Tag Archives: child brides

6 Monday, April 2015

‘I want their voice to be heard’

Farah Ahmed is a senior at the American University of Sharjah and an advocate for child brides.
Farah Ahmed is a senior at the American University of Sharjah and an advocate for child brides.

Farah Ahmed, a senior at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, created this public service announcement on child marriage for one of her journalism classes. Her professor was impressed with the 2 ½-minute audio file and urged her to find a venue where it could be broadcast more widely. We’re only too happy to provide one.

We appreciate Ms. Ahmed’s willingness to champion the cause of child brides and to share her efforts with Too Young to Wed’s team. We’re also thrilled that she took some time during her midterms to answer a few questions for us.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Farah Ahmed. I am Egyptian-born and raised in the UAE. I am a 20-year-old senior studying journalism and film at the American University of Sharjah. I am going to graduate this summer, and I hope I could continue a career in broadcast journalism.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a journalist, and pursuing this dream has been the greatest decision I have ever made. I joined the journalism program in 2011 at AUS because I wanted to tell stories, stories of people without a voice. I want their voice to be heard everywhere. I want to fight for their rights to live with dignity and pride. My professors at AUS helped me a lot to make this dream come true. They helped me to be patient and determined and never give up on my dream.

When did you create this commentary and for what purpose? What was the response from listeners?

I created this radio commentary as part of a project for my MCM472 editorial and critical writing class. MCM472 teaches the basics of writing editorials and columns. It also teaches the students how to analyze arguments, generate ideas, research supporting data, write concisely, and control style, voice and tone appropriate to subject matter and audience—and also writing to meet deadlines.

My professor, Dr. Ralph Berenger, played my radio commentary in class on March 11, 2015, and I received very positive criticism from my classmates. And Dr. Berenger said—and I quote him—“Extraordinary. I mean it. This was superbly done. You used statistics persuasively. I don’t know where you can publish this, it should be. Very nicely done.” I decided to contact Too Young To Wed to give me a chance to publish it.

Why did you choose to address the issue of child marriage in your commentary? Was this an issue you were already familiar with or something that recently caught your attention?

Ever since I started my journalism program at AUS, I was always looking for important issues to tackle. Child marriage has always been an issue of interest. Last year I had a chance to work at the Dubai International Film Festival, and I came across a very interesting film about child marriage called “I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced.” This film [based on the true story of Nujood Ali] talks about Nojoom, a 10-year-old Yemeni girl who was forced to marry a 30-year-old man. After watching this film, I was angered by this disturbing issue. We live in the 21st century, yet there are still families who sell their girls to whomever pays the most money.

Another reason that drove me to talk about child marriage in this radio commentary is the fact that I find it very disturbing that the universe celebrates the International Women’s Day on March 8, yet there are millions of girls getting married before their 15th birthday. I have always wanted to do something to contribute and raise awareness about child marriage, and I hope this radio commentary will somehow help to put an end to this devastating issue.

What solutions do you think will have the greatest impact when it comes to ending child marriage around the world?

Some countries have harsh laws against child marriage, but unfortunately these laws are not implemented and there are still millions of young girls getting married. In order to prevent child marriage, a cultural shift has to occur. There should be major cultural and traditional changes, and families and communities should be aware of the harmful impact of child marriage and of the important and alternative roles of girls and women in society.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t asked you?

I would like to express my gratitude and thanks for Too Young To Wed for their interest in my radio commentary and their kindness to publish my commentary on their website. I am very grateful for this great opportunity. I would also like to thank Dr. Berenger for encouraging me to publish my radio commentary.

You can follow Farah Ahmed on Twitter, @farah_sobhy, and on Facebook. You can also check out her web page.

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25 Monday, August 2014

Child marriage is tragic consequence of Syrian conflict

Syrian girls in the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan were encouraged to draw pictures after attending workshops on the dangers of child marriage. --- Rosie Thompson/Save the Children
Syrian girls in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan were encouraged to draw pictures after attending workshops on the dangers of child marriage.
— Rosie Thompson/Save the Children

The crisis in Syria has killed thousands, displaced millions and like many conflicts before it, increased the rate of child marriage dramatically, according to a disturbing study recently released by Save the Children.

--- Rosie Thompson/Save the Children
— Rosie Thompson/Save the Children

The study, titled Too Young to Wed, focuses on the tragic outcomes of young Syrian girls who have fled their homeland for the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. There, lack of economic opportunity and fear that their unmarried daughters are more likely to be exposed to sexual harassment have convinced many parents to marry their girls off at very young ages.

--- Rosie Thompson/Save the Children
— Rosie Thompson/Save the Children

Among Jordan’s Syrian refugee community, one in four girls was married under the age of 18 in 2013 — double the rate that existed in pre-war Syria, according to the report. Trends show that nearly half of those girls were forced to marry men at least 10 years older than them.

The girl in this drawing is saying, 'Daddy, where is he taking me? Is it to the park?' The scroll in the man's hand says 'Marriage Certificate.' --- Rosie Thompson/Save the Children
The girl in this drawing is saying, ‘Daddy, where is he taking me? Is it to the park?’ The scroll in the man’s hand says ‘Marriage Certificate.’
— Rosie Thompson/Save the Children

At 12 pages, the report itself  is short but alarming. It features testimony from child brides and their families as well as pictures that girls in the Za’atari refugee camp were encouraged to draw after attending workshops designed to teach them about the dangers of child marriage. It also includes recommendations for halting the trend.

--- Rosie Thompson/Save the Children
— Rosie Thompson/Save the Children

To see 15 more pictures, check out this moving post by BuzzFeed’s Richard James.

--- Rosie Thompson/Save the Children
— Rosie Thompson/Save the Children

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8 Thursday, May 2014

Yemen to Ban Child Marriage and FGM

By Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now

As dusk falls over the Fun City amusement park, a mother watches her children spin on a ride featuring an unveiled version of Fulla, a Barbie doll alternative popular among Middle Eastern girls in Sana, Yemen, Nov. 13, 2012. Moments like this offer relief from troubles, but the “emergence of a new dawn” heralded by Yemen’s 2011 peace Nobelist, Tawakkol Karman, eludes much of the country. Stephanie Sinclair/ VII
As dusk falls over the Fun City amusement park, a mother watches her children spin on a ride featuring an unveiled version of Fulla, a Barbie doll alternative popular among Middle Eastern girls in Sana, Yemen, Nov. 13, 2012. Moments like this offer relief from troubles, but the “emergence of a new dawn” heralded by Yemen’s 2011 peace Nobelist, Tawakkol Karman, eludes much of the country. Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Yemen is likely to vote on a comprehensive ‘Child Rights Act’ over the coming months, which would ban both child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). 

 After years of pressure from both national and international organizations, including Equality Now, on April 27th, Mohammad Makhlafi, minister for legal affairs, submitted the proposed wide-ranging legislation to Mohammad Basindawa, Yemeni prime minister.  If approved by Basindawa, the next step would be a review by the cabinet’s council of ministers.  Upon agreement by the cabinet, it would go to a parliamentary discussion and vote.
The new law proposes to establish the international human rights standard of 18 as the minimum age of marriage and impose fines on guardians, signatories, marriage officials and any other witnesses who have knowledge that either marriage participant is under this age. 
Now that the ‘National Dialogue’ has been completed – a lengthy process that aimed to make recommendations for a new Yemeni constitution – it is heartening to see that its outcomes, including setting a minimum age of marriage, are being translated into official legislation.  This new push has been endorsed by Hooria Mashhour, minister for human rights, while others in government have also taken a strong leadership role.  
However, successful passage of the law is far from certain, and a previous 2009 attempt to fix the minimum age of marriage for girls at 17 was blocked by traditional and religious leaders and the parliament’s Shariah committee.  On this occasion, the president has increased power and can overrule.  It is unclear whether or not he would do so, but the process has shown more general support for protecting girls from early marriage.
According to the United Nations, over half of Yemeni girls are married by the age of 18.  This serious human rights violation is extremely harmful to a girl’s physical, psychological and emotional health and well-being, but also means that her education and future prospects are severely compromised. Complications during sexual intercourse and childbirth put the girl at particularly high risk of harm and even maternal mortality.
Furthermore, child marriage does not take place in a vacuum, as detailed in Equality Now’s new report on ‘Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations’.  This comprehensive report illustrates how such marriages are part a continuum of abuse and discrimination experienced by a young girl – often linked with related abuses such as sexual violence and FGM.  When a child bride gives birth, the violence and discrimination continue for future generations until the cycle of abuse is broken. 
With this in mind, we welcome additional articles in the ‘Child Rights Act’ that propose banning FGM, which affects 23 percent of Yemen’s female population – as well as other forms of violence against children such as child labor. 
In dealing with the rights of the girl child in a holistic way, Yemen is recognizing that an interlinked approach is essential to ensuring that girls at risk are protected at an early stage from a lifetime of abuse.  However, such a holistic approach would mean that the health, education and justice systems need to be adequately resourced not only financially, but also in terms of each actor knowing what role and responsibility they have in ensuring that the law is effectively implemented and that girls are properly educated about their rights. 
In recent months, neighboring countries have made moves in both directions.  In the Sindh province of Pakistan – the part of the country with the highest prevalence – the local assembly voted in favor of a law establishing 18 as the minimum age of marriage.  Regulations in Saudi Arabia were allegedly drafted last year, but we have yet to hear confirmation of when these might be realized. 
Unfortunately, proposed legislative changes in the region have not all been positive.  A potential Iraqi draft law, which would permit 9-year-old girls to marry, has at least been shelved for the moment.  However, moves like this are indicative of the possibility of the rights of women and girls to also slide backwards, at a time when huge strides are being made in the right direction.
It is hoped that in Yemen, the various authorities will seize the new opportunity for major advances to be made – not only for its female population, but for the entire country.  As long as Yemeni women and girls are at risk of violence and discrimination, lives are destroyed and potential is wasted.  We hope that on this occasion, traditional and religious leaders will ensure that the law is passed by the Shariah committee and help to make a resounding step forward toward a new future for Yemen, where the rights of girls are firmly at the forefront.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh joined Equality Now as a consultant for the Middle East and North Africa in 2008. Before joining the organization, Ms. Abu-Dayyeh worked for ten years with the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in Jerusalem (WCLAC). WCLAC is a Palestinian feminist NGO which works to address gender-based violence within the Palestinian Society in both the private and public spheres. Ms. Abu-Dayyeh holds a master’s in “Women & Development” from the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands and bachelor’s degrees in Social Work and Law from Bethlehem University and Al Ahliyya Amman University in Jordan. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s in Public Law at Middle East University Jordan.
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8 Tuesday, October 2013

UN resolution acknowledges child marriage as human rights violation

By Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor

The United Nations has laid out several frameworks, conventions and resolutions that establish international law and human rights. Some are general, outlining principles that cover all people while leaving for interpretation the details. Some are specific, linking human rights principles to a particular population or issue.

Getting international bodies to do the latter is very often a key goal for advocacy groups and individuals who seek equality and justice. International consensus can fuel national efforts to ensure that all people are able to realize their human rights. Put another way, getting countries to sign UN conventions and resolutions promotes accountability, even if it doesn’t guarantee it.

For the first time ever, we can now add child marriage to the list: more than 100 countries have explicitly stated that child marriage is a human rights violation that must be stopped.

--- Stephanie Sinclair/VII
— Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Last month, the UN Human Rights Council — the leading UN body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world — adopted the first-ever UN resolution on child, early and forced marriage. The move came just two weeks before the second annual International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated this Friday, Oct. 11. A diverse group of 107 countries affirmed that the choice to marry is an adult decision that should be informed and made freely without fear, coercion or undue pressure.

Among those countries that signed the resolution are several that have a relatively high prevalence of child marriage: Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Guatemala, Honduras and Yemen.

Previously, UN Agencies, advocacy groups and girls themselves had relied on — and still will — other human rights instruments that reference child marriage, within the context of broader frameworks.

For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) both outlawed child marriage. Additionally, at the International Conference on Population and Development (1994), 197 countries adopted the ICPD Programme of Action, which called on countries to eliminate child marriage and to enforce laws that ensure free and full consent.

Even though policies on paper do not directly translate into changes on the ground, last month’s global consensus marks a shift in awareness about child marriage and the priority attention it deserves. For example, the new UN resolution stresses the need to include child, early and forced marriage in the post-2015 international development agenda.

Progress at international fora, however, cannot overshadow the ongoing struggles that child brides and young girls vulnerable to marriage still face. Decades have passed since countries first signed human rights documents that affirm child marriage is a violation of girls’ universal human rights. During this time, millions of girls have married, especially in poor and rural parts of countries in the developing world.

As UN-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asserted in his recent annual report to the UN General Assembly, “The practice of child marriage must be ended everywhere.” Advocates agree, including young girls and child brides who live in countries that did not sign the UN resolution last month. They’ve agreed for years.

It’s now time to move beyond consensus to action; we know the solutions.

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29 Thursday, August 2013

Action needed in South Sudan: Two years after its independence, nearly half of all girls marry as children

By Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor

More than two years after the festive atmosphere and the international attention have subsided, a more comprehensive response to child marriage must become an explicit priority for South Sudan to achieve its development goals.

Eight years have passed since South Sudan gained its regional autonomy, and two years have passed since the nation gained its independence in a referendum vote. Policymakers and citizens rightfully celebrated the omnipresent hope for a better future at ceremonies following the end of a 22-year civil war in January 2005 and the founding of a new nation in July 2011.

Independence Day Pride. © Maggie Dougherty

Fulfilling this hope for a better future—and the autonomy and independence upon which it rests—depends considerably on the nation’s ability to ensure that the next generation of South Sudan’s girls is able to realize its full potential. South Sudan is currently failing nearly half of them: national surveys estimate that 48 percent of girls marry as children.[i]

The newly formed government has recognized that girls matter; it has adopted an array of measures that make gender equality and women’s empowerment cornerstones of its national agenda. The next step is to transfer the initial foray of legal and policy reforms into actions that can have real impacts in girls’ lives—actions that can help ensure that South Sudan’s next generation of young women are able to realize their rights.

To begin, South Sudan should enforce South Sudan’s Child Act 2008, which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. Legislation is important, but alone insufficient. In May 2013, the Minister of Gender and Child Affairs, Agnes Kwaje Losuba, admitted that the government does not enforce the legislation. [ii] To be effective, laws and policies require adequate resources, training and accountability mechanisms. The minister’s statement underscores the limited political commitment for ending child marriage among leaders in South Sudan.

A comprehensive response to end child marriage must also address the underlying factors that make young girls vulnerable to child marriage.

While there is no panacea approach to prevention, ensuring that girls complete primary and secondary education is a critical starting point: when a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries on average four years later.

Attending School in South Sudan. © Maggie Dougherty.
Attending School in South Sudan. © Maggie Dougherty.

Education is also an investment associated with significant returns for generations to come. In many countries, each additional year of formal education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining in school for up to an additional one-half year. Thus when girls are empowered with knowledge and skills, they are considerably more likely to send their children to school and help break the intergenerational chain of poverty that impedes individual progress and national development.

In South Sudan, where girls respectively make up only 39 percent and 30 percent of students in primary and secondary school, the government has to complement a stronger legal, policy and regulatory framework with community-focused interventions that shift perceptions around the expectations, roles and aspirations for girls. Community-based interventions in several countries have already demonstrated that parents—instead of seeing their daughters as tradable assets whose virginity increases their value—can come to view them as individuals worthy of obtaining the social, economic and health benefits that are associated with educational achievement.

Political leaders will have to tackle head-on the resistance from community leaders who champion customary laws, which are rooted in traditions that often infringe on the rights of women and girls. In South Sudan—where customary laws sidestep statutory laws and govern marriage, dowries and inheritance laws[iii]—the government must ensure that child marriage is no longer perpetuated in the name of tradition and culture.

Young mother and her child © Maggie Dougherty
Young mother and her child © Maggie Dougherty

Many communities in South Sudan view marriage as being in the best interests of girls and their families. Child marriage is seen as protecting girls from pre-marital sex and pregnancy before marriage, avoiding dishonor to the child and her family. The traditional practice of transferring wealth through the payment of dowries is a key way for families to access much-needed resources (e.g., cattle, money and other gifts). Customary practices attach great social and economic importance to dowry payment, as well as a husband’s rights over his wife. Under many South Sudanese customary law systems, divorce is not widely accepted and only possible when the dowry is repaid to the husband’s family—a requirement that can make it difficult to get a divorce since the dowry is often shared amongst the bride’s extended family.

Arguments that assert customs and traditions cannot justify human rights violations. Culture and tradition offer meaning and identity to many people, yet these same socially constructed norms can pose significant barriers to the empowerment of women and girls in particular—to their education, to sexual and reproductive health, to their livelihoods, and to their opportunities to realize their human potential, free from coercion, abuse or violence.

South Sudan has overcome many hurdles, and tensions across and within its borders still give pause. However, as the nation presses ahead toward fulfilling the hope for an autonomous, independent and better future, it cannot ignore the harmful practice that undermines that goal. When the 55-member Constitutional Review Commission that President Salva Kiir appointed in 2012 to assess and improve the country’s current transitional constitution reports its findings in December 2013, the commission should make this point explicit. It is within its purview to strengthen the role and jurisdiction of statutory laws (over customary laws) in alignment with international human rights standards.

[i] UNICEF (2013). Childinfo: Monitoring the Situation of Women and Children. “Percentage of women aged 20–24 who were first married/in union before the age of 18.”
Link: http://www.childinfo.org/marriage_countrydata.php

[ii] IPS News (2013). “Marrying Off South Sudan’s Girls for Cows.”
Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/marrying-off-south-sudans-girls-for-cows/

[iii]  HRW (2013). “South Sudan: End Widespread Child Marriage.” New York: Human Rights Watch

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