Image by UNICEF
By ICDO Member – Lizaveta Vozjakova, From Russia with Love.
Is marriage an outcome of love or force? Have you ever thought about how many underage girls are forced into marriages? It’s fine if you didn’t since in some countries it is less practised or completely unheard of. Others don’t JUST think about child marriages, they LIVE out these atrocities on a daily basis.
In today’s world with the constant fight for gender equality, elimination of misrepresentation, and human rights, there are a lot of silenced issues. Did you know that there are more than 650 million women that were married before turning 18? According to UNESCO, “Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights.” There are a lot of factors that might put a young girl at risk of marriage including pregnancy, poverty, cultural traditions, social norms, or religious laws. However, early marriage leads to various mental health and social issues as well as the overall violation of basic human rights. Also, it might cause complete isolation of the newly-wed girl and interruption of her education, thereby ripping away her opportunity for the successful development and future career. However, it is not only just young girls who suffer from child marriage, but also boys. Early marriage burdens young boys with financial pressure, having to provide for the family, which can lead to the end of their education and even cause mental health issues.
The UNESCO Data shows that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of child marriages, where 4 in 10 young women “were married before age 18, followed by South Asia, where 3 in 10 were married before age 18.” Various NGOs and international organizations worked on this problem to reach agreements, but there is still a great amount of work to be done. In some countries, authorities take personal initiatives to prevent young children from forced marriages. For example, in Malawi, Theresa Kachindamoto prevented 850 child marriages and banned the sexual initiations of young girls. Chief Kachindamoto is known for both her “fearsome reputation of being Malawi’s top marriage terminator” and for being the mild-mannered mother of five at home.
Before she started working as chief, she had a job as a secretary in a city college in Zomba, in Southern Malawi. She was very pleased with her position and didn’t think of returning back to her hometown – Monkey Bay, Dedza District. One day the chiefs called her, inviting her to take a position as the next senior chief in Dedza, becoming responsible for over 900,000 people.
When she became chief, she decided to put a stop to underage marriages since there was a great number of young girls with babies in the households of the teenage boys. Even though Malawi’s parliament passed a law forbidding marriage before the age of 18 last year, the children were still allowed to get married with parental consent. The chief decided to terminate these marriages, whether others liked it or not since there were much more issues hiding behind the underage marriages. Some of the parents of the underage girls, before the marriage, send girls away to camps for “kusasa fumbi ” – cleansing. At these camps, the girls are taught how to perform titillating dances and sex acts in order to please men. To graduate, some girls have no other option than to have sex with the teachers, others return home to be preyed on by a local “hyena” – men hired by parents to take their girls’ virginity, or by prospective husbands to impregnate them. The police and the chiefs are unable to close these “camps” since the community backlash would be very strong. These practices are very dangerous since, due to the country’s status of being among the poorest in the world, there is no adequate access to contraception. According to statistics, 1 in 10 people in the country is infected with HIV, which puts girls at high risk of being infected.
As a member of #ICDO, I think it is very important to bring attention to the issue of forced marriages and raise awareness of this topic in order to put a stop to these devastating traditions and practices that create generations of traumatised girls and boys.