A section of the world convened on the 22nd of July 2014 in London for the girl summit in a bid to commit to end child marriage. The slogan ‘girls not brides’ has been in use. Child marriage has been blamed for poverty, lack of education, inequality, bad health, the spread of HIV/AIDs and violence against children. On the other hand as child marriage is condemned there is a campaign for the sexualisation of children through ‘comprehensive sex education’. Therefore, it is fine for a child or adolescent to be sexually active at a young age but it is not allowed for that child to be married. Girls cannot be brides but they can be sexualised. Girls can have their first sexual experience out of wedlock at age 10 but not in wedlock. Child marriage increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDs and STDs but not irresponsible sexual activity outside wedlock. Is that the real picture? Sounds altruistic right?
What does Marriage Entail?
Child marriage does not happen because boys are valued more than girls, tradition or because parents would like to benefit from bride-wealth. Marriage creates a safe haven for a girl and women alike in that she and her offspring can be provided for by her spouse. It also decreases the likelihood of having many marriage partners. More often than not, girls are married off to able partners who are capable of taking care of their families. Then we have fewer cases of helpless girls who have sexual encounters out of wedlock. Crisis pregnancy centres are not necessary as girls are taken care of.
What about Comprehensive Sex Education?
Comprehensive sex education is based on the belief that adolescents are not ready to become parents (which is true). Therefore, adolescents can engage in sexual activity at even ten years of age so long as they do not pro-create. Because there are risks such as pregnancy and HIV/AIDs then adolescents should use contraception so as not to ruin their future. What happens when an adolescent becomes pregnant? It is assumed that she should have a right to abortion. The consistent message here is that having a child is unacceptable because it interferes with one’s success and future. It does not help that we have HIV/AIDs. One can argue that HIV/AIDs in itself necessitates a sexual lifestyle that entails use of contraception. Comprehensive sexual education and early exposure to contraception may interfere with an adolescent’s fertility and may altogether create an aversion to having children.
Female Genital Mutilaton vs. Abortion
Alongside the drive to end child marriage is the drive to end cliteridectomy/FGM (I do not support it) but at the same time encouraging abortion. FGM is useful in discouraging sexual promiscuity and in as far as teaching girls that pain is part of life is concerned. Arguably, abortion is more harmful to a girl than cliteridectomy (it’s an external procedure) but the choice is to make abortion ‘safe’. Knowing the methods used in procuring abortion, its potential for causing death and the lack of health benefit that come with it, one cannot help but wonder why it is trumped up as a right.
Ending Child Marriage : Whose the Target?
The target for this intervention is aimed at girls from Africa and Latin America. In Europe no intervention is prescribed and in the US intervention is directed to migrant populations. Further, foreign policy towards developing nations is geared towards ending child marriage. This is clear in the GirlsNot Brides website. In the US, one is effectively an adult by the age 16. One can work and some arguably marry early. The statistics might not show the true picture in some parts of the developed world. Perhaps the focus is not so much on ending child marriage as it is on decreasing the fertility of the youngest populations in the world and discouraging immigrants from reproducing. Compare the map where child marriage is ‘prevalent’ with the map where the youngest populations live and where the fertility rate is highest. There is a striking resemblance. See below:
Nations Affected by Child marriage (in blue)
According to GirlsNotBrides, child marriage is said to be more prevalent in Niger followed by the Central African Republic and then Chad. Niger and Chad also have one of the youngest populations. See below:
Percentage of Populations Under 14
For the full infographs please visit: http://www.rferl.org
Dealing with the Child Marriage
If children start school earlier they are likely to finish school earlier. Sadly, in many rural areas one may even have twenty year olds in primary school. Effectively, one should have completed secondary education by 16 years of age. Therefore, the adult age should be reduced to 16. Additionally, the education system should be skill-based thereby enabling young girls and boys to fend for themselves before they further their education. There is no point in undergoing 16 years of education only to end up unemployed. When that happens, youngsters delay marriage until they are able to care for a family. Lack of employment or the inability to fend for oneself is a big contributor to inequality and poverty, not child marriage per se. Young men need opportunities so that they can compete with the older folks who are well endowed financially. That way, girls will have a chance with the ones they love.
If girls choose to marry after secondary education then tertiary education should be flexible with their family lives. Digital education is one such way. Paid work does not have to be away from the home and is not an end in itself. It puts stress families as it becomes difficult to balance work and family. People work in order to take care of themselves and their families, they do not live to work.
We need an approach that does not demonise marriage or lead the youth to deploring it.
PS: For the record, I do not support FGM or Child Marriage I am just pointing out double speak on certain policies …