The scene is a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. 12 o’clock midnight.
The entire village is asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight,when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be successfully married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.
The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage. And thus there was no other way………………..……………..
A couple of months back while reading the Reader’s Digest Asia I came across an article on child marriage in Yemen. The subject of the article was Nujood Ali,a hapless second-grader whose parents had married her off to a man in his 30s. Although her poverty-stricken father had requested her husband not to touch her before she had her first menstrual period, for two months the young Nujood had had to endure physical tortures and rapes by her husband when she refused to commit sexual intercourse with him. And then when she could take it no more she escaped to her father’s house where her stepmother, who did not hold the matter with much gravity since such incidents were not uncommon in that part of the world, playfully asked her to go to the court to seek a divorce. Young Nujood, then did what she was told. She went to the court and spoke with the judge Mohammed al-għadha who, submitting to humanity, took her to provide a
temporary refuge and had both her father and husband taken into custody. Renowned Yemeni women’s rights lawyer Shada Nasser then took up the case for a divorce and finally on April 15 of the same year she was granted the much-needed divorce.
Child marriage in Muslim countries and certain other conservative nations like Niger, Chad and the Caribbean is not at all an uncommon incident. But the link between child marriages is with something different: poverty. Families in the less-developed countries marry off their young daughters to ease their economic burden since after all, one family member deducted means one less person to feed or clothe and particularly if it is a female, who typically remains dormant in these conservative societies, the sooner she is got rid off the better for the family. And perhaps more importantly these families tend to be big, like really big. According to Muslim traditions you are not allowed to undertake sex during menstrual periods so there is actually a high possibility of giving birth to a large number of offspring. You are not allowed to use birth-control methods either since these things promote Fawahish (illegal sexual intercourse). And with the shortage of jobs and repression of women the prime bread-winners of these families are limited to one or two males. There is also the matter of dowry. I do not know whether dowries are given in the Middle-East or Africa but in countries like Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan they are an extremely pervasive issue in the rural communities. The more aged an unmarried bride is the higher her parents will have to count for dowry. Our society is also a big problem because it looks down on older females who have not yet secured a marriage for themselves and perceives them as having sexual difficulties.
With all these monstrous social and ethical issues child marriage has grown into a significant headache for human rights’ activists all over the world. It is not only about a female who is deprived of a proper childhood but also the perfectly-productive society that we all dream about. One daughter sent off for good might be a blessing for a financially-troubled family but for the economy as a whole it has profound consequences. It limits the literacy rate of the country and does not allow a productive working population. And especially for all these developing countries these nationals represent exorbitant sums of foreign income through machine-oriented industries, remittance, hand-loom enterprises etc. It is imperative that the government closely monitor this issue if it wants to edge ahead in the economic race.
I must mention something here. The fact that only the poor-class families adopt child-marriages is actually not the entire picture. In Dhaka I have come across an extremely wealthy family with one daughter and no other children. Although it might make you feel uncomfortable, this well-to-do family got their only daughter married off at the tender age of 16, when the girl had barely passed her tenth-grade! The reason you ask? The bridegroom was wealthier than them!
But I must also acknowledge that in the past few years Bangladesh has made major strides in combating child marriages not only in the cities but also in the rural areas. It is not uncommon to open the newspapers and read how the local police arrested a bride’s father and husband for being associated with child marriage after being tipped off by the local councilor. Even if it is in the middle of the night inside the deepest part of the village the local magistrates and the police departments are always aware to bring down the number of child marriages or marriages with dowries. According to UNICEF, Bangladesh, after its partition from Pakistan in 1971, has successfully brought about a decrease in this brutal treatment of children through increased awareness programs all over the country.
Perhaps the success of Bangladesh in fighting against child marriages has more to do with the fact that every single government, despite all its cons, has always given women’s education the topmost priority. And the result has been beneficial as well. Not only has this brought down the number of child marriages significantly but it has also allowed the women population more self subservience and a more productive role in the country’s rapidly growing economy. In fact the country’s renowned textile industry, the second-largest
cloth-manufacturing industry in the world market as of 2011 and also the country’s primary source of foreign income, employs more women than men. For the factually dependant, 9 out of 10 workers in this thriving industry of 2 million workers (2005) are women.
As an ending note I should like to reiterate the story I wrote in the beginning but this time I will change the ending.
The scene is again a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. It is again12 o’clock midnight.
The entire village is again asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight, when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be secretly married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.
The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his own life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage.
And then all of a sudden the roaring engines of a Police jeep were heard and policemen poured out of it in numbers. Behind them came the college-going village councilor, who had been appointed by the local authorities. All the relatives and the guests in the marriage ceremony fled immediately for fear of a police scam. The bridegroom was handcuffed and the bride’s father was shoved into the police van. At the Police station the father was made to sign a document stating that he will not get his daughter married off before she was at least of age, i.e. in the Bengali tradition the age of 18. The bride was kept arrested. The local magistrate will give him a jail sentence and a small fine. Perhaps one day child marriage will be successfully eradicated from this society…………….
[The above story is entirely fabricated but incidents like this happen all the time in Bangladesh]
For those of you who want to check out the ebook version of Nujood Ali’s autobiography ‘ I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’ click here. You will need to scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to download via a torrent client
- A 10-Year-Old Divorcee Takes Paris (time.com)
- Purulia girls who fought child marriage to meet President (thehindu.com)
- Call to Ban Yemen Child Marriages (ibtimes.com)
- Yemen child marriages targeted by rights group (cbc.ca)
- Child Marriage Widespread In Yemen (huffingtonpost.com)
- Rights group urges Yemen to ban child marriage (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Child marriages in Uganda (rosebellkagumire.com)