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Despite ban, child marriage ensnares 25,000 per year

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Child marriage is outlawed throughout all of Southeast Asia, but that doesn't stop people from practicing it and the authorities from ignoring it. The practice, according to human rights officials, is harmful to children and authorities have an obligation to do more.

NEW DELHI, INDIA (Catholic Online) - Human rights activists are upset that approximately 25,000 children around the world are married annually. Most are female and most are well under 18, some have not even reached puberty.

In the industrialized world, child marriage is widely regarded as taboo. Children have less value to society in domestic capacities and serve better when educated and employed as fully productive adults. In non-industrialized societies however, children are typically regarded as assets which can provide labor to the family business and bring wealth into the family by marriage. Many of those marriages are arranged to improve a family's status or to keep wealth within clans.

Such marriage patterns are ancient and traditional, however in the modern world they do not serve the children who are married off very well. Since antiquity, girls have been subjected to rape, seclusion, and other indignities associated with early marriage.

Married children often do not complete their education and are left in a life of dependence on husbands, who might not always treat them kindly. In addition to domestic abuse, women are vulnerable to being widowed and even destitution.

Young girls who become pregnant are also at higher risk for complications during their pregnancy and to die during childbirth.

In Egypt and parts of Northern Africa, girls are subjected to serial marriages which are mere formalities to prostitution. These girls can be married for as little as a day in exchange for a payment from their "husbands." Some such marriages can last a few hours to several months. The girls are often subjected to abuse and used as domestic servants and sexual slaves.

Just because practices are ancient and have long a long cultural tradition, does not mean they ought to be preserved. Slavery, for example, as a legal institution has long been outlawed. Yet like slavery, child marriage is still practiced, quite illegally around the globe.

The problem is that regional authorities do nothing to crack down on the practices, and can even be accomplices in it. In small rural communities, policing is nonexistent, or is provided by the same people engaged in the practice.

Unfortunately, until central governments decide to crack down on the problem, it will persist. As long as it persists, tens of thousands of children, especially young girls, will pay a terrible price.

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