Sunday, July 25, 2010

Marriage before age 12 ...

Sept. 14, 2009 A Child Bride, 12 year old Girl Dies in Childbirth After 3 Days of Labor (ABC)

Three times I've started this subject and abandoned it, unable to think clearly about what such a thing might mean.

I'm a father with perhaps some insight into the vulnerabilities of childhood.  My mind explodes into blinding horror when I think of the child brides who will marry today, this week, and be raped before week's end, and who will die from abuse or from complications due to being pregnant before their bodies are mature enough to carry a child.

Tihun Nebiyu the goat herder doesn't want to marry. She is adamant about this. But in her village nobody heeds the opinions of headstrong little girls.

That's why she's kneeling in the filigreed shade of her favorite thorn tree, dropping beetles down her dress. Magic beetles. 

"When they bite you here--" Tihun explains gravely, pressing the scrabbling insects into her chest through the fabric of her tattered smock "--it makes your breasts grow."

This is Tihun's own wishful brand of sorcery--a child's desperate measure to turn herself into an adult. Then maybe, just maybe, her family would respect her wishes not to wed. She could rebuff the strange man her papa has chosen to be her husband. And she wouldn't have to bear his dumb babies.

Tihun kneels in the dirt, eyes closed: an elfin figure whose smile is made goofily endearing by two missing front teeth. She holds her small hands over her nipples. She is waiting for the bugs' enchantment to start. Seconds pass. But nothing happens. Eventually, she starts to giggle. The beetles have escaped--by crawling up her neck.

"It doesn't work!" Tihun says, disgusted. She heaves an exaggerated sigh and squints out across the yellow-grass hills surrounding her world: "I will just have to run. ...

Tihun was born into a gruff, noisy household--the clan's squabbles reverberate across fields 50 yards away. A pious and conservative patriarch, Melese disdains schooling for his girls and brooks no resistance to early marriage.

To save on wedding expenses, he has shrewdly arranged to marry off four of his children on the same day. Tihun and her more worldly big sister Dinke, 10, will be carted away on horses by strangers who are their husbands. And two teenage sons will bring home 10-year-old brides."

Ethiopia, Yemen, ... In many countries, the legal age is 18, but the traditional practices allow and still persist in marriage long before legal age or reasonable consent.

It's consignment to hell for the child bride.  Removed from school, in the equivalent of involuntary servitude and sexual slavery, in spite of what she might have chosen if she'd been given the chance, destined for poverty and helplessness for a lifetime.

Twenty-five thousand times a day, every day, day after day (according to the UN).   Dear God, can such a thing be true?  Kenya, Sudan, ...  Every few seconds, another daughter, another precious child is forced into such circumstance against her will, before she's able to understand and consent.

(CNN) -- A 12-year-old Yemeni bride died of internal bleeding following intercourse three days after she was married off to an older man, the United Nations Children's Fund said.
The issue is on the international agenda for developing countries.  I used to be a conservative fellow, leaving all those nebulous 'human rights' issues to the nut-case, left-leaning liberals.  'Human rights', the way we said it in those days, was a slam, a casual dismissal.  Now I have this pain inside me and it's difficult to speak of what I barely understand. I have a few faces in my mind to go with the issue now. 
... and others by the hundreds and thousands.
Traditional practices are difficult to replace with reasonable understanding and principle.  Actually, it isn't uncommon for girls to be married before age 10, often in an exchange for debt owed by a parent.  Sub-Saharan Africa is rife with such.

From CNN earlier this year, "The issue of Yemeni child brides made headlines in 2008 when 10-year-old Nujood Ali was pulled out of school and married. Her husband beat and raped her within weeks of the ceremony.  To escape, Nujood hailed a taxi -- the first time in her life -- to get to the central courthouse where she sat on a bench and demanded to see a judge.
After a well-publicized trial, she was granted a divorce."

I find myself applauding the judge who granted this 10-year-old a divorce from the brutal criminal to whom she had been unwillingly wed. The husband was not arraigned.  It wasn't a marriage; like all such arranged unions, it was child abuse and almost beyond our ability as parents to comprehend in its cruelty. 

The traditional conservative position is to remain aloof from the internal practices of foreign cultures.  I'm not so conservative any more.

"The case of Khadija Rasoul, 13, and Basgol Sakhi, 14, from the village of Gardan, in the Dulina district of Ghor Province, central Afghanistan, was notable for the failure of the authorities to do anything to protect the girls, despite opportunities to do so.

Forced into a so-called marriage exchange, where each girl was given to an elderly man in the other’s family, Khadija and Basgol later complained that their husbands beat them when they tried to resist consummating the unions. (NYT)"

US Dept of State on Forced Early Marriage
We have the promises of the World! 
Video Essay on Child Marriage
Just Die Quietly 

So, what are you going to do with what you know?
Do a little research, read a little US policy on the subject, drop your congressman a note, contribute to an organization that's fighting for this among other human rights, go and see for yourself, meet a few family members, a few husbands, ....
Or do nothing at all, don't have an opinion, don't hurt for the sake of someone else's child, don't grieve over the death of a 12 year old wife who dies  in childbirth.  She was precious to God.