Fact: Child brides exist

A particularly gruesome headline can bring attention to issues which otherwise garner far too little coverage. This morning, one such headline has been on my mind:

Bride, 8, dies of injuries on wedding night in Yemen

There is some question regarding the veracity of the reporting in the wake of regional outrage. True or not, child brides as young as 8 years old exist in many parts of the world. Very few of those lives spark any interest at all and never appear in headlines until tragedy (of another sort) strikes.

Girls Not Brides estimates that each year 14 million girls are wed before they turn 18, the age which is internationally recognised as the point at which a girl transitions to womanhood. One in seven of those 14 million girls marry before reaching the age of 15.

It isn’t just that girls under 18 marry, which is troubling. It’s that the majority of those young girls are forced to do so, and more often than not are greeted with husbands who are much, much older. A rather chilling collection of photographs and a short film (below) by Stephanie Sinclair vividly illustrate the reality of child marriage for many young girls across cultures.

In addition to the horror of rape, many girls who are married off far, far too young face a host of risks to their health and well-being. Most likely already living in poverty, they are more likely to experience complications due to pregnancy and childbirth given their age, and they are at risk for sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Unable to emotionally and physically deal with married life, domestic abuse and violence are also likely making the transition from girl to woman a living nightmare.

For some young brides in Afghanistan and India, their situation is so unimaginably horrendous that self-immolation is preferable to returning to abusive, much older husbands.

Whether the headline of a single 8-year-old Yemeni girl is fact or fiction, the International Centre for Research on Women estimates that child marriage will be a reality for more than 142 million girls over the next decade globally if current trends persist. No continent is immune to this reality, and no single culture, religion, or ethnicity is ‘to blame’. It happens everywhere.

Whether that headline is true or not, hundreds of thousands of young girls have suffered emotionally and physically as a child bride on their wedding nights. Some wedding gift, eh?

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