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A girl is never too young to marry, really.
May 30, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Because the wedding was illegal and a secret . . it was well into the afternoon before the three girl brides . . . began to prepare themselves for their sacred vows. "Two of the brides, the sisters Radha and Gora, were 15 and 13, old enough to understand what was happening. The third, their niece Rajani, was 5. . . " Previously on MetaFilter. If you can read a pdf document, here is more from the International Center for Research on Women.
posted by bearwife (51 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
This was a difficult story to even look at, let alone read, when I saw it in my NatGeo this month. Some of the photos of the girls were so...child porn-ish. That or very Jon Benet. Either way, it was creepy as hell. Kudos to NatGeo for shining a light on this.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:27 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


:(
posted by Neekee at 3:36 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gah. What the hell is wrong with people? Fuck the patriarchy.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:38 PM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Funny how virginity is SO important to some people.
posted by Melismata at 3:39 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If anyone thinks virginity is the only issue,that person does not understand young girls, or the life they enter with child marriage.
posted by Cranberry at 3:44 PM on May 30, 2011


"If anyone thinks virginity is the only issue,that person does not understand young girls, or the life they enter with child marriage."

Seriously, from the article:

"One of our workers had a father turn to him, in frustration," says Sreela Das Gupta, a New Delhi health specialist who previously worked for the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one of several global nonprofits working actively against early marriage. "This father said, 'If I am willing to get my daughter married late, will you take responsibility for her protection?' The worker came back to us and said, 'What am I supposed to tell him if she gets raped at 14?' These are questions we don't have answers to."
posted by Blasdelb at 3:46 PM on May 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Look at this, specially the sixth picture.
posted by Tarumba at 3:54 PM on May 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think the story of the girl who is married but still going to school is fascinating, and kind of emblematic of the issue. Her parents married her off early maybe as the only way they knew how to protect her and provide for her. Now, she's lucky enough to have found another way, but she's still bound by cultural and familial (and legal?) obligations to her "husband". She's found a viable path to the power to create her own future, but her parents removed that right from her when she was a little kid. And even they seem uncomfortable about the way their past choices and her current options are at odds.

I hope that the education- of the parents, of the villages, and above all of the girls- that seems to provide some kind of a partial solution to this problem can be made available far more broadly than it currently is.
posted by MadamM at 3:58 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's amazing how something like this can make the lives of those of us in the educated, industrialized west seem like a sci-fi utopia.
posted by mmagin at 4:14 PM on May 30, 2011 [20 favorites]


I recently subscribed to the print edition of National Geographic, i've not regretted it since. While issues like this one, where every story was fascinating and going from ups to downs, and telling me facts that i'd rather not be true (being a rabbit fan, finding out 1.1 billion of them were killed in 2009 for food alone), it's really put the world in perspective. Even though most times it seems like humanity is just a pile of crap, it's good to see National Geographic not shy away from issues like this.
posted by usagizero at 4:24 PM on May 30, 2011


The author of this article, Cynthia Gorney, is an awesome feminist journalist-- she wrote a really good book about abortion, Articles of Faith.
posted by yarly at 4:27 PM on May 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


From the last photo:

When Sunil's parents arranged for her marriage at age 11, she threatened to report them to police in Rajasthan, India. They relented, and Sunil, now 13, stayed in school. "Studying will give her an edge against others," her mother now says.

Damn brave girl. It's exactly that kind of gumption that manages to pull so many young people like her out of the cycles of poverty that have been plaguing the developing world.
posted by Seiten Taisei at 4:29 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


WP entry on Malalai Kakar, Afghan policewoman, seen in one of the photos.
posted by vidur at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Kandahar policewoman Malalai Kakar arrests a man who repeatedly stabbed his wife, 15, for disobeying him. "Nothing," Kakar said, when asked what would happen to the husband. "Men are kings here." Kakar was later killed by the Taliban.
posted by Malice at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am crying
posted by Slothrup at 5:11 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The final lines of that article were physically devastating. I can't remember the last time I've read a sentence that sank a knife of fear so deep and so quickly. How grotesque.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:24 PM on May 30, 2011


Kandahar policewoman Malalai Kakar arrests a man who repeatedly stabbed his wife, 15, for disobeying him. "Nothing," Kakar said, when asked what would happen to the husband. "Men are kings here." Kakar was later killed by the Taliban.
Heh.
posted by delmoi at 5:44 PM on May 30, 2011


Wait. Shit. For some reason I read that paragraph wrong and thought Kakar was the name of the guy who stabbed his wife.
posted by delmoi at 5:45 PM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I wish, delmoi. That would have been poetic justice.

I know it is a very different culture, but surely the men who marry these girls must realize this is not only illegal, but deeply wrong.
posted by bearwife at 5:52 PM on May 30, 2011


Wait. Shit. For some reason I read that paragraph wrong and thought Kakar was the name of the guy who stabbed his wife.

Yeah, I did the same thing the first time I read it, and had the same reaction...
posted by Jimbob at 6:06 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I doubt they think it's wrong. Culture has a huge impact on what people consider right and wrong. For one thing they probably don't even think of teenagers as being "children" at all. The 18 year limit for childhood is kind of arbitrary and is really just based on being the age that people graduate from high-school. But over there a lot of these kids are out of school at these ages anyway.

It seems hard to believe that these guys wouldn't think of a 10 or 12 year old as not being a child, though.

The real problem is forced marriage in general. These stories wouldn't be any less tragic if they happened to women who are 18, 19, 22 or whatever, would they?
posted by delmoi at 6:06 PM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Things like the fate of Malalai Kakar makes me sick, and shows that the western world can't just turn a blind eye to cultures that condone this sort of behavior. The Taliban shouldn't be allowed in charge of anything larger than a shoebox.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:08 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know it is a very different culture, but surely the men who marry these girls must realize this is not only illegal, but deeply wrong.

Even if they do, there are always costs to pay if you go against accepted practice, if for no other reason than saying it's wrong means by implication that you are saying your fellow villagers have done wrong. And people tend to resent that.

Which IMO has a weird effect of making really wrong things persist for longer, because everyone is so deeply uncomfortable about it and trying so hard not to think about it that it becomes taboo to even talk about it and so even marginal reform becomes difficult.

I am not, at all, excusing any of these practices, just pointing out how much human nature can work against reform.
posted by emjaybee at 6:25 PM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


:-(
posted by hal_c_on at 6:25 PM on May 30, 2011


God damn it, this is heartbreaking.
posted by Songdog at 6:45 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This makes me literally sick.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:11 PM on May 30, 2011


Fuck cultural relativism! These people *are ignorant barbarians*.

Women - yeah, real human beings! - are treated as slaves and chattel in these cultures and I"m sick and tired of seeing these stories reported and at the same time going to bed knowing that women are being treated this way anywhere on earth. There are organizations trying to help and exposing this outrage is a public service, but way more needs to be done. The civilized world should be leafleting these cultures; broadcasting radio programs to these cultures, etc. etc. We should be doing *everything* we can to let these people know that the world is watching them. We should be *actively* creating disincentives for any leader in these nations who does not actively participate in stopping these abuses.
posted by Vibrissae at 7:13 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just checked the WP entry on Child marriage, and found this heartbreaking data. I had no idea child marriage was so widespread across the world.
posted by vidur at 7:28 PM on May 30, 2011


There is a TV show called "Balika Vadhu - Kacchi Umar ke Pakke Rishte" (Child Bride - Mature/Strong Relationships of a Young Age) in India. From the show's official blurb:
Set in rural Rajasthan, 'Balika Vadhu' traces the arduous journey of child bride Anandi from the brink of childhood to womanhood. Married at the tender age of eight, to an equally young Jagdish, she enters a new world which is at once alienating and confusing. and torn away from the merriment of childhood and her family, she has to accept and accustom herself to this new family of strangers, new relationships and accept her roles as a friend, lover, wife and a mother as she forges her way in the world. 'Balika Vadhu' very sensitively portrays the plight of children who are unwittingly forced into marriage, in the name of tradition, and have to bear the repercussions for the rest of their lives.
The comments on that page are interesting. There were demands to get the show off-air, but that never happened. CNN also covered it back in 2009.
posted by vidur at 7:48 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's the thing about whether or not the "culture" views it as right or wrong- all the people in charge, the people speaking on behalf of their culture, are men. And the people enforcing those norms, they are men, too.

It's not representative of the real culture of an entire ethnic group if unless women have a voice, too. When you ask women, outside the presence of men, ask them when they don't fear reprisal, you ask them if it's right or wrong. We don't even need to bring cultural relativism into the mix, just ask those most affected how they really feel.

I understand what they are saying about empowering women in the community to promote change. And I think that they're right.

Just the same, I'm having fantasies about starting some sort of underground railroad, and adopting a girl at risk of being married off at 11. Because I swear, if given the chance, I'd do it.
posted by Leta at 8:08 PM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


National Geographic lists some organizations working to address this. Does anyone here have experience with any of these or with others doing this type of work? I'd like to donate in support and want my dollars to be as effective as they can.
posted by Songdog at 8:08 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


A serious question...

"This father said, 'If I am willing to get my daughter married late, will you take responsibility for her protection?' The worker came back to us and said, 'What am I supposed to tell him if she gets raped at 14?' These are questions we don't have answers to."

What would happen if the answer was, "Yes. I will adopt her, take her to a country where she will never want for food or safety or education. I will raise her to love and respect her culture and history. I will send you photos of her, and when she is finished with college she and I will come back to visit you." What prevents this from being a very good answer?
posted by Houstonian at 8:43 PM on May 30, 2011


I didn't go to any of the links. This disturbs me too much. I had visited the NG site earlier and the picture of the 14 year old bathing a newborn while her 2 year old played nearby was more than I could take. These kinds of stories just haunt me. People are monsters. And I don't know why these women don't slaughter these men in their sleep.
posted by shoesietart at 8:52 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's amazing how something like this can make the lives of those of us in the educated, industrialized west seem like a sci-fi utopia.

I know there is a very real issue of child marriage in India as illustrated here and elsewhere, but i just really need to point out that this is illegal, not a universal practice by **any** means in India and there are actually many many "educated, industrialized" people in India.

As an Indian American, I've had a surprising number of people ask me about child marriage, assumed I was going to be hauled off into an arranged marriage with someone I'd never met, my father would have to pay a bunch of money to the groom's family, etc, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 8:59 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


What prevents this from being a very good answer?

The non-existence of said country.
posted by Nomyte at 9:09 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Yes. I will adopt her, take her to a country where she will never want for food or safety or education. I will raise her to love and respect her culture and history. I will send you photos of her, and when she is finished with college she and I will come back to visit you." What prevents this from being a very good answer?

Uh, I think this is an inhuman and denigrating practice, too. But considering the history of reeducation and appropriation of children into European cultures, I really don't think that's the answer. I mean, I don't know what the answer is, other than somehow convincing an entire series of cultures to notice that women are people, too. But we can't just kidnap their children.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:10 PM on May 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


What would happen if the answer was, "Yes. I will adopt her, take her to a country where she will never want for food or safety or education. I will raise her to love and respect her culture and history. I will send you photos of her, and when she is finished with college she and I will come back to visit you." What prevents this from being a very good answer?
Immigration laws, I think. I wonder what would happen if these girls tried to apply for asylum? Certainly that could work though Send girls to a western country for education from 12-16 or something, then send them back (or let them stay in the U.S. and send remittance, which would probably be a fortune for a lot of these families)

Still though: I think there's a big difference between a marriage between a 14 and a 16 year old and a 12 year old and 50 year old. It isn't necessarily the case that a marriage between teenagers is a horrible thing. These people are probably viewed as essentially adults in their culture, not children. When I was between middle school and highschool I met a teen girl who had gotten pregnant and was planning on marrying the father, and she seemed fine with it. The difference is that it was her choice, rather then something that was forced on her.
posted by delmoi at 9:20 PM on May 30, 2011


I definitely think that child marriage--actually, forced marriage of any sort--is an abhorrent practice. But I do agree with the author of the National Geographic article when she says
What seems to work best, when marriage-delaying programs do take hold, is local incentive rather than castigation: direct inducements to keep girls in school, along with schools they can realistically attend. India trains village health workers called sathins, who monitor the well-being of area families; their duties include reminding villagers that child marriage is not only a crime but also a profound harm to their daughters.
Much as I, too, want to swoop in and rescue those girls from marriage, I am pretty sure external intervention won't be as successful or as permanent as a change from within through empowerment of local agencies and local activists. This process is maddeningly slow, of course, but I think it is the only way.

I wasn't surprised to see the author mention the importance of finding realistic ways to keep girls in school. Educating girls and women has been identified as one of the best ways to raise the standard of living for EVERYONE in a society. This paper [pdf] by development economists Dina Abu-Ghaida and Stephan Klasen is an interesting and sobering look at the likely consequences for countries where the gender gap isn't closed. It's a little old now, but the concepts are still relevant. I really do think it will be hard to completely eliminate child marriage as long as the education of girls is considered unnecessary.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:47 PM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I know there is a very real issue of child marriage in India as illustrated here and elsewhere, but i just really need to point out that this is illegal, not a universal practice by **any** means in India and there are actually many many "educated, industrialized" people in India.

Sure, this is illegal. But it is also seems to have rather high social approval ratings.

As they say, whatever generalization you make about India, the opposite is also true.

The link I posted above, from a reputable source (UNICEF), says that in India, 47% of women in the 20–24 years age group were married or in union before they were 18 years old. Though not "universal" by any yardstick, it is a very big number (that's 47% of many, many millions) and quite shocking. I am from India, and indeed, from Rajasthan - a problem state on this - as well. The number came as a shock to me too (since I don't know of any cases of child marriage in my family's extended social circle), but this is about something entirely different from personal anecdata.

Nor is this an issue of defending India's reputation. A country of more than a billion people is expected to have all sorts of folks. But 47%? WTF!
posted by vidur at 10:37 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fuck cultural relativism! These people *are ignorant barbarians*.

This is my take on it too, even after making friends with some of them. I am sure I've told this story here before.

I am sitting outside the restaurant having a smoke and talking to Daoud. It is the closing ceremony party, and a bunch of Afghans have completed their basic teacher training with my wife Dilya and I. They are all young, 18-22 or so, and have been selected from all over Afghanistan. Daoud is from Kandahar, and is the absolutely stereotypical Pashtun. He is kind, intelligent, and generous but also very traditional in his dress and his ways. You wouldn't want to impugn his honour - I am quite certain you'd end up with a knife in your heart.

But he gives me a lot of leeway - I am his teacher, and I try my best to be understanding about what he tells me of his culture. We both fancy ourselves intellectuals and we both enjoy one another's very different perspectives on the world.

We are talking about marriage. He explains that his wife has been arranged, and soon he'll be getting married. It is a real taboo for me to ask after his bride, but he is willing to humour the martian.

"Have you met her?"
"No. But I know of her, she is a cousin from a village outside Kandahar."
"Is she educated?"
"No. She has never been to school."
"Can she read?"
"No."
"Won't that be a difficult relationship? You are an intelligent and worldly person."
"No, it will be fine."
"But you won't be able to talk to her about things. Like, look at Dilya and I, it is so good for me to have a wife I can have discussions with. To have an illiterate wife would be so strange to me."
"And I think that having a wife like Dilya would be very strange."

We smile at one another, agreeing to disagree.

When Dilya and I walked the few blocks back to our guest house after the party we attracted a huge string of followers. Dilya was wearing a local costume, but it was a pretty, festive one, good for parties. Later on, after asking some locals, it became clear that someone dressed like a whore out on the street was fair game. It was quite lucky that we were not pelted with stones or worse.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:52 PM on May 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


Immigration laws, I think. I wonder what would happen if these girls tried to apply for asylum?

The trainees I was talking about earlier were all people who had completed American Councils' "study for a year in the States" program. Each year at program completion the American local organiser was extremely tense about potential defectors.

The problem was that he wanted all the girls to come back, and very few of them wanted to after tasting a year of freedom. They were part of a US quasi-governmental program, so I don't think they would have any luck trying to claim asylum there.

Here is what the brave ones did. When the year was over, rather than travel to the closing ceremony in Washington DC, they would get themselves to Niagara Falls. At the Canadian border they'd all be admitted, almost no questions asked. "I am an Afghan, and my family wants me to return to be married against my will." "Welcome to Canada."

I don't remember exactly, but at least 5 or 6 women managed to do this in the time I was involved. "If one more girl does this my program will be closed down," said the American.

I've never met any of these young women but I have enough friends of friends that I think I could get in touch. I'd love to follow up with them and hear how they are getting along as Canadians now.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:03 PM on May 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


delmoi : then send them back (or let them stay in the U.S. and send remittance, which would probably be a fortune for a lot of these families)

With that, you hit the showstopper. "Did you enjoy your brief visit to civilization, honey? Did we teach you enough to know what you didn't have, what you could have, what you won't have? How people should treat each other, but your arranged husband won't? Good, good... Time to go home now. Buh-bye".

And funny-in-a-sad-way, the savages would probably blame us for the massive rise in suicide among returning women...


Meatbomb : When the year was over, rather than travel to the closing ceremony in Washington DC, they would get themselves to Niagara Falls. At the Canadian border they'd all be admitted, almost no questions asked. "I am an Afghan, and my family wants me to return to be married against my will." "Welcome to Canada."

...Or that. Same long-term effect, though - Program ends, "GTFO you damned Americans".

At the risk of sounding like an imperialist, some "traditions" need to die, ASAP, and to Hell with cultural relativism/autonomy.


Thorzdad : Some of the photos of the girls were so...child porn-ish. That or very Jon Benet.

Did NatGeo pull some of the pics since this went up on the Blue? I see a single picture for this article, and although creepy in-context, I wouldn't call it the least bit porn-like.
posted by pla at 3:51 AM on May 31, 2011


What would happen if the answer was, "Yes. I will adopt her, take her to a country where she will never want for food or safety or education. I will raise her to love and respect her culture and history. I will send you photos of her, and when she is finished with college she and I will come back to visit you." What prevents this from being a very good answer?

It is a very good answer, if your goal is to save one girl, or even a handful. But what about the millions of others?
posted by rocket88 at 9:33 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Houstonian Perhaps a girl of 14, just suffering from a rape, might not want to flee her native country, abandon her friends and family, etc? From her POV that might seem to be a horrible punishment added on to the existing trauma of being a rape victim.
posted by sotonohito at 10:14 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think my comment was misunderstood (or maybe not). I guess I'm approaching the problem with a Western solution, but it seems to work here to some extent. If you have a 5 year old with parents who cannot raise it, and extended family who cannot offer even very basic safety, the family usually gives the child up to be adopted by a caring family who can support that child. It's not without its own problems and criticisms, but it seems to me that those problems are better than marrying her off, to maybe be raped by her own husband (which apparently isn't considered rape) at such a young age that she dies from internal injuries.
posted by Houstonian at 4:44 PM on May 31, 2011


Houstonian I think the quote from the frustrated father clarified the problem. The only way a girl can get married is if she is a virgin, an unmarried woman in that area is going to have a harder life. It doesn't matter if the girl becomes a non-virgin by rape, she's unmarriageable.

We can agree that this is a bad situation produced by a bad worldview. But it is present, we can't just wish it away.

I think the "protection" part was the idea that early marriage protects the girls by getting them married before they are likely to be raped. That way, even if they are raped later in life they still have the benefits of marriage. And, I suspect, there's the (false) idea that a married woman is simply less likely to get raped.
posted by sotonohito at 5:13 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


We can agree that this is a bad situation produced by a bad worldview. But it is present, we can't just wish it away.

I agree with you, sotonohito. Issues like child marriage go hand-in-hand with other abusive practices, all based on a pervasive belief that women should not have autonomy over their own bodies. Nothing is going to change for child brides until issues like, say, marital rape/spousal rape are also considered problematic. I don't think it's a coincidence that Yemen, Afghanistan, and India, three nations mentioned here in connection with child marriage, do not have laws against marital rape.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:09 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"For the first time, women in India have legal protection against abuse in their own homes under a law which came into force yesterday. It is the first time Indian law has recognised marital rape, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse of a woman by her husband as crimes." [October 2006]

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and I haven't read the actual Act. But it looks like mere legal protection is not the issue, at least in India.
posted by vidur at 7:44 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's great news, vidur--thanks for the correction. The list I had for reference was clearly not up to date.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:36 AM on June 1, 2011


So, I am of Indian descent. My grandmother was married when she was 9. Forced to drop out of school, had four children. Never a moment to herself.
In her 20s she started studying her husband's school materials. In her 30s she started writing. In her 80s, she has a PhD.

It's not always the end of the world. Always proud of my Ammamma.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]




Your Ammamma sounds like a wonderful woman, but she may still have preferred things to be differently than they were. Of course, rape, war trauma and child abuse can "not be the end of the world", but wouldn't this world be a better one without them?

I, for one, would exchange nine PhDs for the freedom of choice, pib. I'm sure the educational consequences of being married off at 9 would be the least worry in my mind.
posted by Tarumba at 6:40 PM on June 13, 2011


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