Must read: "Too Young to Wed"

May 26, 2011

Imagine a secret wedding, held in the dead of night, with ample ritual and heavily embroidered gowns. Sounds romantic? It's not. Somewhere in the world, a young girl is being married off in an illegal transaction. She may be 13 and a minor or she may be 5--a child. Either way, she is being deprived of her rights and corralled on a path to poverty, poor health and little prospect.

-Elizabeth Kiem is the online producer of unicefusa.org.

In the June issue of National Geographic , you can read "Too Young to Wed: the Secret World of Child Brides." Like most Nat Geo features, it is visually stunning. But its story is stark and heartbreaking.

The article introduces us to Rajani in India, who couldn't stay awake for her wedding; and to 16-year-old Surita in Nepal (above), who wailed as she was conveyed to her ceremony. We meet 10-year-old Ayesha, whose father her in high-heels and a veil to make her look older when the police investigated her marriage to a 50-year old man. She was being exchanged--bartered like a commodity. And we meet Suad, who at age 26 already has 10 children. A little math will give you an idea of how young she was married off.

These are not unusual stories. Child brides are all too common, and the results of forced marriage (abuse, ill-health, pregnancy complications, and confusion by these young brides about how to protect and nourish their children) are equally common.

But we are also reminded of the fate of Nujood Ali, the 10-year-old Yemeni girl who made history and headlines when she showed up, alone, in a courthouse and ultimately was granted a divorce so that she could attend school.

Organizations like UNICEF and its partners who advocate for the end of sanctioned (and unsanctioned) child marriages and who face significant cultural hurdles in protecting individual girls from the effects of this centuries' old tradition have a hard road to travel. UNICEF's most successful course of action is often community awareness. By partnering with Tostan and other organizations, UNICEF is working to convince families, tribal leaders and religious figures that child marriage doesn't just hurt their girls--it hurts their families and communities.

Here at the U.S. Fund, our message to is simple: child marriage is a violation of human rights. The U.S. needs a comprehensive strategy to integrate child marriage prevention approaches throughout U.S. foreign assistance programs and authorize funding to scale up proven approaches and programs to end the practice.

There is progress. There are successes. You can read some in National Geographic..

And remember the impact of individual triumphs. They can have a great ripple effect. Just ask Nujood Ali.