According to the United Nations, in 2015 approximately 14.2 million girls will be forced to marry.
When I talk about these 14.2 million girls, I’m asked many questions. The most striking is if we should excuse child marriage as a cultural practice.
Kate Gillmore, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has an answer. She says that when we tolerate child marriage by assuming “it’s somehow excused under the guise of tradition or made more acceptable under terms that we believe are central to our own identities, we make of marriage potentially a prison.”
A prison. Child marriage is a prison, and right now there are 14.2 million girls awaiting their 2015 sentencing.
When a girl marries, she loses her childhood and the prospect of a life of agency and autonomy. If she was in school before marriage, her new husband will make her drop out. He won’t let her interact with her unmarried peers, so she’ll live in isolation in his home. As a child, she’ll fumble as she tries to cook, clean and mimic the behaviors of adult women. Her husband, who is raising his own wife, may beat her for something as simple as burning dinner.
Regardless of her age, her husband will have sex with her. Population Council research found that 81% of surveyed married girls in Amhara, Ethiopia described their first sexual encounter with their husbands as forced. If she becomes pregnant, her life is in danger: the World Health Organization (WHO) affirms that pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death of girls in lower income countries. If she does survive, she’ll hand in her doll for a baby whose origins she may not understand. She’ll have more than one child, and more children than she can afford because she lacks access to family planning and the autonomy of her own body.
Simply stated, a child bride’s life is stolen from her by an adult man. And she is they- and they are millions.
As a global community, we must stop justifying this atrocity through culture.
Instead, we must exercise our collective effort to keep girls out of a marital prison and in school. How? For those not directly involved in this work, Girls Not Brides offers information on who is involved so that others can offer support. And social media helps generate support of donors who see the interest in combatting child marriage. #childmarriage is a powerful hashtag.
As we celebrate 2015, let’s remember that 14.2 million girls are about to lose their lives to child marriage. These are prisoners worth fighting for.