In Their Own Words: Teen Girls on Child Marriage
When you hear “child marriage,” you typically think of Middle Age princesses, betrothed and pregnant at age 12. It's something outdated, a violation of human rights, and a complete abuse of ownership—but a story of the past. It comes as a plot twist to most that child marriages still exist today, especially in developing countries.
In fact, a UNICEF report finds that in some countries like Mauritania and Nigeria, more than half of all girls are married before the age of 18. In Niger, three-quarters of girls are child brides. But it happens close to home, too; 27 U.S. states have no minimum age for when a child can marry. In fact, experts estimate that at least 167,000 children under 18 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Unlike other outdated traditions that have been cast off by nearly all of society (foot-binding comes to mind), why is it taking this long for child marriages to become something we only read about in textbooks?
Women have been historically oppressed, and child marriages serve as a testament to that. Its issues cause problems far beyond a simple ceremony. The lives of girls are put in the hands of much older men; although not all child marriages result in abuse, the lives and independence of girls are taken from them and suddenly focused on becoming a good wife (or even a good mother—at 13!).
Girls, just at the onset of puberty, should only be thinking about their own education and experience as a child. They have no business being in an arranged marriage to a 50-year-old man. To force girls out of school and out of ownership of their life, and into the household, is a personal violation. Girls should be allowed to unlock their intellectual potential as much as their male counterparts.
Child brides are more likely to suffer domestic violence, be uneducated, and bear children before they are ready. They’re often raped; for girls aged 15 to 19, the second most common cause of death is complications from pregnancy and childbirth. It is morally disgusting that parents see their child as property to sell and willingly place them into harm’s way.
The concept of child marriage often violates the International Declaration of Human Rights which states that “marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” Girls are forced by their families to enter these agreements, and, at ages as young as 12 or 13, often don’t have the ability, education, or understanding to consent to something as large in scope as marriage.
To stop child marriage, we need to fundamentally overhaul our attitudes toward girls. We need to encourage those who stay in school, and girls need to be empowered to be able to voluntarily leave unsafe situations, including abusive marriages. Cultural shaming oppresses those who speak out. Banning child marriage is not about destroying long-standing traditions, but about empowering girls to have a say in their lives.
Every human being is entitled to certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and security of person. And to remove those rights, and to remove one’s autonomy, is a violation.
By Morgan Awner, 18, and Aileen Wu, 17
Tune into the CBSN Original Documentary The Lost Girls to see CBSN's Reena Ninan travel to Nepal (where one in three girls are married before age 18!) to further investigate the complex issue of child marriage.