Consider coming home from school one day as a 7th-grader, being told you were to marry a stranger in an hour, and then being beaten into submission upon resisting before the marriage was carried out. As a recent series of TrustLaw infographics reveal, stories such as these are sadly not unique.
Despite now being illegal in most countries, the draconian practice of child marriage has hardly disappeared. Instead it is very much a staple of certain developing nations, so prolific that one occurs every three seconds.
TrustLaw identifies the 25 countries with the highest rates of child marriage. Africa contains an overwhelming majority of these countries, including Ethiopia (#10), a 10×10 location. On our two visits to Ethiopia, we witnessed firsthand the high incidence of child marriage while meeting with many girls, like Melka, who was forced into marriage at age 14 in the manner described above. Also on the list are three other 10×10 locations: Nepal (#8), India (#13), and Afghanistan (#20).
As 10×10 has documented in these previous stories, early marriage inhibits, if not outright prevents, the ability of girls to reach their full potential. Education is an early casualty, with girls usually pulled from school altogether. Aside from the obvious drawbacks of missing out on an education, these girls experience severe health risks arising from premature pregnancies and increased exposure to HIV, remain literally and psychologically impoverished, and are reduced to performing menial domestic work. Moreover, if they are widowed or divorced, which is not uncommon, early marriage victims must bear these challenges alone and with the added stigma generally attached to already-married women.
Often lost amid such overwhelming statistics and realities, which can impede rather than engender our sympathy, are the stories of the Melkas of the world. How does a 14-year-old brain process such a traumatic incident? Live through it? Move on from it? These are painful stories, to be sure, but ones that need to be told so they are not repeated.
Want to help? Take a second and sign a petition against child marriage from 10×10 parter CARE and continue to follow 10×10 as we bring back more stories from Ethiopia and elsewhere.