Peace and the Tradition of Child Marriage
As Methodists enter into the Christmas season, they are surrounded by many convivial and cheerful traditions. Methodists have a sense of well-being and comfort in these traditions and in the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace. The Virgin Mary’s child, Jesus, charged us with being peacemakers when he said “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God,”(Matthew 5:9, New Revised Standard Version) and during this time, women are especially bearers of love and harmony.
But a crucial, global problem needs addressing – and eradicating – to promote comforting homes in all faiths this holiday season: child marriage. Every year, it is estimated that more than 10 million girls will be forced to become wives through the practice of child marriage, said a report by the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. It is an epidemic that cuts across borders, cultures, religions and race.
In addition to myriad other travesties, child marriage robs a girl of her childhood – necessary time to develop physically, emotionally and psychologically. In fact, early marriage inflicts great emotional stress due to a young woman’s ejection from her parents' home to that of her husband and in-laws, according to UNICEF, the United Nations’ child protection organization.
A child bride’s husband – often many years her senior – will have little in common with her; it is with this strange man this young woman must develop an intimate emotional and physical relationship. She is obliged to have intercourse, although physically she might not be fully developed. And after premature intercourse often comes early pregnancy. Eliminating child marriage could save 166,000 infant lives, wrote former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and World Economic Forum advisor in a Reuters op-ed.
Marrying too early
Child marriage also destroys the dignity and the felicity of women. Child brides are more likely to suffer both mental and physical domestic abuse; more likely to show signs of child sexual abuse and post traumatic stress; have lower status in the household; and become isolated from their peers or support networks than their unmarried peers or peers who marry as adults, according to “Child Marriage: What We Know,” a special from the PBS news show NOW.
In every corner of the globe, girls are forced into the role of brides too early. The numbers are astonishing: Southeast Asia has a rate of 48 percent of girls married before 18; in Africa that number is 42 percent; and in Latin America it is 29 percent, according to NOW. It is illegal for anyone to marry before the age of 18 in India, yet India still has one of the highest rates of child brides in the world – 18 percent of the girls in India were married by the time they were 15, and 47 percent were married by the time were 18. The economic betterment of families was the main reason behind child marriage.
The sub-Sahara African country of Niger has the highest rate of child brides in the world. In 2012, 36 percent of girls in the country were married before they were 15, and 75 percent will be married before they turn 18, according to Girls Not Brides, a program of the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. In Niger, several factors contribute to the high rate of child brides.
- Hunger: The prolonged drought Sub-Saharan Africa has endured – in combination with the high fertility rates – there is, often times, not enough food to share among families. When a family marries a girl off, it no longer has to provide food for her.
- Finances: The dowry paid for a bride can support the remaining family members, according to a NBC News Report.
- Lack of education for women and few economic opportunities for them, make daughters an economic liability for many families and thus, a target for early marriage.
Relief for child brides
There is relief for child brides on the horizon. On the first annual International Day of the Girl on October 11, 2012, the United Nations announced a new campaign to end child marriage worldwide by 2030. “I give my commitment to work for the abolition of child marriage. That commitment is my dream, and I want it to be equal to the commitment that I had when I fought against apartheid,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the announcement. That day, the United Nations Population Fund released its report “Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage,” which highlighted the problem of child marriage, and called for action, including for all governments to raise the legal age of marriage to 18.
Humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are also doing their part. Tino, an Ethiopian girl who inherited her older sister’s widower at age nine now speaks out against child marriage through the healthy unions program of CARE, a leading global humanitarian NGO. Rubina, a Pakistani girl who got married at 12 to a boy her age – and suffered abuse from her mother-in-law – is now an advocate against child marriage through ActionAid, which partners with destitute people around the world to lift them out of poverty.
There has even been an increase in the number of localized programs to fight child marriage in many other parts of the world – of those, 23 have documented attempts to measure changes in behavior, attitudes or education related to child marriage, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). Problems with the access of child brides for these programs, however, include program size, small scope (many programs reach fewer than 5000 participants) and the fact that only five of 23 programs directly address child marriage.
More help is needed from the United Methodist Women to help end child marriage, however. Here are some actions you can take during this season of peace and love:
- Urge your representative to support H.R. 6087: The International; Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2012.
- Watch the PBS documentary Child Brides | Stolen Lives; look at How You Can Help on that site.
- Visit girlsnotbrides.org, a global partnership to end child marriage. Become a part of that movement.
- Read the Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (2008), pages, 526-533, Resolution 3445 “The Status of Women."