The United Nations’ recent session on forced marriage raised an issue many attendees called “unacceptable.” Arranged marriages are a cultural tradition in many countries; however, they often lead to “child brides” dropping out of school at the orders of their husbands and pregnancy complications for young girls.
Pregnancy complications commonly occur for young women under the age of 15. The risk of dying during childbirth is five times more likely to happen than for women who are in their 20s. Women under the age of 18 are also at a higher risk of dying during the first year of their child’s life. Some may be surprised to learn that childbirth, not disease, is the leading cause of death for girls between 15 and 18 years old.
Poverty plays a crucial role in forced marriages as well. A study by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s office found that impoverished girls are two times more likely to marry before they are 18. Because the arranged marriages of young girls is a tradition in some countries, Baird says he has been discouraged from publicly criticizing it at times. This line of thinking, Baird explains, has to stop.
Among the riveting anecdotes about girls being forced into wedding older men included the story of how one young girl witnessed the forced marriage of one of her friends to a 40-year-old man who forbade her from attending school. Another friend of the girl was married at a young age and beaten by her husband after giving birth to a girl instead of a boy.
Baird is working with international organizations to make forced marriages for girls a thing of the past. He is adamant that “in a generation, we can end this practice.”
Baird and his supporters are combining their efforts with those of the United Nations and its global goals for 2015, which include universal access to contraceptives as well as improved newborn and maternal health.
– Mary Penn