More than 14 million girls marry before the age of 18 worldwide, a phenomenon that crosses religions and races. Girls married even before puberty are almost always removed from school, subjected to early sexual activity and early pregnancy, and their lives are often characterized by dependency, entrapment, and poverty. How does this happen? And how do parents who lived through such marriages and love their own children perpetuate the cycle? This is not an easy discussion about us-and-them, because it brings up widespread beliefs about how we value virginity, define beauty, and sexualize girls from a very young age.

Questions to Think About

How is child marriage defined? What defines a girl (compared to woman) in the physical, economic, and legal sense?
Where is child marriage happening? What is the scale of the phenomenon?
Does there seem to be a correlation between the incidence of child marriage and poverty, illiteracy, or joblessness? If yes, what kind of correlation?
What are the cultural factors that drive child marriage? Is it a phenomenon that is specific to one religious tradition?
How do you define kidnapping?
How do you define consensual sex? Is there an age or a level of maturity at which sex could not possibly be consensual?
If mothers of daughters were themselves the subjects of child/forced marriage, how do you make sense of their complicit role in the child-marriage of their daughters? How do you make sense of the father’s role?
Many cultures and religions have what Jessica Valenti calls an “obsession with virginity”, that is a fixation on girl-as-pure icon. What are the dilemmas that this creates for the girl as an emerging personality? What are the dilemmas for male self-esteem in finding a female partner?
Does virginity or perceived virginity have an economic value? Why?
Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina embodies the clash between woman as object--to be gazed upon, held--versus woman as subject, to act, to choose, to be self-determining. And yet Anna Karenina’s self-determination ends in suicide. Can a woman embody both the ideal of purity and reality of imperfection, the object of beauty and the subject of self-determination in one person? (Recommended: Lev Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)
If a local economy doesn’t suggest to a father the reason why his daughter should remain in school, could the reason be externally created? How?
If the parents of a girl don’t defend her self-determination, is there any way that her rights can be upheld by others?
In places where girls are married at a young age, what measures could local governments take to enable their continuing education?

Recommended Courses

Recommended Articles

Annerieke Smaak and Nisha Varia, Ending Child Marriage in Africa, Human Rights Watch, Nov, 2015.
Q&A: Child Marriage and Violations of Girls’ Rights: 14 Million Girls Marry Each Year Worldwide, HRW, June 2013.
Nawal Nour, Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa, Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2006 Nov; 12(11): 1644-1649.
KG Santhya, Early Marriage and Sexual and Reproductive Health Vulnerabilities of Young Women: A synthesis of recent evidence from developing countries, Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2011 Oct; 23(5): 334-339.
NM Nour, Child Marriage: A silent health and human rights issue, Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2009 Winter; 2(1): 51-6.
Kazutaka Sekine and Marian Ellen Hodgkin, Effect of Child Marriage on Girls’ School Dropout in Nepal: Analysis of data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2014, PLOS One, 2017 July 20, 12(7).
Olaide Adedokun, Oluwagbemiga Adeyemi and Cholli Dauda, Child Marriage and Maternal Health Risks Among Young Mothers in Gombi, Adamawa State, Nigeria: Implications for mortality, entitlements and freedoms, African Health Sciences, 2016 December; 16(4): 986-999.
Child Marriage and the Law, Girls Not Brides, updated 2017.
Saeed Al Batati, A Wedding, A Funeral, or a Cover-up? Gulf News, September 14, 2013.
Katherine Rowland with Hossein Raeesi, translated by Roger Sedarat, Prison Journal of a Child Bride, Guernica, August 1, 2014.
Nabila Ramdani, ‘After the Wedding, Fear Set In’: A Yemeni Child Bride’s Story, The Guardian, October 1, 2013.
Bride Kidnapping, Wikipedia.
Christine Chung, Women and Girls Club, Little Is Being Done to End Kyrgyzstan’s Bride Kidnapping Crisis, Huffington Post, September 7, 2016.
Hymen Repair: Restoring virginity, Wellness Kliniek, Belgium.
Lynn Sherr, Women Have Surgery to ‘Restore’ Virginity, ABC News, June 20, 2017.
Women Going Under Knife to Restore Virginity, Times of India, April 15, 2015.
Farangis Najibullah, Orzu Karim, Virginity Test: Tajik