Early and forced marriages jeopardize chances for girls to fulfill their dreams. A girl can achieve success when she is free and comfortable to make decisions upon her life. Such marriages often lead to conflicts within families and this may cause several problems for girls and the society at large.
The number of girls married at the early age (under 18) is obviously considerable. Most of them are reluctantly forced to drop out of school.
According to UNICEF, the highest rate of child marriage is found in Sub-Saharan Africa where « about 41 percent of girls marry before reaching the age of 18. »
Hence, it is viewed as a violation of human rights.
Child marriage impedes girls’ efforts to pursue education, minimizes their opportunities and hampers their self-development. Furthermore, it increases risks for violence and early pregnancies in families.
Early and forced marriages are also a reality in Burundi though they are not legally authorized. The story of Munezero* contains a telling example:
“I was forced to get married at the early age. I grew up in Bujumbura province. I was forced to drop out of school at the age of 15. My parents wanted me to marry a rich man to maximize financial gains for my family.”
She was in grade 8 in elementary school and was a brilliant pupil. She was kind, beautiful and had a sweet voice.
She took care of her schoolmates.
“I loved studying. I grew up into a poor family and I had a dream of becoming an engineer at the end of my studies. At home, I often played with my little brothers building small houses using mud. Unfortunately, my big dream was shattered. My family never stopped asking me to quit school as they expected to improve their economic survival from my marriage. One day, early in the morning, my father threatened me while preparing myself to go to school. He burned my school uniforms and materials and beat me terribly. I cried the tears of agony and ended up leaving school so as to make peace with my family.
One year later, things turned upside down. I was not happy in my marriage. My husband was twelve years older than me. Not only did he severely abuse me every day, he oftentimes told me that I didn’t deserve to be his wife.
Numerous ideas about school and studies flashed through my mind. Never had I stopped blaming my family. Loneliness, despair and regret won my heart. I felt depressed.
In the end, my husband kicked me out, which plunged me into unbearable life conditions.”
Unfortunately, an early and forced marriage crushed dreams of having a happy and successful life. Similar cases may be found elsewhere in Burundi. Tackling this problem should be everyone’s concern.
Major causes of early and forced marriages
Early and forced marriages for girls are associated with various factors such as social, cultural, economic and religious factors. In Burundi, some people still believe that girls are meant to get married, give birth to children and undertake home activities.
According to the same beliefs, girls must fully abide by cultural values and conform to social norms. Their right to make decisions about their future is often violated. Challenging parents’ decision is viewed as a crime in some families.
In addition, a big number of girls who experience child marriage are from poor families. Hence, some parents expect to acquire wealth from their daughters’ bride price. They consider girls as their financial exchanges and ignore the importance of education in today’s world. Besides, some other families restrict their girls’ access to education unwillingly. Lack of means to meet school needs and requirements is also the cause.
Some negative effects
Early and forced marriages endanger girls’ lives and inflict wretchedness upon them, their families and the society. They increase maternal and infant health risks as girls.
Girls who get forcibly married at the early age are more likely to be abused physically, sexually and emotionally.
Their chances to pursue education, to develop careers and secure places in decision making institutions are minimized if not annihilated. They, therefore, remain with very few opportunities to accumulate wealth and make economic impact on their families and communities.
What should be done?
Premature and forced marriages are a big problem that needs quick and tangible solutions. Girls’ rights to study, to work, to dream, to develop their potential and to make decisions about their future should never be violated or limited. Girls should rather be supported in their everyday struggle to attain success and excellence.
Laws should be implemented to eliminate early and forced marriages, to curb gender based violence and to end any other inhuman treatment against women in general and girls in particular.
Besides, campaigns should be conducted to teach people in communities about negative effects of premature and forced marriages, consequences of gender based violence and the need to promote and to protect human rights in general and those of women in particular.
“Early and forced marriages create harsh problems instead of solving them.”