“She did it because of the culture”
Though it may seem like child marriage has decreased over the last decade, it still lurks among the shadows of today’s world. This article explores the misinterpretation around child marriage through three unique stories.
Though it may seem like child marriage has decreased over the last decade, it still lurks among the shadows of today’s world. According to Unicef, around 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, and if no change is made, more than 120 million young girls will be forced to marry by 2030.
There is still a large number of countries that practice child marriage today. Although there usually are reasons for this marriage, whether it is the family’s financial situation or for cultural reasons, people must still understand how detrimental this practice can be to the young child. Unicef states that around 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married annually. Almost all of these girls are not able to fulfill their dreams and education due to this marriage and suffer from depression. Most regret their choice and want to start over in life.
Parents of these unfortunate children often follow through with this practice because of tradition, culture, and religion. In this Trilemma article, we will be examining three child marriage stories that took place in three different countries: South Sudan, Bangladesh, and the United States.
Mercy Akuot: South Sudan
“How I Escaped Child Marriage to Become a Woman’s Rights Activist”- TED Talk
Child marriage is an extreme issue in the country of South Sudan. 58% of South Sudanian girls are married before 18 and about 9% are married before 15. According to UNICEF, South Sudan has the 7th highest child marriage rate in the world, revealing how many young girls are actually facing or are in risk of facing human rights violations and exploitations while also losing educational opportunities. One such girl, Mercy Akuot, managed to escape child marriage, and this is her story:
Due to the increased conflict in South Sudan, Akuot’s family moved to Uganda where they sent her to school. Her father always said to her, “you can be anything in the world”. Realizing her parents were sacrificing a lot to send her to boarding school, she worked hard and aspired to become a lawyer.
One year, she returned home to celebrate the festive season with her family. After the festivities, she noticed that months passed and she still had not returned to school. To clear up her confusion, she went to her father and asked him why; her father said that she would not be going back to school and instead would be getting married to an uncle who was 41 years older than her. Falsely tricked into believing that she was returning to Uganda with her mother, she was taken to a hotel by her uncle and was stripped and assaulted for 3 days.
The next day, while she was at a local supermarket, she consulted with one of her mother’s old friends and told her everything; the woman hid her in a nearby hair salon for a month until Akuot could safely cross the border and go back home. Her parents, surprised with her return, tried to return her to her uncle, yet luckily the police intervened and sent her to a children’s home. There, she met an American woman who was touched by her story and found a family that could take her in. Her new family allowed her to go back to school and she graduated high school in 4 years.
After her graduation, she moved to a Kenyan refugee camp where her life took a turn for the better; she works a job that she’s always wanted to do: leading a team of women that mentor and offer a safe space for young women to share their issues. She is now in love with a man that loves her and supports her with everything she does. She also is a passionate singer, writing songs to empower women all around her.
Before finishing her speech she noted one thing: “my mom did not do what she did because she didn’t love me or because she was a bad person, she did it because of the culture. A culture that oppresses women and forces them to leave their education to get married at a young age”.
She expresses that in order to stop this practice, we must send young women to school and convince their parents to let them pursue their education and be whatever they want to be.
Sonhita and Monufa: Bangladesh
“Wedding Busters: Child Marriage Free Zones in Bangladesh”- Plan International
Bangladesh is a country in South Asia with an extremely high rate of child marriage occurances. A brief and informative video on Bangladesh child marriages stated that around 66% of the girls in the country are married off under the age of 18. Uneducated women have a higher chance of getting married at a young age. What’s worse is that all these girls have dreams and have future desires, but are held back by their families’ decisions. Here are the stories of two Bengali girls, Sonhita and Monufa:
Sonhita was only 10-years-old when she found out that she was going to be married off to her 16-year-old cousin. Sonhita was not happy at all with the news but only agreed to the marriage out of obligation towards her grandmother who cared for her for many years. Three years later, at the time where child marriage free zones were expanding in Bangladesh, a 13-year-old Sonhita is with her 6-month-old daughter living a life of regret. She wishes that she had followed her dream of studying and becoming a teacher. Sonhita vows to not let her daughter go through the same fate as her and she wishes for her to follow up on her dream to become a teacher.
16-year-old Monufa came home from school one day to the news that she would soon be married off to an unknown man. Her whole world stopped. She thought that everything she had was going to be taken away from her including her friends, school life, and freedom. However, at that time, more organizations related to helping those in child-marriage-practicing families were taking action all over Bangladesh. Monufa’s friend happened to know one of these organizations and contacted them. The organization immediately rushed to her house and explained to her parents how a child marriage can have a negative impact on Monufa’s life. Eventually, after more adults in the community got involved, Monufa’s parents complied with the organization. They stopped her marriage and explained that they planned to marry off Monufa due to financial issues. Her mother also explained that they did not know that education was important for women. Monufa, now in the 9th grade, explains that she’s happy that she gets to stay in school and wants to become a nurse in the future.
The average age of marriage in Bangladesh was 15 years old, but after the introduction of child marriage free zones, the age range went up to 17. These organizations are currently working hard to raise the bar higher so children can live their own lives and be themselves.
“Married at 15: America’s Child Brides” - BBC Three
It is surprising how America, being one of the major superpowers and most developed nations in the world, still faces issues regarding child marriage. As recorded by the “UNCHAINED at last” organization, around 248,000 children, as young as 12, were married in the US from 2000 to 2010. An overwhelming majority of these kids are girls, and most of these marriages are with a significantly older adult. Fortunately, the number of child marriages is slowly declining, but not fast enough. In America, there are 18 states that have no minimum age limit for marriage. There are also many loopholes that allow older men to marry underage girls. One of these girls
Heather was only 14 years old when she felt a “special connection” with 24-year-old Aaron. One day, while hanging out with him, Heather got drunk and was taken advantage of. When she woke up, Aaron told her about the night before; she couldn't believe she was raped.
After that incident, Heather and her parents found out that she was pregnant. Her mother, outraged, pressed charges against Aaron even though her father, a religious man, suggested that she and Aaron get married so their child wouldn’t grow up without a parent. As her parents were divorced, Heather did not want to put her child through the same situation she had been through, so she succumbed to her father’s wishes.
In the state of Missouri, it is legal to get married at the age of 15 with one parent’s consent. So, on her 15th birthday, Heather’s father took her, without her mother’s knowledge, to be wed to her rapist.
After their wedding, things started to go downhill very quickly. After enduring yelling and throwing things around the house, it didn’t take Heather long to realize that she had married a “monster”.
Even though Heather and Aaron did get married, the case her mother filed carried through and the police took immediate action. After 4 months of marred 15 years in jail, guilty for statutory rape. Her father, Keith, was also sentenced to 4 months in prison, with one felony for accessory to rape, and two for injuries to a minor. Nevertheless, Heather still believes that the punishment given to her father was too lenient and is grateful that her mother was there to protect her, despite the rest of her family standing against her.
This documentary includes multiple stories and interviews involving girls who have experienced child marriage. The channel, BBC Three, has helped shine a light and increase global awareness about this dark topic.
Still, it is essential to realize that there are a lot more children, like those mentioned in these accounts, who have suffered from or are still suffering from this sad-yet true issue that continues to exist in today’s world.