These characters are fictional but their problems are a common reality for many children. If this current trend continues, according to UNICEF (2014) more than 140 millions of girls will marry early in the next decade or nearly 40000 per day, not to mention boys.
So why child marriage happens?
52% of U-Reporters, see child marriage as the cause of early pregnancies and often it is justified as a solution for girls to prevent other related social problems. We focus on the cure rather than prevention. If it takes to eradicate early pregnancies to stop child marriage, we should be taking steps to improve our sex education. It has been a strong taboo even for well-established NGO’s to penetrate, but it seems the longer we run from it, the deeper in the woods we are. Such programs also have potential to address another common reason for marriage, where more than 31% of respondents referred to as avoiding punishment for Islamic offence of ‘khalwat’ (girl and boy being physically close without being legally married). Cultural and religious norms are the hardest to shape because they are deeply rooted into people’s perception of what is right or wrong, what works in their community and what does not. For instance, even change of law in India and Bangladesh did not help to eradicate child marriage due the social and traditional norms which are deeply rooted in society.
Is it acceptable for a person under 18 to get married?
70% No. The majority of answers has claimed that marriage is simply an irrational decision and it is to lead to divorce, financial restrictions, limited education freedoms, etc. But very few noted the physical risks of child pregnancy.
17% Not Sure. Most of the answers did not give impression of understanding the real threats of child marriage nor did they provide reasonable arguments against such. Many people claim that they do not know whether it is right or wrong as well as not wanting to judge others and stating that it is acceptable in certain situations. Those exemption situations included if you are mature/funded/rational/loving enough. However, those statements were made without considering the other side of the coin.
I suppose it is easier to educate and shape “Not sure” than a myth/culture/prejudice-backed “Yes”.
12% Yes. As expected, the most common answer was either related to religious understandings or the permissible age which is 16/27 as compared to younger age, while the rest in their answers were tend towards “not sure”. However, should any age below 18 be justified? Probably NO.
Negative consequences of Child Marriage
To sum up, each respondent on average, picked three answers each, which indicates that people actually see many dangers coming out of the issue, and not just one. More than every second individual chose “Dropping out of a school”, which after second thought seems very logical because if other effects might or might not happen, quitting school is almost inevitable for various reasons especially for girls. It also shows the strong belief in importance of education for everyone. “Health risks for the girl” was shockingly the least popular answer. Respondents have been surprised to see this option even being on the list. “Isn’t it a late pregnancy that is dangerous instead, not the early one?” - one of them replied. It makes it almost impossible that if public is indeed aware of true health threats but chooses not to pick it as a valid enough.
Do you know someone who is married under the age of 18?
Almost every second person knows someone who is a victim to child marriage. It shows that all people are aware of the issue but it is just top of the iceberg. The cases that surround us are not an exception but rather a reality for the general population regardless of urban or rural. Even if we consider the percentage to decrease with the larger number of U-Reporters, it still will remain undeniable and haunting.
What should authorities do to END child marriage?
“Education and awareness programs with parents, family, community” and “sex education in schools” were the most shared view among people responding to the issue. It is important that we do not only teach sensitive matters like this in schools but also having conversation with all the parties involved. School is important but it is not the only medium to address because child marriages are not always happening with children’s consent. People are demanding for the in-depth solutions at the grass-root levels, not only changes in law which should be a self-evident truth. It is also worth to note that NONE of the answers gained less than 50% so even the least popular pick (is still every 2nd respondent) worth attention because it is being believed in.
“Much of the atrocities that are committed towards Arab women occur partly because the victim does not know that she has a basic right for her body to be hers, for her privacy to be respected and for her education to be a necessity not a privilege…” - Aysha Taryam (2017), first female editor in UAE.
Today it is our responsibility to protect the youngest, the weakest, most oppressed members of our society - children, from making mistakes which affect not only their future and future of their families, but future of our country. You can make a change by starting conversation with those for whom it might be important today and by joining U-Report to make your voice and voice of your community heard.
Taryam, A. (2017, January 25). Off Arab screens millions marched for women. The Gulf Today. Retrieved July 05, 2018, from http://gulftoday.ae/portal/63600e2f-93e5-4939-aa68-148666260be3.aspx
UNICEF (2014). Ending Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects. New York: UNICEF