Try to imagine for a moment…you are a 14 year old girl who hasn’t tasted life yet! You’ve just begun to blossom. You want an opportunity for an education. You want to play. You want to have a voice that is heard. You want to be healthy and feel safe. You want to be counted, literally. But you aren’t. You don’t have a birth certificate. There is no record that you exist. You rely solely on your family to make decisions that will impact the rest of your life. You have no choice.
Your husband was chosen by the time you were 5. You are lucky that you were able to stay with your family until you are 14. But now, it’s your wedding day. Your groom is 37. You’ve never had a conversation. He doesn’t know that you’re good at math or interested in medicine. He doesn’t know that you like to read or paint or play an instrument. He doesn’t know that you are already tired from all the work you do for your family every day. He doesn’t realize that you are still a child. This is normal. This is life… in the developing world one in seven girls is married before the age of 15.
According to Girls Not Brides, “Child marriage is a global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Child brides can be found in every region in the world, from the Middle East to Latin America, South Asia to Europe. Region by region, half of all the world’s child brides live in South Asia where 46% of girls are married before they reach 18. Child marriage rates are 66% in Bangladesh, 39% in Afghanistan and 47% in India – where the sheer size of the population, at over 1 billion, means that many millions of girls are affected. Every other region is affected too, from Sub-Saharan Africa, where the child marriage rate is 38% overall, to Latin America and the Caribbean, where the rate stands at 29% (UNICEF, 2011).”
Working to end child marriages means addressing major issues such as poverty, traditional values, gender roles, and security. The solutions lie in empowering girls, educating communities and families, improving girls’ access to education, providing economic incentives and changing laws. Child marriage violates girls’ fundamental human rights. The time has come. We must work together to put an end to this practice and protect girls around the world. “We can end child marriage NOW. Let girls be girls, not brides,” Desmond Tutu.
At a recent thinkpeace meeting girls learned about this practice and were deeply affected. We have reached out to various organizations such as Girls Not Brides, Girl Up and DoSomething.org to learn more and to become a part of the solution. Thinkpeace girls played at getting married: they fashioned wedding dresses out of crepe paper, had wedding cake, laughing with each other all the while. But then they were shown photos of their “grooms” and were told they’d have a baby within a year. The fun ended when reality hit. There are tough issues to discuss surrounding child marriage but we know that together, we can make a difference. Talking about it is just the beginning.
Imagine…you’re a 14 year old girl with a future.