While many brides are preparing for their big day, there are some weddings that should not be going ahead, and that’s child marriages. No girl should be robbed of her childhood, education, health and aspirations, yet millions are denied their rights each year when they are married as child brides. Now a 13 year-old girl in India has written a letter begging her head teacher to save her from becoming a child bride, putting this issue in the spotlight. Duli Hembrom (named by Indian media), failed to convince her parents against the match and turned to her school. Duli’s wedding was set for 22 April in the town of Jamshedpur. At the time of posting this story it is unknown if Duli’s marriage did take place after the letter came to light and there has been no further update reported by the Indian media.
Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). If current levels of child marriages hold, 14.2 million girls annually or 39, 000 daily will marry too young. Of the 140 million girls who will marry before they are 18 years, 50 million will be under the age of 15. Little progress has been made toward ending the practice of child marriage, which is defined as marriage before the age of 18 (it applies to both boys and girls).
However, the practice is far more common among young girls and threatens to increase with the expanding youth population in developing world. If this issue is not properly addressed, UN Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 – calling for a three-fourths reduction in maternal mortality and a two-thirds reduction in child deaths by 2015 – will not be met. As complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15 to 19.
Child marriage is a complex issue that has existed for centuries, deeply rooted deeply in gender inequality, tradition and poverty. The practice is most common in rural and poor areas, where prospects for girls can be limited. In many cases, parents arrange these marriages and young girls have no choice. Poor families marry off young daughters to reduce the number of children they need to feed, clothe and educate. In some cultures, a major incentive is the price prospective husbands will pay for young brides. Social pressures within a community can lead families to wed young children. For example, some cultures believe marrying girls before they reach puberty will bring blessings on families.
Jharkhand, the state in which Duli lives, is one of the worst for child marriage in India, with more than 40 per cent of women married or in a union by the age of 18, according to UN statistics. Around 18 per cent of girls in the country are married by the age of 15 and 47 per cent by the time they are 18. Although India has criminalised child marriage, few prosecutions have been successfully brought. The UFNPA states the practice is a human rights violation—something on which we would all agree.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons