose whom to marry and when to marry. She will have fewer children. They will be healthier and better educated than the previous generation. She will not circumcise her daughters. She will have economic security. Education will enable the girl to help and support her parents, and she will never forget where she came from. Education is the key to success; it is the key to freedom.
The conversation around reproductive and sexual rights and the bodily autonomy of women generally consists of access to abortion, birth control, and intimate partner and sexual violence. FGM is a patriarchal cultural practice rooted in the cutting away of the female body with the suppression of emotion, which at its core, is a denial of personhood. For more than 200 million girls and women, the violation of their body occurred when they could not advocate for themselves. For these girls/women, it is as if all the entities in her world are conspiring against her current and future life. Although Grace details the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya in this blog, the violation has increased in the US since 1990. The global conversation on FGM has been spurred by young women and girls willing to risk social exclusion in the pursuit of eradicating gender-based violence. – AR (**Trigger warning)
by Grace Ndanu
The development of women has been low for a very long time in my country of Kenya because of some retrogressive cultures that include FGM, early marriages, and wife inheritance. For this blog, I will major on FGM within the community I am most familiar with: the Masai.
The practice of FGM is rooted in gender inequality. Women will never have a say on the issues surrounding their daughters; this means that the men are the ones to control women’s sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty, and purity. Although women do not have a say on their daughter issues, they are the ones to perform the act; this is seen as an honour. The act of cutting one’s daughter is both an honour and a fear. The fear lies in the inevitable social exclusion if the cutting does not occur. The procedure is done in three ways: partial or total removal of the clitoris, the complete or partial removal of the inner labia with or without removal of the clitoral organ and outer labia, or the removal of the external genitalia and fusion of the wound. The inner and/or outer labia are cut away with or without removal of the clitoral organ.
The cutters use non-sterile devices which may lead to contracting diseases such as HIV. The devices include knives, razors, scissors, glass, fingernails, or sharpened rocks. There are adverse health effects depending on the type of procedure. The effects include infections, difficulty in urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, development of cysts, complications during childbirth and fatal bleeding.
There have been efforts in fighting FGM because there are no known health benefits instead the effects known are negative. A number of NGOs, including the Cara Girls Rescue Center under the Cara Project, are helping to mitigate the practice. The Cara Center takes in girls who are at risk of going through the painful process and also the ones who are already circumcised. They ensure the girls’ safety and security. If the girl has not yet gone through the process, she is welcomed in the center and immediately start the counseling process. Additionally, she will begin schooling – some of them may not have gone to school at all. For those already violated, they are immediately taken to the Gender Violence Recovery Center under the Nairobi Women’s Hospital for medication where they are admitted and receive counseling. At the same time, both the parents and the cutters are arrested. They must present to court when they are summoned and given a warning that if it has ever happened again, they will be jailed.
The rescued girls and warned parents receive an education about the human and reproductive rights of girls and women. It is with this new knowledge that they understand their personal/familial and communal rights better. Learning has created awareness and advocacy throughout the Masai community [and in other African countries and throughout the world]. There has been the development of a zero-tolerance attitude on FGM matters that extends to many of them becoming rescuers of girls before they are circumcised.
Child marriage is an institution of the past, only existing when life expectancies were short and women’s rights were nonexistent, right? It no longer happens in the United States. Surprisingly, both statements are false. Your grandparents might have married when they were teenagers, and you might think that they were so young to be taking such a major, life-changing step. But, did you know that your neighbors might be doing the same thing? That’s because child marriage is a current practice in both the United States and abroad. Legislation and organizations are working to end it. They hope to make it a practice our own grandchildren might hear about but never witness. In May 2018, John Carney, the governor of Delaware, signed a law that requires people to be eighteen years old or older to marry. This made Delaware the first state in the nation to outlaw child marriage. The state of New Jersey followed Delaware’s lead when governor Phil Murphy signed a bill in June that banned marriage for participants under the age of eighteen.
What Is Child Marriage?
Most U.S. children who marry under the age of eighteen are sixteen or seventeen years old; however, some are as young as twelve. Some states do not even have a minimum age for marriage. This article follows the definition of the United Nations, which defines a child as an individual under the age of eighteen. The organization’s Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” According to the UN, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” The United Nations hopes that these safeguards shield children from a number of harmful factors, such as child marriage and even certain government policies. The UN high commissioner for human rights, for example, decried the U.S. federal government policy of separating immigrant children from their parents in 2018.
Child marriage is common worldwide. How common? Some statistics estimate that in the next decade alone, 140 or 150 million girls will marry before their eighteenth birthdays. Some children marry as young as the ages of seven or eight. While some people claim that child marriage is the product of a specific culture, it is common across many cultures, ethnic groups, religions, and countries. India has many child brides in its large population, but the rates of child marriage are also high in African countries near the Sahara Desert, such as Niger.
What Are the Risks of Child Marriage?
Most of the people entering child marriages are female. Proponents of child marriage state that the marriages exist to protect girls from violence and sexual predators. They state that child marriage offers girls better economic futures. But, child marriage often exploits girls instead of protecting them. It often decimates the girls’ futures. Child marriage often makes girls victims of sexual predators instead of protecting them from such violence. Many child brides are forced into marriage to adult men. These marriages might help the men avoid arrests and prosecution for statutory rape. Human Rights Watch and other opponents against child marriage state that the practice perpetuates the continued sexual abuse of minors and gives legal permission for their abusers to do so without criminal repercussions.
If the child brides have children themselves, it can lead to medical and social problems. Sandra L. Hofferth states that teenage pregnancy can cause “low birth weight, complications of the mother’s pregnancy and delivery, and health problems associated with poor perinatal outcomes; greater risk of perinatal death; lower IQ and academic achievement later on, including a greater risk of repeating a grade; greater risk of socio-emotional problems; a greater risk of having a fatal accident before age one; and finally, a greater probability of starting one’s own family at an early age.” Marrying young can also wreak havoc with the young brides’ mental health. Le Strat, Dubertret, and Le Foll have found that females who marry in childhood are “more likely to seek and access health services.” These mental health conditions can include depression or drug addiction, two illnesses that can affect the mind and the body and can require extensive treatment. These studies both illustrate how child marriage can create mental and physical problems for young brides and their children.
Child marriages often prevent girls from furthering their educations or starting careers. These limitations, their often-limited legal statuses, and their young ages often make it difficult for young spouses to act as equal partners in their marriages. Often, child brides (and grooms) suffer physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse from their older and more powerful partners, yet, their lack of personal agency and physical power renders them helpless and powerless to stop spousal abuse and seek divorce. They might not be able to legally divorce their spouses if they are under the age of eighteen, even though they were legally permitted to marry them in the first place. Child marriage, then, often creates victims who continue to be victimized for years, sometimes for their entire lives. Children when they marry, these brides encounter limitations that could keep treating them as children economically and legally.
How Are Politicians Addressing Child Marriage?
Politicians have voiced different opinions about the practice. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said banning child marriage entirely would “violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions.” His successor as governor, Phil Murphy, signed the bill to end the practice in 2018, however. Many U.S. states have provisions that allow people to marry under the age of eighteen, especially if they have parental or judicial consent. Some states allow girls to marry under the age of eighteen if they are pregnant and will allow children to marry whether they want to or not. Pregnancy is another reason some legislators use for supporting child marriage, arguing that marriage can help end the stigma sometimes associated with teen pregnancy (even regardless of whether this pregnancy is the result of rape). Legislators in other states, meanwhile, are echoing Delaware and New Jersey’s actions and establishing a mandatory minimum age for marriage. In 2018, the state of Florida passed legislation requiring a minimum age of seventeen to marry if the participants have parental consent and their prospective spouses are no more than two years older than they are.
New Hampshire passed a law that requires all participants to be at least sixteen years old to marry. Previously, boys had to be at least fourteen to marry and girls had to be at least thirteen years old. This law came after the New Hampshire House of Representatives failed to pass a law that would have raised the legal age of marriage to eighteen for both sexes in 2017. Other U.S. states allow minors to marry under the age of eighteen, often with specific requirements. The state of Virginia, for example, allows emancipated minors to marry. It also allows sixteen-year-olds or seventeen-year-olds to marry if they have parental consent. Different laws, thus, exist in different states. Could these differences create confusion and assumptions about child marriage? People might assume that children under the age of eighteen are prohibited from marrying everywhere in the United States, yet that is clearly not the case.
How Are Organizations Addressing Child Marriage?
Many organizations are also addressing child marriage. Unchained at Last is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization provides emotional, legal, and social support to girls and women forced into marriage. The website allows legal and mental health professionals to apply to offer their pro bono services to help females impacted by child marriage. The organization was also instrumental in the creation and passage of New Jersey’s law to end the practice. Given that child marriage is a global problem, it makes sense that international organizations also work to combat it. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) has partnered with two Cameroon-based groups that help females forced into early marriage, the Association pour la Lutte contre les Violences Faites aux Femmes (the Association to Combat Violence Against Women, ALVF) and the Association pour la Promotion de l’Autonomie et des Droits de la Jeune Fille/Femme (APAD). The APAD provides skill-building programs and literacy to help victims of forced or young marriage. The organization educates the girls and women in these marriages and their communities about human rights. The ALVF also supports girls in Cameroon, stating on its homepage that “Our Association fights against all forms of violence against women and girls in the Far North of Cameroon.” The two organizations share goals and a common lineage, as members of the ALVF formed the APAD.
Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage (Girls Not Brides) is another international coalition of organizations working to end forced marriages for girls and other forms of child marriage. The organization developed a theory of change in 2014. According to its website, this theory includes strategies its organizers believe can end child marriage, such as
Giving girls power and agency, including educating girls about their rights to refuse marriage and helping them develop the tools they need to make their own decisions.
Working with communities and parents to raise awareness about the risks surrounding child marriage and the benefits of supporting the human rights of girls and women.
Developing programs and organizations to ensure that girls have access to education, health services, and other resources so they can refuse child marriage or thrive after they enter such marriages.
Creating and developing policy and legal structures, such as legislation to close loopholes that permit people under the age of eighteen to marry.
Girls Not Brides hopes that these strategies will help girls lead happier, more successful lives as well as end child marriage.
How Can You Help End Child Marriage?
Organizations are enlisting the help of others to address child marriage. Girls Not Bride suggests that people can
Sign petitions to generate attention about forced marriage and child abuse.
Donate to organizations around the world who work with affected young people.
Although many citizens of Western countries may not be aware that child marriage is a problem, it does in fact exist and often in their own communities. Child marriage has far-reaching, lifelong consequences. Ending it can improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.
Delaware, on May 9, 2018, became the first US state to prohibit child marriage, removing loopholes and exceptions that currently exists in marriage laws in every other state. This historic legislation–the first of its kind in the US–champions and protects the rights of children, especially girls. **This blog is a repost from 2016.
Imagine for a moment that you are a 13-year-old girl. Your parents are no longer as cool as they were when you were in elementary school but life on the whole is pretty chill. With the exception of awkward junior high encounters with people of the opposite sex, the occasional bully, unbearable PE class, and dreadful puberty, being a kid isn’t awful. Personally, you’ve graduated from earning coins for your chores to actual dollar bills and from having a pink room filled with stuffed animals to one with posters of your favorite boy band and magazine cutouts of women you want to dress like when you turn 18. At 18, real life happens. At 18, you’re an adult and the whole world knows it! Everything about your 13-year-old life is moving towards adulthood until your parents let you know that one of their friends is interested in marrying you. He is a nice man who is at least 10, 20, 30 years older than you so he will be able to take care of you, just like you were his own child. Except that you would not be his child, you’d be his wife. In all the ways a wife takes care of a husband…
Children are not small adults. They are molded by socialization as a result of the physical and cultural contexts of their lives (Boothby, 2006; Goodhart, 2013). They are vulnerably presented and completely dependent upon adults, typically parents, for the purpose of nurturing potential and protecting innocence (Garbarino, 1991). Garbarino asserts, “childhood is a special period in the life course when we shield the individual from the direct demands of the economic, sexual, and political forces of the adult world” (p. 10). Childhood is the loci for growth and development.
The United Nations International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), signed in 1989, defines who qualifies as a child and outlines ideas on how to care for those most vulnerable among us. For the purpose of this blog post, I will appropriate the definition of a child as defined by the CRC:
The Convention defines a ‘child’ as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood younger. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the monitoring body for the Convention, has encouraged States to review the age of majority if it is set below 18 and to increase the level of protection for all children under 18.
The notion of childhood was recognized as law by the international community with the passage of the CRC (Garbarino, 1991; Goodhart, 2013). The childhood experiences of the female differ so dramatically from the male. In 2013, Malala Yousafzai’s speech to the UN leadership, reintroduced the female experience into the global narrative as she requested improvement for and protection of the rights of women and girls. There is a significant disparity and cultural bias when attempting to define the daily lives of children, particularly girls, living in the global South and developing nations as compared to those in the global North and developed nations (Boothby, 2006). The United States of America is the only country in the world that has not ratified the CRC.
Child marriage is legal in the United States. In Massachusetts between 2010 and 2014, 200 children were married. The state does not have a “minimum age to get married, as long as minors receive judicial approval. Minors don’t need a lawyer, and the petition is only half a page. Parental approval is required, although with several exceptions.”
There were 4,500 children married over the course of 2004-2013 in the state of Virginia, and more than 200 of them were under the age of 15. On July 1, 2016, the state of Virginia passed a law that only adults could marry in the state. This new law replaced portions of the marriage law that had allowed for girls “13 or younger to marry if she had parental consent and was pregnant.” The new law has set the minimum marriage age at 18 but it also allows for emancipated minors of 16 to enter into marriage if a judge decides to overrule the law. Judges have the power to overturn this newly implemented law on the basis of four ideas:
If the minor is not being compelled to marry
If the parties are mature enough to get married
If the marriage will not endanger the minor
If marriage is in the best interest of the minor
Child marriage is illegal in some parts of the world, although it is common. Guatemala has recently increased the age of marriage to 18, while acknowledging there will need to be a cultural paradigm as to the relevant implication of “recognizing the full potential of girls and reframing how girls should be treated in society”. In Nigeria, child marriage is illegal; however, in the Northern, predominantly Muslim region of the country, the law is implied rather than enforced. Fifteen year-old Nigerian Wasila Tasi’u is a murderer. She poisoned her 35-year-old husband and three other men. For ten months, Tasi’u awaited trial in a Nigerian jail where she faced the death penalty. She was acquitted and will live with a foster family. Maryam Uwais believes this to be “an entirely avoidable tragedy, leaving in its wake four dead men and a thoroughly traumatised little girl. Poison – the only feasible escape to freedom – devised from the wild imagination of a naive, depressed little girl caught up in a painful forced marriage to a much older man. A tough lesson for families, communities and a government that is still ambivalent about sanctioning the perpetrators of child marriage.” The social justice organization, Girls Not Brides, has ranked Nigeria 13th in countries with the highest rates of child marriage, despite a governmental declaration entitled, Child Rights Act of 2003–which was created to make every action concerning a child and his/her best interest, a paramount consideration.
Child marriage impacts the female child more than the male child. Childhood creates the revelation of identity.
Young females in the West and developing nations should capitalize on their girlhood, embracing it as a time to discover themselves—their identity, their relationships with men, what boundaries or rules they can break without consequence, and to receive an education.
For child brides, the whimsy of girlhood is non-existent because they enter womanhood before they fully grasp puberty. The US has relegated the creation and implementation of marriage laws to the state level. The age of majority is 18 in the US. Although the state law of Virginia or Alabama [AL code 30-1-4] allows for a 16-year-old to marry, majority of Americans as well as the international world, she is still a minor who cannot vote, buy alcohol, work after 8pm, and possibly carries a high school identification card. For the thousands of children—90% of whom are girls—this change comes too late.
Child marriage does not take place solely in poor communities. In Virginia, the new law arose when Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel learned that a high school student in an affluent Northern Virginia district dropped out of school when she married a man in his fifties. The marriage, granted by the parents, halted all child-protection services. It is illegal to engage in sexual activities with a minor yet marriage laws make allowances and create caveats for offenders to marry their victims, rather than facing justice for their illegal behavior. Jeanne Smoot of Tahirih Justice Center states that the “laws can facilitate forced marriages of children.” It is to be understood that not all marriages are forced; however, who is standing up for the rights of the child to remain a child? The laws may not facilitate forced marriage of children, but they are failing to protect children from the threat of human trafficking, statutory rape, divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, mental health issues, premature death, and becoming a murderer.
Child marriage makes children targets because the authorities given agency to ensure their best interest aren’t always acting on the behalf of the child. Fraidy Reiss declares that children are not equipped to live and play in an adult world, considering the imbalance of power when married to an adult and lacking adequate resources to acquire help and freedom. Gerison Lansdown, Tony Waterson, and David Baum acknowledge that governments are failing to honor the four principles of the CRC as they relate to the world’s children, but also argue that lack of knowledge within civil society is not a valid excuse. “Ultimately the government is responsible for the full implementation of the convention” and everyone working with children need to do their part in helping to protect their rights (1565-6). Diana Francis identifies it as “people power.” People power is the decision to act at “any level…ensuring that those who have been the subjects of structures of domination discover and develop the power to participate in what affects them” (Francis, 2002). In other words, it is the voice of the collective speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, in order to arrive at justice and democracy for all.
Ending child marriage around the world is an essential target in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a Sustainable Development Goal of the UN. The UN is responsible for global governance. It offers suggestions that may be refused if the country deems it is not in their best interest. Joel Oestreich says that despite being considered a Western ideal, countries have signed the CRC, recognizing it as a model of international consensus building and allowing UNICEF to work intra-nationally as well as internationally in order to provide the implantation of CRC standards as a way of life for the children (184). African nations have identified the necessity of bringing an end to child marriage; there needs to be long-term strategies, governmental infrastructure, and a responsible civil society working together to see an advancement. The same can be said of the United States. As a result of the Virginia legislation, bills are set to pass in California, New York, Maryland, and New Jersey. Nelson Mandela concluded that each of us as citizens, has a role to play in creating a better world for our children.
Boothby, Neil, Alison Strang and Michael Wessells. A world turned upside down: Social Ecological Approaches to Children in War Zones. Connecticut: Kumarian Press, 2006. Print.
Francis, Diana. People, Peace and Power: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures. London: Pluto, 2002. Print.
Garbarino, James, Kathleen Kostelny and Nancy Dubrow. No place to be a Child: Growing Up in a War Zone. Massachusetts: Lexington, 1991. Print.
Goodhart, Michael. Human Rights: Politics and Practice. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.
Callaway, Rhonda L. and Julie Harrelson-Stephens. Exploring International Human Rights: Critical Connection – Studies in Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2007. Print.
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