Seema, a young 15 year old wide eyed girl enters my clinic, I notice her walk in as she holds a sick baby in her arms. I asked her who the mother was?
“I am the mother, this is my baby, I was married last year because that is how it works.”
I remember asking her does she go to school? “No, that has never been an option.”
“Where is your husband?” She briefly stared at me and said nothing. I had to stop my questioning here because I realised I must question the ones who put her into this instead.
Child brides? Yes, you read that right! There are young girls still facing this harsh reality in the 21st century! The highest burden lies in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean with high risk countries being Bangladesh, Burkino, Faso, India, Ethiopia, Nepal, Yemen, Zambia, Niger, Brazil and Mexico. Child marriage threatens the well-being of young girls especially in the marginalized groups, rural & semi-urban areas and ghettos. Child marriages disproportionately affect girls more than boys due to poverty, cultural & religious customs, illiteracy, child bride price, dowry among many other reasons. It is a violation of human rights and child protection laws reflecting prominent gender bias & gender inequality.
Young girls fall out of schools and education is a challenge leading to compromised literacy levels. Child brides are more vulnerable to exploitation, spousal violence and sexual abuse. ‘One in five girls are married below the age of 15 in South Asia.’ Recent DHS surveys show India & Bangladesh have the highest global burden of child brides (partly due to high number population statistics). Although, the below 15 year age group is seeing a downward trend worldwide, the 15-18 year age group child marriages are still highly prevalent. Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region where child marriages are disappearing slower than the other global “hotspots”, thus occupying the second place in the world in the number of teenage pregnancies according to UNICEF survey reports.
Sacrificing young girls to harsh cultural norms & social beliefs in a patriarchal society has to cease. It plays a major role in bringing worse outcomes in health and economic aspects of any country. Exposing young adolescent girls to marriages leads to younger mothers & pregnancy, enhanced maternal morbidity, undernourished infants & increased infant mortality, these factors hinder the pillars of progress and development.
Intersection of multiple complex factors come into play, so where do we target to stop this? Despite the nuisance, the investments made into this sector have been limited. Combination of legal resources, social workers and non-profit organisation with tight screening and tracking of existing child protection laws & policies can pull the young girls out of risk groups. Sustained collaboration of stakeholders like the society, cultural groups, communities, governments, national & international agency investments will bring the massive change needed to stop the abuse on young girls & boys. The UNICEF & UNFPA have joint efforts to stop child marriages by the year 2030 with ‘the global programme to end child marriages’. However, the unfortunate “covid19 pandemic” has emerged as a major challenge; thus endangering the already vulnerable girls, pushing back the efforts of sustainable development goals of gender equality, education & poverty making the progress partially abstract.
*Names changed for confidentiality reasons*
If you find yourself a witness or a victim? Contact helplines
CARE India – +91 120 404 8250
Breakthrough – Hazaribagh, Lane No.-05, Gandhi Nagar (West), Matwari, Hazaribag-825301, Jharkhand, India
FAWE (pan-African NGO) – +254 20 77 30537 /+254 20 25 97919 /+254 714 60 6629
Humanium International – https://www.humanium.org/en/helpline/
Saarthi Trust India – +91 78910-22224
Latin America & Caribbean – https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/
Bangladesh – https://www.hopeforbangladesh.org/
Dr. Harsha Kumari
“I realized that the barrier to girls’ education isn’t just resources. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs – the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education; that women should have no role outside the home; that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter, and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard”.
– First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama