A precious life lost, known to the world only as Rawan from NorthWestern Yemen, Eight(8) year old Rawan died from internal bleeding sustained on her wedding night after being forced to marry a 40 year old man. As ghastly as this sounds and as heartbreaking as it was to read, it served as a harsh reminder and focused the spotlight on a prevalent gut-wrenching issue children, especially young girls face in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, that of child marriages.
Unicef.org defines Child Marriage as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18. This is applicable to both sexes but more prevalent amongst young girls. I have stated in my previous article that children are to be clothed, fed, educated, protected and afforded all the other rights of a child, it is their God given right and a parents’ responsibility to do so. Anything outside of that is a clear violation of the convention of the rights of the child(http://www.childinfo.org/files/SOWC_SpecEd_CRC_ExecutiveSummary_EN_091009.pdf). Child Marriages go against this principle in every way, shape and form and consequently leads to negative psychological, emotional and physical damage.
Delving even further into what these children experience, married girls are often pressured to become pregnant immediately, they are forced to drop out of school, leaving them uneducated and unable to make a meaningful contribution to society. Children married young have no rights and are often subject to sexual and physical abuse. Children whom conceive early also experience complications in pregnancy and childbirth. These are the main causes of death among adolescent girls and leaves babies prone to disabilities. Among the disabilities associated with early child birth is obstetric fistula, an injury which leaves girls in constant pain, vulnerable to infection, incontinent(involuntary excretion of bowel contents) and often shunned by their husband, families and communities. If this isn’t dismal enough, they are also prone to contracting sexually transmitted infections http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/publications/2012/ChildMarriage_2_chapter1.pdf.
According to unicef.org, the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are: Niger, 75 per cent; Chad and Central African Republic, 68 per cent; Bangladesh, 66 per cent; Guinea, 63 per cent; Mozambique, 56 per cent; Mali, 55 per cent; Burkina Faso and South Sudan, 52 per cent; and Malawi, 50 per cent. It is easy to read statistics and just as easy to forget them, so I’ll do one better, meet these children.
Meet Ilham Mahdi al Assi, a 13-year-old Yemeni girl who was forced into marriage, she died five days after her wedding when she suffered a rupture in her sex organs and haemorrhaging
Minors: Tahani (front), 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada (rear), 8, and her husband outside their home in Hajjah, Yemen
Disturbing: Faiz, 40 (left), and Ghulam (right), 11, sit in her home prior to their wedding in the rural Damarda Village, Afghanistan on September 11, 2005
Shocking: Portrait of Said, 55, and Roshan, 8, on the day of their engagement, Afghanistan
Remember these faces, they represent your potential sister, daughter, niece, friend or granddaughter.Now picture them going through what young Rawan or Ilham Mahdi al Assi went through. Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). If current levels of child marriages hold, 14.2 million girls annually or 39,000 daily will marry too young, 50 million will be under the age of 15. This translates to the potential for another 50 million Rawan’s, young, inexperienced, forced into a marriage where they will robbed of a fair chance to accomplish their goals, fulfil their dreams, experience life, live, love, learn and make a meaningful contribution to society. I wont exhaust this article with facts surrounding why this is still so prevalent despite a wealth of information on the negative implications of keeping up this practice. This is being written with the sole intention of exposing the plight of these children.
It is the ugly truth no one wants to face, we often read headlines of children being abused in one way or the other and the grim nature of the article prompts us to shake our head in despair. We do not want to read about something so barbaric being committed on someone so young and innocent. At times, we exclaim it is ‘their’ culture, ‘their’ norms, if they do not attempt to action change, how can we help them? I dare to say we can help them, by highlighting the prevalence and incongruous experiences these children undergo, change must begin somewhere.
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