On the International Day of the Girl

I know that most of you are here for the pretty pictures, etiquette advice, and ideas for saving money or making your longed-for wedding more unique. That’s what I’m usually here for, too. But today is the International Day of the Girl and it’s time to talk about something very serious:

We think of child marriages happening mostly in India and Africa, and these are two of the places where it’s most prevalent, certainly. The image above is of a married couple from Afghanistan. Turkey has one of the highest rates of child marriage. Still, it happens right here in the US, too.

This, after all, is one of the exhibits that led to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs being convicted and sentenced to life in prison. It’s his wedding photo. Well, one of them. Since he was already married to multiple women when he married this girl who was clearly too young to consent, and there are first anniversary photos of him and another girl of roughly the same age group… yeah, he’s not getting out anytime soon.

There are parts of the country where a thirteen year old girl can marry with her parents’ permission, though it can have complicated legal consequences in some cases. Across the globe, ten year old brides are not terribly uncommon. In fact, one in nine girls worldwide is forced into marriage between the ages of ten and fourteen.

The reasons for this are complex and include: social custom, religious beliefs, as well as economics.

The consequences of these marriages are horrific. Child brides are twice as likely to suffer beatings at the hands of their husbands. Girls who are married very young rarely continue their education. Girls under the age of fifteen are five times more likely than adult women to die in childbirth. Their children also have a far greater chance of stillbirth or infant death. In areas where HIV infection rages, child brides are at far greater risk of contracting the virus and developing AIDS, since wives are often not allowed to refuse sex nor ask their husbands to wear condoms. And while poor economic situations are the most common reason for child marriages (parents are often given money, and are usually eager to get children off their hands so someone else has to pay to feed and clothe them), the very institution leads to the continuation of the cycle.

When girls are married very young, they cannot get more education, which means they cannot contribute to the family coffers, the family is burdened with the care and feeding of more children, and the family winds up seeking men with enough money to take daughters off their hands quickly.

This vicious circle needs to end. The best way to end it is through efforts to bring more education and greater economic opportunities for girls and women across the world.

Marriage should be a lovely thing. It should be about discovering a wonderful partner for life, building a loving home, and meeting shared goals.

This cannot happen when one party has no rights, no voice, no choice, and no hope for anything better for her daughters.

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