Each night, Sofia dreams. She dreams of going to school to get an education, and then Sofia awakes and the torture begins. Because this 11-year-old girl is espoused to a man three times her age.
He doesn’t let her go to school, instead, she prepares meals and cleans all day, and at night, she’s made to do whatever he commands her to do. Even despite her simply being a young girl.
So many girls similar to Sofia face this waking ordeal.
In Bangladesh, nearly two out of every three girls are espoused by the age of 18, with over one-third of girls being married before 15.
However, if you tour Dinajpur, a region in northern Bangladesh, you will see that attitudes are shifting, and fast.
Up the road, resting in the shade beneath a tree is the 15-member district community-based committee. The committee was founded in 1994 when Plan International started operating there.
People now understand the consequences of child marriage, relationships destroyed, a girls’ well-being affected, and they leave education early.
Earlier this year, the National Government brought in a law forbidding marriage below 16 by 2021 and marriage below 18 by 2042, an enormous move forward for girls in Bangladesh, but there are concerns on one thing, number 19, leaves a loophole as it supports child marriage in special cases but a crusade is shifting to abolish it.
Courage. It’s an action of bravery. It’s an action that’s not absent of dread, but one that triumphs over it. It’s an action that’s great or small. Courage is standing up for your freedoms and the freedoms of others.
And everyday girls are standing up for their freedoms and demanding gender equality.
It’s estimated that globally one in three women have endured bodily or wanton injury at some time in their lives. That’s nearly 938 million women, more than the number of starving people in the world and close to the population of Africa.
A UNICEF study determined that the majority of women who’d undergone sexual violence first encountered it between the ages of 15 and 19, one in five endured it before the age of 15.
Nevertheless, it’s not only those who are directly harmed by brutality who are touched by it. When girls develop in communities where brutality and harassment are common, normalised even, the terror of brutality has severe consequences for girls’ possibilities and freedom.
The duty for stopping brutality too frequently gravitates to girls being told that they are not allowed to go places, or that they can’t wear specific clothes, go out at night or even be alone, and definitive advice like this usually restricts a girl’s ability to leave the house when she wants.
This, crucially, further limits her access to daily childhood possibilities such as being entitled to play sports with boys or not advancing her learning.
Dodging brutality by restricting girls aged 10 might appear reasonable, but this approach is seldom readjusted as girls get older. In 2011, we spoke to teenage girls in some of the communities in which the study was based.
One girl from Brazil described quite precisely how the fear of brutality that happens from a young age can end up influencing the most critical choices in a girls’ life.
Education must be similar for boys and girls, and their rights must be similar, too, however, this doesn’t occur. Usually, these girls want to take a professional class, but the community doesn’t allow it. Their mothers never let them take a course outside the area because usually the class is far from home and they are scared of sexual brutality and harassment.
The boys want to go too, but there isn’t enough money for both, therefore the boys end up taking the class.
India has the largest amount of child brides in the world. It is thought that 47% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday, and the incidences of child marriage differ between states and are as steep as 69% and 65% in Bihar and Rajasthan.
Whilst fewer Indian girls are marrying before the age of 15, rates of marriage have increased for girls between ages 15 to 18, and in numerous communities, girls are viewed as a financial hardship and marriage assigns the burden to her new mate. Poverty and marriage customs such as a dowry may drive a family to marry off their daughter at a tender age to lessen these costs.
Patriarchy and status influence the standards and beliefs around the role of women and girls in India. In various communities, limiting standards restrict girls to the position of daughter, wife and mother who are first perceived as the property of her father and then of her husband.
Dominating girls and women’s sexuality is an important part of the tradition of child marriage too. Pressure towards early marriage strives to reduce the shame associated with inappropriate female sexual behaviour, usually leading to marriages planned around the period of adolescence.
Poor educational opportunities for girls, particularly in rural regions, further expand a girls’ vulnerability to child marriage, and the lawful age for marriage is 18 for women, 21 for men, according to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) of 2006.
The PCMA sets penalties for those who do not stop child marriages and creates Child Marriage Prohibition Officers. It encompasses a right to revoke marriage if underage, however, this relies on families to report the act.
A National Action Plan to stop child marriages was drafted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013, nevertheless, it has not yet been concluded, and the Government has employed cash inducements, such as the Dhan Laxmi scheme and the Apni Beti Apna Dhun programme, minors’ empowerment programmes (Kishori Shakti Yojana) and awareness-raising to produce behaviour modification.
India is a part of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action strategy to stop child marriage. The regional action plan is to be executed in 2015 – 2018.
India is one of 12 nations chosen to be part of UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
However, a mass child marriage celebration in India was caught on camera, showing young brides grieving as they are forced to marry.
The tragic video was taken in Chittorgarh, a city in Rajasthan, northern India, a state in the country that is widespread for child marriages. In one clip a young girl of about ten-years-old was seen frantically sobbing and begging for help as her father hauls her about the customary celebration.
In a different clip a priest, leading the Hindu ceremony is also observed punishing the children for crying.
Six marriages took place in two days throughout the Akshaya Tritiya, a Hindu celebration held to be favourable for child marriages in rural India.
One of the child brides, a five-year-old, is observed clothed in a Hindu wedding dress and is ordered to walk around the fire with her kid groom, an 11-year-old. She is weeping aloud but a man orders her to perform the Hindu wedding ceremony, which entails cruising around the fire seven times.
The names of the others in the footage are still to be established by police, who have now filed a case upon the various families that made their children marry, however, all are currently on the run and in hiding.
As soon as the District Magistrate of Chittorgarh learned about the incidents, teams were sent out to find the culprits. Once caught, the marriages of the children will be void and the court will decide action against them.
They have stopped many child marriages in the past but at times, fearing police, the villagers opt for a secretive venue which may be outside their community. Many do not report the incident to police even in concern of the social tensions.
Child rights activist Kriti Bharti, 28, and founder of Saarthi Trust, a foundation for the welfare of child brides and other defenceless children responded: ‘My heart goes out to these little children trapped in this tragedy.’
The police should have responded quickly as the video definitely proves a priest was involved. Action should not only be taken upon the families but every grown-up involved in the ceremony including the decorators, caterers, attendees and relations.
Kriti has so far revoked 29 child marriages in Rajasthan and has prevented 850 child marriages.
Her work means more and more families and communities are starting to realise these child marriages are not the way forward, however, this recent mass child marriage shows there is still much work to do.
Their society will never change and this evil idea will keep continuing if stringent action is not taken against these people.
The Child Welfare Committee now needs to intervene and these victims should be brought into protective care. Once they have protection, they will attempt reaching out to them and counsel them for a better life before them.
The families in these situations require a similar measure of counselling as they are under a lot of societal pressures.
The statutory age for girls and boys to wed in India is 18 and 21 respectively but according to UNICEF, India is home to a third of the globe’s total child brides.
How can the Indian state permit this to continue? They should be ashamed of themselves.
They want to look all cool with their space programme, yet they allow these antiquated traditions to continue. They really are a retarded culture, with these poor little girls suffering nothing but a lifetime of servitude and degradation.