Thursday, August 28, 2008

Matrimonial Abuse: The Child Bride

Childhood is a precious time in life.  It is a time of innocence and discovery.  Unfortunately for many young girls this is a time that is cut short as they quickly discover that unlike their brothers, their lives will not be one of adventure, freedom, or autonomy.  When one is born female in this world it becomes evident at a very early age that possessing a vagina necessarily means living a life subjugation wherein your personal desires or wishes are ignored.  Woman is often not considered the equal of man, and this devaluation has made it impossible for many girls to have the opportunity to make the simplest of decisions about what will bring them happiness.

Childhood is often cut short very early to promote heteronormativity and female image subjugation.  Young girls are routinely married off, often to men many times their age.  In Yemen an 8 year old child had to sue for a divorce from her 30 year old husband.  As horrific as this story is, it is not an isolated incident.  In an equally tragic tale reported by the Arab News,  Muhammad Ali Al-Zahrani, a death-row inmate married his 15 year old daughter off to a fellow death row inmate days before his execution.  She is now pregnant.  According to Ahmad Al-Muabi, a marriage official, "a father can marry off a one-year-old girl as long as sex is delayed until she reaches puberty." In yet another example of child marriage yet another 8 year old girl this time from Unayzah, 135 miles north of the capital Riyadh in Saudi Arabia has been married off by her father. Her mother thankfully has filed for a divorce on her behalf.

In an interview with Dr. Ahmad Al-Mu'bi, a Saudi marriage officiate, which aired on LBC TV on June 19, 2008, he defended child marriage by saying the following.

If the guardian is the father... There are two different types of guardianship. If the guardian is the father, and he marries his daughter off to a man of appropriate standing, the marriage is obviously valid.

[...]

People find themselves in all kinds of circumstances. Take, for example, a man who has two, three, or four daughters. He does not have any wives, but he needs to go on a trip. Isn't it better to marry his daughter to a man, who will protect and sustain her, and when she reaches the proper age, he will have sex with her? Who says all men are ferocious wolves?

This position is also affirmed by Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-'Ubeidi, an Iraqi expert on Islamic law,  in an interview which aired on Al-Rafidein TV on March 14, 2008.

Most of the time we act according to what is acceptable to most people, and indeed, most men do not marry a girl until she is of age. In some Islamic countries, the age of maturity can be 8 or 10 years. In Yemen, a girl might get her period at the age of 8. In cold countries, such as Russia, Belarus, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Canada, and so on, a girl might not reach maturity until she is 22 years old. She might not get her period until then. Therefore, the greatness of Islamic law is manifest in the fact that marriage is not just for pleasure. True, it is the basic objective for marriage, but there are some cases that require solutions.

[...]

Many criminals, the enemies of Islam, ask: "How could the Prophet Muhammad, at 52 years of age, marry 'Aisha when she was only 8 years old, and consummate the marriage when she was 9 years old?" I say to them: People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Why do you permit your young girls to fornicate? They consider it one of their liberties. Therefore, in these stupid countries, you rarely find girls aged 10 or 12 who are still virgins. They permit this. They have even legislated laws stating that if a girl is under the age of 18, and her girlfriend [sic] or whatever has had sex with her, she has the right to have an abortion. How can you permit the outcome without accepting the cause? Why do you allow your girls to have sex and say this is an individual liberty? It is okay to fornicate with girls there or force them to have sex, and so on, and they have the right to have an abortion. If you permit all this before the age [of 18], without a marriage contract and without any legal grounds – how come you forbid marriage?

Religion is being used as a justification for child abuse.  This abuse is aimed at girls because the patriarchy believes that it not only has the right to our bodies, but to our very lives.  Though both of these experts declare that these marriages are not consummated, I find it doubtful that in a culture that believes that women exist to slave for men, and fulfill their sexual needs that these young women remain unmolested.  Even if we are to take them at their word how harmful is it to these young girls to be summarily ripped away from everything that they have come to trust and love, to be thrust into an unfamiliar situation where the possibility of abuse and neglect exist?  How harmful is it to these young girls that their very humanity is negated in order that a man may assert his authority over her?  Patriarchy is what benefits from these child marriages. According to the Telegraph, "A United Nations report on child marriage in 2005 found that 100 million girls were expected to marry by the age of 18 before 2015. The worst countries for child marriage were Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh." International pressure must be brought to end this terrible tradition. 

There are those that will accuse me of imposing western values upon different cultures.  My answer to those condemnations is that simply because something is culturally specific does not make it right.  This is a strict violation of human rights, and it is child abuse.  It would be one thing if adult women were wilfully participating in this, but these are children who are powerless in the face of authoritarian adult control.  All bodies matter regardless of age or gender.


6 comments:

Ashley said...

Obviously, this is all incredibly disturbing.

But that last block quote you have there really hits home that it's not that sex is bad, but sex without explicit parental control is bad. That's what traditional marriage is, that's what arranged marriage is, that's what the cult of virginity is, and it's sick.

Arum said...

We get this from both sides - girls disappearing from schools, and girls being brought into the country for the purpose of forced marriage.

There's little we can do about the disappeared girls, and the families know it. We just don't have the resources to chase off to Pakistan to search for them. If they run for it before they're taken over there, we can protect them, but then this often leaves any younger sisters in an even more difficult position. We can't go whipping kids into care just because we think this will happen - there's no evidence, and if the girl herself denies it our hands are tied.

Girls being brought in nowadays are often from Somalia. They are usually from the lowest-status clan. Older girls and young women are mainly from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. It's not just sexual abuse they're at risk of, it's all forms of abuse. They are often married in Islamic ceremonies. In the UK, religious marriage has no legal status, so these girls often end up as illegal immigrants - easy to get rid of when no longer required. They think they're married, but they're not, and the Imams keep on allowing it to happen. The girls are rarely allowed to learn English, understand nothing of their legal status or rights, and are kept completely isolated, a slave for the family. We usually only get to hear about it when a child of the marriage is injured in the course of a domestic violence incident. These girls have no legal status, and therefore no access to public funds; they cannot speak the language; they are incredibly traumatised, and to top it off the children they've had are often rape babies, towards whom the girl has very ambivalent feelings. Our refuge system is really struggling to cope, and therefore the girls often have to be sent out of the city to refuges in other parts of the country, so they really do lose everything. If the girl is still under age, we have to take her into care, and we just don't have Somali speaking foster parents. It's a mess. We need much tougher legal sanctions than we currently have.

And don't forget - many of these girls have been sold. The 'husband' pays for them. It's not marriage, it's slavery.

Jezebel said...

This crap makes me soo angry, it makes me wanna punch a baby!
Well I won't do that, but uhh that is soo disgusting.

spiffykt said...

I second what Jezebel said - I can't even come up with an intelligent comment, it's just so awful. XP

angel said...

Childhood days are the most memorable time of ones life.Thus a girl should not be married in her early age.
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Angel

Blazeinfotech

angel said...

Childhood days are the most memorable time of ones life.Thus a girl should not be married in her early age.
--------------
Angel

Blazeinfotech