You will get married because we want you to
In certain parts of India, South Asia or Africa, one is faced with the fact that the concepts of love and marriage carry a different meaning to what we are used to. In most cultures romance is a core element of love and marriage. However, in these countries, the institution of marriage is not about free choices, but about force. Every year, 14,2 million girls are forced to get married prematurely, moreover to men whom they never knew before.
The institution of child marriage is a global problem that has been present for long centuries. Among the reasons for it are the inequality between sexes, poverty and certain social traditions. Sometimes poor families decide to get their daughters married in order to decrease the number of children they have to feed. Not to mention the fact that in certain cultures, the dowry offered to the family can also have a strong influence on the decision. Therefore, in most cases, the girls have no say in the choice of partners or marriages settled by their parents.
Early marriages can be influenced by social pressure and the traditions that are typical of a given country. Several communities find getting married before puberty essential. Furthermore, the fear of the girls becoming pregnant without being married, which would bring shame to the family, is also a significant driving force for arranged marriages.
Child marriages concern not only girls, but boys as well, but in practise, it is mostly girls who fall victims of it. Already at the age of 12-13 they live their everyday life as wives deprived of opportunities to study or have long term goals. In most cases, during their childhood their parents provide them with everything that they desire. It is only the final, most important decision that they are left out of. The children also have dreams and plans, but these remain unfulfilled.
One of the commercial TV channels had a programme about child marriages. A girl from Bangladesh married and moved in with her 19 year old husband at the age of only 14. Her life changed radically, her carefree childhood came to an end. She said: „What is my task now, after the wedding? To wash the dishes, sweep the floor and cook. I am four months pregnant and very tired. A short while ago I was just a child and now I am expecting a child. Of course it scares me.”
Against child marriages
The European Union and UNICEF as strategic partners see it as their priority to define development plans for their partner countries (MDG) that will contribute to child protection, to mother and child health, to the development of education and nutrition and the elimination of existing problems.
Another goal of the cooperation is to support the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), to prevent the mutilation of women’s sexual organs and to avoid children being forced into early marriages.
The ’Matter of Gender Equality’ project aims to change social norms connected to these practises and to decrease the arising harm. By supporting the families and communities, they try to call attention to the fact that these cultural and religious practises can cost children and young girls and boys their future.
Dr Michelle Bachelet, the chairwoman of the United Nations’ Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) claimed that „No child should be deprived of their childhood, the right to study, to health and to hopes. Still, every year, millions of little girls are denied these rights when they are forced to get married.”
The United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women devoted a special session to the problem of child marriage. The session was supported by the governments of Bangladesh, Malawi and Canada as well. The meeting was in close connection to the campaign led by Ban Ki-moon UN secretary general entitled ’Every woman, every child’, which sets as its goal the salvation of 16 million woman and child until 2015.
At the meeting problems caused by marriages made at a young age were discussed and special attention was devoted to the possibility to prevent child marriages. There are countries which have acknowledged the dangers inherent in marrying at a young age, but due to the lack of legislative regulations and social collaboration, there are still a lot of parents looking for a spouse for their children at the moment.
The most important step would be for the European Union to produce a declaration about the issue to urge the elimination of child marriages. Many believe that if the member states collaborated to define unified steps, the institution of child marriages could be eliminated by 2030.
Different cultures see the issue of marriage and choosing a partner in different ways all over the world. Where free will meets romance, the finding of the right partner sometimes involves difficulty, but if it really happens, the decision is in the hands of the couple. With pre-arranged marriages, the parents prefer to take on the task of solving the problem. They think that love developing before marriage is bad. On the other hand, if marriage precedes love - that the children will have to find a way to develop later -, the life of the young couple can be a lot more successful. However, this will only turn out years later. One thing is for sure: these children cannot avoid their faith. They will get married whether they like it or not.
Translated by Judit Molnár