Married at 17? Yeah I know, crazy.

Last summer, I spent my summer vacation with my family in Sri Lanka.

A couple of my mom’s friends live there, so we went out for high tea with them (apparently it’s a thing there).

When we were about to leave, my mom utters the words, “Congratulations,” very quietly to one of her friends. As we were on our way home, I asked my mom what happened. Why did she say congratulations to that lady?

Turns out, this lady had found a husband, who gave a humungous dowry, for her 17-year old daughter.

I was furious.

I remember going back and forth with my mom about how that’s even possible in this day-in-age. I was so confused and hurt that someone, who’s close to my mom, would sell their daughter for marriage before she even finished highschool.

💡This got me thinking.

If that lady’s daughter (and even her mother as well), were to be given a quality education, would this situation have turned out different?

Child Marriage — What is it even about?

According to UNICEF, child marriage is defined as the marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married.

Child marriage violates the rights of children and puts them in places of high-violence and abuse. Both girls and boys are exploited and deprived of the necessities to live.

Children are married and sent off at a very young age due to both the poverty and social norms in these countries. It’s normal for a girl or boy to get married at this age in those countries.

It is predominantly found among girls. This adds to the absence of human rights for girls in these countries. Many families in these South Asian countries have no other choice other than marrying off their girls because the family needs the dowry to survive. Oftentimes, the character of the man isn’t even taken into account, and only defined by the amount of money he has.

An 18-year old in her traditional clothes, ready for her wedding ceremony.

Sounds pretty serious…but I doubt it happens frequently…

Maybe some stats might do the trick.

Each year, an estimated 12 million girls aged under 18 marry against their will.

This means that there are currently more than 650 million women and girls worldwide who married as children.

That’s more than the amount of people who died of smallpox.

Crazy.

1 in 3 girls in developing countries are married by the age of 18. 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15.

40% of young woman (ages 20–24) in developing countries were married before the age of 18.

This is 21% globally. 🌎

South Asian countries have the highest rates of child marriage. 45% of all women aged 20–24 in these countries reported being married before the age of 18. 17% of girls in these countries are married before the age of 15.

India has the largest amount of child brides in the world, which accounts for one-third of the global total.

Being a South-Asian young woman, this is part of the reason why this fuels such a huge fire within me.

Why do people even do this anyways? I mean, doesn’t it just sound weird?

To you and I it does, but to people in these developing countries, it’s the norm.

Every new year, my family and I start the year off by eating a South-Asian meal called “kiribith” which is basically rice with lots of milk mixed with it. It’s just a tradition we’ve been carrying for as long as I can remember, and it was something my parents did when they were young as well. I eat it without question every new year, it’s just something that I know I have to do.

This is the same case for girls and marriage.

Child marriage is a traditional practice that just happens because it’s been happening for generations.

For these girls, concerning traditional practises, like child marriage, begin when girls start to menstruate. This is when they become women in the eyes of their communities. Marriage is the next step towards a girl’s status.

In a moment, her status changes from girl, to wife and mother.

Sometimes, these traditional practices are linked together. For example, in Southern Ethiopia, child marriage is followed by the practise of female genital mutilation/cutting.

This is their rite of passage to womanhood.

In many places where child marriage is practised, girls are not valued as much as boys. They’re actually seen as a burden on their family.

This is crazy to me, coming from parents who wanted a girl.

They are seen as almost being useless, as they cannot make money for the family, and therefore are just a “heavy weight”. By marrying your daughter, you can ease economic hardship by giving the “burden” to her husband’s family.

On the other side, the dominance that men have over the women in these societies fuels child marriage as well. Many men desire to have the utmost control over their daughters, determining all aspects of her life for her.

A daughter defines much of a family’s honour in their community. This is why men take such pride in controlling their daughters. They try to protect their daughter’s virginity and sexuality to make sure that their family has respect within their society.

You’re probably thinking, “Wow, men in these countries are brutal.”

Let me remind you, the above is not always the case.

More than half of girls from the poorest families in the developing world are married as children. [1]

Many families are so poor, that they believe that marriage for their daughters will be the best for them, and will be able to provide a better life for them.

Parents also marry their young daughters because they think they’ll be the safest that way. In communities where safety is an issue, they believe that marriage is the best way to protect girls who are at high risk of harassment or assault.

But, most times than not, families marry their daughters for the dowry that is given. A dowry is money that is given from the groom’s side to the bride’s side and acts as a “price” for the bride.

Let that sink in. These young girls are basically just seen as an item.

Wow, that’s insane. It’s pretty unrealistic to think you can change social norms in the next 5 years, so how would we even solve this problem?

And that, ladies and gentleman, is where education comes into the picture.

Many of these girls lack a basic education because they are:

1. Not put in school because they need to take care of household chores.

2. Get pulled out early from school to marry.

3. They have to pay for education and their families can’t afford it.

4. It’s not seen as culturally acceptable (this kinda ties into reason #1)

But how do we improve this?

By making education accessible and free.

Not only for the girls, but also for their parents.

What do I mean by this?

What if we had sessions or people from their specific country (even better if they were from the same village) who sat with these parents and explained to them the benefits of a full education, as well as the cons of marrying off their daughters early on?

To make sure that this is effective, these people who are advising the parents should be from the same country, and be able to speak the language or dialect that these people speak.

If these parents were educated on the positive outcomes of child marriage for both their children and themselves.

If their daughters were not married off young, than they would have both the knowledge and the opportunity to get a job, and support both their own family and their parents.

Studies have shown that slum dwellers are more compelled to follow government orders if they know that they will gain something from it. In this case, educating these dwellers on why they shouldn’t marry their children and follow existing child marriage laws by showing them what benefits they can receive, might be an effective way of communicating this problem to them.

These things seem good but they’re kinda’ basic. What’s being done right now to end child marriage?

Things are being done right now, but are they the most effective?

This states that for any child marriage, there will be a fine of 1 lakh (approx. $1871.67 CDN) and a possible imprisonment of 2 years, but this is only if you’re caught before the wedding takes place. [2]

It doesn’t hold the parents or families involved in the marriage directly accountable though.

Sexual intercourse with a minor is considered rape, but the marriage is still considered legal.

This was an economic incentive scheme by the government to lower the child-marriage number, by aiming to promote the education until the post-graduate level, of young girls from lower-income families. [3]

Sounds good, right?

This is a one-time cash loan that the government gave for low-income families for when a daughter gets married. [4]

Some of the requirements include:

  1. Beneficiary must be a permanent resident of West Bengal.
  2. Women should be more than 18 yrs of age at the time of their marriage.
  3. Annual income of a family should be less than 1.5 lakhs.
  4. No minimum education qualifications are required to apply for the scheme.

This scheme addresses the problem of child marriage, but doesn’t give any incentives for girls to stay in school.

This does make the numbers go down, but this doesn’t solve the main problem, that girls are uneducated.

Organizations like Girls Not Brides, are fighting to end child marriage as well with different programs, as well as creating spaces where multiple different child marriage activists from different countries can come together and solve this problem.

Learn more about their work here: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/

1️⃣ If you’re passionate about ending child marriage, or are interested in learning more, connect with me on LinkedIn!

2️⃣ Feel free to swing me an email too at christina.a.vadivelu@gmail.com!

On a path to impact billions. Yeah, billions.

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