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Too Young To Wed Mirrors Plight Of The Girl Bride

By Oludare Richards, Abuja
23 January 2015   |   11:00 pm
THE subject of child, early and forced marriages was the focus of a current exhibition initiated by the Canadian High Commission that is ongoing at the Thought Pyramid Art Gallery, Abuja. Too Young To Wed highlights the implications of child and forced marriages which are broad and profound in context. Simply put, the exhibition portrays…

THE subject of child, early and forced marriages was the focus of a current exhibition initiated by the Canadian High Commission that is ongoing at the Thought Pyramid Art Gallery, Abuja. Too Young To Wed highlights the implications of child and forced marriages which are broad and profound in context. Simply put, the exhibition portrays the plight of the girl-child, who is forced into early marriage and how such practice places the lives and futures of girls at risk.

  In sum early and forced marriage holds back the development of girls, their communities and their countries. Too Young to Wed’s team is led by award-winning photographer, Stephanie Sinclair, who first stumbled upon the issue of child marriage nearly a decade ago while on assignment.

  The exhibition features 26 photographs and two videos, and is a collaborative effort by the Government of Canada, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and a photo-journalist, Stephanie Sinclair. The High Commissioner of Canada, Mr. Perry J. Calderwood, in a press briefing at Thought Pyramid in Abuja, spoke on the significance of the exhibition.

  He said, “Canada has made ending child, early and forced marriage a foreign policy and development priority. It is estimated that 14 million girls are married each year before they turn 18. This means that one in three girls in the developing world marries before she turns 18. And one in nine marries before the age of 15.

  “Being forced into marriage often means that a girl’s education comes to an abrupt end, which has a great impact on the future prospects of the girl. Studies show that for each additional year of education that a girl receives, she will have access to better and safer employment and an increase of 10-20% in her future wages.”

  He stressed that on a broader level, the economic impact of education is equally significant and that a society’s prospects for development are enhanced when all girls, as well as boys, are given the opportunity to acquire an education and skills. 

  Executive Director, UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, said, “Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects. A girl who is married off as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together and end child marriage.” 

  It was also noted that early marriage has other negative impacts on a girl. Those who marry young often face increased risk of violence throughout their lifetime, and are more likely to live in extreme poverty. The health of girls married at a young age may be detrimentally affected. 

  Some of the photographs on display at the exhibition includes a subtle frame of a photograph of three girls in ceremonial gowns titled ‘Galiyaah, age 13; Sidaba, age 11 and Khawlah, age 12’. In Yemen, two sisters Galiyaah and Sidaba married the brothers of their cousin, Khawlah, who wedded the sisters’ uncle.

  Worldwide, many brides are still children, not even teenagers. So young are some of the girls that they hold onto their toys during the wedding ceremony. Usually these girls become mothers in their early teens while they are still children themselves.

  Harmful notions of child marriage enshrined in some local customs and sometimes justified with religious arguments contribute to the perpetuation of the practice in communities across the world. Laws, while necessary, are not sufficient in and of themselves to enable governments to mobilize against child marriage or to reconcile national laws with deeply entrenched practices.

  Calderwood further spoke, citing examples of these negative impacts as complications related to pregnancy and childbirth – being the leading cause of death for girls in the developing world between the ages of 15 and 19, where 90 percent of these girls are married early. These girls are also more likely to be exposed to HIV and other diseases, he noted.  

  He was, however, positive in the possibility of improvements, and stated the role Canada plays in supporting processes initiated to address the issue of child, early and forced marriages, especially in most affected areas.

  He said, “We are pleased that over the last two years, international momentum has been building to address child, early and forced marriage. Canada has played an important role in this regard, including providing leadership in the establishment of the International Day of the Girl Child in 2011, which focused on child, early and forced marriage in its first year.  

  “We also worked closely with several other countries in the development of the first-ever stand-alone resolutions on child, early and forced marriage at the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly in the fall of 2013.

  “Both resolutions were adopted by consensus and the latter was co-sponsored by more than 100 countries signalling broad international support. A similar resolution was adopted by consensus at the 2014 session of the United Nations General Assembly”.

  He also revealed that Canada is among the countries that support the ending of child, early and forced marriage by 2030, as a post-2015 development agenda with a priority to mobilize national, regional and global resources on a sustained basis.

  He also noted, “We are also intensifying our advocacy and programming efforts toward ending child, early and forced marriages around the world. In Nigeria, we are using local development funding to support the empowerment of women and girls, including promoting primary and secondary education for all girls.

  “We welcome the decision of the African Union to launch a two-year campaign to end child marriage. We are also pleased to see that this issue is recognised by the Nigerian government”.  

  According to Secretary-General, United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, “Child marriage is a violation of human rights. By 2020, 142 million innocent young girls worldwide will be separated from their friends and family, deprived of an education and put in harm’s way because of child marriage. Together, let us resolve to end the discrimination and poverty that perpetuate this harmful practice. And let us help those who are already married to lead more fulfilling lives. All members of society will benefit when we let girls be girls, not brides”.

  A U.S. Department of State report reveals that in 2011 “approximately 60 percent of girls were married younger than the legal age of 16. Once a girl’s father has agreed to her engagement, she is pulled out of school immediately”.

  Two representatives from Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative, Maryam Uwais, founder and chairperson and Amina Hanga, Executive Secretary were also present in collaborative capacity with the High Commissioner of Canada at the exhibition. Isa Wali is part of the network of Girls Not Brides: A Global Partnership to end Child Marriage.