The Issue of Child Brides
In almost every country in the world, millions of young girls are forced to marry men who are much older than them. In many cases, these girls are not allowed to make the decision to marry, or not to marry on their own. Even if these girls were able to decide, they are children and do not have the mental capacity to make such adult decisions. They are stripped of their childhood, given away as property, forced to be subservient to their husbands, and grow into oppressed women. They are sexually, physically, and mentally abused and exploited. Not only is this dangerous for the girls involved, but it also greatly affects society as a whole. The issue of child brides is a global crisis that must be addressed in order to protect these child victims.
In order to prevent these marriages from occurring, one must understand why these marriages take place. In many societies, typically patriarchal societies, daughters are viewed as a liability. Families in these societies often want to get rid of their daughters as soon as possible, and the easiest way to do this is to marry them off. By marrying their daughters off, families pass all financial responsibility to the groom and his family. Since older adult men typically have an established career, they are the best candidate to take on the responsibility of a child bride (Child). In exchange for this financial burden, the men receive a submissive young bride to bear children, satisfy his sexual desires, and take care of the household (Fanning). Recently, the number of child brides in Asia has risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and must rid themselves of the financial burden of a daughter. Because of this, the work of people who advocate for these girls has been undone (Child). These girls need the help of the world now more than ever.
Although the child bride crisis is mainly an issue of child protection, it must be looked at as a women’s rights issue as well. As stated in the article, Early Marriage and Women’s Empowerment: The Case of Child-Brides in Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia, “Women, especially those who marry as children, experience various forms and degrees of exclusion and discrimination. Early marriage is a harmful traditional practice that continues to affect millions around the world” (Abera 1). Women who were married before the age of eighteen face more adversity than those who were married as adults is solidified in the findings of the study conducted by BMC International Health and Human Rights. This study found that women who were child brides are more likely to experience abuse from their spouse than women who marry after their eighteenth birthday. The study found that women who marry after eighteen are considered to be stronger and more empowering. . These women were also more involved in household decisions rather than having to submit to their husband’s choices as child brides do (Abrea). Clearly, the continuation of child brides keeps women in a submissive state and helps to continue domestic abuse .
Although these young girls are children, they are expected to leave their childhoods behind in order to become the ideal wife for their husbands and their families. They are ripped from school, not given the opportunity to make friends or develop opinions, and are forced to grow up before their childhoods have begun. They are placed in new homes and must immediately assume their new role, often doing the most unsavory household tasks. As stated in Married Too Young, “As the newest member of the family, she’s assigned the most difficult household chores. Typically, she must cook, clean, wash clothes, and trek long distances to fetch water and firewood. Some even suffer beatings from their new husbands. Some girls work in slave-like conditions, too timid to speak up to their husbands or in-laws” (Fanning 1). On top of these slave-like conditions, they are expected to satisfy their husband’s sexual desires whenever he demands and bear children as soon as possible, sometimes as young as twelve years old. These young girls are forced to be sexually intimate with their adult husbands or face being beaten or sent to live on the streets. (Fanning). These girls are forced to put their bodies through the trauma of childbirth and raise an infant all before the age of eighteen.
Although it is easier to think that these types of marriages only happen in third-world countries, this is not the case. It is true that India has the most child bride cases in the world, however, there are cases in almost all countries including America (Burris). Underage marriage is still legal in several states. The fact that it is legal for these marriages to happen shows how little protection there is for young girls who may become victims of this practice. Thankfully, child marriage has fallen out of favor in the eyes of society in the western world, even though they still occur. Unfortunately, this was not always the case. Child marriage was widely accepted by society until recent times, as illustrated in American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States by Nicholas L. Syrett, “Mayne Reid was not seen by his contemporaries as a sexual predator, nor did Elizabeth Hyde’s family prevent the union from occurring. Once they married, Mayne and Elizabeth’s relationship was considered fully acceptable, both legally and socially” (Berman 1). This quote speaks about the marriage between thirty-five-year-old Mayne and fifteen-year-old Elizabeth in 1853. Clearly, this is an issue of the past and present of America. It is important to understand that this crisis is occurring in even the most developed countries and therefore needs to be addressed at a global scale.
Although there are laws in place in India to protect these young girls from becoming child brides, these laws are ineffective. Unlike in America, eastern countries have different views on child brides as a society. The belief is that it is not morally wrong to marry young girls off to older men and that doing this will be beneficial to the girl and her family. Based on studies and accounts of the girls who were subject to such marriages, this is not the case. (Burris). As stated in Why Domestic Institutions Are Failing Child Brides: A Comparative Analysis of India’s and the United States, “For many of these countries with a high prevalence of child marriage, social and cultural values hold more weight in the community than state-enacted law; thus, domestic legislation banning child marriage is weakly enforced”(Burris 153). Because this practice is so ingrained in their society and these countries have very patriarchal social structures, society turns a blind eye to the laws against child brides. The law enforcers often turn a blind eye to reports of marriage between an adult man and young girls taking place (Burris). Because of this, children in these countries are not protected by the laws that were meant to protect them.
In order to combat the failing laws and lack of protection for these girls, there are arguments that state that these girls should be protected by the International Labour Organization because of the child labor they are forced to perform in their new households, such as caring for elderly relatives, performing household chores, fetching water, and other tasks that would be difficult for any child to perform. If child brides were protected under child labor laws, it would make child brides less attractive to prospective husbands by removing the free labor aspect (Şişli). Although this idea has the potential to provide an extra layer of protection for young girls at risk of becoming child brides, it is likely that these laws would also be ignored by society. Even if the International Labour Organization decided to work against this issue, the families could simply continue with marriage in secret.
Although laws against child marriages are needed, the greatest hope for the girls who are at risk of becoming child brides is Payal Jangrid. Payal was almost a victim of child marriage in India, she was rescued by activists who fought against the practice of child brides and also fought against her own marriage. Payal challenges the views of the tradition of child marriage and now fights to raise the voices of other young girls. Payal, now eighteen, is on a mission to educate young girls and families in rural areas of India. She teaches children to be their own advocate and to speak up for themselves even if no one else will. In 2013, Payal was elected leader of her village’s Child Parliament and was able to publicly speak out against this practice and call for change. Now, Payal is studying to become a teacher and was able to eradicate child marriage from her village through education and advocacy. She hopes to spread her message and her story across the world (Graf). Payal’s story is an inspiration for other child bride victims. She not only proves that it is possible to escape the statistic of becoming a child bride, but she also proves that it is possible to change the views of the societies that glorify these marriages and hopefully one day end them permanently.
These children are not only ripped away from their families, their education, their friends, and their childhood, they are also exploited and viewed as property rather than as human beings. Although there are laws that are meant to protect these girls in some countries, not all places have these laws. Even in places that have such laws, they are often ignored by society and by law enforcers. This is a global crisis that does not have enough awareness, especially in the western world. The continuation of this practice perpetuates other global issues such as gender inequality and domestic abuse by continuing the idea that women and girls are goods to be traded and should assume a submissive role in the household. Fortunately, there are activist groups and leaders like Payal Jangrid who are working hard to change the views of society in the eastern world. However, this will not be enough to save all of the girls who are at risk of becoming a child bride. This is a global issue that must be addressed at a global scale for the sake of the girls it affects.
Abera, Mikyas, et al. “Early Marriage and Women’s Empowerment: The Case of Child-Brides in Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia.” BMC International Health & Human Rights, vol. 20, no. 1, Dec. 2020, pp. 1–16. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1186/s12914-020-00249-5.
Berman, Cassandra N. “American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States by Nicholas L. Syrett (Review).” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 38, no. 3, Sept. 2018, pp. 578–580. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/jer.2018.0065.
Burris, Camellia. “Why Domestic Institutions Are Failing Child Brides: A Comparative Analysis of India’s and the United States’ Legal Approaches to the Institution of Child Marriage.” Tulane Journal of International and Comparative Law, vol. 23, no. 1, 2014, pp. 151–176. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=edshol&AN=edshol.hein.journals.tulicl23.9&site= eds-live&scope=site.
“‘Child Brides Rise in Asia amid Pandemic.’” Eastern Eye, no. 1575, 11 Sept. 2020, p. 23. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=f6h&AN=145633661&site=eds- live&scope=site.
Fanning, Karen. “Married Too Young.” Scholastic Scope, vol. 50, no. 3, Oct. 2001, p. 19. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=f6h&AN=5275891&site=eds- live&scope=site.
Graf, Christine. “Raising Their Voices against Child Marriage.” Faces, vol. 35, no. 4, Jan. 2019, p. 30. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=prh&AN=133515759&site=eds- live&scope=site.
Şişli, Zeynep, and Stephanie A. Limoncelli. “Child Brides or Child Labor in a Worst Form?” Journal of Labor & Society, vol. 22, no. 2, June 2019, pp. 313–324. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1111/wusa.12407.