"As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women." Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Among all the issues and Problems related to women, from domestic abuse and social misbehaves, poverty and economic disorders in the society, child marriage shines like a single star in the darkness of life's night.
In the last ten years, about 60 million young women have been married before the age of 18. In developing countries, one in every three girl is forced to get married against their will and in violation of international laws and women's rights. These women –I rather call them Child Brides- grow up with limited education and life opportunities. They often have a life made of poverty, isolation and helplessness.
Child marriage, marriage before age 18, is not limited to one country or continent. It affects almost every country in the world including The United States in which ten percent of the married women are under the age of 18 and it's not surprising to hear that Niger, a West African country, is the country with the highest rate of child marriage.
Poor families have almost no way to support healthy alternatives for girls, such as education, or even to feed and clothe them.
There are social and cultural norms that put pressure on families to marry daughters at young ages. For instance, in Islamic countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia parents may believe that marriage will ensure their daughters’ safety by preventing premarital sex and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. In traditional societies, older men marry young, virginal girls to prove their masculinity and this culture continues to drive this behavior. In Islamic based cultures, according to the holly book of Quran, The minimum age of marriage for girls is 9 while its 15 for boys. There are no limitations for puberty and self-willingness and this leaves us here with unanswered questions about the right to marry a girl in her childhood whether she wants it or not.
Premature pregnancy and motherhood are inevitable consequences of child marriage. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their twenties. Even if the child survives, he or she is more likely to suffer from low birthweight, undernutrition and late physical and cognitive development.
It's terribly unsurprising that 55% of the widows are women who married before reaching the age of 18. Dealing with the death of someone three times your age, someone who has played the role of a partner in your life isn't something easy. Unfortunately, 60% of the child widows in developing countries are left alone without having a proper education or a source for supporting their own children because they are no longer virgin and even when they are chosen for marriage, they are not the first choices. Most of them accept being married men's second or third wives just to support themselves and their children financially.
The story doesn't end in the east side of the globe. In African countries the statistics are rarely reliable but yet staggering: In Africa, 42% of girls were married before turning 18.
These are just facts and numbers while the major act can only be done by the NGOs. To support this idea I point at my own country in which stopping forced marriage and child labor is not a math problem. In these countries, p doesn't equal q.
Changing a society's culture is not something one can do under the law's shadow alone. What I suggest through longtime dealing with labor children and women is handing the issue to Non-Governmental Organizations since the governments in many Asian and African countries can't forget about their unjustified laws and help children who lose a sweet childhood before even getting to feel the real life.
The picture taken by Effat Allahyari, Iranian Photographer, depicts the poverty and acceptance of this phenomenon in a developing country.
This Afghan boy is married and has a daughter. He collects wastes and sells them to feed his family.