No one should have the authority to allow child marriage

As many as 14.2 million girls under the age of 18 will be married every year over the next decade, which translates into 39,000 girls married each day. According to the United Nations Population Fund, one in three girls living in low-to-middle income countries marry before they turn 18, with a further third getting married even before they are 15 years old. Child marriage is a phenomenon that angers people all over the world yet little is done to prevent it.

Over the past month, two videos depicting the public’s reaction to child brides have gone viral. It appears that regardless of whether the bystanders are in New York or Beirut, the reactions are those of shock, horror, and disgust.

The issue of child marriage is a direct infringement on the rights of young girls and women to choose their life partner. It encapsulates male dominance in a society that is power-hungry. Marriage at a very young age puts a girl’s future in jeopardy. The physical and sexual health of girls is at risk and many die due to sexual trauma.

But it’s not just the physical and sexual reproductive health of girls that is at risk, it is the mental health and wellbeing as well. The correct place for a very young girl is not next to her husband but a classroom. Empowering them with skills enable them to contribute to the society and the economy and, in turn, discourage child marriages.

Protecting the vulnerable

In times of humanitarian crises, marriages can be seen as a method to secure the future of young girls. This has been the case in Syria and Jordan where cases of child marriages have gone up since the war began in 2011, a report by Equality Now and the UNFPA have revealed. An Imam in Denmark urged the government to permit child marriages within the refugee communities. Interestingly, he said he would not let his own daughter marry until she was 18 years old.

Shifting the power of consent from the father to daughter is the first step that must be taken by governments to ensure the best interest of young girls

Yara al-Wazir

The claim that child marriage is a solution to problems of refugees is fundamentally flawed. The solution lies in ensuring safety and security within these camps and to combat the root causes of violence and lack of security. It is necessary to provide access to facilities to the young people languishing in camps, whether they happen to be male or female. The answer lies in ending violence and not marrying them off.

Likewise, support and education must be provided to all members of the camp regarding the dangers of child marriage, including the impact on sexual and reproductive health. Issues such as infections, complications during childbirth, and mental trauma suffered by young girls must be openly discussed so that people understand its full implications.

Power of consent

Over the past decade, various countries have attempted to enact laws to tackle this problem. In Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia, the minimum age for marriage has been set to 18 years for women and men alike. However, these laws apply only when consent is not required. If a girl is under the age of 18 in these countries, or in several other countries in the Middle East, then the consent of the father or a guardian is required to register the marriage.

By awarding the power of consent to the male guardian, the basic human right of a girl to choose her life partner is violated. Consent is vital in marriage, yes, but it is the consent of the two marrying adults, uninfluenced by the wants, needs, or desires of the extended family that must be taken into account while the marriage is registered. This should apply to all, regardless of the age.

Shifting the power of consent from the father to daughter is the first step that must be taken by governments to ensure the best interest of young girls. No one should have the right to overrule and grant marriage certificates to underage girls simply because their fathers have the authority to “consent”. Such a practice must end if the safety of young girl is to be ensured in the region.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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