Stolen years

The two definitions of “child marriage”

According to Wikipedia, this term is defined as a marriage or similar union, between a child and an adult or another child under a certain age. This formal approach creates a ‘’distance’’ from the problem. The vocabulary does not reflect the reality of this common practice.

Instead of this academic explanation, we could focus on real stories, narrated by the countless victims of this phenomenon. “I was supposed to be in school at the time I got married”, says a 12 years old girl; or “This man came to my house to ask my parents to marry me and they accepted”, says another one two years older. These testimonies transfer the desperation that these children experienced when they were forced to give up their childhood.

Which gender is mostly affected?

As UNICEF claims, child marriage is the result of a settled gender inequality, making girls excessively affected by this practice. Globally, only one sixth of boys get married as a child, which is extremely low compared to girls.

Causes

The factors which can lead to child marriage are several and diverse. A really common one is the patriarchal society, which is common in many countries (e.g. Yemen, India) and controls all the aspects of people’s lives. The leaders of these societies are always men, and their “target” are usually young girls. The value of the girls is determined by their virginity. There is also an unreasonable and extremely conservative dress code for them. They must follow a certain behavior and marry the man that was chosen for them.

Furthermore, an undoubtedly important cause of child marriage is poverty. If we take careful notice of the shocking percentages of child brides in the world’s poorest countries (e.g. Niger), we could easily understand why many families with daughters, or even the girls themselves, consider child marriage as a good option. According to their opinion, it seems like the best way to reduce family costs, while they gain financial security from their husband.

Another difficult circumstance that “helps ” to establish these customs is insecurity. It is well known that countries with numerous child marriages suffer from violence, outbreaks of diseases or hunger and conflicts (e.g. Somalia). Due to the typical absence of education, many families think that they can protect their daughters with a marriage.

Effects on each gender

Even though it’s generally accepted that the majority of the victims are girls, it would be rather unfair not to mention the negative effects of child marriage on boys. Scientists strongly believe that an early marriage, which is accompanied by adults’ responsibilities that a boy cannot take care of, could only add pressure and stress. Also, a marriage could prevent him from chasing higher education and better job opportunities.

A girl, on the other hand, is not only losing any access to education and the possibility of financial independence, but it can also create serious health problems. For example, there is a danger for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, malaria, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas.

Ways to stop child marriage

These days many organizations like Girls Not Brides, CARE and Breakthrough fight to end the phenomenon. A combined effort from these organizations, along with the governments and people’s support, can deliver a drastic change.

Author: Chrysi Moysiadou

Language and Gender

How society changes language

Language plays an important role in our lives. It’s not just about communicating and interacting, but also about sending indirect messages through our chosen words. This can have challenging consequences in society regarding individual attitudes and lifestyles. In recent years there have been linguistic changes intended to make our language more inclusive. But why now?

The classic role allocation

Up to the 20th century there was a clear gender distinction in life. It was common that men provide for their families, go to work and manage the finances. Meanwhile the women stay at home to take care of the home and children. Back then, people didn’t think about changing common gendered expressions in the language they used. The words used just reflected the structure of society at the time. Terms like ‘manpower’ were clearly adequate to describe the workforce in that times, which consisted of male workers. But should we still stick to those expressions nowadays?

Language develops with culture

In modern society we’re more aware of these antiquated prejudices in general. Over the last century, awareness for equal rights of women and minorities has risen. Since our way of expression and communication reflects our mindsets and attitudes, it changes as our habits do. Why should we hold on to terms that exclude minorities, when we aim to include them in our society and fight for their equal rights? It wouldn’t make any sense to hold on to them because we don’t want to harm anybody’s feelings by using exclusive language. If we care about other people, we also have to choose our words wisely.

Cis men are still privileged

Regardless, there are still many situations where cis men are regarded as superior. The question is: does language change our society or does society change our language? We could say they influence each other. If people are not willing to adapt their attitudes towards modern movements, their language won’t either. But if we don’t become aware of the effect our way of speaking has on our habits, we won’t rethink how we’re living.

Make a change

We can see in political debates, that there are still problems and challenges in our efforts to be more inclusive. Raising awareness towards minorities and all the terms that could negatively affect others, seems very demanding and often difficult to realize. However, isn’t it better to try our hardest rather than to simply give up? Obviously, change doesn’t happen overnight, but if we keep trying we can improve our world one word at a time – for all of us.

Author: Leonie Kohl Xiques