The Child Bride

I came across a slideshow on Foreign Policy Magazine’s website this morning that I wanted to share with the L&P audience.   It is entitled The Young and the Betrothed and shows pictures of young girls in Afghanistan getting married.   The slideshow includes some striking images and shares stories of girls getting married as early as ten years old, and getting engaged as early as one year old.   The article presents poverty as one of the main justifications for getting girls married at such young ages, especially since daughters are considered to be financial burdens in poor countries like Afghanistan.   One father mentioned in the article presented it as having no other choice.   Without proper social or economic opportunities, and with a culture that is not very tolerant of women in the workforce, women are unable to support themselves, and have to rely on either their parents or husbands to financially support them.

An additional argument I have heard for getting girls married at a very young age is to protect them from unwanted sexual activity, especially through rape.   In societies where women and girls are not respected, it is difficult to prevent them from being raped without having a male guardian, or husband, to protect them.

Since I do not live in a society where poverty is so dire, or where needing to protect girls constantly is a necessity, I have a hard time justifying child marriages, regardless of the reasons behind it.   And even if child marriage is a “necessity” in certain situations, I cannot fathom why it often consists of such a large age gap.   One of the images in the slideshow is of an eight year old girl on the day of her engagement to a fifty-five year old man.   Poverty or not, how can we justify such a young girl getting married to someone who could be her grandfather’s age?

While this slideshow does show images of Afghani girls specifically, I do not want to single out any particular culture through this post.   Rather, I want to discuss another issue surrounding young girls that needs to be changed worldwide.   There are many factors that can help the plight of young girls in similar situations.   Eradicating poverty is probably the most obvious.   But changing the mindset around girls is just as important.   While societal conditions will always present constraints to individuals, it will be impossible to change those conditions until people start to fight back against social pressures.   I understand that most parents do not want their children to be the sacrificial guinea pigs in trying to change a society, but if one is getting their daughter married at the age of ten, is there really that much to lose by fighting against societal norms and sending your daughter to school or work instead?   Or just as one expects a girl’s husband to financially support her, why can’t her brother do so instead until she is at an age appropriate for marriage (obviously a woman supporting herself is the best option if that is viable).

The article states that the Afghan Women’s Ministry estimates that “…57 percent of Afghan girls get married before the legal age of 16.”   I’m not sure what the answer is to fighting poverty or protecting girls from rape, but I don’t believe that child marriage is the solution.   At the age of eight, or even fourteen, girls are not supposed to be having forced sex with older men, or bearing children.   Instead, their childhoods should be a time for them to develop emotionally, mentally and intellectually.   Whether child marriages are a result of irresponsible parents, societal pressures, economic constraints, or more likely a combination of all of these and more, we should work to eliminate both the “need” for, and acceptability of, child marriages in all societies.