Growing up, there was a Northern family who lived in my father’s backyard. It was a family of 2 girls, both in their teens. The elder was 16 years old when she was given away in marriage. When I asked questions, I gathered she had been betrothed from a much early age but her betroth chose to keep her in her parents’ house for grooming. I couldn’t understand this. So I wondered what age exactly she must have been betrothed and if she would have been aware of what happened at the ceremony or the giveaway agreement, as I choose to call it, or if she would even understand what it meant to be married.
Child marriage is one of the bone-marrow hurting things I would never understand in this life. Not only for the obvious fact that girls who marry before age 18 are typically denied an education but they are at high risk of complications related to premature childbearing, and more vulnerable to intimate partner violence. A girl who still sees herself as needing orders and looks to older people for directions is suddenly subjected to a life of timidity and submission and this is not even in line with the type of submission the Bible talks about. This is more like the “Dominance and Submission” relationship.
I enjoyed watching the movie Wives on Strike because it addresses the issue of early child marriage and shows how helpless some literate parents can be against this act. A girl-child, before twelve or at her early teen years, is giving out in early marriage to friends of parents, benefactors, visitors, strangers or betrothed to local hero or cleric. In some cases, she is forced to marry an older man in his 50s or 60s. Many of the girls who find themselves in this situation who then become mothers meet their untimely death through the practice of early marriage. Let’s also not forget the parents who throw their young daughters away into this horrid lifestyle. Needless also to say that in this part of the world, once a girl is married, packing out of her matrimonial home is not even an option except, of course, if she’s figured it all out in some miraculous way. Otherwise, she is laced with rejected and abandoned first and foremost by her parents. Again, love and care, acceptance and understanding begins from the family. When these crucial elements are not there, life is almost impossible to survive for the average girl.
There is no limit to the devastating consequences of child marriage on a girl’s health. It encourages the initiation of sexual activity at an age when girls’ bodies are still developing and when they know little about their rights or their sexual and reproductive health.
Gone is the era where parents should feel the need to justify the denial of the right of a girl child just because they think they will be bringing shame to the family if well enlightened. Yet we still have some parents who believe that women who are at the same level of education as the men are a disgrace to the community because more often than not, they will not get married. Early marriage is just not the answer to eradicate some of these outlandish fears. Every individual, no matter now young, have the right to life and choices under the right amount of awareness and knowledge.
We should lend our voices, as parents, as mothers, as concerned citizens of the world, to prevent child marriages now. We could dramatically improve the maternal and child health outcomes for millions of girls and women all across the world.