Let Girls Choose

As evidenced by the video about The Girl Effect seen above, childhood marriage has been a hot topic in the media lately – and rightly so, I might add. Yet, underage marriage has been a painful reality throughout all of human history.

Childhood marriage has been a part of a history that sees people as economic commodities. The dowry system exemplifies this idea; a woman’s family pays off the groom in order to entice a marriage. The dowry custom is thought to date back to Ancient Babylon and throughout the years it has been depicted in paintings and writings that traverse the times, religions, and cultures, and has even influenced contemporary legends and practices; some say, for example, that the custom of hanging out stockings on Christmas eve originated from the legend of Saint Nicholas, who put gold coins in the stockings of three young sisters, to help them afford a dowry. Gentile da Fabriano captured the Saint’s “charity” in a painting that dates to the 15th century.

Paiting by Gentile de Fabriano.

Paiting by Gentile de Fabriano.

Currently, art continues to play a prominent part in depicting the reality of child marriage and one contemporary form is Khaled Hosseini’s novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. A MUST read! The novel is set in Afghanistan and centers around two female protagonists, Mariam and Laila. The reader witnesses the hardships they face in a war torn, patriarchal Afghanistan. Hosseini braves the topic of child marriage in a skillfully poetic way and makes it clear that a nation that does not value its women and their potential will, in fact, never reach a potential of its own, as the father of Laila asserts:

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“I know you’re still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now”, he said. “Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly, you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.”

ALL girls should grow up hearing this quote.

The novel demonstrates the effects that the distorted culture of child marriage breeds in a people and its country. I will not spoil it for you by telling the ending; instead, I will urge you to pick up the book and read it. Reading it might be seen as a first step into understanding the REAL situation. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that this is only a work of fiction because, while Laila and Mariam may not be real women, the women who have inspired their story are.

For IndiaNigerMexico and in numerous other places, the reality of childhood marriage is ever present, but we must remember that this affects everyone, not just the children and not just those countries. All over the world organizations such as “Girls Not Brides“, seek to change the current situation by giving girls the power to choose their destiny as well as educating them and their parents about the perils of early marriage. I urge you to watch this video that goes into the details of this global crisis. I promise, it’ll take less than 10 minutes.

Campaign in India.

Campaign in India.

I hope that at least one of these videos, books or organizations, compels you to make a difference in a life of a child and like the project Girl Effect states, let’s turn back time! Let’s make these girls our next influential leaders, who know the realities of this world and are still willing to make it a better place.