Yemeni Child Brides
Photo: Stephanie Sinclair
When we think of child brides, we might imagine that the practice of handing over very young girls for older men to marry is a vanished tradition. Or we might be aware that these ways of life still exist, but putting a face to the girls trapped in these marriages can be hard.
Recently, National Geographic magazine published photographs, video, and an account of young girl's marriage to a much older man. This article is both fascinating and horrifying–it highlights just how ingrained this practice is in some cultures, and how many families feel powerless to resist tradition.
As open-minded citizens of developed nations, it can be hard to come to terms with damaging practices in other countries. On the one hand, we want to respect every culture and understand why people observe their traditions. On the other hand, we cringe to see women treated badly and girls having their futures stolen away. How can we reconcile these two viewpoints?
Evidence has shown that most child marriages have a decidedly negative impact on girls. The young brides can be pulled out of school permanently in order to serve in their husbands' households. Some are beaten by their husbands or their new in-laws. Many begin to have children very young, which is difficult on their still-developing bodies and confines them to a housebound life. And although husbands are told to keep away from their brides until the girls reach physical maturity, plenty of prepubescent girls are raped by their adult husbands.
So what can we do to help end this practice? Experts note that many child marriages take place in poorer cultures where women are not as valued as men. Providing equal education to women and helping people pull themselves out of poverty can go a long way to creating a society where women are valued for their minds and are recognized as a vital part of the population. That's a big task, but for those who see value in every culture and every human being, that's also hopeful.
Girl Museum Inc.