“1 in 3 girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18” (care.org). And two women in the last four generations of my family were married before the age of 18. Grandma at 17 and more surprisingly, great-grandma at age 13. Yes – 13 years old. In the United States. In Western Pennsylvania to a man more than twice her age.
Let’s be clear here; I am one of those melting pot Americans whose northern European heritage has been so diluted by many generations of life on US soil that I can be best described as Irish-German-English-Dutch-Scottish-and goodness knows what else. There can be no finger pointing at a recent immigration or a dated commitment to cultural custom (either happening on foreign soil or being carried out here based upon old world traditions). They were poor. And she got married as a child.
Child brides are more likely to be beaten by their husbands and are more likely to have complications in childbirth, up to and including death. They are less likely to complete secondary school and it is estimated that half of the girls in developing countries become mothers while they are still children.
Flash forward four generations and you’ll find me stumping for women’s health and women’s rights causes of all sorts. I was at the Maya Angelou International Women’s Health Summit as an attendee as well as a presenter and jetted from there a bit early to get to the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. In a (late!) dinner after the show, I was talking to a friend about great grandma’s marriage and my response to it, particularly given where the focus of my attentions had been in the previous few days. Interesting was that she said, “Well, it was a different time then. Things have changed since then.” Well, yes and no. Yes, things were different. She was raised in poverty and I was not. She was allowed to get married at 13. I think I might have been allowed to wear light pink lip gloss. What’s not different….girls in other countries – perhaps still in ours – are still poor and are still allowed to marry at this and other similarly young ages. If it changed in the course of four generations so dramatically in my family, why not believe this can happen in the rest of the world?
This link has a direct email to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a letter that you can use to help reach your senators and congressional representatives about child marriage in support of Day of the girl. Let’s do this.
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