The Heartbreaking Tale of Child Brides

Samridhi Sharma - 3B Chemical
Posted on: February 20, 2019

This column is usually my rant about sexist things that bother me personally. I have come to realize that there are people out there, that I may not know, but who still face issues that I cannot relate to. My goal is to educate myself and you readers about these issues. Spreading awareness, I believe, is the first step to making a change, and we all need to come together for that. It is going to be a learning experience this time around as I talk about child marriages. Child marriage is a truth many little girls around the globe are facing today. It is most prevalent in developing and under-developed countries.

According to Girls Not Brides, Niger is the country with the highest prevalence rates of child marriage with the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were first married or in union before they were 18 years old being 76%. 28% of girls in Niger are married before the age of 15. It has the 14th highest absolute number of child brides – 676,000. Girls from the poorer households are married off to richer households as a survival tactic. Younger brides are considered more attractive so polygamy is prevalent as child brides usually become fourth or fifth brides. Purchasing of girls is also not uncommon. Girls are perceived pure before they get their first period, and therefore, are married off before that happens.

The Central African Republic takes second place in the prevalence rate of child marriage. 68% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 29% are married before the age of 15. More than 75% of adult women in the Central African Republic are able to read and write. Girls’ only expectation is to get married and have children. Some families have even sold their daughters for a price to increase income. Legally, in this country, men can take up to four wives, and younger wives are considered more prestigious. Female genital mutilation and cutting are also regarded as a sign that the girl is ready for marriage.

Chad isn’t far behind. Here, 67% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 30% before 15. In 2015, Chad increased the legal age of marriage from 15 years to 18. However, according to their Criminal Code, customary law marriages of girls over 13 years are legal. As in the Central African Republic, female genital mutilation and cutting is seen as a sign of readiness for marriage. Some girls are forced to marry their attackers in case of harassment. In 2013, it was found that the driving force of child marriage is the failing economy and education system. On average, girls without any education got married at the age of 16, as compared to girls who have completed secondary education who got married at 19 on average.

In the continent of Asia, Bangladesh takes the lead. 59% of girls are married by the age of 18 and 22% by the age of 15. It has the 2nd highest absolute number of child brides – 4,451,000. The main reasons that girls in Bangladesh are subject to child marriage is because of poverty. Dowry prices tend to increase as women grow older, and “less attractive”. Therefore, parents tend to marry off their daughters earlier as they don’t have much dowry to give. Bangladeshi girls without education tend to get married at 15, compared to 20 for those who have completed secondary education. Another reason for child marriage is survival. Since Bangladesh is prone to flooding, families in insecure regions marry off their daughters earlier. There have also been reports of refugee families marrying off their daughters to access food rations and to protect them from sexual violence in refugee camps.

In the Americas, Brazil has a child marriage prevalence rate of 36% and 11% of girls are married off before they are 15. There is no minimum legal age of marriage. Some of the child marriages are surprisingly self-initiated. Girls believe that they can only influence their life using marriage as a tool. Marriage is also seen as a passage to adulthood, so girls take on adult responsibilities and raise children at young ages. Some girls are even married off to drug traffickers for protection against violence. Some men desire brides who are “more attractive” and easy to control and therefore demand child brides.

India, however, takes the cake for the absolute number of child brides with a whopping 15,509,000. It is 14th in terms of the percentage of child marriages, 27% of girls are married before their 18th birthday, and 7% before their 15th. The legal age of marriage in India is 18 years. Girls in poorer households are sometimes perceived as a monetary burden and often married off at a young age as it lowers the dowry that the parents have to pay. Some girls are even promised in marriage before they are even born! At puberty, these girls who were betrothed at birth are sent off to their husband’s home in a send-off ceremony. Many girls are seen as someone else’s property (it is customary for women to move into the husband’s family after marriage) and are often not sent to schools as their main expectations are to raise children and do housework. It is not uncommon for girls to get married for protection against violence and rape. However, child brides in India are at a greater risk of sexual and physical violence within their marital home.

This list is in no way complete. There are so many countries that turn a blind eye to the customs of child marriage. The reasons are mostly along the lines of gender inequality to begin with. In many of the places where child marriage prevails, girls are perceived as inferior to boys. Tradition plays a huge role as well since in many places child marriage is a traditional practice. Female genital mutilation and cutting is a harmful traditional practice that is barely ever questioned because, well, it has been in practice for centuries. Poverty is a common reason throughout most of the countries. In poor households, marriage is seen as a ticket to a secure future. The reality, more often than not, is actually the opposite. Especially in communities where dowry or bride-price is a thing, people prefer to marry off their daughters at younger ages because they get a better price that way. Marriage, in some parents’ eyes, is a way out of sexual and physical violence for their daughters. The reality, again, is quite the opposite for a lot of young girls.

It is pretty appalling how women are perceived in these cultures. It is upsetting to see how objectification is deep-rooted and even customary. It is okay for women to be placed a price on, is what is being taught and propagated in many of these countries. These young girls, for the most part, have no choice in who they want to become as an adult. There is no question of what is right. So much pressure is put on the purity of the girl, that their true innocence, their childhood is lost in the process. Imagine if this was a reality where you live. Imagine if you were one of those young girls being sold-off in marriage. Imagine if your own parents saw you as a burden.

Now you may ask me, what can we do to make it easier for these young girls? In my opinion, spreading awareness is the first step. These girls deserve so much more than just a marriage. If you can do more, sponsor a child. There are organizations such as Girls Not Brides and Plan International which connect you to young girls in faraway lands at the risk of being child brides. You can sponsor their education and ensure that they aren’t married off young. Every little step counts! Last but not least, educate yourself so you can educate others. This is a real issue in the real world and if we don’t raise our voices about this, then who will?

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