While sex slavery has gained national attention for its heinousness, a less-well known crime steals lives, the most basic forms of liberty and autonomy, and leaves abuse and rape in it's wake. It should be considered statutory rape and is eerily similar to human trafficking, yet it receives little public attention.
Child “marriage” may be widely considered a thing of the past. But it is practiced across the globe. In fact, in the developing world, one in three women 20-24 were forced into marriage as children. According to the AHA Foundation, in the United States, “as many as 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage within immigrant communities in the United States in the two years preceding the survey.”
Though many factors contribute to child marriages, poor economic conditions which often leads parents to give away their daughters at a young age in marriage. Girls living in low-income households are twice as likely to marry before their 18th birthday. Parents may give a child away to settle a debt, and many husbands are decades older than the child.
The picture above shows eight year-old Roshan on the day she was engaged to 55-year-old Said in Afghanistan.
Girls married as children are not given the chance to pursue an education or make their own life choices. Evidence suggests child brides are more likely than other brides to experience domestic violence. Some are forced to have sex before they reach puberty, while many are kidnapped and raped by the man before they are wed.
Snejana Farberov with the Daily Mail reports that such premature sex, and thus pregnancy, has significant health effects on the children:
Adolescent wives are more likely to have obstructed labor because their bodies have not fully developed yet. Statistics show that pregnancy death for child brides is double that of women in the 20s, according to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
One doctor based in the Yemeni capital Sanaa listed some of the medical consequences of forcing girls into sex and childbirth before they are physically mature – ripped vaginal walls and internal ruptures called fistulas which can lead to life-long incontinence.
Girls are often too young to understand the concept of reproduction. The doctor said: 'The nurses start by asking, "Do you know what's happening?" "Do you understand that this is a baby that has been growing inside of you?"'
According to Unicef, pregnancy and childbirth results in 70,000 deaths per year in girls 15-19 worldwide, and chances of dying at birth are 60 percent higher for children born to a mother under 16 years of age.
Though illegal, child marriages are practiced in the United States and go unnoticed by law enforcement. In other parts of the world, culture promotes and law enforcement ignores child marriage. Law enforcement at home and abroad must step up and protect children who are vulnerable to become victims of child marriages. Furthermore, cultural education by groups fighting child marriage can have a great impact on shifting perceptions on both women and childhood marriage.
Every girl should have the opportunity have a girlhood, but child marriage takes this from her.