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The younger the bride, the higher the price
July 9, 2006 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Child brides of Afghanistan. A child bride is very often just that: a child, even a preteen, her innocence betrothed to someone older, even much, much older. Images by Stephanie Sinclair who's work on women's issues in Afghanistan is always eye opening.
posted by photoslob (76 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
At least they are somewhat up front and open about it, a means to make money, rather than hiding or masking it behind some religious thing. Even so, this is so so sad. Breaks my heart while at the same time, really pisses me off!!! Nuff said.
posted by BillsR100 at 8:41 AM on July 9, 2006


Makes me feel sad and angry, with at the same time that so typical tinge of the western liberal to allow others to do as they please, or at least as their traditions do. Sometimes the world seems very shitty.
posted by A189Nut at 8:45 AM on July 9, 2006


"The name of today's military operation is Enduring Freedom. We defend not only our precious freedoms, but also the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free from fear." -- George Bush announcing the war in Aghanistan. October 7, 2001

Of course, he was speaking only of the fear of terrorists. A solution in Afghanistan seems much more complicated than just removing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda training camps.
posted by Roger Dodger at 9:03 AM on July 9, 2006


If only the Afghans could be just like Americans.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:09 AM on July 9, 2006


The Prime Directive dictates that there be no interference with the natural development of any primitive society, chiefly meaning that no primitive culture can be given or exposed to any information regarding advanced technology or alien races. It also forbids any effort to improve or change in any way the natural course of such a society, even if that change is well-intentioned and kept totally secret.
Shrub is no Captain Kirk, that's fershur.
posted by mischief at 9:10 AM on July 9, 2006


Brazilian indians allow sex, as long as the girl had her first period.

A girl gave birth a few weeks ago, some investigation is under way to check if she was raped. Problem is: The kid is 9 years old!!!

UNDER NO CIRCUNSTANCES a 9-years-old-girl KNOWS what sex is, to consent or not.

But hey, that's their culture, let's embrace diversity.

I say go for it, I'm importing a 16 years-old korean girl and her twin sister. Don't point fingers, my personal cultura beliefs allow that..
posted by cardoso at 9:34 AM on July 9, 2006


So this couple are have sex, and the guy looks at the chick and says, "I'm gonna stick it your ass now."
She looks at him with a surprized look and says, "That's pretty presumptuous of you!"
The guy flips her over and says, "That's a pretty big word for a 9 year old!"

Thanks!! I'll be here all week! Try the seafood special, and be sure to tip your waitress!
posted by Balisong at 9:45 AM on July 9, 2006


Attention world-weary enemies of radical cultural relativism and political correctness: Please note that nobody so far has argued that the child bride practice is "O.K." because it's a long-standing tradition in Afghanistan. I know you have to go a few more hours before Rush Limbaugh's show is on, so please save it for him.

That said, there are amazing, sad photos.
posted by bardic at 9:51 AM on July 9, 2006


This makes my soul weep.
posted by eatdonuts at 10:05 AM on July 9, 2006


Hmm... this should go well. Personally, I feel trapped between my revulsion about child exploitation and my aversion to cultural imperialism, particularly as a pretext to military occupation and domination. Other than that, I really don't know what to say.
posted by squirrel at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2006


Stephanie is a good friend of mine from college and she shared many of these images with me recently when she came to visit. I've been a photographer a long time and nothing really shocks me anymore yet when I saw these images phsysically sick. Ironically, I asked my own 9-year-old daughter to leave the room when we were looking at these images because I just couldn't find it in my heart to explain to her what was taking place in these images. What's upsetting IMO is that due to many of the foreign policy mistakes Bush Co. has made over the last 4 years it's nearly impossible for the U. S. to come from any moral or intrinsic place to try and convince the people of Afghanistan that treating women as property is wrong. When looking at these images I feel hopeless about the U. S.'s position of influence in the developing world.
posted by photoslob at 10:18 AM on July 9, 2006


The US didn't invade Afghanistan to improve the lives of women. It did it to root out the Taliban, a terrorist group that we (speaking as an American) actively fostered during the 1980's when they fought against the Soviet occupation.

(And I supported the invasion of Afghanistan myself, but find it ridonkulous that anyone would give Bush II credit for being a fighter for women's rights. And if I did, I'd be very disappointed that by all accounts, women are subject to more harrasment and violence now than they were under active Taliban rule, and that little is being done to improve people's lives in areas where the Taliban has regained control.)
posted by bardic at 10:19 AM on July 9, 2006


"images phsysically sick" = "I was" should be in there somewhere.
posted by photoslob at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2006


But hey, that's their culture, let's embrace diversity.

A part of me says that that's actually correct. Not that it's "right" but that the correct thing to do is to allow the culture in question to sort out it's own problems.

I will point out that the best way historically for problems like that to be solved seems to be an even lift out of poverty. It seemed like the child marriages are basically financial transactions, and it seems to me there is a correlation between poverty/dearth and this sort of disregard for the rights of others.

I would think that the best way for "us" to react to these realities is to help countries in the so-called developing world build sustainable economies that lift at least a majority of their citizens out of poverty. This would also probably help decrease the number of terrorists in he world as well.

Not gonna happen though. Hell, let's bomb 'em again. That'll learn 'em.
posted by illovich at 10:38 AM on July 9, 2006


For more on women's rights in Afghanistan, see also rawa.org (an organization my brother has worked with in the past).
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:41 AM on July 9, 2006


I only mentioned the quote by Bush above because very often the spin placed on the war on terror is how we are not just protecting ourselves from terrorists, but we are fighting for freedom and democracy around the world. The truth is that there is still a long way to go if the USA's ultimate goal is to set up free societies where individual rights are respected. War on Terror: short-term military strikes or nation-building? You decide.
posted by Roger Dodger at 10:44 AM on July 9, 2006


build sustainable economies

Yay! Capitalism!
posted by mischief at 10:45 AM on July 9, 2006


It's hard for me to reconcile the philosophy that it's not OK to "tamper" with a culture so morally corupt that the idea of women as property is OK yet we should feel free to offer aid and maybe they'll see the error of their ways. In many ways the situation in much of the Islamic world ruled by islamofacism points out the problem of religion as a force that holds people in poverty and ignorance and lifts up very few if any. The recent post on the work by Sam Harris (with the exception of the wacky eastern philosophy stuff) has made a strong impact on my beliefs that no matter what well intentioned work is done in these parts of the world not much will come of it as long as the clerics, imams and others of their ilk preach the philosophies of women as property.
posted by photoslob at 10:50 AM on July 9, 2006


Superb documentary photography, that.

UNDER NO CIRCUNSTANCES a 9-years-old-girl KNOWS what sex is, to consent or not.

Huh? I knew what sex was way before I was nine, as did my sister, because my Mom told us all about it. And if your parents have been sufficiently remiss not to explain the process of baby-making to you by that age, you'll surely know a bizarro skewed version from your little friends in the playground. (Not to mention the fact that in a culture where sex with young girls isn't frowned upon, kids are even more likely to be aware of what sex entails.)
posted by jack_mo at 10:51 AM on July 9, 2006


Somedays I wonder if Afghanistan would have been better off under Soviet rule. The economy of Afghanistan is built around subsistance farms inherited and managed through marriage. Perhaps the move to collective farming and state ownership of land would have removed the economics that make this abhorent practice so widespread. It seems to me that the only way to end this practice is by a huge transformation of the Afghan economy. The system of freemarket captialism can do this but it will take a dramatic improvement in the security situtuation and a few generations to complete. Somehow I think this isn't a very good solution if you're a nine year old girl living in an Afghani village today.
posted by humanfont at 10:54 AM on July 9, 2006


.
posted by Optamystic at 11:04 AM on July 9, 2006


jack_mo, knowing what sex entails and understanding the full consequences of it are two different things. It seems cardoso was pointing at the latter. Most kids DO know way before age 9 what sex entails and that it can produce babies and/or diseases, but no one is equipped at that age to understand the real desires and emotional weight behind it.
posted by inactivist at 11:09 AM on July 9, 2006


Isn't it interesting that abuses of women are "cultural" issues, while abuses of men are "human rights" issues?
posted by Methylviolet at 11:25 AM on July 9, 2006 [4 favorites]


Exactly. One thing is to know where babies come from, and at least in theory what that thingy is for besides peeing.

Other is to say "I'm aware, ready and willing to have a 50years old guy dick probing my bowels".

If that's imperialism, if it's wrong to condemn such "cultura diversity", so be it.
posted by cardoso at 11:29 AM on July 9, 2006


Most kids DO know way before age 9 what sex entails and that it can produce babies and/or diseases, but no one is equipped at that age to understand the real desires and emotional weight behind it.

Unless they are. Right now there is children under the age of 9 carrying a full automatic rifle, and will kill someone today. They probably have had 10 friends who have died through war violence. Kids somewhere else have to get up early and get to the factory right when it opens, because they only let in the first 50 kids who show up, and they really need the money.

Having and taking the time to grow up is a luxury that we take for full granted in America.
Human beings are incredibly adaptable. Being thrown into a culture like this at age 9 would likely kill someone, but if you grew up in it, and it is all you knew, and it is happening all around you with people you know, I'm sure you would have a pretty good idea what's going on.
posted by Balisong at 11:30 AM on July 9, 2006


There is something that confuses me about all this. The article says (to paraphrase), "well, they are poor and that's why they want girls to work, and also to have children" -

I know little about Afghanistan, but I do know medieval and early modern Europe, which were equally poor and often engaged in subsistence farming - but they almost never married child brides. Minimum canonical age was 12 for girls, but most married in their late teens, and in North-west Europe (England, Netherlands, etc) in the twenties.

But there was heavy remarriage for widows in medieval and early modern Europe - which makes so much more economic/social sense. If you are a poor farmer, a girl of 11 is a liability, whereas a spinster or widow of 35 is a good worker, likely much more skilled in household management, and better in bed. (Virginity was prized in medieval Europe, but only in saints, not in wives). Even in polygamous early modern China, the average age of marriage was about 17, though infant and child marriage (usually to infant or child males) was practiced where women were scarce, as in eighteenth and nineteenth century Taiwan (filled with recent male immigrants).

And you would think there wasn't a shortage of women, as you sometimes get in heavily polygamous societies (Muslim men can only have up to four wives, and I think they are suposed to provide houses for each - I think some men here are not providing for their wives as the Koran directs). In fact, due to the wars, I would have thought there was greater male mortality and thus a shortage of men, not women. So why marry little girls who aren't tall enough to get the bread in and out of the oven, as opposed to sexy skilled 18 year olds? or 28 year olds? Is virginity that highly prized? Is it because the girls are being traded like assets? But why would an older more skilled but still virginal woman not be a much greater asset to trade?

There is something else going on other than simple poverty.
posted by jb at 11:35 AM on July 9, 2006


So, am I to understand that there are people here who believe it is perfectly acceptable for a fifty year old man to marry an 11 year old girl who has been given away by her parents because they are poor, and that's "just their culture". If so, that's just sickening.
posted by Roger Dodger at 11:35 AM on July 9, 2006


"Majabin Mohammmed, 13, was given away as payment for a gambling debt."

This is the saddest thing I've seen in a long time.
posted by leftcoastbob at 11:38 AM on July 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Roger Dodger, who said that?
posted by bardic at 11:46 AM on July 9, 2006


So why marry little girls who aren't tall enough to get the bread in and out of the oven, as opposed to sexy skilled 18 year olds? or 28 year olds? Is virginity that highly prized? Is it because the girls are being traded like assets? But why would an older more skilled but still virginal woman not be a much greater asset to trade?

All these things are true, but the big economic factor is that a child bride will still be young enough to take care of you when you're old. Because, after all the adolescent rape, copious childbearing, and generally icky pseudo-prostitution, there's still going to be a family unit that can support the aging patriarch.

I find it amusing to suggest that such practices justify the invasion. Not offensive really... just stupid. It's the flipside of the whole "New Orleans deserved its fate for being so sinful" train of thought. In times of war, women suffer most.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:48 AM on July 9, 2006



So, am I to understand that there are people here who believe it is perfectly acceptable...


No, I'm pretty sure that everyone is in agreement that it sucks, is wrong, and all around crappy.

That's what I find a lot here, someone will bring up a subject just so that they can yell at whomever they hope shows up to defend it. It's like trolling for trolls.
posted by Balisong at 11:51 AM on July 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


I supported the invasion of Afghanistan myself, but find it ridonkulous that anyone would give Bush II credit for being a fighter for women's rights

He's claimed the credit. President Bush and Mrs. Bush have claimed on numerous occasions that the United States involvement in Afghanistan has improved the lives of Afghanistan's women, and in November 2001 Mrs. Bush stated that:
Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment.
...
The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.
Women in Afghanistan are not doing well.

American military fatalities in Afghanistan have gone up every year, and more American military people have been killed in Afghanistan this year than died in all of 2004. (The Taliban aren't officially terrorists.)

The situation's unlikely to improve as NATO takes over from the US. NATO's rules of engagement allow "pro-active self-defense, and NATO troops aren't allowed to initiate offensive operations. Only half of the US and NATO troops are allowed to fight in the south.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:03 PM on July 9, 2006


In times of war, women suffer most.

Slightly off topic, but that's a pretty sweeping statement covering a very relative issue. Everyone suffers in war; how can you say women moreso than others?
posted by dazed_one at 12:11 PM on July 9, 2006


Legal gap may let girls wed at age 12
06/16/2006

Colorado law allows girls as young as 15 to enter valid common-law marriages and potentially opens the way for girls as young as 12 and boys as young as 14 to do the same, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The unanimous decision, written by Judge Daniel Taubman, said that because the General Assembly has not abolished common-law marriages, Colorado recognizes English common law.

"In the absence of a statutory provision to the contrary, it appears that Colorado has adopted the common law age of consent for marriage as fourteen for a male and twelve for a female, which existed under English common law," Taubman wrote.

Child bride backs parole for hubby, 38
06/21/2006

A young woman at the center of a court fight over teen marriage says she is still in love with the man who married her under common law when she was 14 and who is now in prison for their relationship.

"To me, that's my husband," said the young woman, who asked to be identified only by the initials JMH because she is still a ward of the state. Her husband is Willis Rouse, who began living with JMH when she was 14 and formally married her in 2003 when she was 15.

Last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals sent Rouse's case back to Weld County District Court to determine whether JMH and he were legally married by common law when she was 14. The court said common law trumps Colorado law, which says a person must be 18 to get married without a parent's consent or 16 with consent.

"As far as I know, we're still married and he loves me and he wants to be with me," said JMH, now a high school graduate. She became pregnant with Rouse's baby at age 14.

The young woman said Willis Rouse, 38, sends their 3-year-old son letters with pictures of Care Bears he draws himself, and she recently asked parole board members to release him.

A common law marriage in Colorado is valid for all purposes, the same as a ceremonial marriage.

Child Bride T-shirts:

T-shirt designer Dave Kessler...is selling two versions of the shirts - A "Child Bride (Made in Colorado)" and one that just says "Child Bride." Says Kessler, "That's for the other nine states that recognize common-law marriage...

Help the Child Brides

Pro-Polygamy.com
posted by taosbat at 12:12 PM on July 9, 2006


Everyone suffers in war; how can you say women moreso than others?

Seriously? During longterm conflicts, women face intense pressure to replace casualties and replenish the population. Women always sufffer the most in upheavals, because they are ill-equipped to defend themselves in lawless zones and tend to keep their families together rather than ditching their children (as men do) to fend for themselves. You might think soldiers, engaged in active hostilities, would face the brunt of the suffering, but nations at war (other than the US) devote their foodstuffs and medical resources to the military, again at the expense of women. (This ignores the fact that, as non-combatants, women ought not to suffer the stupidities of their men-folk -at all-.) Injured soldiers are returned to their homes and women are expected to care for them while also providing for the family. Often this entails begging or prostitution, but in general the pressure to enter the labor market finds women badly paid and underemployed. Educational opportunities are cut short, again for the good of the men.

Add to this the rape situation, and the imbalance is clear. It's been studied by a number of social scientists, who engage in national analyses of suffering with metrics and statistics and all that jazz. But I can't find anything that's not in the academic darknet. If you've got access to an academic library, you should be able to find a ton of the research. Look into the work of Asma Abbas.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:41 PM on July 9, 2006 [2 favorites]


UNDER NO CIRCUNSTANCES a 9-years-old-girl KNOWS what sex is, to consent or not.

I'm not a girl, but I certanly have known what sex was my entire life, and had snuck my dad's porn by then.
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on July 9, 2006


The US didn't invade Afghanistan to improve the lives of women. It did it to root out the Taliban, a terrorist group that we (speaking as an American) actively fostered during the 1980's when they fought against the Soviet occupation.

Hey, at least those kids didn't need to keep their faces covered completely!

Anyway sorry if I can't join in on the outrage fest. We live in a country that allows the government to torture people (well, I'm sure the afghan 'government' does the same thing but still) There are so many worse things in the world then being in a bad marriage, and this is the way society has worked for dirt-poor people for millennia, all over the world.

Being allowed to get into romantic love relationships is an incredible luxury when compared to the rest of history.
posted by delmoi at 1:05 PM on July 9, 2006


Seriously? During long-term conflicts, women face intense pressure to replace casualties and replenish the population. Women always suffer the most in upheavals, because they are ill-equipped to defend themselves in lawless zones and tend to keep their families together rather than ditching their children (as men do) to fend for themselves.

Your argument boils down to:

1) Women face suffering during war
2) Therefore, they face more suffering then men.

More resources are going to men, but they're also getting shot at and dying. I think men during most wars are more likely to die or feel intense pain, assuming a non-integrated military.
posted by delmoi at 1:08 PM on July 9, 2006


Basically what delmoi said; you've certainly proved that women suffer too, but moreso than anyone else? The elderly, children, infirm and soldiers?
posted by dazed_one at 1:14 PM on July 9, 2006


Factor in the pain of childbirth as well.
posted by mischief at 1:20 PM on July 9, 2006


Factor in the pain of childbirth as well.

And uterine cancer! Let's see you guys suffer through that!
posted by Balisong at 1:30 PM on July 9, 2006


The flipside to all this, of course, is that men suffer more during peacetime. Well, they would if it weren't for beer.
posted by mischief at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2006


but they almost never married child brides. Minimum canonical age was 12 for girls, but most married in their late teens, and in North-west Europe (England, Netherlands, etc) in the twenties.

uh, which period are you thinking of? The pubescent bride is definitely pretty standard in european history, and it was pretty common for those 12 or 13 year old girls to be married to 40 or 50 year old men (obviously arranged between the families for contractual purposes). I happen to be reading some history of science books right now, so one example that comes to mind is the chemist Lavoisier's marriage, which was as a sort of favor to his boss - some baroness was trying to get her 50 yr old brother hitched to the guy's 13 year old daughter, in order to get in on the family business, but the boss didn't want the baron as his son-in-law, so he asked the 28 yr old Lavoisier to take his daughter instead. By all accounts it was a successful marriage; the daughter got really involved in the chemistry experiments, translated them into english, and provided illustrations for them... (this is mid 18th c) - but we surely would find such an arrangement disconcerting at least.

Anyway, you have to remember that teenage-hood is a fairly new concept. Back then, it was common for 12 or 13 year olds to strike out on their own, to teach at the local schoolhouse, to apprentice in some trade, or whatever - and for women, to get married. And really, what would we expect? It's only in a truly leisure-based society that we have all this extra time to just "be children" - to just play practice, so to speak. In most of history, teenagers have been treated more or less as young adults.

As for "no x year old knows what sex means" type claims, I think this is a useless generalization. First of all, what one understands about the meaning of something is a continuum; I don't think there's an age where you are suddenly granted the secret key. Instead, you pretty much learn through experience - which means that though the 12 year old virgin doesn't really understand all the possible meanings of intimacy, who's to say the 22 year old virgin really has that much better a grasp? (Honestly I think my own consciousness probably underwent more profound changes between 22 and 32 than between 12 and 22, though I'm sure my 22 year old self would be pissed to hear me say it...) Who's to say you should "understand sex" before you ever even approach it? Maybe you learn to understand it by exploring it with your spouse. You might think that "forces people to grow up too fast" or something, but that is making the assumption that "growing up" is negative, that an elongated and leisurely childhood is beneficial, etc.

The point is, it really does have a lot to do with social norms: we think "12 year olds don't have sex", but in lots of cultures and for thousands of years, post-pubescent children/teenagers were treated as adults, and did adult things. I am not sure that that is really tragic.

The part that bothers me is the differentiation of the gender roles, not the ages at which they're expected to take on adult roles. I wish female children were allowed to pursue skills or choose their own life trajectories rather than being treated merely as valuable livestock
posted by mdn at 1:38 PM on July 9, 2006 [5 favorites]


Roger Dodger, who said that?

Nobody out and out said they think it is a good thing. But starting with Meatbomb's snide "If only Afghans could be like Americans" to other's equating knowing what sex is to being able to deal with being prepared to marry and perform sex with a husband, I was getting the idea that lots of people seem to think it is none of our concern. Perhaps it is not. But we are sending lots of money to a country in which what essentially amounts to slavery continues to exist. "Being in a bad marriage" does not equal "11 year old being sold to a fifty year old man to do with as he pleases"
posted by Roger Dodger at 1:40 PM on July 9, 2006


Well said, mdn.
posted by dazed_one at 1:44 PM on July 9, 2006


I can't believe I'm typing this but I'm proud that my 9-year-old daughter does not know a thing about sex. That doesn't mean I'm not very open with her about the subject when it arises and I'm far from conservative when it comes to my beliefs on sex but for pete's sake - can't a 9-year-old just be a 9-year-old?!
posted by photoslob at 1:48 PM on July 9, 2006


How do you define being a 9-year-old?
posted by dazed_one at 1:59 PM on July 9, 2006


More resources are going to men, but they're also getting shot at and dying. I think men during most wars are more likely to die or feel intense pain, assuming a non-integrated military.

Posit: Death is not suffering. Proof: death is cessation of experience. Also, everyone dies eventually. Casualty rates are not figured in global suffering statistics, though average lifespan does play a large role. Consider Africa, where the real cost of AIDS is figured in the trauma and price of burial paid by the family.

The rest of what you've said requires complex metrics to disprove decisively. However, consider that: 1. Men have more freedom of opportunity and better access to the basic necessities in times of scarcity. 2. Women must supply both themselves and their children. 3. Armies suffer fewer casualties than the civilian populations that support them, and fewer still the the civilian populations of contested territories. (See WWII casualties.)

The elderly, children, infirm and soldiers?


Three out four of these categories are half-female, so we need only show a bias towards non-elderly, non-child, and non-infirm females to prove the point. In some African nations that use child soldiers, females also make up a portion of the combatants.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:07 PM on July 9, 2006


Anyway sorry if I can't join in on the outrage fest. [...] There are so many worse things in the world then being in a bad marriage

Are you kidding me?

An eleven-year-old girl being forced to marry a 50-year-old man is more than just a "bad marriage." Let alone the fact that this isn't western marriage where the partners have more-or-less equal rights and responsibilities. She is being given over to be his sexual and domestic slave.

There may be worse things in the world, but I can't think of many.
posted by spacewaitress at 2:34 PM on July 9, 2006


She is being given over to be his sexual and domestic slave.

Suppose a little dark part of me thought this was hot, and now I feel very dirty. Discuss.
posted by Lectrick at 2:57 PM on July 9, 2006


This is actually ending up to be a pretty interesting discussion. I like what delmoi said here.
posted by squirrel at 2:57 PM on July 9, 2006


(Truth be told, it would only sound hot to me if she was 18+, but I like to play devils' advocate...)
posted by Lectrick at 3:00 PM on July 9, 2006


Metafilter:

Trolling for trolls.
posted by notreally at 3:14 PM on July 9, 2006


Spacewaitress: There may be worse things in the world, but I can't think of many.

Then you haven't spent much time thinking about it. A slave, including a sexual and domestic slave, suffers abrogation of freedom, and not necessarily anything else. Taking a long-term view, this slave will become the mother of the owner's children. She is unlikely to be tortured, starved, or set to hard physical labor. Compare this treatment to, say, an Ivory Coast cocoa-picking slave. The treatment of these girls is wrong, but the worst thing in the world? Not even close.

As to the Prime Directive, there's a contrary quote I like much better:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours. -- Gen. Sir Charles Napier (British Commander in Chief in India, late 1830's)

If power brings responsibility, and knowledge of an act coupled with the ability to stop the act is power, then the Prime Directive is an immoral abrogation of responsibility.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


(Truth be told, it would only sound hot to me if she was 18+, but I like to play devils' advocate...)

Hmm. What about 17.5? Can you tell the difference?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:17 PM on July 9, 2006


I'm not a girl, but I certanly have known what sex was my entire life, and had snuck my dad's porn by then.

Likewise, and was trying to pop one off at that age. Which was physically impossible for another several years, but sure felt good nonetheless.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:55 PM on July 9, 2006


mdn - I am talking about the period c1300-1800 - but the best demographic evidence is from 1550-1800, the evidence for the earlier period is anecdotal and literary.

Young teens marrying was very rare. The average age of marriage in the 18th century in Britain was about 23 - 26 for women. In the 1680s, it was 26, exactly the same as it is today. This pattern was common all over North western Europe (Britain, Netherlands, Northern France), while Southern Europe tended to have an average age of marriage for women in the late teens.

That's not to say child marriages didn't happen - the case you cite is just one example. In fact, the more upper class, the more likely it was to happen. Nobles were far more likely to marry very early or quite late, because their marriages were family alliances. But it can't have been at all common, at least not in England or other areas of Northwest Europe - unless half of women were marrying at 13 and the other half at 33 (to get an average of 23). (My research and most of my reading is on England, but I am familier with social history elsewhere in Europe).

The majority of people did not marry as children - and they did have a teenagehood. It wasn't the same as our concept of being a teenager - they worked (usually starting some kind of work - either in the home or ouside) from age 7 on, but they weren't considered full adults. Actually, adulthood came much later than most people supose. In 17th century France a man was not considered to be enough of an adult to marry without his parent's permission before 25 years old, and in 17th century England, a man wasn't really an adult until he had his own household and independence - something usually achieved in his mid to late twenties, even later, and sometimes not at all (with interesting implications for his sense of manhood). Before that, most men were apprentices, journeymen or servants in someone else's household - and as long as they lived in someone else's household, they held a subordinate, non-quite adult status.

And the poorer one was, the less likely you were to marry young. Married people need a household and a living - and poor people were less likely to have enough money/opportunities to get this together without working for some time. But that was true in Northwest Europe because families were nuclear - most couples expected to live in a separate household, which costs money to get. So both men and women would work to save up money to get married and start a family, just like today. In bad economic times - or rather, tight economic times, job-wise - the average age of marriage would go up.

One could also point out that in a society with monogamous nuclear families, the new bride would be the female head of the household (in England second only to the male head of the household), with many important responsibilities. Who would want a child taking on the cooking, cleaning, dairying, budgetting, martketting?

Things are completely different in a society with extended families living together - but even in pre-modern China (18th, 19th century - with an ideal of extended families, though the reality was often different), average ages of marriage tended towards the late teens, rather than the early (with notable exceptions).

I don't know anything about family structure in Afghanistan - from the articles it is obvious there is some polygamy, though it is less clear whether there are extended families. I just reacted to the automatic assumption that subsistence farming and poverty would lead to child marriage, which is not true. There is something else happening there, a cultural tradition which isn't related to poverty at all. These families could be millionaires.

Also, while I find child marriage abhorent, the articles are not clear as to when these marriages are consumated. They may be consumated immediately, or it may be custom to wait until the girl is older. In eighteenth century Taiwan, some girls were married off as infants and raised by their new family, but their marriages were obviously not consumated until they were mature. They were held not as slaves, but as children within the family (albeit girl children, so low status). That doesn't make this article any more heartbreaking - especially the story of the girl who wished to be a teacher. I did notice that the 9 year old looked quite happy, but maybe she just really liked having her picture taken. I think she would have understood what was happening - I would have, in my protected childhood, but it's hard to tell how she would feel about it.

It's just not all such a cut and dry question. In a way, it's like the issue of child labour. No one can say that they like or support child labour. But campaigns against child labour that don't address the poverty at the heart just end up pushing the child labour underground and into worse conditions. Here, these marriages are happening for a reason and rather than simply react with disgust, we should try to understand those reasons - because otherwise there is no way for us to change what is happening.
posted by jb at 3:56 PM on July 9, 2006


inactivist said 'jack_mo, knowing what sex entails and understanding the full consequences of it are two different things. It seems cardoso was pointing at the latter.'

It seemed to me he was saying that no nine year old knows about sex. (Still does, but I see how cardoso's odd turn of phrase might mean I'm wrong.)

I certainly didn't mean to imply that knowledge of sex equated to a child being capable of consenting to it or fully comprehending the consequences, though.

mdn said 'we think "12 year olds don't have sex"'

Do Americans lose their virginity later than British people on average? I was having sex when I was twelve, or maybe just thirteen, as were most of my schoolfriends.
posted by jack_mo at 4:09 PM on July 9, 2006


anotherpanacea writes: Death is not suffering.

Hold old are you? Has anyone you've known ever died?
posted by bardic at 4:16 PM on July 9, 2006


re: sex at 12 for boys

I grew up in a wealthy neighborhood on Long Island (I mention this only because it may or may not have something to do with it) and I only knew a handful of guys who had had sex by 13. I myself had to wait till (ugh) 20, but I was a late bloomer in every regard (physically/emotionally/sexually). The most common remark at my 10 year reunion was "When did you get so tall?"

The bonus for maturing late is that I'm 34 and am consistently mistaken for 27 or so. Which is good, as I still like to date women in their mid 20's ;) The guys I know who got laid earlier are almost all balding and overweight. Muhuhahahahaha. (Maturing late was painful in many ways, so allow me my little laugh...)

The other day I saw a picture of two 50 year old women and one looked like the other's mother (the Ukranian one). Has anyone done research on the "aging rates" of different cultures? There seems to be a noticeable difference not necessarily accounted for by healthy living...
posted by Lectrick at 6:32 PM on July 9, 2006


jb- That's very counter-intuitive research you're describing. Could you indicate where it's coming from? What's does the biography of a 26 year-old Victorian bride look like? I'm guessing that the literature of the time, focusing on the upper classes, has skewed our notion of the averages... but I'm still a little amazed by these numbers.

aeschenkarnos- You do realize that the British used the relatively uncommon practice of widow-burning to justify a century of colonial rule through brutal intermediaries, don't you? That's what this is really all about: justifying our invasion and the suffering we've caused.

bardic asks Hold old are you? Has anyone you've known ever died?

Old enough to be amused by the first question and saddened by the second. My point was that death and dying are separable phenomena. The loss of a singular soul is incalculable, but the pain for loved ones is actually comparable, at least approximately, with other suffering: for instance, passing a gall stone or late-stage cancer.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:10 PM on July 9, 2006


In 1975 I was 21 and hitched most of the way across the Middle East to India, spending a month in Afghanistan, travelling from one end, Herat, to the other, Kandahar and Kabul. I was deeply impressed with how respectful and dignified the Afghani men and women were.

It was 2 1/2 years before the Russians invaded and a completely different place then. There was a mix of different types of women on the street, some in head scarves, some in burqa, some "European" style with nothing on their heads, jeans and high heels.

Herat in the far West, was an extraordinary city, a Wild West kind of place with horse drawn chariots, called tongas, but the air of the city was civilised nonetheless. I rented a horse. My guide, a 30 year old Afghani man, and I rode out alone far into the country to sightsee. He behaved impeccably and I felt completely comfortable in his company.

Kabul at that time was a marvelous cultural mix, somewhat like the mix in Tehran, of very "European" Afghanis, dressed in the latest fashions, living in new homes with marble floors, all the Western conveniences contrasted sharply with the very traditional Afghanis, old-fashioned tradesmen, merchants, craftspeople, nomads.

Traditions such as child-bride marriage were gradually ebbing in Afghanistan as they did in most of the Middle East and Asia. It was a natural part of the cultural evolution. The handsome Afghani boyfriend I had in New Delhi in 1984 told me about how when he was a teen he snuck into his Kabuli girlfriend's house when he was living there, for some quiet sex on the sly and so did his friends. Quite like a lot of the rest of the world.

Here is a selection of photographs of Afghanistan in the mid-1970's before the Russians invaded. And before. Kabul. An Afghani school with girls and boys together.

But then came the Taliban. And all that was orthodox and traditional came back into a rigid, zealous, punitive, brutal regime across Afghanistan, leaving it a shell of its former life, vitality and flexibility. It would be as if Michigan Militia Christian zealots crossed with Mormons from Appalachia took over America.
posted by nickyskye at 7:54 PM on July 9, 2006 [8 favorites]


Before that, most men were apprentices, journeymen or servants in someone else's household - and as long as they lived in someone else's household, they held a subordinate, non-quite adult status.

well, this could be a question of semantics - most of us are "servants in someone else's house" as adults, in that we work in someone else's company (& in an agricultural economy, a household is in essence a business). But these kids were still expected to work and take on responsibilities etc. Marriages were often considered the first step to setting up your own 'business', so to speak, and so a man could generally not do so until he had enough experience/enough of a fortune, which was why it was not uncommon for them to spend 20 years getting their act together before taking a teenage bride once they'd established themselves. But I don't think marrying later was due to some fear that the women were too young to understand what sex was.

Women who had nothing financial to add to the contract might take longer finding an appropriate arrangement, and perhaps the lower classes were more likely to be kept busy enough working as servants so as not to have time to start a family until they'd built up a dowry or something. But the notion that they didn't marry young because they wanted to 'let 9 year olds be 9 year olds' or whatever is silly. Marriage was largely an economic contract, as the household was the in many ways the center of the economy, and though finding a partner who was suitable on a personal as well as practical/economic level was desirable, the whole thing was much more generally considered a broader family affair than it is today. In a lot of cultures, extramarital afffairs were even more or less expected, because the foundation of the marriage was setting up house, running the family business, and having children, not a deeply personal and private relationship between two individuals.

Setting the life story of someone up when they're 13 may seem too soon to us, but if you grow up expecting to leave your house at 13, then it's not. Plenty of upper class americans still send their kids off to boarding school at that age, which isn't quite independence, but it's also different from having your parents looking after you every day...

Do Americans lose their virginity later than British people on average?

Interesting question. in my circle I would say the norm is 15-18, but I know people who were younger and people who were older. "in the movies" or whatever, I would say the expected age is usually 16 or 17, but I dunno how well that actually correlates to real people. It may be something of a class or culture issue. It's definitely on the minds of younger kids, but I do think american culture largely assumes that 7th graders aren't fucking, or if they are, it's sad/indicative of larger cultural problems/etc [see the movie "Kids", eg, intended to shock audiences by depicting the sex lives of inner city kids]
posted by mdn at 8:37 PM on July 9, 2006


Pregnancy and childbirth are the LEADING cause of death for girls age 15-19 in developing countries per UNICEF and OXFAM. Marraige to pre-pubescent, non-adult women is obviously not the norm in a stable society because frequently, it kills them.

I believe the lifetime chances of dying of a child bearing complication for all women in some African countries right now are about 1 in 15 to 1 in 20. (And that includes all women so those who never have children, nuns etc so if you are a wife the odds are obviously higher). And then there is the risk of sterility, incontinence, paralysis etc. that is much higher in a immature woman or a child. Many of these women become outcasts.

FWIW, my family history is well documented for about 1000 years or so, northern European, middle to upper class. Most people married in their 20s, men and women alike, some of the very wealthy women married in ther late teens. Interestingly most of them worked or at least had a skill, the women as well, even the ones who probably didn't have to. I think most people's perception of the olden days is a bit off.
posted by fshgrl at 9:03 PM on July 9, 2006


I can't believe I'm typing this but I'm proud that my 9-year-old daughter does not know a thing about sex. That doesn't mean I'm not very open with her about the subject when it arises...

Those two statements seem to be contradictory.

Posit: Death is not suffering. Proof: death is cessation of experience.

Yeah yeah, but you get the point. No one wants to die. One might say realistic fear of death is a form of suffering.

An eleven-year-old girl being forced to marry a 50-year-old man is more than just a "bad marriage." Let alone the fact that this isn't western marriage where the partners have more-or-less equal rights and responsibilities. She is being given over to be his sexual and domestic slave.

Given where she's from I think it's pretty much a guarantee that she'd end up in an arranged marriage at some point anyway, so what does it matter when it happens? These people's lives will forever be defined by hard work and toil no matter what. And what do you propose to do about it other then vent on the internet?
posted by delmoi at 2:42 AM on July 10, 2006


Methylviolet writes: Isn't it interesting that abuses of women are "cultural" issues, while abuses of men are "human rights" issues?

It's interesting, this rights terminology. Critics of the human rights movement from a third world (insert your preferred terminology here: developing world, South, etc) perspective point out that violations of "human rights" occur only in the developing world; in the North they're called "civil rights violations".
posted by Deathalicious at 3:12 AM on July 10, 2006


mdn - the English research comes from parish registers, which record baptisms, marriages and burials in a given parish. Similar sources (some much better) exist for other European countries c1500-1800. If you are interested, the basic demographic text is E.A. Wrigley et al, The Population History of England 1541-1871. My numbers on averages are actually from Mary Hartman, The Household and the Making of History, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), but she's gotten it from Wrigley et al and other research like it. It is counter intuitive - a lot of history is like that. That's why it is very important to use quantative sources as well as qualitative, because qualitative can be deceptive (Shakespeare has such a young couple in Romeo and Juliet because it is weird and exotic, not because it was typical).

I actually wasn't talking about the Victorian period (1837-1901) at all - my first comment specifies "medieval and early modern", by which I meant c1300-1800. Victorian England was not a pre-modern society in the same way as 17th century England (18th century England was transitioning), and it actually had a lower average age of marriage (because more men and women were working for wages, and able to establish families earlier). The lower average age of marriage (more in the early twenties than the middle) is now believed to have been the primary cause of the massive increase in population that began in the late 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century (because medicine was still really bad and nutrition was awful).

What you say about women having to earn money before marrying is right - men did too. But in Northwest Europe, the men did not look for a teenage bride - they looked for a woman only a few years younger than themselves. I don't know why - elsewhere in the world it did happen just as you say. But not there. And there is heavy remarrying of widows throughout the Tudor and Stuart period.

As for the teenage thing - it was different from our wage labouring. We never argue that men who work for other men shouldn't be allowed to vote (because their masters would influence their vote) -- they did. And the servants were literally in someone else's household - eating at their table, sleeping in their house - they were termed as part of the "family" and their master and mistress had the same authority as parents. Interestingly, while they would still argue that a married labouring man shouldn't vote, married wage labourers did not live in as servants, maybe as a recognition of his physical adulthood, if not political. (I'm getting all this from Alex Shepard's excellent book on manhood in 16th & 17th century England - Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England.

Young people also did have a distinct identity from older people. In the parish of Morebath in the sixteenth century, the young men and the young women of the parish each got together as two groups to raise money for the parish. They had an identity - it's different from the current teenage identity, but it's not an undifferentiated adulthood. To draw on literary evidence (which can be valuable for cultural history), L.M. Montgomery's characters in the Anne series start an improvement society that was explicitly for the "young people" in the village - those aged about 15 to 20. Aka teenagers. They had a sense of being not children, but not really adults, even though most were already working.

Sorry - this is getting really off track from the original post. But as I argue through what I've read over the past few years (I'm working on a PhD in early modern social history), I'm beginning to think there is a very good argument against the idea that "teenage" was invented in the 20th century. Certainly, the current incarnation (not working, not responsible, but also feeling trapped) is a recent invention, but in the wider sense (of a clear life stage between childhood and adulthood, of being physically, but not mentally mature) I think that category has existed for far longer. It might be better to term it "young people" - as opposed to adult older people, who have families and fuill responsibilities.
posted by jb at 3:45 AM on July 10, 2006


One might say realistic fear of death is a form of suffering.

Sure... but it's a fear shared by men and women, soldiers and civilians. Anybody in a war zone is in danger, especially in a country, like Afghanistan, that has recently been invaded. Obviously, most of the civilian casualties from WWII were not American: the US was all the way across the Atlantic/Pacific. But more civilians died than soldiers, which means that more civilians suffered fear of death, as well as scarcity and fear of starvation, disease, and yes, rape. The statistics from WWII are part of an ongoing trend: civilian casualties have been increasing as a ratio to military deaths throughout the century, and it's certainly the case in Afghanistan, where between 1,067 and 3,600 civilians were killed by coalition bombing, and the disruption of the war contributed to the deaths of 20,000 to 50,000 more.

But all this argument is simply to fight a single lie: that Afghan women received or will receive a net improvement in their quality of life due to the invasion. This is simply not true. Much as we would like to think ourselves chivalrous protectors of Afghan virgins, we are only bloody conquerors who have left them in worse straits than before we arrived.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:54 AM on July 10, 2006


If you like getting upset by are interested in the treatment of women under the Taliban, why not watch Osama. It has child brides, beheadings and everything!
posted by asok at 8:55 AM on July 10, 2006


Awesome post, nickyskye! Thank you.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:17 AM on July 10, 2006


Fantastic post(s). Ergo, I have nothing to add.
...except...did anyone think of this after looking at the
third link? (compare)
posted by Smedleyman at 9:49 AM on July 10, 2006


Thanks fff, the link above that says "Herat" was meant to link not to a store selling Islamic women's clothing but here, a picture of the place as it used to be. There are some more photos of Afghanistan and Herat in the mid/early-1970's.

It's interesting that the most conservative people in Afghanistan, that I know about, come from the South, in Kandahar and they have had a strong influence on the present culture in Afghanistan.

Methylviolet, Isn't it interesting that abuses of women are "cultural" issues, while abuses of men are "human rights" issues?

That's an excellent point and others agree with you and are taking action.
posted by nickyskye at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2006


Sexual intercourse between a 50 year old (or any adult) male and a 9 year old or 11 year old girl is rape and torture. It also runs a very high probability of maiming the child victim for life and sterilizing her, and that probability increases with every repetition of the crime.

The men commenting in this thread, and there are several, who appear to willfully blind themselves to this utterly elementary fact convict themselves of a lack of empathy so complete as to be psychopathic.
posted by jamjam at 2:52 PM on July 10, 2006


Given where she's from I think it's pretty much a guarantee that she'd end up in an arranged marriage at some point anyway, so what does it matter when it happens?

These are children. They are probably not physically capable of bearing and raising babies without lasting harm to themselves. There is a very high likelihood they will die or be crippled within a few years of marraige. An arranged marraige between grown adults is one thing but marrying off a child is playing russian roulette with her life.
posted by fshgrl at 6:03 PM on July 10, 2006


I would argue, jamjam, that what you're mostly seeing is not psychopathology, but the intersection of ernest idealism and purposefully harsh realism. Both sides express rhetorical positions. I don't think anyone here is pro-child-marraige/slavery.
posted by squirrel at 7:21 AM on July 14, 2006


There is a very high likelihood they will die or be crippled within a few years of marraige.

If the culture is crippling and killing its young girls, it isn't going to have any useful mature women, which means fewer babies, fewer household workers, and things generally being even worse off than before.

You sure on that "high likelihood"? I'm in doubt.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:04 PM on July 14, 2006


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