Child Bride Phenomenon in Asian and African Countries
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Child bride is one of the oldest ancient cultural practices, which allows a marriage with an older woman or man in order to gain financial, cultural or social safety. Today, child bride in America and Europe is illegal, but in many Asian and African countries it is a common practice. Child bride applies to both genders, but the vast majority is girls, who have a very poor social and economic status, weak family ties, or are pregnant. In the particular context, child bride is a legalized cultural guarantee for the financial and social stability, because a person will have a secure future, financial support, and own family, thus cannot be judged and criticized. Nevertheless, child bride is a deprivation of childhood experience and destruction of human identity that includes such essential life practices as social support, obligatory education, good health, and economic opportunities. Thus, it finally follows to the human rights violation.
A Historical Perspective
Historical origins of child bride can be found in ancient cultures, particularly evidenced by the various texts. There are many episodes in the Old Testament, when young girls married the adult men or even grandparents (for example, Susanna and the Elder). Friedman (1980) mentioned about “arranging and contracting the marriage of a young girl were the undisputed prerogatives of her father in ancient Israel” (p. 156). The main explanation of the phenomenon is the female duty in most orthodox religions, which included only one single vocation – to be a good wife and to bear children. Accordingly, instead of being seen as children and adolescents with possibilities in their lives, girls “are often defined by social custom solely as wives and mothers” (Sanyukta, Greene, & Malhotra, 2003).
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In addition, many ancient civilizations did not celebrate a childhood as a life period. Instead, they just perceived children as small adults. For instance, the children were painted in ugly way in the medieval frescoes and icons, because the medieval artists did not understand the essence of childhood and treated them as small adults. Virtually to the 20th century, woman had no rights; later, the situation has changed in many countries, but not everywhere in the world. However, Stith (2015) stated that despite being widely “considered a human rights violation, child marriage continues as a practice in many patriarchal cultures” (p. 84). Therefore, in many Asian and African countries, child bride is common practice that has long cultural tradition.
The Lack of Social Support
The early marriage is more prevalent among women than men. The situation is particularly common in India, where child marriage is a social norm (Gupta, 2014). Moreover, it is also a common practice in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and other countries. The first danger of early marriage is the loss of ability to choose, because the usually the partner is selected without consent. It is not only a choice to marry a man or woman voluntarily, but also the beginning of different life in various social perspectives. In other words, child marriage blocks a complex of opportunities for a person in the future, thus proposing only one way for social, cultural, and personal life.
According to Malhotra et al. (2014), national and international community increasingly recognizes problems with the marriages of children, because they consider child bride “as a violation of girls’ human rights and as a hindrance to key development outcomes”. Moreover, Malhotra et al. (2014) added that lack of education, health, social and physical security, and autonomy deprives girls of their basic human rights, as well as ruins the social and economic development.
In the context of the developing countries, girls generally are blocked from access to education, economic opportunities, and resources. They do not have a minimal social security. The situation becomes more serious in early marriage, when the female enters a narrow social circle of her husband. According to Bhutto, Shariff and Zakaria (2014), it is supposed that “if a girl is married at a young age it is assumed that she will be submissive to her husband and will also work for her in-laws and thus make them happy” (p. 94). In fact, in most cases young girls are unhappy, because they lose their childhood. Some researchers call the condition a “social misfit” (Bhutto et al., 2014, p. 95), because a young person does not fit in either children or adult context.
For young girls in the early marriage, it is very difficult to benefit from the educational and economic programs. They have no rights to leave a closed family circle, where their social mission is to bear children and educate them. Girls virtually fall into the trap of domestic responsibilities, resulting in their passive social mobility (Mensch, Bruce, & Greene, 1998). The state does not care about the girls, because they almost do not require the economic allocations from the state. Thus, the situation is comfortable both for the man and for the country.
On the other hand, the marriage does not mean that young girls are not working. In fact, many studies show that they usually work in the informal sector (Malhotra et al., 2014). For example, it is very popular to work at home. Informal job is characterized by a temporary employment or part-time work, so the girls can do both homework and the additional tasks as well (Jensen & Thornton, 2003). However, it is illegal, does not provide institutional guarantees. Thus, it is just a way to make money, but not a method of social realization. Girls remain apathetic in social terms, from which they often have deep depression (Bhutto et al., 2013) or other psychological problems. Moreover, the psychological issues are a result of inability to realize social life.
Child bride reduces or completely abolishes the female chance to get an education. The husband does not support it, because education will prevent the completion of necessary family responsibilities. Hence, the married young girls’ access to both formal and non-formal education is limited, because the families think that many domestic responsibilities and education will be incompatible with education (Ghosh, 2011, p. 52).
One more reason is the argument of girl’s parents. Since females are leaving their homes, parents are often less interested in investing money in education of their daughters, because they probably will not return the favor (Rghebi, 2013). Moreover, the investment will no longer belong to them. The case is considerably different for boys, who probably will return the investment quickly. The patriarchal system is often discriminative in terms of sex, and leads to a complete imbalance between girls and boys in education.
Education plays a role in a preparation for the future marriage at the level of cultural and social norms. Studies show that the less education girls received, the more often they marry (Burrs, 2014). Obviously, it is easy to manipulate the poorly educated girls. The state practically does not see the point of educating girls (Mensch et al., 1998). If education is not free, neither the girl’s father nor her husband wishes to pay for her education, because the social norms suggest she will not find a very lucrative job. In patriarchal societies, men provide income, but the woman performs purely domestic affairs, which do not require additional special knowledge.
Nevertheless, some Indian states invest money in the education of girls, which are married for a long time (Ghosh, 2011). The Indian approach shows that early marriage does not destroy the opportunity to get an education. The approval of education for girls was an important step to increase the threshold age for child bride (Malhotra et al., 2014). Afterwards, it was allowed to marry after 14 years in India and Pakistan. Accordingly, the research shows that “secondary school scholarships for girls have had an immediate effect in delaying marriage, and both girls and their parents receive a stipend that is conditional upon the girl remaining unmarried through completion of the 10th standard” (Malhotra et al., 2014). However, even the positive transformations do not substantially change the situation, when the girls marry at a very early age. Thus, the girls do not have the opportunities for education in life.
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Health and Sexuality
Early childhood marriages are mainly associated with deteriorating health of the child due to early sex life (Rghebi, 2013). Moreover, the child is not physically and mentally ready for an active sex life; she also is not prepared to raise the child. However, the reasoning is not relevant to the males. In many Asian countries, the female sexuality does not belong to herself (Malhotra et al., 2014). It is an integral part of culture, thus it belongs to the family, father, or the whole ethnic group.
Despite the health warnings about childbearing in early adolescence, most countries with legalized child bride practice the phenomenon as usual and even necessary for a person. For example, in Uganda, almost half of women gave birth before 18, compared to 2 percent in France (Sanyukta et al., 2003). The early births stem from a lack of contraceptives. However, the main reason is not medical, but rather cultural. The legalized child bride entitles men to use women’s body without the consent. She almost becomes the sex hostage, who is not ready for sex physically. In fact, studies show that many girls do not want to have children at the early age (Sanyukta et al., 2003). They do not want to bear the burden of repeated pregnancies and large families, because they are children and want to live according to their biological age.
Early marriage also leads to high levels of violence and aggression. Since a man is older than his wife, he can manifest it through violence (Burris, 2014). Accordingly, the girl does not have the power or the right to give him an answer. Studies show that power that a man has results in a high risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (Sanyukta et al., 2003). In fact, child bride completely changes young healthy girls to persons with a huge number of mental and physical diseases.
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. About 29 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 and 65% of girls are married before 18 (Sanyukta et al., 2003). Having financial difficulties, families are often in a hurry to marry their daughters and decrease the excess burden. Marriage at an early age does physical and psychological damage. Girls forcibly married at an early age are more prone to domestic violence and premature sexual experience.
Poverty and low levels of economic development also cause child bride, although they are not always justified. In very poor families, a female can be seen as an economic burden, because she has limited opportunities to take a high social status. The generalization is relevant primarily for underdevelopment countries with strict traditions of patriarchy. Furthermore, early marriage has an economic benefit for the family, so it is practically the investment in future earnings (Bhutto et al., 2013).
Therefore, child bride can be an important motivating factor for poor families, who want to get rich at the expense of others. The situation is particularly widespread in Ethiopia and India, where early marriages depend on financial status. In Ethiopia, parents openly declare that they intend to marry their daughters only because of economic reasons in order to increase the financial income in the family (UNICEF, 2008).
The situation is totally unacceptable in terms of freedom of choice. In poor countries, it is very difficult to feed a large family, but in fact, child bride ruins all possibilities of human being to get a better life. Moreover, the unethical method of economic investment in early childhood marriage breaks a childhood and the human identity of both girls and boys. It is a transformed ancient form of slavery, when parents could give their children as slaves to the richest men in the society (UNICEF, 2008). However, the situation of child bride in Bangladesh shows that if work is available for girls, parents hinder the possibility of early marriage (Malhotra et al., 2014). It means that financial reasons are the important for the early marriage. The girls wish to have a chance not only to take care of themselves and family, but also somehow to prove their social position.
The financial reason for child bride has two others contra-arguments. First, the female is completely dependent on husband’s income, because in case of divorce she has no rights. In many countries, a tradition when woman puts gold in the occasion of unexpected expulsion from home is preserved (Mensch et al., 1998). Thus, she will have at least some security in life. Second, the female is regarded as a commodity, which is contrary to basic human values. The practice contradicts the basic values ??as life, freedom, and respect. Many feminist studies devoted their research to the neglect of women, when a financial investment in child turns into a financial slavery (Sanyukta et al., 2003).
Indeed, feminist religious scholars point to patriarchy as “one of the strongest forms of [sexism], for it understands itself to be divinely established” (Stith, 2015, p. 92). Hereafter, breaking the marriage is impossible, because parents would despise their child to the end of life. Relatives often keep silent about an agreement on early marriage, because they are aware of the illegality of the act. In fact, they commit a risky action not only from the point of humanity, but also from the perspective of law. However, the does not stop people to continue marry their children for economic reasons.
Child bride phenomenon prevails in many Asian and African countries, without interfering with the international agreements and national associations. Child bride is often the female phenomenon, because women are more vulnerable in society than men. The patriarchic formula leads to the idea that males should protect females; therefore a child bride is a common practice. As a result, girls do not realize themselves as social individuals, because they are under the protection of their husbands. Moreover, the girls are completely limited to home and children. They also lose the possibility to get an education, and there is no chance to find job, so they are completely paralyzed by their husbands.
The early marriage also has many health risks, because girls experience the violence of men, and often are forced to bear children in early age, have sex without protection, and thus often risking venereal diseases. The reason for early marriage is often is the economic one, because parents do not want to provide for daughters. The phenomenon results in girls losing their childhood and identity. Hence, it completely destroys their psyche and physiology, creating adults in child’s body. Child bride is an open violation of human rights that concerns the international community. However, till today no policy had changed the situation.