On Sep. 9, the Daily Mail reported the death of an 8-year-old Yemeni girl on the first night of her arranged marriage to a 40-year-old man. Rawan suffered brutal internal injuries after her husband forced himself upon her. She died shortly after this horrific episode. This tragedy should remind the international community to heed the prevalence of child marriage in order to eradicate it.
Too Young to Wed, a movement started by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), sheds light upon the issue of child marriage by chronicling cases of child marriage through photography. Browsing the UNFPA’s website certainly comes as a shock to viewers: On its pages, innocent young girls with rosy cheeks and gentle eyes stand beside men maybe three or four times their ages. It’s nauseating.
A young girl named Tehani, a 6-year-old child bride, said to UNFPA, “I was so scared. I was shaking, shaking. And whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him.”
Tehani is six. Six is an age when children like Tehani should play hide and seek with their schoolmates. Age six is not the time to hide from a husband.
Child marriage robs these young people of futures. When they commit to their husbands, they also sacrifice careers in order to cater to the needs of their significant others. According to PBS, child marriage has other detrimental effects, such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and the increase in maternal and infant mortality.
Most people understand the outrageousness of child marriage. Yet expunging this sweeping phenomenon requires awareness and action. Educating more progressive societies of these problems allows others to see the importance of intervention. UNFPA has started this journey through their eye-catching photography exhibitions and online campaigns. Additionally, UNFPA plans to tackle the problem of child marriage through financial and academic support of potential child brides to help them escape their tragic situations.
But these organizations cannot fight on their own. In order to combat child marriage, the international community must pressure these countries to enact stronger laws, as well as take great care in enforcing those laws. According to the Daily Mail, though “a February 2009 law [in Yemen] set the minimum age for marriage at 17, it was repealed and sent back to parliament’s constitutional committee for review after some politicians called it un-Islamic.”
Enforcement is one of the greatest problems in other countries such as India and Nepal with child marriage cases. For example, though laws against child marriage exist, The Times of India reported that the Asian subcontinent is still responsible for 40 percent of the world’s child marriages. Evidently, these bureaucracies do not prioritize the protection of girls such as Tehani. Thus, society must task a larger force — particularly, the United Nations — in vigorously monitoring and prosecuting these criminals.
The Huffington Post interviewed 18-year-old Savita Singh, another victim of child marriage. Fortunately, Singh’s story hasn’t ended as tragically as most girls’, but her words really cut to the core of the problem.
She said to the Huffington Post, “This is my time to ‘eat and drink’ — my time to have fun, my time to be in my parents’ house. This is my time.”
She’s absolutely right. And it’s our time to fight for her rights.
Rini Sampath is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan.