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.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Now, what do I do?

Compared to the world, most western world folks are pretty well off.  We probably spend more on telephone service than some of my African friends have for their family's income.  Our typical fancy TV cost more than many of them spent building their house.  I don't know what to do with that information yet, but it hurts a bit just to know that my life and thinking and culture are so messed up.  Soon, maybe.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend; he's a PhD (Sociology) college professor.  Discussing the plan to fence the border with Mexico, he defended it with an analogy of his own house.  "I don't want to keep folks out so much as I want to selectively allow folks in.  I want to be able to manage things, so I don't lose ..."

So I don't lose ...  ... what?

This is a good guy, understand.  He's always got guests in his house, usually students or friends of his children, sometimes a foreign student who needs a place to live.  He and his family are wonderfully generous, but his caveat triggered an awareness in my own heart.  Is that the limit I place on my generosity?  That  I'll be generous as long as it doesn't intrude into my current standard of living, my accustomed luxury lifestyle, my plans for myself and my family?  So we don't lose some measure of what we have?

So this one fellow came to Jesus, asking about what good work he might do to inherit eternal life.  Knowing the fellow's heart, I suppose, Jesus told him to go and sell everything and give to the poor, then come and follow Him.  He went away grieving from Jesus' answer.  He just couldn't do it.  I know the feeling.  How do you fight with yourself over accustomed luxury and comfort?  Was that the rich fellow's struggle?  I just want to manage things so I don't lose ....

Sharing ....
The new testament church did a lot of giving and sharing.  People got saved and began selling what they had and sharing with others.  Selling my accustomed luxury lifestyle?  Giving up my current standard of living?  Being so radically changed that my generosity might approach a little self-sacrifice?

So, what are we going to do with what we know?
Do a little research, pray a little bit, re-do our budget a bit.  Or what if we were to go beyond our religious, capitalist baggage and actually do something grand?  Something that costs you a lot, maybe a couple of years savings, but it was grand and noble, and what if it was enough to actually make a difference for somebody?  Would we?  Would it be worth it afterward?

“When we find a way to save millions of lives, to give hundreds of millions of families the ability to make a healthy, productive future, we should give everything we’ve got.” ~Melinda Gates

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What would you do if ...

What would you do if you looked across your back yard fence and saw a family living in one of the little tin-roofed houses pictured here?  Their child stands in the yard looking back, smiles at you and waves.  You know she has no shoes, no running water, no indoor bathroom, no refrigerator, and no particular chance at an education.  They haven't any access to health care or social services, and perhaps the worst of it is they have no hope; Dad is shamed by his inability to feed his children.  "I have no significance, no worth in the world."

You have several choices.  You could organize a little help for them, perhaps from a food bank, perhaps from some community group that would assist them through some survival basics.  You might do something spectacular like make them part of the community, or pull down the fence and include them in your family, or even make a place for them in your home.  Or you could spend $33,000 on a wall between your house and theirs that would last long enough for their children to grow up and leave or perhaps die.  You wouldn't have to watch.  You wouldn't do that, of course.  Unless the fence line was the border with another country, perhaps.  That photo is Juarez, Mexico.

From my luxurious hotel in El Paso, I can see across the border into Mexico.  The contrast is embarrassing, and I'm struck by the current furor over border security, even a bit bumfuzzled by the multi-BILLION dollar plan to build a fence between us.

It's a few million dollars for every mile of our 1900 mile border with Mexico, aimed mostly at criminal elements, ignoring the fact that criminals won't be deterred by the wall any more than they are currently deterred by air and sea patrols or border checkpoints.  They'll adapt.

Bad guys aside, the illegal immigrants are targets as well. Would the issue be any clearer if we called them economic refugees instead?  Hoping for a better life; crossing into the best of countries surreptitiously because their children will be grown long before the bureaucracy will process their request for entry.  Can't say as I blame them.  I can say I should somehow lend a hand, can't I.

Discussions of illegal immigration so often miss the point of human obligation. If your neighbor is hungry, feed him.  Better yet, give him a hand getting to the place where he can feed himself and his family.  And shoot the bad guys.  National policy discussions and the underlying political will often seems to lack the generosity we know we owe our fellow man and which, if neglected, deprives us of every noble value. 

To be fair, the US generously provides help to Mexico and many other countries through assistance, incentives, and direct aid.  That offsets a bit of the stupid in the fence plan.  Just a bit; not enough to make it look like a good idea, though.  Is there a better way?

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,join the public debate, get a little knowledge to replace the pat answers from FOX or CNN or MSNBC?