Child Marriage: What if I was born somewhere else?

I was born in 2000, in Massachusetts, to both a mother and a father that were 30 years old. They tell me that when they had become pregnant with my sister two years prior, their friends were shocked because they thought they were so young.

Kanas, an eighteen year old wife from Ethiopia, was raised by her husband. She was given up for marriage at a young enough age that she can’t even remember the experience today.

When I was born, men kept asking my dad if he was planning on “trying again for a boy.” He was kind of offended; my parent’s plan was two kids… why would that plan change just because their two children happened to be girls? They were more than happy to raise two girls, why wouldn’t they be?

In countries all over the world, it is normal for girls to still be looked at as having less worth than boys. Child marriage is common in these places because women and girls are seen as property, not individuals. Often, girls are sold into marriage for the money. With this money, their family pays for their male sibling’s education.

When I turned four, I went to preschool. My class was full of boys and girls and I learned how to write my name. Quite honestly, I didn’t like it. I realize now how immensely lucky I was to be able to experience an education so early on. At age five, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I thought I had my life planned out. As I’ve grown and changed, my interests have done the same. Thankfully, my future at five years old was not set in stone.

Rajani from India does not have the luxury to change and make decisions for herself. She is married at the age of five. Even though child marriage is illegal in her country, she is married, in secret, in the middle of the night.

I cried leaving my mom to go to preschool for three hours, this is me on the first day. I cannot even fathom how I would possibly leave my parents forever to live with a man I had never met for the rest of my life at this young age.

Rajani on the morning of her marriage. Image provided by http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/.
This is me on my first day of preschool, also the age of Rajani.

In first grade, I learned addition and subtraction. I would come home and have my dad give me practice problems; I wanted to learn so badly. When my sister came home from third grade, I would beg her to teach me new words and how to write in cursive. We would ask our parents to give us spelling words at the dinner table. The more information the better. Of course our mom and dad didn’t oppose — they knew the importance of an education… even though they were the parents of two girls.

When Tehani, a young girl from Yemen, was six years old, she was married to a twenty five year old man. By marrying, her family is signing her off to someone else. She will never have the invaluable experience of an education, of making her own decisions, or of freedom. Below is Tehani, in pink, with her former classmate and their husbands.

In the picture of me below, I am the same age as Tehani is now. I’m pictured with my older sister. Unlike these poor girls, I was able to stay with my family at this age instead of being married to a strange, older man.

Tehani with her former classmate and their husbands that are more than fifteen years older. Image provided by http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/.
Me (right) with my older sister at age 8.

In fifth grade, I learned how to speak my mind. If there was something I didn’t like or didn’t agree with, I suddenly wasn’t afraid to say it. To this day, my opinion is listened to and valued in most situations.

I am not sure how old this girl is in the picture below. My guess is that she has not reached the high school age. However, the baby she is holding is hers. This young girl didn’t want to be married or have a child, but she was taught that doing so would make her the most successful she can be. Her opinion, along with the thousands of other child brides, was not taken into account.

When I was the age that I was in the picture below, I wasn’t even ready to stay home alone, let alone be responsible for myself and a baby.

A young, married girl holding her child. Image provided by http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/.
Me at around the same age as the girl in the picture above.

At age fifteen, school work started getting really hard. The teachers said they were preparing us for college. Stuck in my tiny town and the mindset that came with it, I felt so bad for myself when I was staying up late at night to study.

When Sumeena from Nepal was fifteen, she was moved out of her house to be with her sixteen year old husband. Her family married her off so quickly because it is a cultural. Hindu belief that if a female child is married off before her first menstruation, good things will come to the family.

Just thinking about how many girls like Sumeena would love the opportunities that I have been blessed with makes me so ashamed of how I have taken them for granted. The picture above was taken at my sister’s graduation. Child marriage, no matter what the age it occurs at, usually marks the end of the girl’s education.

Sumeena, age fifteen, a child bride. Image provided by http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/.
Me (right) with my older sister at her high school graduation.

Now I am a sophomore. I live in the same house with my same family. My parents do my laundry and make me dinner.

Itzel from Mexico is a fifteen year old wife. Married at age fifteen, school is out of the question. While her husband is out, she stays home and does chores. When he arrives back home, she cooks for him. Her life is the same everyday, like a track on repeat.

I am reliant. I am privileged. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am.

Every two seconds, a girl under the age of eighteen is married. Before turning eighteen in America, you cannot open your own bank account, get a tattoo, work full time, vote for president, or even sign your own release form at the dentist. Somehow, however, in most states in America, a minor can be married as long as there is parental consent. Although this concept affects all people, young girls are most often affected. Child marriage can be onset by multiple things such as culture, religion, poverty, and lack of education. According to ICRW and Girls Not Brides, more than half of the girls in the poorest families in the world are married as children. This can be for many reasons, some being that following a child marriage, the family has one less child to look after, or because in some cases, the profit made from the marriage can be used to provide education for the other male children in the family. Some parents even marry off their daughters because they genuinely feel that it is the best move for her in a world ridden of sexual assault and harassment. What they fail to realize is that sexual assault and harassment is often what follows a forced child marriage.

After reading stories of women that have survived and escaped child marriage, I found a common thread in many of the stories… and that is that the girls that were put into child marriage were simply too afraid to oppose the arrangement or felt as though they had no way out. When you are a child, you do as your parents do, and child marriage is, in some countries, a cultural tradition. Even if the cultural aspect is taken away — if an entire family’s reputation and prosperity depends on one young girl’s marriage, not only will she feel pressured to submit to the marriage, but she won’t have any way to oppose it. What organizations like Girls Not Brides, Unchained at Last, and Too Young To Wed are doing is giving those girls the strength, opportunity, and power to oppose the marriage and speak for themselves, while being protected.

This issue seems very far off from the daily life of an American citizen. That is a falsity, however, because child marriage is something that is happening not only world wide, but in our very country of the United States. It is a big, sometimes overwhelming problem, but we can help. Every time we fail to recognize that this is happening is a time that we fail these young, exploited girls. By recognizing these atrocities and donating to reliable organizations like the ones previously mentioned, we could all make a significant difference… so let’s do it.