An eight-year-old child in Singapore is in primary two. Mostly her world is about homework, playing with her friends and time with her family. She is protected by her parents, her society and the law.
The eight-year-old girl who died in Yemen a while back after suffering from internal bleeding on her wedding night, was betrayed by her parents, society and the law.
[caption id="attachment_100941" align="aligncenter" width="615"] Yemeni Child Brides
©National Geographic. Image by Cynthia Gorney.[/caption]
An eight-year-old is by any measure still a child. She barely knows what a period is yet. Yet, according to news sources, this little girl was married to man 5 times her age who then proceeded to rape her so brutally on their wedding night that she died from her injuries.
But this is not one isolated incident that happened years ago.
That this happens today and happens to so many little girls around the world should shock and horrify us all. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that in the 9 years between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides. Of these, 18.5 million will be under the age of 15. To put this into context 140 million child brides over 9 years, that means 15.5 million girls every year or 42,500 girls every day.
If a 40-year-old man rapes an 8-year-old girl in Singapore, it would disgust the nation and the full weight of the law would be brought down on him. Jail, caning and possibly the death sentence (if the girl died) would await him.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] A 9-year-old child is carried to her wedding ceremony by her uncle in India.
Her family believes they are doing the best for her future.[/caption]
In over 50 countries around the world where the practice of child marriages is prevalent, there are no consequences for the man. The child bride on the other hand, faces a lifetime of health complications from being forced into sexual intercourse and childbearing before her body is physically ready. The physical toll compounds the tragedy of a lost childhood and lost innocence.
The problem is a complicated one. Its cultural, its about education and the lack thereof, its about an absence of individual rights in marriage and of women having limited means to make an independent income. Working towards eradicating the scourge of child marriages will involve entire societies.
How you can help eradicate child marriages
Nada Al-Ahdal is a beautiful 11-year-old girl who is one of the lucky few. She escaped from her family to her uncle’s house to run away from a potential marriage.
These girls are betrayed by those closest to them. Her plea is a plea for those 42,500 girls under 18 who will be married today to men far older than themselves. Perpetuating a vicious cycle of violence and poverty.
Asia, a 14-year-old mother washes her new baby girl at home in Hajjah, while her 2-year-old daughter plays. Asia is still bleeding and ill from childbirth, yet has no education or access to information on how to care for herself.
While this case put Yemen in the spotlight, this is not an problem of one country or religion. The problem plagues over 50 countries around the world including India, Nepal, Vietnam and Laos.
As parents, it's our job to protect our children’s childhoods. Sadly, these children have no one to protect theirs. Their lives are no less precious than our own children's’ lives and they deserve to have rights to health, education and security.
There are several organisations around the world working towards a solution to the tragedy of child brides.
Girls Not Brides - a global partnership of non-governmental organisations committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential.