Magazine article UN Chronicle

Adolescent Marriage Crossroad or Status Quo?

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Adolescent Marriage Crossroad or Status Quo?

Article excerpt

"it wasn't an option," murmured a thirty-two-year-old woman with a troubled face who wished to remain anonymous. I felt her emotions so strongly that wished I had a chance to change her life. "I was the oldest girl among my sisters," she said, "my aunt came to my father wanting his consent for my marriage to her oldest son. My dad could not let her down--his politeness resulted in my melancholy." She was married at sixteen. Deep down, I knew she wasn't the only one. Somewhere out there, even in my country, adolescent females suffer from similar situations.

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As I left the woman's house, her situation hit me. I was furious and couldn't let go. I wanted to do something for her. What if I suffered like one of them? What if it was my sister, my cousin, or even my future daughter?

Adolescent marriage is a critical dilemma facing some societies today. It deprives girls of their rights, subjects them to abuse, and forces them to assume responsibilities beyond their years. Adolescent marriage strips them of their chances and rights to an education, a healthy lifestyle, personal development and growth. A vicious cycle results which can lead to their being widowed at a young age and shunned from society.

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Some girls in South Asian societies are forced to marry, engage in sexual relations --with or without their consent--and raise children. This custom must be changed or even put to an end. As the United Nations Children's Fund publication Early Marriage Child Spouses states, the marriage of adolescent girls results in "the denial of childhood and adolescence, the curtailment of personal freedom and the lack of opportunity to develop a full sense of selfhood as well as the denial of psychosocial and emotional well-being, reproductive health and educational opportunity." (1)

A significant disadvantage faced by girls subject to adolescent marriage is the obstruction of education and personal development. This is a direct consequence, given that during the period of their lives when they would normally be experiencing childhood, they are instead preparing for adulthood and their contribution to their future families. Furthermore, young girls who would like to pursue both options--building a family and continuing their education--will be "both practically and legally excluded from doing so," if they are already married by adolescence. (1) Young girls are routinely withdrawn from school if an offer of a good marriage alliance is made. Moreover, under these circumstances, parents believe that their investments in their daughters are ultimately wasted since, once they are married, they are expected to work in a different household. Additionally, parents fear that if their daughters are exposed to school, they will be at an increased risk of premarital sex and potential pregnancies. Girls are, therefore, kept out of school.

An important fallout to tackle is the psychosocial disadvantages of early marriage when the adolescent girl is forced to engage in sexual relations while being denied her freedom and right to personal development. This leads her to intense psychosocial and emotional distress. In Ethiopia, Inter-African Committee researchers found that elders lacked interest in their young girls' suffering and believed that the traumas of premature sex and child-bearing were an "unavoidable part of life." (2) Further research on young married girls in some parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states in India showed that if the husband died before consummation, the young girl was considered a widow and became the property of all the men in the family. …

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