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Child Brides: The Struggles of Young Women in Arranged Marriages

Kay is an online writer who covers a variety of cultural and political topics.

A Yemeni Child Bride

Ilham Mahdi al Asasi, a young girl from a rural region of Yemen, was given what is considered a fairly typical wedding for many impoverished Yemeni women: her family, out of poverty, arranged a marriage for her to a local man who could support her financially. After the ceremony, al Asasi moved into her husband's home and began to take on various domestic duties. Four days after her wedding, she was dead.

This tragedy occurred because Al Asasi was only 13 years old when she was married off to a man almost twice her age and died as a result of this marriage. Reportedly, she died due to internal damage inflicted during intercourse.

Young Women Are Forced to Marry Around the World

In many countries around the world, young girls are being forced into marriage by their families or society. UNICEF and other organizations have been working for many years to end this practice, which usually results in a number of health issues and various other problems for young brides.

According to a 2010 poll conducted by Unicef, over 64 million women around the world between the ages of 20-24 were married before the age of 18. They also estimate that within the next ten years, over 100 million girls who are under the age of 18 will be married.

Child bride and her husband in Syria

Child bride and her husband in Syria

Globally, approximately 49 countries are currently experiencing tragic issues associated with marriages involving young children; however, the UN believes that this problem may be greater than this data predicts. In Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, more than 50% of all girls are married by the age of 18. In contrast, only approximately 10% of males from this region are married by 18. This dramatic difference shows that an alarming number of young girls are married to older men.

Many of these nations claim that the difficulty with solving his problem lies in the deeply rooted cultures within these regions. These cultures and even some religious groups believe that marriage can take place between two people of any age, as long as it's done within the manner accepted by the religious or local customs. Economic issues among families also play a major role, as well as military conflict and disease, which can leave many young girls feeling pressured to commit themselves to a man who could potentially support and protect them, and their families as well.

Startling statistic about child marriage

Startling statistic about child marriage

Why Does This Happen?

In almost all cases of child marriage, it is the decision of the family to have the young girl marry the man of their choosing. Families do this for a number of reasons. First and foremost, many of these young brides live in impoverished countries, where food and other amenities are scarce. In these regions, it is difficult for women to find work of any kind, and the girls become simply another expense for the struggling family. Once an opportunity arises for the girl to be married to a man, regardless of his age or financial situation, the family sees a chance for someone else to feed and care for their daughter, when otherwise they might not have been able to do so.

Young brides suffer many abuses and hardships from being married at such an early age. In most cultures, once a female is married, she is considered to be a woman by the community's standards. This means that she will be responsible for maintaining her husband's household, which in poorer regions usually means performing a grueling amount of domestic work.

When Babies Are Having Babies

Most notably, however, is the young bride's domestic responsibility to bear her husband's children. Girls who become pregnant at such a young age encounter many physical and emotional problems that women who have children at an older age are less likely to endure. Complications in pregnancy are currently a leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 in third-world nations. Also, girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth than older girls or women.

Pregnancy for such young mothers also has a very negative effect on their children as well. Worldwide, the infant mortality rate is 75% higher for babies born to mothers under the age of twenty. The children that do survive suffer many complications as well, including premature births, low birth weight, and are more susceptible to disease. According to PBS.org, these babies are also much more likely to have HIV/AIDS.

According to Childinfo.org, girls who are married before the age of 18 are also more likely to have a greater number of children than those who wait until they are older. However, this can place severe physical and emotional stress on young mothers which can last their entire lives.

Child bride from northern Africa, age 12 or 13, pregnant

Child bride from northern Africa, age 12 or 13, pregnant

Hope for the Future

Many of these young brides are forced to leave school once they are married, in order to better take care of their husbands and households. However, this lack of education leaves many women vulnerable to a number of physical and psychological issues, since they received little or even no health education.

Without an education, it is unlikely that these girls will ever be able to advance their status in life in any way; they would be unqualified for most jobs, uninformed about the state of their country and the rest of the world, and unable to provide for themselves if their husband dies or remarries. Their children (daughters, in particular) may receive a limited education since the mothers, in their own experience, may not see a great need for girls to go to school. Childinfo.org writes that keeping young girls in school may provide them with a way to escape this cycle, and improve their lives and the lives of those around them.

With proper education, women would be able to get legitimate work and would be able to provide for themselves and their families, eliminating the need to marry for financial reasons. Also, once adequately informed about the other societies, the girls may realize that their culture should not necessarily dictate who or when they should marry, and that they could possibly have a choice. At the very least, these girls will have the opportunity for a better life, one on their own terms, until they find someone that they choose to marry... if they choose to marry at all.