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Child bride shares her life experience

Melka from Libo Kemkem, Ethiopia shares her life experience as a child bride. Image: CARE

(WNN/CARE) Global: In honor of the first-ever International Day of the Girl, the global poverty-fighting organization, CARE, has launched a campaign to help end child marriage and is calling on the U.S. government to make ending early marriage a priority. The following stories illustrate how child marriage and poverty play into the lives of millions of girls around the world, violating their human rights and keeping them mired in poverty.

“Child marriage is a violation of human rights whether it happens to a girl or a boy, but it represents perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls,” says UNICEF – Child Protection Information Sheet. “The harmful consequences include separation from family and friends, lack of freedom to interact with peers and participate in community activities, and decreased opportunities for education. Child marriage can also result in bonded labour or enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence against the victims,” continues UNICEF.

Advocates say early marriage can be devastating to young girls who do not have the ability to stop inequalities in marriage. Lack of safety and personal power to stop forced sexual activity in marriage can also place young girls in dangers to exposures with HIV/AIDS. Girls who marry early are also more likely to skip school or discontinue their education all together.

“By forcing a child into premature adulthood, early marriage thwarts her chances at education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development,” says CARE’s “From Aid to Impact” action report. “Maternal health risks are particularly troubling as risk of death in pregnancy and delivery for girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their 20s,” added CARE.

But can we change conditions for girls who face early marriage? Advocates say YES.

“That’s what we need to commit to: to end child marriage by 2030,” said Mary Robinson, former United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights and one of the global human rights leaders known as The Elders, in a recent October 4, 2012 Google+ Hangout (sponsored by The Elders).

“…I think we can do it,” Robinson outlined. “When we looked and found that ten million girls a year marry, many of them way too young physically, emotionally, intellectually for marriage. And it’s undermining so many of their human rights to health, to education, etcetera.”

For coverage on International Day of the Girl, CARE International shared with WNN – Women News Network three stories of early marriage that come from Ethiopia:

Tino’s Story

Ethiopian child bride named Tino

This Ethiopian child bride named Tino can be seen here with her husband and one of his children. When girls are married off at a young age they may lose contact and connection with their birth family as their husband’s family takes over completely. This can leave them without advocates inside the family. Image: 2008 Assefa Amenu/CARE 

After her sister died, Tino was married off to her brother-in-law when she was 9 years old.

When Tino was 9, she spent her days tending to small animals in her pastoralist village in Ethiopia.

The child had never attended school, and was barely old enough to have a passing understanding of cultural traditions in her village. But that all changed after her much-older sister died in childbirth.

A few months after her sister’s death, Tino noticed village elders visiting her and having lengthy talks with her parents. She didn’t pay much attention to the visitors; she was more interested in playing with the clay animal figures she molded with her friends. Soon, though, her parents told her to stop playing with mud. They forced her to stay inside and bought her a few nice items of clothing. Visitors came more frequently, bringing food and drinks with them.

After a while, Tino got up the courage to ask her mother what was happening. That’s when Tino found out that she was getting married. Married? To whom?

Tino soon found out that she was to marry her dead sister’s husband, a man 26 years her elder. As is common practice in her society, the young child inherited her sister’s husband and newborn child.

Two years later, Tino doesn’t talk much about her duties as a wife, but it’s clear she cooks for the family and looks after the child.

Today, Tino also participates in CARE’s Healthy Unions program, a project that promotes the human rights of girls and women by decreasing the harmful traditions of bride abduction, bride price and early marriage in Ethiopia. Through the project, Tino and her husband receive counseling and support – and Tino is enrolled in school for the first time in her life.

Robena’s Story

Ethiopian child bride Robena

Robena was forced to be part of an early marriage with an older man as a trade deal after Robena’s father killed someone in her prospective husband’s family. When her husband died, Robena’s husband’s family wanted her to marry a disabled brother of her deceased husband, but Robena did not want this. CARE was able, as it worked to help Robena become more empowered, to negotiate marrying someone she wanted to marry – a younger brother of the family. She is now married to the younger brother and happy. Image: 2009 CARE

When Robena was 16-years-old, her father killed a person, and gave Robena to the family he had hurt in order to compensate for the death. She, too, became a victim of her father’s crime.

She was forced to marry one of the men in the victim’s family, and they had a son together. When her son was only six-months-old, her husband died and Robena life turned miserable.

After a year passed, Robena’s husband’s family decided to marry her to her brother-in-law, a much older man that she did not want to marry. Robena was always crying and thinking about how she could escape from this family but could not see a way out. She decided to kill herself before the marriage to the old man could take place.

One day a woman by the name of Sima came to her house. Sima was a member of the local widows’ association in Afghanistan that is supported by CARE. Sima asked Robena how her life was going since the death of her husband. Robena started crying and told her story to Sima. In turn, Sima informed Robena about women’s rights and vowed to help her escape her fate.

Together, they thought of a possible solution: Robena would agree to marry her younger brother-in-law instead of the older one. They took the issue to the widows association, who supported Robena’s right to not be forced into a marriage that she didn’t desire.

Robena went home and informed her husband’s family that she would agree to marriage if it was to her younger brother-in-law. After a few days of intervention from the widows association, the family accepted her proposal. Robena married her younger brother-in-law, and she says she now leads a happy life.

Tume’s Story

Ethiopian child bride TumeBorena, South of Ethiopia.  Child marriage such as this young child brid

Tume Mida was forced by her family to marry a man over twice her age. In this picture she stands only 10 years old with her 22-year-old husband in the region of Borena in southern Ethiopia. Seeing child brides in rural Ethiopia today is not unusual. Image: 2010 Justine Bettinger/CARE

While CARE doesn’t have as much information about Tume’s story as some of the other girls, the accompanying photo is one of the most poignant images they have on the subject of child marriage.

Tume Mida was just 10 years old when she was forced to marry a 22-year-old man in the region of Borena in Ethiopia. Child marriage at such a young age in rural Ethiopia is not unusual.

Tume is in charge of all household chores including cooking and cleaning for her husband. Because of these responsibilities, she is unable to go to school, almost guaranteeing her and her future children a lifetime of poverty.

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I want girls to know there are people out there like me who 
will fight against 
early marriage,” says Melka from Libo Kemkem, Ethiopia on standing up against forced marriage. This video has been produced by CARE International.

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For more information on this topic:

Girls Not Brides – The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, sponsored by The Elders (and partners) – website;

Ending Child Marriage – A Guide for Global Policy Action,” UNFPA (and partners), September 2006;

Child Protection Information Sheet – Child Marriage,” UNICEF, May 2006;

Get Involved – International Day of the Girl, CARE.org – website.

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2012 WNN/CARE/and partners