International efforts to end child marriage before the age of 18 are part of the Sustainable Development Goals aimed at ending harmful practices. “Worth of A Girl” a media report and a documentary, looks at child marriage around the globe, and explores how being a child bride affects girls economically, educationally and emotionally. In a year-long project, Voice of America interviewed child brides from South and East Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. Their stories, told through their own experiences, vividly highlight life with the families they leave and the ones they join.
For example, one woman, now age 40, lives in Albania’s capital, Tirana. She married at 14 and saw no other choice: Her sister needed surgery, and the woman who wanted her to marry her son was friendly with doctors at the hospital. “I did it to save my sister’s life,” she said. In turn, although she didn’t want her own daughter to marry before finishing her education, economic circumstances dictated otherwise. She allowed her daughter to marry at the age of 12.
Another, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, married at 15 because she couldn’t get a job, she says, and felt she had to relieve the financial burden on her father, a Kurdish national soldier with three other children.
India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world, the country has almost halved the incidence of child marriage with community and legal action, and programs enabling girls to continue their studies. The proportion of women ages 20 to 24 who were married before age 18 has dropped to 27% from 47% a decade ago, according to UNICEF and shows change is possible. Still, meeting the UN goal by 2030 would require a 12-fold increase in the current rate of change, according to UNICEF.
The importance of staying in school is discussed passionately by the girls who were interiewed, most of whom were forced to stop school in order to marry and continue to regret it.
Sometimes there are happier endings. A girl in Afghanistan was interviewed twice with a five month interval. At the second interview, she was sewing dresses alongside her mother in a sunny living room. Her father was gone, jailed for two years for abusing her and having forced her to marry. Helped by an NGO that works on women’s legal rights and offers counselling, she was able to divorce her husband, is learning to read the Quran with a tutor’s help and is considering becoming a tutor herself. Meanwhile, she sews clothing with her mother, and her brother works in a factory. We are the breadwinners,” she says. “My life is better.”
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SOURCE: VOA News, by Eva Mazrieva, Lina Correa, Jaffar Mjasiri, Carolyn Presutti, Muhammad Saqib, Carol Guensburg and Lisa Kassenaar