26 May 2011

"The secret world of child brides"

Excerpts from a sometimes-difficult-to-read [I've inserted a jump break and continued the post "below the fold"] article at National Geographic:
Because the wedding was illegal and a secret, except to the invited guests, and because marriage rites in Rajasthan are often conducted late at night, it was well into the afternoon before the three girl brides in this dry farm settlement in the north of India began to prepare themselves for their sacred vows. They squatted side by side on the dirt, a crowd of village women holding sari cloth around them as a makeshift curtain, and poured soapy water from a metal pan over their heads. Two of the brides, the sisters Radha and Gora, were 15 and 13, old enough to understand what was happening. The third, their niece Rajani, was 5. She wore a pink T-shirt with a butterfly design on the shoulder. A grown-up helped her pull it off to bathe...

We stared miserably at the 5-year-old Rajani as it became clear that the small girl in the T-shirt, padding around barefoot and holding the pink plastic sunglasses someone had given her, was also to be one of the midnight ceremony's brides. The man who had led us to the village, a cousin to Mr. M, had advised us only that a wedding was planned for two teenage sisters. That in itself was risky to disclose, as in India girls may not legally marry before age 18. But the techniques used to encourage the overlooking of illegal weddings—neighborly conspiracy, appeals to family honor—are more easily managed when the betrothed girls have at least reached puberty. The littlest daughters tend to be added on discreetly, their names kept off the invitations, the unannounced second or third bride at their own weddings...

The people who work full-time trying to prevent child marriage, and to improve women's lives in societies of rigid tradition, are the first to smack down the impertinent notion that anything about this endeavor is simple. Forced early marriage thrives to this day in many regions of the world—arranged by parents for their own children, often in defiance of national laws, and understood by whole communities as an appropriate way for a young woman to grow up when the alternatives, especially if they carry a risk of her losing her virginity to someone besides her husband, are unacceptable...

Child marriage spans continents, language, religion, caste. In India the girls will typically be attached to boys four or five years older; in Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries with high early marriage rates, the husbands may be young men or middle-aged widowers or abductors who rape first and claim their victims as wives afterward, as is the practice in certain regions of Ethiopia. Some of these marriages are business transactions, barely adorned with additional rationale: a debt cleared in exchange for an 8-year-old bride; a family feud resolved by the delivery of a virginal 12-year-old cousin...

"One of our workers had a father turn to him, in frustration," says Sreela Das Gupta, a New Delhi health specialist who previously worked for the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one of several global nonprofits working actively against early marriage. "This father said, 'If I am willing to get my daughter married late, will you take responsibility for her protection?' The worker came back to us and said, 'What am I supposed to tell him if she gets raped at 14?' These are questions we don't have answers to."
More at the link.


  1. The age of consent in Vatican City is 12. Speaks volumes.

  2. Per Wikipedia -

    "The claim is sometimes made that "In the Vatican State, there is an equal age of consent set at 12 years of age", but this is incorrect. In 1929, when the Lateran Treaty was signed, the age of consent in Italy was 12, and this was indeed adopted by the Vatican. However, as stated above, the rise in the Italian age of consent applied automatically to the Vatican City."

    (It's now 14...)

  3. My great-grandmother was married at 13 in Pennsylvania. It was an arranged marriage. She and three of her sisters married four brothers. This was only 90 years ago.

  4. When I was married to a Navy man, one of his coworkers married a Vietnamese girl. I learned from her that arranged marriages are still quite common in her culture (right here in the US), and in fact her own sister had entered into an arranged marriage. However it was by choice. Her parents gave their children the option of an arranged marriage, or one of their own choosing. One sister chose the arranged marriage and seemed quite happy, and the other married the man of her choosing. If I knew them today, I would suspect the arranged marriage is still intact and my ex-husband's coworker is probably now divorced. Arranged marriages can work, but there is a big difference between a grown woman choosing to enter into an arranged marriage and families bartering off their young girls like chattel. And it's very interesting to read a different view: That of a father actually PROTECTING his daughter through an early marriage. That was something I had never even considered.

  5. "That of a father actually PROTECTING his daughter through an early marriage..."

    Protecting his daughter, OR perhaps, protecting his "investment." She would be of little value to him or his family were she to lose her virginity by choice or force.

  6. Point taken, Minnesotastan. There is a big difference between protecting the person and merely protecting the family honor and reputation. Because, to the girl, there is no real difference between being raped by your husband or thugs on the street. It's all the same to the girl. But it would protect the family.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...