Let Girls Be Girls.
By: Nancy Saili
Growing up my young brother wasn’t always the smartest when it came to school. But mum wasn’t going to give up on him. She pushed him to a point where she would stay up all night and study/revise with him. I believe this had a lot to do with the fact that he is male. People say “It’s okay even if she doesn’t make it. She is a girl, her husband will take care of her.” as if women marry for survival. I wonder isn’t the world tired of women constantly depending on men financially? Aren’t girls fade up of just being thought of as beautiful? Why is it so bad for a girl to want to be more than just a cute face?
Sure almost every girl dreams of that one moment when they will walk down the aisle in that beautiful white Cinderella ball dress in a room full of their loved ones and not a single dry eye as she graciously walks down the aisle to meet the one. But the perfectness in that moment is that it comes at the right time and with the right person. Her time. But some girls are not so lucky to choose.
According to an info graphic produced by “girls not brides,” over 700 million alive today where married as children, with an estimated 15 million girls married every year before they reach the age of 18. Child marriages happen all around the world with the highest child marriage rate being around 46% in South Asia.
The major cause of this problem is poverty and lack of knowledge. In rural areas, a bride price is seen as a high source of income by most of these girl’s parents. And when they marry off their children, they feel they are doing her good. But the problem is that these girls go from being brides to slaves. According to the “anti-slavery” peice, looking at how children enter marriage, how they are treated during marriage, and whether they are able to leave or dissolve the marriage if they so wish to are ways of knowing whether a child marriage has turned to slavery or not. If a child has not been given the free, full and informed consent to enter the marriage: if the child is subjected to control through abuse and threats, forced to do domestic chores and have non-consensual sexual relations: if the child is unable to leave or end the marriage it is safe to say she is a slave not a bride.
Early marriage robs them of not only the right to education but also to a childhood. Early marriages are highly associated with dropping out of school and this mostly as a result of gender inequality where girls are seen as less important than boys. In developing countries, many child brides have had little or no formal education and enter marriage with no work or source of income. Their lower levels of education as compared to men affects their share in formal employment. In most African homes if the man of the house dies, it spells doom for the family left behind. With issues of property grabbing and illiteracy women are plunged back into poverty which holds their families and communities back. Child marriage is a violation of human rights, as girls have the right to education, health and to choose when and whom they will marry. Child marriage opens up a very cruel world for young girls. They are at risk of facing physical, sexual, emotional and psychological violence. Girls should be given the chance to just be girls, to enjoy childhood, they have to know that the communities they live in care about their wellbeing and support their development.
On a holiday in Angola recently, I met a woman who was married at the age of 15. Maggie* was told she was going to boarding in Angola from Zambia. She unknowingly stayed a week in her mother in-law’s house believing she was staying with her mother’s friend while she waited for schools to open. But later she was informed that the man who had been visiting her mother’s friend was actually her husband and she was made to move in with him immediately. And even though she says she is comfortably married, child marriage is still wrong. It is important that we all fight to end child marriages. Putting an end to child marriages will require ensuring that young girls and their families are well aware of these girls rights and the dangers of child marriages. There’s need for public awareness and strong laws that protect against child marriages. This should also focus on changing attitudes of the people and communities by making sure everyone is well aware and well informed. Education is a key factor in ending child marriages. Education empowers girls and opens then to many opportunities which lessens the possibility of them being forced into early marriages or trafficked. We must care for girls education as we do for boys. Teach girls that being just a pretty face is not enough. That it is okay to want to be more and work towards achieving their dreams. Open up opportunities that engage girls and safe places where they can air out their views and be heard. Not every girl has been lucky to escape or prevent early marriage therefore there’s need to support and protect girls that are still married and those who face pressure of being married. We also need to support and join organizations and activities that aim at fighting and putting an end to child marriages.
*Maggie not real name