First of all, here’s a link from Howie to a petition to prevent child marriage in Yemen. This was launched in response to the appalling story of an eight year old girl who died of internal bleeding following her marriage to a man in his 40s.
Girls in Afghanistan face similar dangers. Here is part of a recent report from RAWA which focuses on the health problems caused by early marriage and childbirth:
Child marriage remains common in Afghanistan, increasing the likelihood of early pregnancy, which heightens the risk of death and injury in childbirth. According to a 2010 mortality survey by the Ministry of Public Health, 53 percent of women in the 25-49 age group were married by the age of 18; 12 percent of Afghan girls aged 15-19 became pregnant or gave birth; and 47 percent of deaths of women aged 20 to 24 were related to pregnancy. It found that one Afghan woman died every two hours because of pregnancy.
Child marriage and early pregnancy also contributes to fistula, a preventable childbirth injury in which prolonged labor creates a hole in the birth canal. A 2011 government report found that 25 percent of the women and girls diagnosed with fistula were younger than 16 when they married and 17 percent were under 16 when they first gave birth. Fistula leaves one leaking urine or feces, and often results in social ostracism, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses for treatment, and depression. Left untreated, fistula can cause further serious medical problems, even death.
On a rather more heartening note, here’s an interesting video about a positive initiative in Bangladesh, led by children themselves. It’s good to hear one girl’s parents explain how they became convinced that their daughter should not, after all, be married off – now she looks set to fulfil her ambition to become a nurse.
Although several Muslim countries have unproblematic age of consent laws, others have ambiguous legislation, as is the case in Malaysia, or no minimum threshold at all, like Saudi Arabia. The (contested) age of Aisha on marriage is sometimes invoked as part of the justification for permitting, even encouraging, the marriage of very young girls. But although sometimes reform of such laws is resisted on the grounds it would be ‘unislamic’ others dispute this.
And of course there are problems associated with very early marriage in non-Muslim cultures too. Here’s a post about the Roma ‘king’, who died recently; his views on this topic, like those of the Bangladeshi couple, shifted after his own daughter rebelled against the practice:
In 2003, as his 12-year-old daughter was preparing for marriage, the family openly talked about how Ana Maria would stop going to school once she was married. That may have been why she fled the church in front of 400 astonished guests – many of them members of the media invited to experience Roma culture.
She tearfully returned a few minutes later and was duly married off. The ensuing uproar over the wedding became a pivotal moment for Cioaba. The couple was separated after the ceremony and did not live together. Cioaba later pushed for education for Roma girls and began preaching that they should not be married until they were 16, aligning Roma tradition with Romanian law.
India is another country where child brides are a major concern. Here’s part of a sarcastic response from an Indian feminist:
Indian girls must marry young because the younger they are, the lesser their chances of having interacted with the opposite sex. This in turn increases the chances that they are virgins and hence they will be pure, untouched and unadulterated. What’s more, they won’t be needing any creams to “feel like a virgin” – which must surely be one of the most important things in life. Plus, young girls are more frisky, flexible and nubile, which will of course please their husbands – not to mention, more fertile and one needn’t worry about the biological clock ticking away before a suitable heir is produced.
There! Now do you understand why we Indians must put an end to this utter nonsense about late marriages? Catch ‘em young, I say!
Recent reports have drawn attention to British Asian victims of abuse/grooming. Sunny Hundal addresses the issue in this thoughtful article:
You can round up a 100 Sikhs in an hour if they’re told that a Sikh woman was abused by a Muslim man, but you won’t get even 10 if they’re told a Sikh man had abused her. The same goes for Muslims. Across the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities, men care more about the involvement of men of other religions than simply tackling violence against women. And this is the real tragedy because, even though they claim to be protecting women, the real agenda is plain old bigotry.
I’ll end with an extract from a fantastic post by Huma Munshi on the same topic:
Reading the case studies at the end of this report is extremely difficult, but it should also be used as a call to arms. Indeed, it drove me start the #fuckhonour hashtag on Twitter on the day the report was launched and was the reason why I began the article with an expletive-ridden headline. Many will object to this; they would prefer polite discussion and no profanities but I disagree. Some truths drive you to roar like a lion. As an Asian Muslim woman who has experienced first-hand the impact of so-called “honour”, I will use the strongest possible terms to condemn these acts of abuse and violence.
The stories are horrific: vulnerable young people being let down by every area of society. Families and schools not willing to discuss sex and healthy relationships; the police who overlook Asian girls because they do not see them as “victims”; a culture of deafening silence in communities; a patriarchal system compounded by notions of “honour” and shame; and services that do not appreciate the specific barriers Asian young girls face when accessing support.