Posted by: bahareiran | November 28, 2010

Iran, Yemen and the plague of forced marriages

Iran, Yemen and the plague of forced marriages: Millions of girls are made to become child brides
BY Fae Bidgoli

Daily News, November 28th 2010

Human rights violations in Iran were brought to light once again last week when a United Nations committee voted to censure the nation for widespread abuses, including what they deemed “pervasive gender inequality and violence against women.”

Perhaps one of the most troubling and culturally ingrained of these abuses is the practice of child marriage – which not only plagues the Islamic Republic, but is all too common around the world. The humanitarian organization CARE estimates that “more than 60 million girls under the age of 18 are married, many to men twice their age or older.”

Born in a remote village in Iran, I know this subject intimately. My mother and two eldest sisters were child brides. At 13, I narrowly escaped the same fate and embarked on uncharted territory – a high school education.

The majority of these young brides endure spousal abuse in a blanket of darkness, isolated from their birth families. A child bride’s instinct to run away is often met with horrific consequences. If a child bride leaves her husband’s home, she risks retaliation from both her husband’s family and her birth family.

For the bride’s family, having a daughter that has run away from her husband’s home brings shame onto the entire family. The bride’s virtue is automatically called into question, and she is labeled as promiscuous and disobedient. Ultimately, the perceived shame for the birth family will become unbearable, until finally, a male in the family will seek to bring back the family’s honor by killing the source of the pain: the young bride.

Forced marriage is different from arranged marriage, which is common in many countries. In an arranged marriage, both bride and groom consent to the marriage. But how can a 13-year-old girl consent to such an obviously adult institution? Child brides lack the maturity to consent, making all child marriages forced marriages. Imagine a young bride, excited to wear a new dress on her wedding night, completely oblivious to the consummation (rape) awaiting her at night’s end.

Thirteen-year-old Yemeni child bride Ilham Mahdi al Assi died tragically three days after her wedding in April, after she was tied down, raped repeatedly and left bleeding to death. Another recent example is 12-year-old Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, also a Yemeni child bride, who died after three days of excruciating labor pain because her body wasn’t developed enough to give birth.

The horrific practice of child marriages still exists because it is a tradition passed down through generations, kept alive through cultural, economic and religious realities difficult for our Western society to fathom. But cultural differences aside, how many children have to lose their lives because of forced marriages and repeated rapes?

We must not stay silent and watch our daughters be sacrificed.

Lack of financial means contributes to the practice, as parents exchange their young girls for money or goods. In India, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, the legal age for marriage is 18; however, child marriages are still performed under religious ceremonies. Without the stamp of approval from religious leaders, such practices would not endure. There have been many protests to increase the legal age of marriage in Yemen, but there is always opposition from religious leaders.

In my family, child marriages ended with me. As for my eldest sisters, they married nice men who beam with pride over their college-educated daughters and granddaughters and the careers they have forged in business and medicine. I hope a similar trend will spread throughout the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. But hope alone is not enough – it’s time for us to act. Now.

Bidgoli is the author of the novels “The Twisted Path Home” and “Cracked Pomegranate.”

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