The young girls in this video speak for themselves far more eloquently than I could. Heartbreaking.
The young girls in this video speak for themselves far more eloquently than I could. Heartbreaking.
A good news story (in some ways) from South Africa where the Commission for Gender Equality intervened to save a young girl from being forcibly married to a man much older than herself. The sad part of the story is that it is still happening, and the religious leaders who were putting pressure on the family to do this should be prosecuted, but well done to the CGE!
Authorities save teen from forced marriage
Johannesburg – A KwaZulu-Natal teenager has been taken from her parents who were allegedly planning to marry her off to an older man, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) said on Monday.
“The department of social welfare has removed the child, 14, from her home until such time that a social worker… has ascertained the safety of the child,” the CGE said in a statement.
“In terms of both the Sexual Offences Act and the Children’s Act, the CGE pointed out to both the parents and the suitor that should this marriage proceed, they would be arrested and prosecuted.”
The commission received a anonymous complaint in November that the teenager, from KwaMthandeni, was to marry a man older than 40 on 16 December.
The girl would replace her 20-year-old sister, who had been chosen by the man.
“Upon finding [out] that she is pregnant by another man, the sister ran off… The suitor and [her] family agreed that the younger sister should take her place,” the CGE said.
A team of social workers and policemen verified the story, found the child and spoke to the family and the suitor about calling off the marriage.
“The family and suitor confirmed that the man had paid R29 500 towards lobola and wanted either his money back or another girl.”
Rituals had been done and the wedding day had been arranged.
“The girl’s family said they were not very keen to marry the child off, but religious leaders from their church put pressure on them,” the CGE said.
“The girl’s mother said, as a woman, she did not have much say in the matter,” it said.
Following on from my visit to Loreto Beaufort I also visited Kings Hospital School in Dublin – both visits courtesy of Joan Kelly who is librarian in both schools. The First Year group in Kings Hospital is 140 big! But, once again, many questions from the audience and a lot of these were on child marriage throughout the world and its impact on girls as well as boys.
They were a fantastic group and a big thank you to Joan for setting it up. One of the things I love about going to schools and libraries is seeing how so many of this generation are interested in the world out there, how many of them care and, perhaps most importantly, how many of them have their minds wide open to learning.
Her are a couple of pics – one from Kings Hospital and the other from Loreto Beaufort.
A video just released ahead of the International Day of the Girl on October 11th. The campaign, Girls Not Brides, is using this day to focus world attention on the issue of child marriage.
I see today in the Guardian and Independent there is an ongoing debate about government plans in Britain to introduce legislation which would criminalise the act of forcing another person into marriage. Australia too is at the moment introducing similar legislation in a bundle of laws dealing with forced marriage, slavery within the sex industry and organ trafficking.
In Britain the situation is such that forced marriage is prohibited in Scotland but the practice of making someone marry against their will is not currently illegal in England and Wales. Although there are “Forced Marriage Orders”. These are restraining orders against a family and allow police e.g. to confiscate the victim’s passport so that they cannot be taken out of the country for the purposes of marriage.
There are many issues here:
I am not decided yet on the issue – my instinct would be that those girls and boys forced into marriage need every possible protection, and that legislation is surely one of those that is needed. But the question needs to be asked as to whether this legislation will help to break down the wall of silence behind which these horrendous acts take place, or if it will only increase its height?
Sameem Ali. now a Labour Party Councillor and a victim of forced marriage herself at age 13, says it will force the issue underground. She says, “But the legislation will make victims of forced marriage point the finger at their own parents. What young person is going to want to do that? To say those things about their own mum and dad, who they love.’
IN other European countries however where this has been criminalised there seem to have been positive effects: ‘Since Denmark criminalised forced marriage in 2008, a Copenhagen-based organisation, LOKKreported an increase in young people coming forward. Other grass root organisations in countries which have criminalised forced marriage have seen a 50% increase in the reporting of forced marriage.’ (The Independent)
As a short follow on the the previous post I came across this article by Kiran Flynn in The Guardian .
What caught my attention this: A large colourful sign outside the Bashbari village in Sreepur, Bangladesh, declares it “Child Marriage Free”, and its Village Development Committee proudly states that “since March 2011, we have had no child marriages”
The committee in Bashbari village, took part in community education programmes organised by Plan International. “We have been spreading the message to our community” says 25-year-old Rani from the committee. “Everybody discussed and then took an oath not to give children in marriage before 18.”
It dealt with the issue of child marriage in Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh 20 percent of girls under the age of fifteen are forced into marriage illegally. The legal minimum age is 18. Child brides are often forced to leave school, are rarely allowed to work and many become victims of domestic violence.
These young girls lose their freedom and childhood completely. And with their bodies too young for child bearing, pregnancy results in serous health risks for both mother and child.
One of the issues that Angus Crawford highlighted was the work being done by Plan in Bangladesh. I was in touch with people who have been helping Plan to raise awareness on this issue internationally. What follows will tell you a little about the work they are doing and the children affected by this.
Meet Oli – The 12 year old working to inspire others
Oli is just 12 years old and a sponsored child with Plan International. He is an inspirational member of one of their children’s groups in northern Dhaka who work to raise awareness of the impact of early and forced marriage on children. Oli is helping to make a huge difference to poverty stricken families in Bangladesh.
“Behind our parents’ decisions to marry girls young is poverty – extreme poverty. If our parents get a good offer, sometimes it is very difficult to change their minds,” explains Oli
There are 25 children in Oli’s organisation and Plan has 60 similar clubs across the country.
Plan has reached around one million people with its anti-child marriage work while Oli himself has reached about 50,000.
Here is Oli, only twelve years old, speaking about the issue and what they are trying to do.
This is Nargis’ story – she was forced into marriage at just 12 years old
“My name is Nargis and I’m 19. I was 12 when child marriage shattered all my dreams. My family arranged for me to be married: my father decided for me, and my husband’s father decided for him. There was no scope for me to say no.
“On the day itself I was frightened: again and again I felt fear, fear, fear. I didn’t know what to do, or what was going to happen next. Once my grandmother and sister had gone, I had to go and live with my husband. I didn’t know him. That night I felt strange, and very scared.
“When I lived with my parents I had freedom. After I was married I lost this, and I can’t live the same way now. I feel very bad, because instead of going to school I live at my father-in-law’s house and do all the household work.
“When I was at home I could share my feelings and emotions. Now that I’m married I don’t have any say and I have to abide by what my husband and my father and mother-in-law decide.
“Two years after my marriage, when I was 14, I gave birth to a baby boy, but there were complications after the birth. He survived for 16 days but then he died.
“When I was getting married, I had five close friends. Two are still in school, but three are married. I never see them now. When I was in school and with my friends, I was very happy: I really want to go back to school.
“I don’t think girls should marry before they’re 18. If they do, they face problems like I did with my baby. I want to tell other girls that the age I got married was not good for health, for family, for education – for anything.”
How is Plan helping in Bangladesh? To help prevent forced child marriage Plan has been working hard to issue birth certificates to girls across Bangladesh. Having a birth certificate helps girls to prove they’re not old enough to marry.
Plan is also working with state organisations and authorities to raise public awareness of early marriage by holding open events, theatre shows and workshops. These events help to educate communities and explain why it is important that girls wait until they are over 18 to be married.
Ali Al-Ahmed wrote in The Guardian newspaper two days ago ‘Why is no one protecting Saudi Arabia’s child brides?’ In the article he talks of the fact that in Saudi Arabia there is no legal minimum age limit for marriage. In fact often the younger the bride, the higher the bride price. In the case he highlights Atgaa, 10, and her sister Reemya, 8, are about to be married to men in their 60s. Atgaa will be her husband’s fourth wife. Girls as young as this can fetch up to $40,000 each.
In 1996 Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with a reservation ‘with respect to all such articles as are in conflict with the provisions of Islamic law’. They may as well not have signed the Convention as this proviso allows them e.g. to not set a minimum age limit on the imposition of the death penalty and certainly allows for young children to be married off at the age of eight or younger to the highest bidder. What rights contained within the convention are left?
Within the Convention the rights afforded to children are grouped into four man groups:
* Survival rights: these include the child’s right to life and the needs that are most basic to existence, such as nutrition, shelter, an adequate living standard, and access to medical services
* Development rights: which include the right to education, play, leisure, cultural activities, access to information, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
* Protection rights: ensure children are safeguarded against all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation, including special care for refugee children; safeguards for children in the criminal justice system; protection for children in employment; protection and rehabilitation for children who have suffered exploitation or abuse of any kind.
* Participation rights: encompass children’s freedom to express opinions, to have a say in matters affecting their own lives, to join associations and to assemble peacefully. As their abilities develop, children are to have increasing opportunities to participate in the activities of their society, in preparation for responsible adulthood.
Every one of these is breached by young girls being forced into marriage.
The good news is that at least one senior cleric in Saudi Arabia has come out vehemently against child marriage – and has dismissed the argument that since marriage to minors was acceptable for Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century, it also is acceptable for Muslims in the 21st century. The Prophet’s marriage to Aysha “cannot be equated with child marriages today because the conditions and circumstances are not the same”, Sheikh Abdullah al Manie said recently.
“It is a grave error to burden a child with responsibilities beyond her years, Marriage should be put off until the wife is of a mentally and physically mature age and can care for both herself and her family,” he said.
There are also many other Saudis opposed to the practice and I feel hopeful that with their opposition growing this cruel, inhuman and degrading practice will soon be outlawed.