Hej (that's hello in Swedish) to readers out there. Its Serene here writing from (too) sunny Singapore. I originally published this post in my own blog: Infamous Lipstick (www.infamouslipstick.wordpress.com) and Christine had invited me to post it on the BASI blog as well. And so here I am sharing this post about the issue of child marriage in the Middle East & offer some reasons as to why it exists.
I'm glad that I live in an age and society where people marry each other out of love, and not because of fear of being raped and to repay a debt.
Child marriage is a sad reality in the Middle East and is an issue that still hasn't gotten the justice it deserves. When we read about children being sold as child brides to older men, we often wonder how a parent give his or her own child to a complete stranger. Unfortunately, it is true that some parents have become corrupted by greed and use their young daughters as a form of payment to settle money disputes. In some other cases, daughters are married to wealthier families to establish ties with them for economic security. In such cases, it is not about having a blissful marriage; this becomes is a business transaction, plain and simple. In conservative patriarchal Middle Eastern societies where women have little to no say in domestic affairs and where their lives are controlled by the men ruling the family, girls have no choice but to marry the men their parents seek out for them.
Child Marriage: To Protect Girls
However, in many other cases, as hard as it is to process and understand, child marriage is seen as an act of parental love and a form of protection from sexual violence.
Youth, beauty and virginity in a woman are a prized combination in the Middle East, and parents constantly fear that young girls blessed with this combination are at high risk of being kidnapped on the streets by thugs and raped, before being tossed back onto the streets, forced into prostitution and/or killed and never to be seen again. This is a dismal consequence for many parents, because virginity is a prized attribute in the Middle East. In their conservative society, a woman's virginity is valued more than anything else and to lose her virginity before her marriage is seen as disgraceful and dishonoring the family. The male head of the household may even order a death sentence if he deems it necessary to punish her and preserve the honor of their family. When a woman loses her virginity before marriage. her values diminishes; she is seen as a "second hand commodity" and this makes it hard for her to become married to a good family after. A common practice of newly weds in the Middle East is the presentation of a bloody handkerchief on their wedding night - proof that the woman is a virgin. When the bride does not bleed on her wedding night, she could be divorced on the grounds that she must have had engaged in immoral behavior. Her in-laws may banish her and her own family and community may not even welcome her back for fear of ostracism. In such cases, the social exclusion can become too much to bear and death is considered a desirable route to end their shame and suffering.
This is why some parents desperately seek out men from respectable families to marry their daughters to; to give them away in marriage so that they will not be kidnapped and raped by malicious men seeking to release sexual tension with young virgins. It is not because they want money, it is because they love their daughter and want to protect her. All their parents can hope is that the man they chose for their daughter to marry is respectable, that the marriage will protect their daughter and also give them a life far better life
Child Marriage: A Consequence of War
Child marriage is further compounded the spat of conflicts in the Middle East, such as recent Syrian war that has displaced many Syrians. In light of the war, over 600,000 Syrians are now living as refugees in Jordan and this has created an informal trade where men from Suadi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states scour refugee camps who search for young girls to fulfill their sexual desires. These men use marriage as a "disguise" and offer to "rescue" young girls from living in the squalid conditions of refugee camps.
With a desire to protect their daughters from sexual violence and to save them from the emotional, mental and physical traumas of the war, desperate families see no choice but to accept the lucrative monetary offers and readily agree to the marriage. A dowry is given to the family, yet without the family's knowing, this dowry - meant to secure the bride's security to her groom - is sometimes used by the men as payment for sex for a lesser known practice called "Mut'ah", also known as temporary or pleasure marriages. Jordan's legal age of marriage is 18, yet there exists a a loophole in the Sharia law that permits the marriage of brides as young as 15 years of age. This marriage is temporary and in the eyes of many, a sham marriage and a dishonorable one.
These young girls are promised a good home and better lives when they return to their husbands' home countries. In the meantime, homes are rented near the camp and the women live there where they are told they would be supported until they are brought back by their husbands. However, in actuality, the girls are married for a short amount of time - hours, days or even weeks - whereby the men have sex with them throughout the period of this temporary union before abandoning them and leaving without a trace. This is how many Syrian girls become pregnant and abandoned. Girls spared from the horrors of temporary marriage do not have bleak futures as well, as they are more likely to experience sexual and domestic violence by their husbands and have high-risk pregnancies due to their young age and limited access to maternal healthcare
Is Child Marriage Also a Form of Human Trafficking?
Child marriage has been happening for hundreds and thousands of years, yet the fates of many young girls and even women - who marry when they are older - who end up marrying a stranger against their will are bleak and filled with much emotional, mental and physical trauma.
According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, trafficking trafficking involves the act of recruiting, abducting, transporting, transferring or selling of people within or across national borders through methods such as fraud, coercion or deception that place individual in slave-like conditions, such as sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced prostituion or other forms of debt bondage to achieve the consent of a person have control over another person for the purpose of exploitation . When we read of cases of human trafficking, we hear about people being held captive, about girls being forced into prostituion and of people being held in sweatshops doing work for no pay. However, the reality of child marriage clearly highlights that human trafficking doesn't just come in the form of slave labor and prostitution. Some types of child/forced marriages can qualify as a form of human trafficking.
Not all arranged marriages have unhappy endings. However, there are thousands of girls and women forced or sold into a marriage, sent abroad and then savagely beaten and treated as a domestic slave and not allowed out the house. Some girls and women are forced into a marriage for the single purpose of providing sex for her husband. Are such marriages not a form of human trafficking? Are these women not being sold and married against their will and exploited to lifetime of domestic servitude and sexual mistreatment?
Sadly, the laws and customs in many such countries do not see this as human trafficking. Yes, the girls have no say in their marriage and they are physically and sexually abused, but because such happens in the realm of a marriage, the laws don't readily recognize it as human trafficking and these unfortunate women continue to be be maltreated. Moreover, marriage for a woman is seen as a necessary step in life, and many individuals fear violating long-held tradition. It is not easy for a woman to divorce her husband in the Middle East, and the laws are typically skewed in favor of the husband. If a woman files a complaint against her husband, the judge or head of her community in more remote regions may tell her that is the right of her husband to do as he wishes to control his wife and then dismissing her.
So what happens now?
We need to understand that there are many forms of human trafficking, and that it exists in more than just forced prostitution and slave labor. Forced marriages where girls and woman are beaten and abused are a snapshot for modern slavery in the Middle Eastern region.
Governments should work together to create an organized response to human trafficking which can at the same time, help tackle the intricacies of child marriage. Child marriage will not go away anytime soon; it takes more than just advocating for the end of child marriage and educating local communities about the bleak realities of child marriage. Child marriage is now exacerbated by the growing number of conflicts in the Middle East: Iraqis fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Palestinians being displaced from their homes from Israeli airstrikes and the flooding of Syrian Kurds into Turkey all set the stage for modern slavery and become exploited: families may sell their children to save them from refugee lives, women sold as wives to protect them from rape and desperate men fall prey to offers to unscrupulous labor opportunities in a bid to earn money for their families.
Help with efforts to end child marriage by visiting organizations such as:
Alternatively, click here: 16 organizations that work to stop child marriage, that lists both local and global organizations fighting to end child marriage.
Help with efforts to provide aid to refugees by visiting:
Alternatively, you can Google ways to help refugees in other countries, such as in Palestine, Iraq and even Afghanistan as they too, need international relief.
To read up more on human trafficking, start with:
Bloggers Against Social Injustice, a blog that raises awareness about human trafficking and various social injustices around the world.
Efforts to help end social injustice don't need to be in monetary form! Awareness is an important step and one more person educated and aware of the social injustices happening around the world is enough to initiate change one small step at a time! You can read or write about it on your blog if you have one, sign online petitions and even volunteer at local organizations that advocate fighting social injustices.
Think about it: girls in the Middle East, and also in other countries such as those in Africa, are married at ages between 12 and 15 - what were you doing when you were 15?
Thanks for reading! Adios chums. I am currently writing with an elephant of a sore throat thanks to a bout of flu. It feels like there are a thousand devil minions stabbing at my throat. The annual haze that hits Singapore is not making things better. Drink lots of water!