Sunday, December 18

Child Marriages Are Wrong

I wrote the following essay for a college application. I first read about this topic (child marriages) in a National Geographic article that brought me to tears. This is the essay I based the script for my video on, although my video addresses more than just child marriages.

From Flickr by Pondspid
Imagine a girl. Your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece. Now imagine her, still a child, married off by her father to a 50-year-old man to settle a debt or a family feud. This man abuses her. He rapes her. He gives her HIV/AIDS. Within the year, she is pregnant. Without any medical assistance, she spends two days in agonizing labor. Because her body is too small to give birth, her child dies. The wall of her birth canal tears, and she becomes permanently incontinent. Her husband and her family are disgusted by her condition, and she is cast out to the fringes of society.

This is not just in your imagination. This is happening today. In fact, this is happening 25,000 times today, and tomorrow, and every day after that.

Child marriages are a human rights violation. While illegal in most countries, national laws do little to stop this horrifying practice, which is deeply ingrained in the culture and traditions of the mostly poor, rural areas of the developing world. In many African and South Asian cultures, if a girl is not a virgin when she is married, she brings shame upon her entire family. In order to prevent such a dishonor, she is married as young as eight years old, often to a fully-grown man whom her parents believe will act as a guardian-figure and protect her from immorality. Many times, daughters are married off as children or young teenagers for economic reasons—having less quantifiable value than sons, they are seen as a financial burden. They may also be given away to repay a debt or settle a feud with another family.

From Flickr by hiro00
Girls who are married early are forced into pregnancy and motherhood before they are able to be just children themselves. They are expected to be subservient to their husbands and in-laws, who often physically abuse them. These child brides are vulnerable to enormous health risks. They can contract HIV/AIDS more easily than fully-grown women, and the mortality rate for mothers between the ages of ten and fourteen is about five times higher than that of their sexually mature counterparts. If a girl’s pelvis is too small, childbirth can cause tears in tissues and life-threatening internal bleeding. When these injuries are not fatal, they frequently lead to the formation of obstetric fistulas—holes in the vaginal walls and the urethra or rectum that allow a continuous leakage of urine or feces. The smell becomes unbearable for those around her, and her husband will often send her away to live alone in pain and isolation. Obstetric fistulas—the cause of eight percent of maternal deaths around the world—are easy to fix. For only about $450, a simple surgery can repair the damaged tissue, allowing these young girls and women to reenter the society that ostracized them.

The most profound consequence of child marriages, however, is not a physical or even emotional one. It is the perpetuation of the seemingly endless cycle of women not receiving an education. Lack of education is both the cause and the consequence of child marriage. An uneducated girl cannot provide an economic benefit to her family, so instead she is a burden. Once she is married, she has no time or freedom to pursue an education, and cannot seek a job to improve her economic status. Because she is poor and uneducated, she cannot afford to send her daughter to school, and because her daughter never receives an education, she is a financial burden on her family.

From Flickr by World Bank Photo Collection
If one girl can break free of this perpetual cycle—if she can stay in school, fight custom and tradition, and refuse to be married to a strange and older man—if she can pursue an education, get a job, and give back to her society, then she would not be changing only her own fate. She would be slowly changing the fate of her community—perhaps her entire nation—because all of her daughters and all of her daughters’ daughters would have the opportunity to be educated as well.

A wise woman I know always says that the three most important things in the world are birth control, vaccines, and education of women. I disagree—I think these are all one thing. Educating women is the fastest and surest way to eradicate the global issues of poverty, hunger, overpopulation, and disease. But with such detrimental yet socially acceptable practices as child marriage, widespread education for women in the developing world seems like a dim goal in the distant future. In the mean time, 25,000 girls are getting married to men several times their age, having premature pregnancies, and being spurned by their families and their communities for an easily curable—and preventable—condition. Every. Single. Day.

If you want to help give a girl another chance,
please donate to the Fistula Foundation.

Works Cited

"Child Brides - Child Marriage: What We Know. NOW : PBS." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. JumpStart Production, n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2011.

"Child Marriage and Forced Marriage : FORWARD." FORWARD - safeguarding the health and rights of African women. FORWARD, n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2011.

Clifford, Cassandra. "Will a Ban on Child Marriage Bring an End to Obstetric Fistula? : Foreign Policy Blogs." Foreign Policy Blogs : The FPA Global Affairs Blog Network : Foreign Policy Blogs. Foreign Policy Association, 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 18 Sept. 2011.

Gorney, Cynthia. “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides.” National Geographic June 2011: 79-99. Print.

Lemoyne. "Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse." UNICEF. UNICEF, 23 Sept. 2010. Web. 18 Sept. 2011.

"Obstetric fistula: a dire consequence of child marriage : International Humanist and Ethical Union." International Humanist and Ethical Union : The world union of Humanist organizations. International Humanist and Ethical Union, 8 Mar. 2008. Web. 18 Sept. 2011.

The Fistula Foundation. n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2011.


  1. This video is one of the best "infomercials" I have ever seen. We at people and places could not agree more. Congratulations - you should be very proud of your work.

  2. Your video and your heart reminded me of something Margaret Mead famously said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Thank you for raising awareness about these horrific injustices. You give me hope for a better tomorrow... Jennifer Muir, Laguna Beach, CA

  3. Dear Gabriella,

    Your video is not only touching and inspiring, it is also amazingly well-done. Since it has had so many viewers on youtube I hope it has already began "moving the wheel".
    There is one specific point you adress in your video I would want to comment: Female genitalia mutilation. I agree, it is wrong. It should be something of the past, only found in history books.
    Now I invite you to look at other identically terrible, unfair, barbaric practice: Male genitalia mutilation. For reasons difficult to explain, it is considered normal in some societies of the so-called developed world; it even has a clinical name, as it is euphemistically called circumcision. In the US is conducted mainly for supposedly hygienical reasons, which is nonsense.
    I ask you to support the many men who were mutilated without their consent when they were babies or toddlers. They (I should rather write we) were stripped of a very important part of our genitalia because our parents (well-intentioned but ignorant) decided it was hygienic, or good-looking or whatever other reason they may have had.
    I kindly ask you to visit this site and help us spread the word:

    Yours sincerely,
    Manuel Cisneros

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