CHILD MARRIGE IS CHILD LABOUR: CHANGE BEGINS WITH ME.
Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya
“My mother forced me into early marriage. She did it so my husband could help her with salt and sugar. During the marriage, my husband frequently beat me. My mother always said I had to get used to that pain because that’s what marriage means,” recalls 15-year-old Lucy. “My husband was forcing me to do work on farms to raise money for the family. Every day, I spent the whole day at the farm working,” She lamented.
Lucy’s husband not only abused her, but also forced her into agricultural labour, her experience not only highlights the widespread cases of child marriage in Malawi and other parts of the world, but also the on-going problem of child labour. These two practices are, in some cases mutually reinforcing and disempowering women and girls in similar ways, by denying children an education and creating a vicious cycle of inequality. In Malawi, 60% of girls aged between 13 and 18 are married.
Marriage involving children under 18-years-old remains a widely culturally accepted practice in many corners of the globe. UNICEF estimates that 11% of women worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15 and an estimated 15 million girls will be forced into “marriages” in the next year at the same age. Although boys can be affected by the practice, it is mostly girls who suffer slavery as a consequence of child marriage. Child labour and child marriage are prevalent across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. These young and helpless girls remain vulnerable to harmful cultural attitudes and practices that leave them at risk to violence and sexual exploitation, with no say over their bodies and futures.
Child Marriage and its Arms
Apparently, child marriage not only encompasses domestic, sexual and emotional abuse; it also deepens gender inequality. This is evident in the fact that these young girls who are supposed to be in school are ‘sold off’ in the name of marriage because adequate research validates the fact that countries with huge numbers of out-of-school children also have alarming rates of child brides. In subsequent paragraphs, the relationship between child marriage and other socio-economic issues affecting the girl-child would be itemized.
- Child Marriage And Child Labour – Instead of receiving an education alongside their peers, child “wives,” are forced to work long hours cooking and cleaning. They work night shifts caring for babies and younger children. They are trapped under the control of older husbands, physically and psychologically abused, and raped repeatedly. Confined as domestic servants and sex slaves in homes around the world, they work in abusive conditions that threaten their lives and their health. They suffer human rights and labour violations on a daily basis, and many die as a result. Lucy’s pathetic story is an illustration of the correlation between child marriage and child labour.
- Child Marriage and Child Trafficking – Child trafficking applies where a child has been transferred from one location to another for the purpose of exploitation. A child may be trafficked even if they ‘agreed’ to the transfer. Trafficking appears to occur frequently in relation to child marriage. Globally, many girls are trafficked under the pretext of marriage, being imprisoned, threatened and abused upon reaching their destination, and forced into activities such as prostitution and domestic servitude.
- Child Marriage And Gender Inequality- It is worrying, to say the least, that more than 1.4 million children in Bangladesh do not or cannot attend schools, with an estimated 1 million children of the age 10-14 engaged in labour. Meanwhile, 1.3 million children are married off before they reach the age of 15 and 3.8 million before the age of 18 years, according to studies conducted by UNICEF in collaboration with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) – ‘Study on child labour, child marriage’. This point to the fact that child marriage contributes immensely to gender inequality because these married girls are supposed to be in school.
- Child Marriage and HIV/AIDS ( & Other STDs) – There is a particular concern about child marriage because girls forced into marriage prematurely are at especially high risk of contracting HIV from their older, more sexually experienced husbands – and HIV now affects adolescent girls at rates much higher than those of their male counterparts. Young girls are especially vulnerable to infection because their vaginal tissues are not yet mature enough for intercourse. Girls in marriages to older men lack equal power to negotiate safer sex and are very isolated, removed from school and peer networks with little access to AIDS information or services.
The Way Forward
Unfortunately, we are deceived to believe that child marriage is generally centred on poverty and this is the primary cause of this ungodly arrangement but my research revealed otherwise. Child marriage is centred solely on archaic religious and socio-cultural beliefs, but it should not be misconstrued that poverty is totally unconnected to child marriage (as Lucy’s case states above).
The massive re-orientation of the people on the importance of ensuring that children are given adequate education and their welfare is given satisfactory attention demands for our collective dedication. Ignorance should not be excused on the basis of poverty; these girls (and their male counterparts) are children not commodities to be exchanged for cash or other valuables.
Secondly, I would love to appeal to the international community, NGOs and the government at all levels on the need to double the effort on the fight against child marriage, exploitation and other forms of violence against children. The international definition of a child is anyone below the age of 18 and these set of people contribute an enormous figure to the world’s population statistics so the need for them to be given adequate attention cannot be over-emphasized.
Lastly, in the cause of this research, I noticed that there are a number of reasons these helpless children are held in these illegitimate union against their wishes. These reasons range from; they may not be able to support themselves financially or may fear repercussions from in-laws and the wider community, as well as their own families. Hence, these girls are often vulnerable to other forms of slavery and exploitation. But, I like to implore these children to try to get help in whichever way possible; speaking out against any illegal treatment is the first step in the right direction to ensure its total elimination because ‘change begins with me’.