With International Women’s Day just around the corner, taking place on March 8th, footage of this social experiment could not have come at a more relevant time. This video is bringing attention and awareness to an issue that affects the lives of around 13 million girls around the world who are married before the age of 18.
It’s uncommon for an obviously older man to marry a much younger girl in North America, but it is a practice still alive and well in countries like Yemen, India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nepal, and many more. Disturbingly, it is also legal in some American States. In Massachusetts, for example, a girl can marry at 12 and a boy at 14. In Texas, a girl can marry at 14 but a boy must wait until he is 18. Crazy. That’s why one You-Tuber took to the streets to shoot this impactful social experiment.
In the video, bystanders in Times Square are shocked, disgusted, appalled, and even aggressive when they see a couple taking what looks to be their wedding photos. The man is in his later years, obviously greying, while the girl only appears to be about 12. One woman asks if she is “okay,” while others respond far more viscerally, asking the seeming groom, “What the *uck do you think you’re doing?”
He answers calmly that he obtained permission from her parents. One female bystander actually grabs the girl’s hand and pulls her away, while in another instance, two two men forcibly separate the ‘groom’ and the ‘bride’ and take her away.
Girls who are married off as children are denied their basic rights to health, education, and even a childhood. Sadly, it is a cultural issue that often includes a dowry: a sum of money or property brought to the groom from the bride or her family at the time of marriage. A groom does not have to do this for the bride’s family. Someone once described it to me as being like a “thank you” for taking someone’s daughter. Certainly for many families it is seen as an economic need — they now have one less mouth to feed.
There are times when a trade or a deal will be made between men or families and a girl is given. Many of these practices are the result of long-held beliefs and traditions based on gender inequality, and in some of these cultures, being born a girl leaves one with only one path in life: become a wife and a mother. Unfortunately, what these nations and cultures do not take into account is that, by not allowing women access to education, they condemn themselves to having less contributing members of society.
Limiting the potential of young women, they curb their own possibilities and innovation, perpetuating poverty in the process, since these girls leave school far earlier than they should. As a result, they lack the skills needed to help lift themselves and their family out of hardship.
Child Marriage Facts
- More than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. That is the equivalent of 10% of the world’s population.
- If there is no reduction in child marriage, an additional 1.2 billion girls will be married by 2050.
- Some child brides are as young as 8 or 9.
- Most adolescent pregnancies (90%) take place within marriage.
- Pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death in girls aged 15 to 19 in low- and middle-income countries.
Action is Required
In doing research for this I came across some disturbing cases of young girls who had died or were seriously internally injured shortly after being married to men sometimes twice their age. One account reported a 13 year old dying from complications in child birth. The youngest such victim was just 8 years old, and while I read mostly about the physical traumas and damage these girls face, I cannot help but wonder about the mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma they must surely experience as well. Boys are also affected – 33 million men today were married before the age of 15 and 156 million before the age of 18.
Collectively, we can change and shift this issue and help millions of children around the world have a real childhood. Girlsnotbrides.org aims to do just that, and have developed evidence-based solutions which they outline in their Theory of Change – explaining how we can put an end to child marriage and enable girls to achieve their potential in all aspects of their lives.
I started this off talking about International Women’s Day and the social experiment. The sad reality is that, while people in North America were appalled and disgusted at the sight of an old man with a young girl, such a sight is common in many countries around the world, and the desires of the victims to this practice are simply not considered. Her plans, her dreams, her ambitions in life — these are all silenced. So while it may be a difficult reality to face, and something we perhaps would rather not think about, sometimes injustices are so great that they must be addressed head on.
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