Our sisters around the world are plagued with the disease of child marriages, as we continue to pursue our American dream. Let’s think about them
She’s fourteen and from Libo kemkem, Ethiopia. She comes home from school one day to find that there are people in her house celebrating. Her mother comes over holding a dress, “Put this on, you’re getting married.”
Melka tries to run, but then they beat her and force her to marry. An old man. Four times older than she is. After the wedding, he starts pushing her toward the bedroom. He resists. She cries for help, she screams help, but no one listens to her.
Resist. Resist. Resist. “I don’t want to go to the bedroom!” “Help!” “Stop!” She fights with all her might. But her husband’s friend comes in and beats her. Suddenly, everything silences, and her body collapses.
Melka wakes up in the hospital with her whole body aching. Everything hurt so badly, she couldn’t move, she could barely even open her eyes. She’s there for thirty days. There, the nurses discover her illegal marriage and report what happened to her and the marriage gets annulled. Her stepfather, mother, and the man who she was forced to marry goes to jail. She had a somewhat lucky escape.
Today, Melka works at a school, teaching girls about their rights.
She asserts, “It was hard, but I’ve come out stronger… Now, I’m not afraid of anything anymore.”
As a fervent opponent against child marriage and an advocate for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation that works to help girls in Malawi, India, Ethiopia, and other countries with major human rights violations, I think to myself, “I am fifteen, what if I were them? I would have two children by now.”
Ending child marriage
If I go around asking people what the biggest issue in the world is, they would most likely answer poverty. Many say solving that takes precedent over ending child marriages.
We have done so much to end poverty. In 2000, the UN passed the Millennium Development Goals, and by 2015, it cut poverty by fifty percent in six of eight target countries. But we are missing a crucial point: investing in girls.
Child brides usually have more children and less proper medical care. For example, in Niger, only 11% of girls who marry before they turn fifteen deliver their babies in proper medical facilities. That is astonishing. Bearing children in unsafe areas without medical professionals can be extremely dangerous to the mother, likely leading to death.
If we continue to accelerate the decline of child marriage, girls would make better life decisions, bear less children, and be able to care for their children. If they are able to care for their children and themselves, the standard of life will increase and these girls can pursue secondary education that will lead to higher paying jobs. We would then drastically decrease poverty.
Child marriage is a manifestation of gender inequality
What do you want to be when you grow up?
While my answer fluctuates constantly between politician and surgeon, the girls in these countries who are forced to marry by fourteen also have similar dreams. But I often ponder, “What makes them different than me? Why do I have the opportunity to pursue my dreams and not them?” The truth is, child marriage is a manifestation of gender inequality, and so is the lack of secondary education for girls. When these girls have a proper secondary education, they can work in better jobs with better pay, marry later, and be able to care for their families.
But how do we do it? How do we stop girls from being married to men three times their age? The key is law enforcement. There are laws in place: in Ethiopia, girls are not able to be married before 18. But Melka was. This is a especially true in rural areas, traditional practices such as child marriage still occur countlessly, so it is absolutely critical to enforce already passed laws in order for them to be effective. One way to do so is prioritizing the effort of addressing issue of the lack of law enforcement in developing countries in the US Department of State and USAID.
We can also provide secondary education for these girls so they marry later. By supporting non-profit organizations such as UNICEF and the United Nations Foundation, and petitioning governments to make education more accessible and affordable, we can achieve that end. Education gives these girls a platform to change the world, it is the key to achieving aspirations. That is powerful.
Finally, for girls who are already married, it is absolutely imperative to increase access to reproductive healthcare. Childbirth is already extremely dangerous; we need to help these girls be safe by building clinics in villages and countries where this practice is prevalent.
It’s 2016. There is no time to lose.
- Copyright: Jarp2