The Tragedy of Child-Brides

Standing for those without a voice...

What were you doing at the age of twelve? It's a pretty safe bet that if you are female, the year you turned twelve didn't include a marriage ceremony for you and a wedding night that can only be called by its true name of child-rape.

Twelve year-old girls should be playing sports and computer games, They should be  giggling over silly things with their friends and making plans for sleepovers. Their only major concerns should be getting good grades in school, what movie they're going to see, and the latest boy singer heartthrob. The thought of dying in childbirth should never even be a remote concern for a girl that age.

It shouldn't be, but for many twelve year-old girls worldwide, it is not only a concern but a blunt fact of life. In 2009, the death of a pre-teen, who died of severe bleeding while giving birth to a stillborn child, made brief headlines. This child was just at the end of her eleventh year when her father married her to a local 24-year-old farmer.

Her name was Fawziya Abdullah Youssef and she was, for a short time, the tragic poster child for child brides.

At the age of twelve, she labored for three days to give birth. Her labor pains were not administered to in a hospital or birthing center, she was not attended by skilled medical professionals, there was nothing to ease her pain.

She died terrified, only barely understanding what was happening to her. Actually, two little girls died during that horrible protracted labor: the little girl struggling to give life and the baby girl inside her.

Unfortunately, Fawziya isn't the last girl to share this terrible fate. The practice of child-brides continues.

Ahmed al-Quraishi, chairman of Seyaj, an organization which promotes child rights said,
 "Sadly this is only one of many cases that still exist. The reason behind it is the lack of education and awareness, which forces many girls into marriage at this very early age."

The tradition of child brides is, unfortunately, widespread. It has even reared its ugly head in polygamous groups in the United States.

More than 50 million girls worldwide under the age of 18 are forced into marriage every year by their families.

The practice of child marriage has been denounced by the United Nations as a serious human-rights violation. In 2007, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women intensified efforts to put a stop to this practice.

The most far-reaching injustice of child marriage is denial of education. The impact is severe. Taken out of school, confined to their husbands' homes, and cheated of the benefits of education, these young girls are condemned to lives of ignorance, physical abuse, and dire poverty from which they rarely escape.

But, lack of education and a normal life pale beside the most brutal toll of all; the terrible toll to their health. Early pregnancies are the leading cause of death for these girls. If they survive childbirth, they live with damaged bodies.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least 2 million female children worldwide are currently living with painful vaginal and anal ruptures called fistulas.

Fistulas, which result from bearing children before the body has matured, can be fatal. Survivors are left incontinent for life. Since the girl is unable to control her flow of urine or feces, she is often abandoned or neglected by her husband and family and ostracized by the community.

Without treatment, her prospects for employment, family life, and any social interaction are greatly diminished. Alone and without a means of support, she is often left to rely on charity. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases occurring every year.

The following are the appalling statistics of child-brides.

  • More than 100 million girls between the ages of nine and fifteen, in the developing world will be married during the next 10 years.
  • While the practice has decreased globally over the last 30 years, it remains common in rural areas and among the poorest of the poor.

Percentage of child-brides in by demographics in 2010:

  • Southern Asia, 48%—nearly 10 million
  • Africa, 42%
  • Latin America and the Caribbean, 29%
  • USA, 15%

Medical problems include:

  • Premature Pregnancy: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically - or emotionally - ready. Most girls will suffer from the above mentioned fistulas.
  • Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
  • Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers

The statistics speak for themselves. It is a terrible life for many young girls. Being born a female should not mean that you are less a person or that you are someone's property to be given away at will.

There is, however,  strength in numbers.

To learn more about what is being done to prevent the practice of child-brides, click here.   


© 2011 Copyright Kristen Houghton

Kristen Houghton is a well-respected Lifestyle journalist who writes for many media outlets, including The Huffington Post, More Magazine and OWN.

She is also the author of the top-selling book, And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First

*Kristen is also in the process of editing her new book on humor in relationships due soon.*

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  • erikdolnack

    Wed, 20.07.11 at 02:09PM

    A very good article! This is an endemic crisis that is hard to believe still happens around the world today, ...and in such large numbers.

    It reminds of of a cause I took part in years ago: a personal fight of a Somali woman who was a personal victim of female genital mutilation, and how she’s now trying to raise awareness of the practice here in America and have the practice banned here.

  • KristenHoughton

    Wed, 20.07.11 at 07:50PM

    Thank you erikdolnack. The practice of forcing a little girl to marry in 2011 is almost unbelieveable yet it occurs.

    Female genital mutilation is another area that desperately needs world attention focused on it. A horrible “rite of passage” that leaves girls damaged physically and emotionally.

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