Child Marriage Sex Trafficking: Mum and wife at 13

http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/what-its-like-to-be-a-mum-and-wife-at-13-the-vicious-cycle-of-child-marriage/story-fnixwvgh-1227222084088

Young mothers often struggle with labour and breastfeeding.

Young mothers often struggle with labour and breastfeeding. Picture: Plan International Australia Source: Supplied

They are only girls, but they already have children of their own.

Many of the babies are born with complications, far from the nearest hospital, and the mortality rate for mother and infant is sky-high.

Nor does the future look rosy. The daughters of these child brides are born into a cycle of systemic abuse, violence and poverty.

“I thought I’d have a better life, but at the end, it didn’t turn out that way,” says Aracely, who was married to a 34-year-old when she was 11. When she was four months’ pregnant, her husband left, declaring the child wasn’t his. Now 15, she is raising her son on her own.

Sonhita, 13, married her cousin in Bangladesh when she was 10.

Sonhita, 13, married her cousin in Bangladesh when she was 10. Picture: Plan International Australia Source: Supplied

“During the time I was pregnant, he didn’t give me any money,” she says. “He hasn’t even come to see the boy now that he’s a year old.”

Aracely is one of the girls who feature in photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair’s Too Young To Wed project on Guatemala, where it’s legal for a girl to marry as young as 14 — though many are married far younger than that.

The UNFPA says one in nine girls in developing nations will marry before 15, with 50 million likely to marry before their 15th birthday in this decade. They are usually poor, less educated and living in rural areas — and their early marriages make life even worse.

The girls struggle with motherhood because they are far from physically and psychologically ready, say health workers. Their undeveloped bodies make labour and breastfeeding dangerous and difficult.

“Motherhood is hard,” 14-year-old Saida told Ms Sinclair. “When they get sick, you don’t know why. I don’t have experience and don’t know what to do with him.”

Early motherhood means these girls have no chance of a decent education.

Early motherhood means these girls have no chance of a decent education. Picture: Plan International Australia Source:Supplied

The young mums face an increased risk of STIs, physical and sexual violence and a premature end to their education.

Human rights organisations believe changing the norms that legitimise child marriage should be a priority.

“These [social norms] can and do start to change, once parents and communities understand the harm that child marriage does and once they are able to identify alternatives,” reads the UNFPA report.

Equality Now’s 2014 report, Protecting the Girl Child, calls on governments to end child and forced marriages and related human rights violations. “Child marriage does not take place within a vacuum,” says director Jacqui Hunt. “It is part of a continuum of abuse experienced by a girl and is often linked with female genital mutilation, sex trafficking or force-feeding before marriage, rape, domestic violence and the removal of future opportunities.

“When a child bride gives birth, the vicious cycle of poverty, poor health, curtailed education, violence, instability, disregard for rule of law and legal and other discrimination often continues into the next generation, especially for any daughters she may have.

Child marriage can come hand-in-hand with other abuses. Picture: Equality Now

Child marriage can come hand-in-hand with other abuses. Picture: Equality Now Source: Supplied

“Sadly, child marriage directly affects approximately 14 million girls a year, and in the process legitimises human rights violations and the abuse of girls under the guise of culture, honour, tradition, and religion. It is part of a sequence of discrimination that begins at a girl’s birth and continues throughout her entire life.”

This weekend, the group launched a global report on sex discriminatory laws around the world, using the hashtag #unsexylaws.

It shows in shocking clarity that these discriminatory laws are not simply relics of the past. Just last year, Kenya adopted a marriage act that permits polygamy without consent of the first wife, while Iran’s 2013 penal code maintains that a woman’s testimony is worth less than a man’s.

An Indian Act from 2013 states: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape”.

In the Bahamas, an act from 1991 defines rape as the act of someone over 14 “having (non-consensual) sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful, while in Guinea, a wife can have a separate profession from her husband “unless he objects”.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

The practice means a vicious cycle of poverty and discrimination. Picture: Equality Now

The practice means a vicious cycle of poverty and discrimination. Picture: Equality Now Source: Supplied

In the Democratic Republic of Congo: “The wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside.” In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”.

Ms Hunt adds: “As long as a girl or woman is not equal in the text of a country’s law and its legal system, she cannot fully participate in, or be valued equally in society. Legally, she is of lesser importance.

Eliminating child marriage

Eliminating child marriage

“Twenty years after 189 governments pledged to ‘revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex’ as part of the Beijing Platform for Action, only just over half of the laws highlighted in our reports on the subject have been revised, appealed or amended — a great achievement, but one which falls very short of what was envisaged.”

While many poor families hope marrying off their children will help them survive, that’s usually not the case.

Several of the girls Ms Sinclair interviewed were abandoned by their husbands while pregnant, leaving the family with an extra mouth to feed. Others admitted they and their families had found the experience distressing.

“They said I was really little and it’s a lot of responsibility to take care of someone,” said Sulmi, 14. “I was a little sad to be married so young.”

Zali Idy was married at 12 to a 23-year-old in Nigeria.

Zali Idy was married at 12 to a 23-year-old in Nigeria. Source: AAP