Monday, November 16, 2015

Shaming "Child" Marriage

I recently saw this picture on my Facebook feed along with a caption "What a shame".

I decided to push on this. Why is it a shame? If both parties (and let's be real here - the older man would have no reason to say no, so the real question is the bride) have freely, without being forced either by circumstances or their family, have consented to the marriage, where is the shame?

Ah, but look at her age!

The notion that we don't marry young is a fairly modern concept.

Gandhi married when he was 13 years old (to a 14 year old girl). The famous Rana Pratap (recognized by the British as King of Mysore) got married at the age of 12 (to a 14 year old). Drew Barrymore was 16 on her first engagement, and less that twenty before her first marriage. Macaulay Culkin married when he was 17.

Even in our literature - Snow White is 14 years old when she is married to her "prince", Jasmine of Aladdin is 15, Pocahontas is 18 and Cinderella is 19. Juliet of the famous Romeo and Juliet was 13 as written by Shakespeare (while Romeo's age isn't mentioned, but he is older than her and a young man - presumably 21).

Ah, but look at the difference in their ages.

Surely it is a cause of concern. It is uncommon, it is not healthy, etc. But is it a cause of shame?

Princess Emilia of Saxony in 1533, at age 16 married the famous George the Pious who was then 48 years old. Demi Moore married Freddy Moore when she was 17 and he was 30. Let's not forget Celine Dion. She was 12 when she met her then 38-year-old future husband Rene Angelil. She was 19 when she started "dating" him. Their age difference is 26 years old. So clearly it isn't a shame for some people. A cause of concern, yes, but not shame,

You would never let your own daughter (if you had one) be in such a marriage.

Ah, but what I do or don't do or will not do in a future hypothetical situation isn't the factor here. When I was younger and was looking to get married, I wouldn't marry a Chinese girl. But that doesn't make marrying a Chinese girl wrong. It's just that our cultures would have too much differences to be easily resolved in a marriage. Some Bengalis I know have tried it, and it worked for them.

I have been brought up in a culture where people wait until they are in their 20s to get married, and they get married to someone close to them in age. Usually the guy is a little bit older. That's what I am comfortable with. But I am not going to superimpose my cultural upbringing on another culture or situation and say, "Oh what a shame".

You may be sorry at a girl in a Bangladeshi village marrying at the age of 16, but perhaps that's what she wants. Maybe this is what they are used to - and they don't know any other life style. It works for them, it makes them happy. If there's some criminal element there like forced marriages or abuse, or poverty or lack of access to clean and safe water etc. those are different issues and we should tackle those.

Let's not forget the real cause of shame.

Over 40% of women are unmarried when they give birth in the United States. The mother of the child that was just born is not married to the father. Over 48% of teens have had sex by the time they are 16. Over 28% of males and 16% of females under the age of 20 have sex with multiple partners. Over 5% of all abortions are by minors. The reasons teens most frequently give for having an abortion are that they are concerned about how having a baby would change their lives, cannot afford a baby now, and do not feel mature enough to raise a child.

A marriage involves being in a legal relationship with someone, having physical intimacy, bearing the responsibility of rearing a family and sacrificing for your kids. It looks like if you do all of these at the ages of 16-19, it's a shame, but if you are a selfish person who just wants physical intimacy, then you are OK.

What a shame.


Dreaming Loud said...

That's really a shame! I am not surprised rather sad with this. I also recently read an article of Melinda gates on child marriages, at least there the kids were allowed to complete their students before going to their in-laws. It's always heart wrenching and fearful to hear these stories.

Taslim Jaffer said...

Wow, you bring up a lot of points here that will make people think before they make judgments. Personally, I think it's better when girls wait to get married if that means they can pursue a higher education. But I don't claim to know or understand the cultural angle to marriage outside of my own. I got married at 25 which is considered young in my generation in my particular family, but we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, and I continued my education after we got married. My only hope is that for the girls who want to go to school, they have access to that. Married or not.

Sumaira Z said...

I agree, if both people are happy, then let them be; however, consent for marriage always has to be from BOTH people. Sometimes, we fail to recognize that not everybody looks at the age difference between them :) Thank you for sharing your point of view with us!

mezba said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

The issue of child marriage in Bangladesh is mixed up with a lot of other issues. Consent is the big one. Poverty is another - which is why I put those big disclaimers when discussing the "shame" aspect.

ArChAeOlOgIsT...TiMeTrAvElLeR(ATT) said...

Hats off to Author who wrote this article . Such wonderfully put with a bit of ' sarcasm' . Feminism opposes early marriage but they support pre marital sex and abortions !. How twisted and their propaganda lies in shaming cultured women who opt for early marriage consensually. The UN run by feminists and NGO like Melinda gates foundation breed feminism and forces every nation to increase the age of marriage . How ridiculous !. They forget their own backyard where extra marital teen abortions are on rise and almost destroyed their family . Now they continue doing this with other countries . Its high time people from Asian countries stick to their culture and do what is right . If girl just after puberty want to get marry , then its her CHOICE too

Hasina Bibi said...

I'm not sure what sort of people you talk to... But most White decent people I know (from the UK) don't approve of early promiscuity/abortions/child marriages etc. Neither do most educated Bengali people.

The shaming here, isn't about culture. I would like to believe that peadophillia is a thing of the past now in all cultures. One child marrying or being promised to another child is still part of the Bangladeshi culture... It is about a child being married to an old man who's going to live for about 10 years... Most likely on a bed that is the issue. What child, would seriously want that for themselves if they had the choice and wisdom of a 25 year old? What if a child boy was being married off to a 90 year old woman?

Black people being taken as slaves and being seen as lesser beings was once part of the White culture... Women being seen as lesser beings still is a part of many cultures. So why did we not continue to accept those ideas as merely "culture" and not judge?

But, I'm not surprised by your attitude. I'd say a lot of men, secretly think like you and would not see anything wrong with an adult male having sex with a 10 year old child.

mezba said...

@Archaeoiogist - it all comes down to choice and free will. The age of consent in most Western nations is 16, and it has been proven that in hot tropical climates women mature earlier, and therefore there's nothing wrong if as a society these cultures decide their age of consent should be lower. And let's remember, many "kids" in Western societies are engaged in other sexual activities at a much earlier age, as documented.

@Hasina Bibi, let's not generalize that most men secretly think this or that. My blog post presented some facts, if you want to discuss those.