With Henna tattooed hands and feet and her body clad in a formal dress, adorning heavy pieces of jewellery, she sits there quite anxiously. Peeping through the red veil, her heart skips a beat to the tunes of wedding songs being sung by her friends and to the wedding melodies being played in the background. She knows she is being married. She has seen her friends getting married. She has seen the friends of her friends getting married. And she knows, now it’s her turn.
In her nascent view, marriage is all about songs and dressing up, the way she used to play dress up games with her friends. She wonders what happens next. She has been counselled that she has to leave her parents’ home and live with a man, years older than her, whom she sees being congratulated by people around her.
But then she wonders, how can she even live without her parents, her siblings or her friends? How can she not be around them every single day from hence onwards. How can her parents marry her off to a stranger? Was not she the most precious little girl, they called their daughter? What was it that then changed?
Burdened by these thoughts, and the desperate need for sleep overtaking her senses, she dozes off into oblivion. Only to be later on woken up into a world, that now sees her as a married adult.
Wedded into Confusion
Unable to comprehend the veneers of marriage, the thoughts of this little girl are in fact the internal conversations rendered by thousands of girls who are wedded off even before they hit puberty. They enter an important phase of their life, a phase that will define the rest of their lives, in utter confusion and scare. It is estimated that each year about 12 million young girls are pushed into marriage before they reach 18 years of age.
Child marriages are problematic on several fronts. Firstly, they steal the right of girls to live a life unburdened by towering responsibilities and expectations. You do not expect an 8-year-old girl to be emotionally and intellectually mature enough to understand the institution of marriage. You cannot expect her to understand home management. You cannot expect her to prepare dinner. Nor can you expect her to mop the floor, or save up money for household expenses.
But the sad reality is that this is exactly what they are expected to do. The childhood days are for them to frolic and play around without a burden in the world. Instead what happens with them is quite repugnant to this expectation.
The Risk of Early Pregnancies
The predicament doesn’t end on the marriage. It extenuates in the form of innocent girls being subjected to a period of young motherhood, for which they are not emotionally or physically ready. Their tender age, coupled with a lack of awareness or the stigmatization surrounding the usage of contraceptive measures means that they undergo consistent pregnancies. This puts an added burden on their yet developing bodies.
How is it possible for girls to rear and raise a responsible citizen of the society unless they themselves have not yet learned so! Barely able to observe and assimilate the workings of the social order, young girls are wedded off to run families of their own. What really can we expect from such innocent mothers, who are not aware of the intricacies as well as the ills which they may confront and which they may have to shield their little child from!
A Mode of Societal Violence
Also, child marriages are a form of societal violence. Usually, such marriages are perpetuated by conditional as well as cultural factors. A case in point is the usage of the matrimonial alliance to settles scores with opponent groups in rural settings. Usually, an underage girl comes to be the victim of such a scenario. Her marriage to a person of the opposing clan is thought to be a reasonable gesture to settle disputes. Not only this, but girls are also wedded off to men, the age of their fathers, in exchange for some monetary benefits by their families. Their youth comes to be sold off for selfish material gains.
Potential Transpiration into Abusive Marriages
When two adults bond over the relation of marriage, since they understand the dynamics of the institution itself, they easily adjust well into it and are ready to make compromises. Contrarily, when one of the partners is not mature enough to understand the strains of matrimony, or when she has been deliberately pushed into it against her will, threats of abuse and divorce plainly surface. This is what happens when little, innocent girls are married off and left to deal with abusive partners.
Their fate comes to be sealed at the very start of their adolescence. If divorced, they are to live with this stigma for life. These are not one odd off cases. Instead, they are quite pervasive but do not garner much attention. The recent book, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced sheds light on this very reality. It presents the story of the Yemeni girl Nujood, a 10-year-old, forced to marry a man of 30. She runs away to the courthouse to seek a divorce from her husband.
Stealing the Right to Dream and Aspire
Little girls deserve to dream. They deserve to aspire. They deserve to live a life of normalcy that does not impinge upon their naivety. They deserve to strive for a goal and become something. With hearts laden with passions and minds full of creative zest, they deserve a chance at life. No matter where you belong to, no matter what your social affinities are, for these little girls, raise your voice. Complicity does us no good. It simply robs these innocent girls of the chance for a better future. Let’s use our voice responsibly. This is the least we can do and believe me this is the most that is required.