Robbed for Protection

The marriage of any child is a violation under Article 16.2 of CEDAW and it (along with other International treaties) requires that marriage be entered into with the free and full consent of both parties. But what does this really mean when the majority of the world that engages in this cultural practice likely doesn’t even know how to read, let alone be aware of CEDAW. It is a well known fact that education levels are adversely affected when people live in poverty. Presumably the priorities for a poor family would be food and shelter, everything else, like education, is a luxury. Do we then have the right to judge a father who just wants to protect his little girl and wed her to someone that will provide for her? This humble father has love in his heart when deciding the fate of his daughter’s life and although well intended, the reality of this union tends to be ugly. Abandonment. Violence. Rape. Hopelessness. This is what prevails.

As a child you only assume that your parents are happy to have had you. But when you’re a girl born into a poor family, well, you’re a burden, one more mouth to feed.  I had a bunny cake that spelled out 10 on 2 separate cakes; I entered the double digits in style with family and friend cheering me on. Nujood, in Yemen, was pulled out of school, shipped off to a village, and married off to a man in his 30’s. Quite the contrast. Tears in her eyes, borrowed clothes on her body, this little girl attempts to celebrate the beginning of a new nightmare. “They made him promise not to touch Nujood before the year after she has her first period”. These are supposed to be comforting words uttered by her father to her worried, voiceless mother. I feel sick.

But it always gets worse before it gets better, right? To no surprise this man did not keep his promise and little Nujood experiences her first but not last episode of sexual violence. Gender roles in a lot of cultures dictate that women are subordinate to men. Therefore, husbands are the dominant partner in a marriage. This dominance means that at times husbands feel a right to do as they please with their wives, void of their consent.

“I repeat: you are my wife. Now you must do what I want. Got that?…the sky was falling  down on me, and it was then that something burning, a burning I had never felt before, invaded the deepest part of me. No matter how I screamed, no one came to help me. It hurt, awfully, and I was all alone to face the pain.” –pg. 77-78

I often think about Human Rights Watch’s tagline: Tyranny has a witness. “Help!” I can only imagine how many countless girls have screamed, begged and pleaded for someone to come to their aid. Why are we ignoring them? Practices like child marriage are embedded in culture and because it occurs on a regular basis it is normalized. Fathers don’t want their daughters to get raped; they want to save them from a life of poverty and often prostitution. Fair enough. But lack of consent and the blatant violence that accompanies child marriage should make these screams ones that we ought not to ignore. It is our duty to protect these little girls and give them a chance to experience a childhood. Playing, going to school, getting into trouble, being a rebel.

Nujood Ali - she got divorced, returned home and went back to school!

This is a matter of rights but also of health. Child brides are often forced into intercourse before they are physically or sexually developed and this leads to serious reproductive health issues. For example, India has the highest number of maternal deaths in the world at 136 000 per year. Child brides are undoubtedly a contributing demographic. Child brides are often pulled out of school and even if sex education was offered, they would be safer not to bring up the advantages of practicing safe sex. The men are too busy working from a young age to understand the risks involved in practicing unsafe sex. Access to education is low and access to healthcare can be even lower for these girls. Being a girl is strike 1, being young is strike 2. What results is relying on others to decide when they deem it appropriate for these girls to see a doctor. Unfair would be an understatement.

The objective of our blog is to break the silence and get you talking about these “taboo” topics. The louder our voice gets, the harder we will be to ignore. Change takes time but it is possible; join us in speaking out about violations to the rights of girls and women worldwide.

If you would like more information on Child Marriage, here are some useful links:

Girls Not Brides – http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/

International Center for Research on Women – http://www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures

UNICEF – http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/Child_Marriage.pdf

Video source – http://www.trust.org/trustlaw/womens-rights/child-marriage/

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