Last night at a holiday party, amid Christmas cookies and carols, I was thinking about child brides. To be honest, I didn’t want to think about child brides; I just wanted to enjoy the party. But child marriage became personal to me in Ethiopia. Since that moment I’m constantly aware of how very interconnected my life is with that of the millions of girls forced into marriage.
Child marriage became personal when I was conducting a life skills program with young women. After asking about the women’s expectations, one particularly engaged woman stood up and told her story. Married around age 11, she was repeatedly raped and beaten by the man who is still her husband. “I just want to know,” she said with a firm but emotional voice, “how to make my life bearable.”
About two years after her marriage, she gave birth to her first child. I estimated ages, figuring that she must be somewhere between her mid-twenties and her early thirties. Then I came to a haunting conclusion: this woman was my peer.
To me personally, the greatest injustice remains that we stood side-by-side in Ethiopia, me with my life of dignity and she, in her own words, “with no life at all.” What would her life look like if she wasn’t forced to marry? If she wasn’t forced to get pregnant? If she was able to go to school and make her own decisions?
Her life just might look a lot like mine.
As 2016 approaches, I’m asking myself how we as a global community can help current and former child brides create lives of dignity among the most undignified circumstances. We must continue to work to end child marriage, but we can’t forget the millions of girls and women for whom that end is too late. Ejected from their familial homes and forced to live in a marital prison, child brides have voices that we aren’t hearing. My New Year’s wish is that 2016 is the year that we starting listening.
In 2016 nothing will change for child brides unless we decide to take action. Through social media we can hold humanitarian organizations accountable to this population while supporting those who are acting. The TESFA program, funded by the Nike Foundation and implemented by Care International, is working with married adolescent girls in Ethiopia. Your support, whether through a donation or through a tweet, tells Care that we are behind them. More importantly, it tells the world that we are behind child brides, that our humanity is interwoven with theirs, because we could have shared their destiny- and they should have shared ours.
Photo Credit: UNICEF