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CHILD MARRIAGES WIDESPREAD IN THE COUNTRY

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Sir,

Despite the limited publicity about it, child marriage is not an isolated or uncommon practice. It is in fact so widespread that it is commonplace in many parts of the country. With child marriage, a girl’s childhood abruptly ends. Her health and future are in jeopardy. Her right to live a life free from abuse is violated. We have heard, and witnessed marriages of school-going girls, or girls who were young enough to still have been at school, but were not due to many reasons, including financial constraints.

Skills

This is not good for the girl because girls in marriages, instead of being in school are not able to learn skills that could help pull their families from poverty or provide them with some measure of independence. Their health is put in danger – girls under 15 years of age are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and those aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die. With virtually no power to reject unwanted sex, child brides are more likely to contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases than unmarried, sexually active girls the same age. Sexual violence and domestic enslavement are part and parcel of life for child brides. This is about all the young girls that are forced into early marriages, early parent-hood, early labourers for their in-laws, and thus denied the right to education, the right to childhood and the right to grow and develop themselves.

Mentality

The mentality that things should be swept under the rug, and let the family deal with them, promotes nothing but continued silence on issues of gender-based violence. When one person speaks out, a host of other people in a similar situation get help, directly or indirectly. Women are socialised to believe that their primary role in society is in relation to others – as a daughter, a daughter in-law, a wife and a mother. These norms restrict women from having aspirations beyond marriage. This is why when they are forced into marriage when they are still minors, they do not see anything wrong with it – instead they look at it as a blessing, as something that elevates them from their peers. But in reality, the opposite is painstakingly true. But for many, especially men, marriage is a means to satisfy sexual desires or access the mobility and freedom reserved for adults; which begs the question – what’s in it for the girl besides a growing sense of uncertainty about ‘what tomorrow will bring’?

Rely

Back in the day, society used to rely on the village to raise a child, but now the village wants to either marry the child or sleep with the child. If the village cannot sleep with the child, then cases of rape become the order of the day. Who are we then supposed to run to? It is time village leaders and other community members are encouraged to join these conversations and stand up against these practices too. Because these practices do not happen in a vacuum, they happen in communities, in front of villagers, the same villagers that are supposed to be protecting their members.

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