”To be a happy child. To be part of a family that lives in harmony and domestic peace. To be a parent who has full capacity and knowledge to raise his or her children to have healthy fulfilling lives, free from violence. To be surrounded by a strong and peaceful community.”
Speaking as a white woman living in, what we affectionately call ”’the rainbow nation”, South Africa, we tend to forget about the rest of our continent or even those within the country’s borders that still cling to their traditions and practices of old. Yes, child marriage is something we’ve all heard of and we frown upon it. But usually we, even the black, colored and Indian people in our country, shrug it off as something that is happening elsewhere. The thing is, even it is happening ”elsewhere”, we, as fellow human beings, have a responsibility to give these young girls a voice. So the questions are: what are we doing about it? Do you realize what it means to those involved?
First, let me give you some statistics: ”Currently, there are 720 million women and 156 million men who are married before their 18th birthday. Of these, approximately 250 million girls married before they reached age 15…….in nine countries the majority of girls are marrying as children, but also in view of a dozen additional countries where prevalence rates of child marriage, exceed 40%.” (Moneti, 2015)
Shocking, don’t you agree. Now, having read the cruel statistics, you need to understand what the concept of child marriage means to the individual. I want you to consider the following:
If you are parent to a teen-aged daughter, how do you feel about this child? You want to keep her safe from harm, you want her to have fun with her friends, you want her to swoon over movie stars, read ‘’Twilight’’, watch television, do sport, study, throw the occasional teen-fit…..you want to keep her close, you want to be her best friend, share her secrets, tell her stuff about life and, eventually see her off to college or university. Why? Because you believe she has a brilliant future ahead of her and you want her to have a beautiful life….a life where she can utilize every possible opportunity you can present her with. You just want the best for HER….and, one day, you know that she will find someone to share her life with and she will have her own children when she is ready. Am I right? Of course I am!
Now, for just a minute, imagine someone demanding to marry your child at the tender age of 12 or 13 or 15 (or younger). Imagine yourself actually considering this a good match, because it will be good for the family AND because it is what tradition demands from you. You think, as parent and responsible member of your deeply traditional community, that it is the right thing to do (for the FAMILY and the COMMUNITY), so you agree. Your daughter is obviously unhappy about this, but accepts her fate, because it is, for her too, what tradition demands. She leaves school and forfeits the privilege of a university degree and a proper job where she can actively contribute to society. She also leaves behind childhood friends, the fun of being a teenager, the play dates and movie nights, the pajama parties and the school dances. She humbly turns her back on these to become a housewife, life partner to a much older (and often uncaring and unloving) husband and eventually a mother. She enters into a possibly brutal relationship where she would be forced to fulfill ‘’wifely’’ duties whenever her husband demands it. Because her husband is now her ‘’guardian’’, you cannot protect her anymore and she is left at the mercy of someone who sees her as a means to an end…an object, not a person with feelings, a future – a woman of substance, someone with true value. Your little girl is thrust into adulthood, with all the pain, fear and worries it entails. Oh, and by the way….this will be IF she is lucky….
How do you feel about this? How do you feel about your child becoming a woman, a wife, while she is still that, only a child….she is vulnerable, not emotionally prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood, much less motherhood. Can you, a mother yourself, remember what pregnancy did to your body? And birth? Can you honestly say that your little girl is physically capable of carrying a child in her developing body; that she is able to give birth? Remember…this is happening in a community without proper medical care; there is often NO prenatal care, no ‘’pregnancy vitamins’’, no kindly midwife seeing the precious little one into the world; this is happening in a community where food is scarce and water even scarcer, where disease thrives and medical assistance is the 150 year old medicine man in the village 200km away. What do you consider her chances are to survive? And her baby? What about your grandchild?
You see, for many of these girls, marriage is a death sentence and it can be so very different. Have a look at the video below. R.L. Grimes managed to shock the world with this thought provoking visualization of child marriage, its consequences……..and what could have been.
“Girls who are married before their 18th birthdays are not only denied their childhood but are often socially isolated and subjected to violence, and limited opportunities for education and employment,” says Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Chad. (Grimes, 2015.)
Do you still think it is NOT your problem or responsibility? What would you say if I tell you that YOU, yes YOU, can do something to change this…..you will NOT allow your child to go through the hell I just had you imagine and what you subsequently saw in the video, would you? Yes, NO child should be exploited like this. We are all against child trafficking and child prostitution. Child labor is unacceptable…..yet it all still happens. Why? It is time the ‘’grown-ups’’ of society stand up and fight. We should not wait for big organizations like UNICEF to make the difference, we should do it ourselves. We must stop passing the buck….take a stand NOW…click here to sign the petition against child marriage. Contribute just that one vote and you have done something to make a difference.
There are many other ways we, as individuals can make a difference. Through education we can teach our children the evils of child marriage. We can create awareness in our community and encourage donations, sponsorship and volunteering in areas where child marriage prevails. Helping girls receive education and health care will go a long way towards empowering them to stand against those who force marriage upon them. Attending to basic needs in impoverished countries where child marriage is a common custom, things like food and water and proper medical care, will pave the road for brighter futures for all.
Yes, you can really make a difference. From the comfort of your own, safe home you can, with a click, change a life and secure a future.
You can also have a look at the websites listed below and choose the means you want to support this cause:
1. Equality Now. 2014. Global: End child marriage. [Web:] http://www.equalitynow.org/take_action/child_marriage_action551 [Date of access: 6 Feb. 2015]
2. Grime, R.L. 2015. YouTube: Always | #ENDChildMarriageNow | UNICEF. [Web:] http://youtu.be/sk-n7qOgaL8 [Date of Access: 6 Feb. 2015.
3. Moneti, F. 2015. UNICEF Connect: Ending child marriage: The time to act is now. [Web:] http://blogs.unicef.org/2015/01/26/ending-child-marriage-the-time-to-act-is-now [Date of access: 6 Feb. 2015]