Child Marriages – Part II

Mohammed described the arrangement called shighar, in which two men provide each other with new brides by exchanging female relatives. "These men married each other's daughters," Mohammed said. "If the ages had been proper between the husbands and new wives, I don't think anyone would have reported it. But girls should not marry when they are 9 or 10. Maybe 15 or 16." — “Child Brides” by Cynthia Gorney

A few days after I submitted my last  blog post about The Child Bride, I came across this great article regarding the same topic:    Child Brides.

This article sparked many thoughts, many of which I would like to share with you today.   First, this article mentions the marriage between a five year old girl (is your stomach turning like mine did?) and a ten year old boy.   The article goes on to intelligently discuss the effect of this on the life of the girl, but does not at all mention the ten year old boy.   While child marriage is a problem more often faced by young girls, boys can also be victims.   A boy having to get married at ten years old is just as much a human rights violation as a girl having to get married at that age.   We need to be careful in not solely focusing on the rights of young girls when discussing issues related to children's rights.   Young boys often face the same hardships as young girls, and additional ones including being forced to become child soldiers, being expected to financially support their families with few to none economic opportunities, etc.   While so much energy and literature is put into girls’ rights, and rightfully so, we must also make sure we provide young boys with the same protections.   The point of focusing on girls at times is not to exclude boys that need support, but rather, just to focus on where the need is greatest at any specific moment.
The article I refer to above, mentioned many other topics that I want to discuss.   Please excuse me while I go off on some tangents.

The article mentions the concept of “paraya dhan:”

In India, where by long-standing practice most new wives leave home to move in with their husbands' families, the Hindi term paraya dhan refers to daughters still living with their own parents. Its literal meaning is "someone else's wealth."

While I’ve heard this time many times before, reading this sentence still made my skin crawl.   And I have to take issue with it.   First of all, a girl is not anyone's property.   She does not belong to her own parents, nor her in-laws.   Second, even if we did not take the phrase literally, the concept of her "belonging" more to her in-laws family than her own, drives me crazy.   I just don't understand.   I agree with the idea that once a girl gets older and has her own life (married or not), her parents will not have as strong of a say in her life as they did when she was younger.   But one, this is regardless of whether she is married or not.   And two, there is no reason for her to automatically be tied to her husband's family any more than she is to her own, or he is to hers.   Cultural or not, automatic rules like these should not be enforced on, or expect to be followed by, women anywhere.
This article also brings to light how difficult and complex it is to actually bring an end to practices such as child marriage.   I highly recommend you read the full article, but here is a snippet of what I am referring to:

"One of our workers had a father turn to him, in frustration," says Sreela Das Gupta, a New Delhi health specialist who previously worked for the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one of several global nonprofits working actively against early marriage. "This father said, 'If I am willing to get my daughter married late, will you take responsibility for her protection?' The worker came back to us and said, 'What am I supposed to tell him if she gets raped at 14?' These are questions we don't have answers to."

While my impulse would be to interfere and directly help a young girl facing child marriage, I know it is not necessarily the best, and most efficient, way of creating change.   I’m not one to make many pop culture references, but have you seen or read Eat, Pray, Love?   Did you watch in horror as Julia Roberts attends her very young friend’s wedding, knowing that the girl didn’t want to get married and wanted to go to school instead, and actually doesn’t try to stop the wedding in any way whatsoever?   I could not understand why she would just let that happen and not do something, even if it meant helping her friend run away.   However, the quote makes a good point of how we can't just go and make drastic changes without taking the social, cultural, economic (etc.) consequences into account.   Without taking the larger picture into account, changes would be short-lived.

The article also mentions how in many cultures, marriages based on love are considered foolish:

The very idea that young women have a right to select their own partners–that choosing whom to marry and where to live ought to be personal decisions, based on love and individual will–is still regarded in some parts of the world as misguided foolishness… young people following transient impulses of the heart.

While I can understand parents not wanting their children to marry based on an impractical and fairy tale-based love, as is often portrayed in movies, it does not have to be one extreme or the other.   There are more solutions to this than just having village elders arrange marriages and deciding other people’s fates.   I’m not trying to say that arranged marriages should not be an option.   My point is just that marriage can also be a practical choice made by men and women when they are old enough and experienced in the nuances of life.   For women, however, the biggest obstacle is that these experiences are most often not allowed.   Instead, women are “protected” from the outside world within the confines of their homes.   Without being able to gain much experience in the outside world, women do not gain the necessary practical knowledge needed to make many real life decisions.

I could probably go on and on about things mentioned in this article, but I will end with a comment on this excerpt:

The sheikh made various pronouncements concerning marriage. He said no father ever forces his daughter to marry against her will. He said the medical dangers of early childbirth were greatly exaggerated. He said initiation to marriage was not necessarily easy, from the bride's point of view, but that it was pointless to become agitated about this. "Of course every girl gets scared the first night," the sheikh said. "She gets used to it. Life goes on."

Why do people think that we, as women, do not deserve any sexual agency?   The reason girls in such situations are scared of sex, is because they are being raped.   Just because you force a girl to get married, does not mean she is actually consenting to sex with her husband.   Of course she will be scared.   However, the sheikh’s comment disregards the ability of a woman to choose to have sex with someone she wants to share that experience with.   Which she has every right to do, just as men do.